Walking Wonder City's Reward: A Tour of Coney Island

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At the end of 2009, Courtney Zell and Justin Rivers raised funds for their project The Wonder City, a graphic novel that reimagines New York’s entire history. One of their rewards was a walking tour of Brooklyn, and last weekend they showed backers around Coney Island. Check out scenes from the tour and Justin’s commentary in the video below. (I chime in towards the end to ogle over Nathan’s Famous hot-dogs.) More about the project and how Coney Island ties in underneath.

About The Wonder City

When describing his project, Justin poses an elegant but quirky concept: that New York is a city constructed entirely on factual myths. From Peter Minuet’s $24 purchase of Manhattan Island to the 2nd Avenue subway line we’ve been patiently waiting for, he claims New York was founded on larger-than-life stories that were, in essence, true. Its famed Dutch governor had a peg-leg. Boss Tweed was the original fat cat of corruption. Building the Brooklyn Bridge was more complicated than erecting the Tower of Babel. Its harbor received millions of immigrants from all over the world, making it a patchwork of humanity the world has yet to duplicate.

The Wonder City weaves this mythology through the stories of one family, the Tulips, who meet a young librarian/gumshoe, Velma Graydon, trying to solve a mystery based around the city’s founding. The work seeks to bind together some of these factual myths into a cohesive narrative of the city, and it all begins with a whale on Coney Island in 1942.

The Coney Island chapter

We started the tour exactly where the second chapter of The Wonder City begins, and Justin filled us in:

The Coney Island you see now is physically very different from the one our main characters were looking at back then. A lot has changed, whether by the wrecking ball or fire. Coney Island today has been whittled down from America’s playland (think the Disney World of the 19th and early 20th centuries) to its lowest common denominator: a beach and a carnival spirit that still refuses to die.

Justin interlaced the sites, stories, and history of Coney Island with plot details of The Wonder City alongside a packet of charming draft illustrations by Courtney. 

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