Pittsburgh Coloring Book artist profile: Nils Hanczar and his illustration of the infamous Pittsburgh Left | Visual Art | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Coloring Book artist profile: Nils Hanczar and his illustration of the infamous Pittsburgh Left

click to enlarge Pittsburgh artist Nils Hanczar - PHOTO: LINDA WILLHIDE
Photo: Linda Willhide
Pittsburgh artist Nils Hanczar
The Pittsburgh Left, the city's longtime unwritten rule of the road, continues to be a hot topic between the new and old guard of the Steel City. For some, it's simply a kind gesture — "You go ahead and go first!" — allowing their neighbor to avoid waiting for a long line of cars before turning left.

Others, including car-crash lawyers and pedestrian-advocates, claim it's dangerous, and allows vehicles to turn left in front of people walking in the crosswalk.

(If you're not familiar, picture two or more cars facing off at a red light without a "left-turn only" lane or signal. The Pittsburgh Left, which is technically illegal, occurs when the driver turning left takes their turn without yielding to the oncoming traffic.)

When North Side artist Nils Hanczar was drawing a cartoon of the legendary traffic pattern, he came up with the perfect idea for livening it up: adding in characters inspired by a TV show that has a special meaning to his childhood. Who can argue with giving the right-away to a car inspired by the Neighborhood Trolley from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood?

Hanczar is one of 35 artists who created a black-and-white illustration for Pittsburgh City Paper’s Over-the-top Completely Ridiculous Yinzerrific Coloring Book, a benefit for both CP and the artists involved as a response to revenue lost to the coronavirus pandemic. The artwork includes local landmarks, legends, and, yes, Pittsburghese, in a wide variety of artistic styles.


City Paper caught up with Hanczar and talked to him about his Pittsburgh Left piece, Pittsburgh City Councilors, and which local artists are bringing him joy.

click to enlarge Nils Hanczar's illustration of The Pittsburgh Left for Pittsburgh City Paper’s Over-the-top Completely Ridiculous Yinzerrific Coloring Book
Nils Hanczar's illustration of The Pittsburgh Left for Pittsburgh City Paper’s Over-the-top Completely Ridiculous Yinzerrific Coloring Book

When did you first know you wanted to become an artist?
I’ve always made art. My grandfather would cut out comics from the newspaper and stick them on the fridge and that has always been a measure of success for me. In college, I made comics for the student newspaper. Sometime around 2007-08, during that recession, I made a conscious decision to live more simply and devote more time to art. I met Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics and showed him my drawings. He recommended I make more comics. Since then I’ve published “Skeleton Balls Comics,” “Dr. Joseph UPMC,” “Ship of Soiled Doves,” “You Can Did It,” “4 Dead 17 Wounded,” and I had a unique gig of covering Pittsburgh City Council meetings as a sketch artist.

Who's been your all-time favorite city councilor to illustrate during Pittsburgh City Council meetings?
I will never pass street pavers and not think of Darlene Harris’ tirades on asphalt quality. But as a deliberative body, the best moments are when the brass tacks of an issue, say water infrastructure, get discussed. Teresa Kail-Smith and Deb Gross were ahead of the lead issue. Natalia Rudiak was fire at budget meetings.

Can you tell me about the process that went into illustrating your Coloring Book submission of the Pittsburgh Left?
My grandmother was a guest star on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (the kindergarten teacher on the “Mister Rogers goes to school” episode), and that show being homegrown has always been an integral part of being a Pittsburgher for my family.


Do you honor the Pittsburgh Left?
Yes. In a bus, car, or on a bike, it can be appreciated.

What is your favorite piece of public art in the city?
The YOU BELONG signs by Bob Ziller are really great to see around. There are these birds and mosaics, by Linda Wallen, throughout Spring Hill that make me happy, and I see CANE/ABEL making bold tags in the neighborhood.

This coloring book is coming out during one of the most important civil rights movements in modern times. Do you think artwork has the power to bring change?
Absolutely. Engage in politics at a community level. Follow Black artists. Decolonize the mind.

Do you believe artwork has the power to heal?
Absolutely. Challenge what you think. The STOP SHOOTING WE 🖤LOVE YOU signs by Vanessa German are powerful reminders we’re all in the same community, and I live on the same street as Randyland, which reminds me daily of the powerful positivity of art in [the] community.

What's next for you?
My comic books are available in Pittsburgh at Copacetic Comics and Phantom of the Attic. YOU CAN DID IT — Chapter 3 (about a beer panacea) is in the works. And, my comic YINZBURGH appears monthly in The Northside Chronicle.




Digital copies of the Yinzerrific Coloring Book are $20, and print copies are $25, and can be pre-ordered at pghcitypaperstore.com. Half of the proceeds of each copy get split evenly between each of the 35 artists who created artwork inside each book.

And, special for the month of August only, Pittsburgh City Paper is offering Pandemic Packs: two print copies of the Coloring Book for only $40 (+ shipping and taxes), a savings of $10 from the normal store pricing.

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