Monday, June 22, 2009

Graphic Novel Monday: A Contract with God, by Will Eisner

A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories, by Will Eisner. Published 2000 by DC Comics. Literary Fiction.

As one of the founders of the comic book form, Will Eisner is deserving of attention from anyone even marginally interested in comics, graphic novels or any form of popular sequential art. A Contract with God, originally published in 1978, is a very important work in the form.

The book is made up of four short stories, all set in the same New York tenement building in the early 20th century. Characters include housewives and working stiffs, kids and parents, ambitious upstarts and lonely basement dwellers. Their stories are raw, raunchy and presented unvarnished. Eisner writes about his philosophy of realism:
...I tried to adhere to a rule of realism which requires that caricature or exaggeration accept the limitations of actuality...I set aside two basic constrictions that so often inhibit the medium- space and format. Accordingly, each story was written without regard to space and each was allowed t develoop its format from itself; that is, to evolve from the many cases, an entire page is set out as a panel. The text and the balloons are interlocked with the art. I see all as threads of a single fabric and exploit them as a language. If I have been successful at this, there will be no interruption in the flow of narrative because the picture and the text are so totally dependent on each other as to be inseparable for even a moment.
Eisner's words do a lot to illuminate the apparent chaos on the pages, brimming and bubbling over with energy and vivacity. The characters are unglamorous and real, and his writing is colloquial and rich in vernacular, including the Yiddish slang of his mainly Jewish characters. He creates a vivid tableau of time, place and culture. A Contract with God is comic book for adults covering a range of subjects including religion, sex, adultery and more. A seminal work in the history of comics, it's also essential reading for anyone wanting to get to know the form.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.


Meytal Radzinski said...

It sounds interesting even beyond the "graphic novel" bit. I'm particularly intrigued by the idea of accurate Yiddish slang - I'm curious to see how Eisner handles this.

Anonymous said...

I love any Jewish-related story. I love the humor and the way the mind of the author and characters work. This looks like a good one :-)

ADL said...

Incidentally, given your interest in Jewish themes and graphic novels, you might be interested in this news:

Literature Crazy said...

I really do need to read this book. I don't think I can consider myself "educated" in the graphic novel/comic/sequential art format if I haven't read anything by Eisner. Thanks for the reminder.

Ana S. said...

I read this last year and I agree, it's essential reading for comics fans. I need to get my hands on the rest of the trilogy.