One big upside to living in an overcrowded traveling circus New York City is the myriad of opportunities to people-watch. Andrea Tsurumi, an Astoria-based illustrator, has decided to turn that most beloved of urban activities into a cartoon diary.
In Eavesdropper, Tsurumi chronicles the flashes of bizarre behavior, or inadvertently comic situations, that spring up amid the humdrum of city life. The project grew out of a class that the 30-year-old took in 2013 while pursuing her MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Called “Drawing on Location,” the class had Tsurumi going into the streets to find scenarios to sketch. “I really enjoyed that kind of active approach to drawing,” she says.
In March, she began the project in earnest, after a particularly eventful trip through the Times Square subway station. “I had one day where I took the 7 train to work,” Tsurumi says, “and I just saw, in the course of five minutes, like, six really random things. You know how it is — sometimes you have these days like, ‘I can’t believe I’m seeing all this stuff!’ ”
That subway trip became her first official Eavesdropper comic, which she titled “Five Minutes of the Most Subwayist Moments in the Subway.” Drawn with graphite and an ink-brush pen, it features diaper-changing, busking, quotes scrawled on subway walls, and some inevitable vomit. (Ride the subway regularly and it’s only a matter of time.)
When Tsurumi has collected enough Eavesdropper comics, she hopes to turn them into a book, possibly a self-published one — she’s done this before, bringing her wares to festivals like the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, the MoCCA Arts Festival (put on by the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art), and the Small Press Expo. In 2013, a comic book that served as her thesis at the School of Visual Art, called Andrew Jackson Throws a Punch, earned Tsurumi an Award of Excellence at the MoCCA fest.
“It’s a comic about Andrew Jackson’s crazy inauguration,” she explains, “combining the fact that he had this insane inauguration where the entire public kind of crashed the White House with the fact that he was this really touchy, grumpy guy. It’s a giant fistfight, basically. It’s an illustrated inaugural brawl where he’s just punching his way through the White House.”
When she’s not drawing comics, Tsurumi, who was born in Westchester County, contributes her illustrations to books, as well as publications like the New York Times and Bitch magazine. She’s using an online comic-sharing site called zcomx to distribute Eavesdropper, which she hopes to update at least weekly.
For Tsurumi, Eavesdropper is as much about pausing to take in your surroundings as it is about finding interesting things to sketch. “In New York City, you kind of have this tendency to just get through your day. I want to fight that,” she says. “Keeping it loose takes a little bit of the pressure off of manufacturing experiences.”