How do you begin to capture the overflowing vastness that is New York City using phonemes? With the help of illustrations of course. “That’s when you need the drawings,” said illustrator Joana Avillez on the topic earlier this week at a Strand event celebrating the release of “D C-T!,” an illustrated book collaboration by Avillez and writer Molly Young.
Avillez and Young’s “D C-T!” takes off from the seminal work of author and artist William Steig, “CDB!,” published in 1968 with its own set of illustrated phonemes. “The thing about the 1968 book is that William Steig, as far as anyone can tell, invented this kind of phonetic puzzle system, and he did two books in it, and then nobody else continued that,” said Young, who also happens to be a crossword puzzle artist. “So in my mind, it’s like if somebody had published a crossword puzzle once or twice and then nobody had ever continued the fun and games with that form.” Bridging this gulf, Avillez and Young’s “D C-T!” creates a playful puzzle world that, like “CDB!,” is in turn challenging and rewarding. “There’s a very discreet interval between being confused and then being not confused, and that’s very satisfying,” said Young of the relationship between “D C-T!” and crosswords. “I think that feeling is what I wanted to give in this book.”
While there is no central protagonist (beyond the city itself), the narrative of “D C-T!” finds its forward-motion by progressing through the four seasons of the year. “New York is extreme in so many ways, and one of those ways is the weather,” said Avillez when describing how they found the structure for the book. “I think it’s a way that a lot of New Yorkers arrange the city mentally in their minds,” added Young. As a result, the book exists within the certain timelessness created by the cyclical nature of the seasons and offers the promise of many returns.
We corresponded with Avillez and Young about their book earlier this week. This interview has been lightly edited for aesthetic enjoyment.
More interview below:
Featured image and illustrations from “D C-T!” are courtesy of Penguin Press, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.