Umbrella House (1990) is by one of New York's most well-known anarchist illustrators. Seth Tobocman is co-founder of the collectively produced semi-annual publication, World War Three Illustrated, which has been coming out since 1979. He is also author-illustrator of the scathingly irreverent You Don't Have to Fuck People Over to Survive (1990); an invaluable first-hand analysis of squatting and gentrification in New York entitled War in the Neighbourhood (2000); Portraits of Israelis and Palestinians (2003), which was produced while teaching art in the Palestinian village of Dir Ibzia; Disaster and Resistance; Comics and Landscapes for the Twenty-First Century (2008); and Len: A Lawyer in History (2016). War in the Neighbourhood is long out of print, but a new edition is pending from the Canadian anarchist press, Ad Astra Comix (https://adastracomix.com/catalogue/). The book is a 'must' for anyone interested in the politics of squatting.
I chose Umbrella House from You Don't Have to Fuck People Over to Survive and asked Seth a few questions about the history of the squat and his poster:
Please tell me about Umbrella House--when it was squatted, its importance for the anarchist milieu in New York at the time and key people who, in your estimation, made constructive contributions to organizing it.
Umbrella House was opened about 1989. It is my impression that Michael Shenker and Raphael Bueno did the original break-in and electrical hook-up but the first residents were Steven Ashmore, Siobhan Neville and Gerta. At this time the squats in New York's Lower East Side were very much under attack, so Mike and Bueno were very keen to push back and take as much territory as possible. It was a large building but much of it was, at first, unliveable so the group grew slowly for the first few years. Carpenter Jeff Dan had an important role in renovating the building as did Sarah Hogarth who did the electrical work and also organized the Tompkins Square Legal Defence Committee (1) with Stanley Cohen and Ron Kuby. There was an offset printing press on the first floor, donated by John Penley, where a few posters were printed. Professional plumber Paul Shay, not a squatter, but active with the Revolutionary Communist Party, had an important role in renovating the drainage system as did George Marko. Barbara Robin Lee and I both became house members even though we held, and did not give up, rent stabilized apartments elsewhere. This was always...