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Miserable L Train Commute Inspires Williamsburg Resident's Graphic Novel

By Gwynne Hogan | May 11, 2016 4:29pm
 "Williamsburg Shorts" offers a trip along the L train line while traveling through the neighborhood's history.
Miserable L Train Commute Inspires Williamsburg Resident's Graphic Novel
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WILLIAMSBURG — The claustrophobic and stress-inducing journey along the L line from Grand Street to Manhattan during rush hour is the main thread throughout a forthcoming graphic novel that melds fact and fantasy while exploring gentrification and history in Williamsburg.

"Williamsburg Shorts" depicts the tale of an unnamed girl's trip to Manhattan on the L during which she misses a train, gets pushed and shoved on a platform, and trapped in a stalled train car. 

During her commute, the girl — who is anonymous like the thousands of other L train riders who use the line daily are to each another — lets her imagination travel far beyond the crammed subway car. She explores the neighborhood's rich history, looking into the stories behind landmarks like the Williamsburg Bridge, the Domino Sugar Factory and McCarren Park, according to author and graphic designer Lucio Zago. 

Zago, 49, has lived on the intersection of Grand and Lorimer streets since the mid-'90s and has watched the neighborhood grow and evolve in numerous ways, he said. But his daily commute to Manhattan along the L line has been a growing source of frustration for years.

"It's gotten worse and worse, and now it's going to get really bad," Zago said, referring to the train's impending shutdown.

"When I'm in the train, I close my eyes and I start to imagine being somewhere else," which is exactly what the main character in "Williamsburg Shorts" does to deal with the stressful ride. "Everybody's trying to escape somewhere else for a moment. It's really unpleasant."

Despite the discomfort, it's an essential part of life in North Brooklyn, he said.

"I'm looking at it almost like the umbilical cord of Williamsburg, how it's keeping like a lifeline to the city."

While traveling through North Brooklyn underground, the main character's imagination drifts to the neighborhood's past through scenes about the area's immigrant history featuring the Italian, Polish and Puerto Rican communities. It looks into tensions between hipsters and the Hasidic community, as well as highlighting the Domino Sugar strike.

Kickstarter campaign for the graphic novel exceeded it's goal of raising $7,800 within several days of being posted, though you can still donate to secure your own copy of the book once it's printed in the spring of next year.

As for Zago, redirecting discomfort at his tiresome commute has helped him better cope with the daily stress.

"The best way that I'm dealing right now is by telling this story," he said. "When I'm on the train right now I use it as research material... I start looking and people and start developing ideas."

Spoiler Alert: In a silent nod at the 2019 L train shutdown, the heroine of "Williamsburg Shorts" never makes it to Manhattan.