I really like Comic books. I mean REALLY like comic books. Because of my lack of finances I go to the library for all of my media but that being said, I am reading at least 3 comic books a week. Everything from superhero comics to illustrated memoirs. Everyone from Jack Kirby to Mike Mignola. I love the art, I love the stories, and I love that I can read something like “Infinite Crisis” in one afternoon!
*I should point out here that if NONE of these things made sense I highly encourage a little interwebs perusing in the near future to check out all of the name drops because you will be dragged into a world that is so cool and mesmerizing you are gonna be like WTF?!?!?! THIS IS SO FLIPPIN’ AWESOME!
My ventures into the comic world was really casual at the beginning when I was kid, I bought marvel comics that looked cool and read DC occasionally and other indie comics but never really thought anything about them other than they were cool. As I grew older though and started to read more Graphic Novels, I started to really develop an almost academic appreciation for the comic medium. I started to really look at the history of comic books, their developments, and creators. Now each of these could be their own lectures in a college setting for sure but we can save that for another time. Right now I wanted to be able to tell you about one of the best Graphic novels of all time which just so happens to be the FIRST graphic novel ever, Will Eisner’s A Contract with God.
For those of you that don’t know, Will Eisner, along with Jack Kirby are the fathers of the American Comic Industry. Will Eisner himself though is the Father of the Graphic Novel. Born in 1917 in Brooklyn, New York William Erin Eisner lived a difficult life in the slums as the son of Jewish Immigrants. Most of his early years were spent living on 55 Dropsie Avenue watching the stories unfold around him during the great American Depression of the early 30’s. As his career started to grow, Eisner worked with many of the most influential comic book artist including Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four), Bob Kane (Batman), George Tuska (Buck Rogers), and created the Golden Age Hero the Spirit which to this day is still one of my favorite characters.
For me though, I think that what really made Will Eisner a true tour de force is that fact that he birthed the modern day graphic novel and what is deemed “sequential art.” In the 1970’s Eisner’s focus was on trying to create an art from with a more mature form of expression. Coined as Sequential Art, the Graphic Novel exists as an art form of using a train of images deployed in sequence to graphic storytelling or convey information, this included four very important elements design, drawing, caricature, and writing. Without his knowledge and expertise, many of the comics that we read today would not exist nor would the graphic novel form be as beautiful as it is without his input.
A Contract With God has been sitting on the shelf at my library ever since I can remember. It has always been staring me in the face yet I have lacked the understanding of how important this document is. I finally decided that if I was going to keep reading comic book series like The Uncanny X-Force I needed to understand the history of comics. Also, the Eisner Awards for some reason are a big deal in March so I felt it was good to read the story.
As Eisner states in his preface in the book, he was “a graphic witness reporting on life, death, heartbreak and the the never-ending struggle to prevail…or at least survive.” The four stories or vignettes follow the goings on in and around 55 Dropsie Avenue in New York. The story follows the stories of life. I would like to say that they just follow a handful of people, but it really follows the story of life. Each story is another layer and interconnects with the previous in so subtle ways that if you flip the page too fast you will miss it. Even the littlest of things, like a passerby in the background or a car licence plate connects the four stories. One of my personal favorite stories was the first about Frimme Hersh, a devout Jewish man, and the story about the loss of his daughter and his broken contract with God. The character was a complete work of fiction but the story was true. Will Eisner lost his daughter in her 20’s and had completely devastated him. He makes no secret that this, and many other stories in the book are from his own life. But while reading the stories, you can’t help but feel the emotion and pain in his own life and that of those around him. But you can also feel the joy of knowing that life is joy and being alive.
I couldn’t help but fall in love with this book. Instead of using the art as the medium and have talking bubbles to move the story along, the book is written like a novel. The art helps to add this immense layer of depth to the stories that I have never quite seen. When the story talks about rain you can feel empathetic, but when you have art that blends together with the words you can feel the rain showering down and the chill to the bone. You start to truly feel the whole scene encapsulate you. Usually I can blast through a graphic novel or a collected series in a day or two but this took me weeks to complete because I wanted to savor every page. Every moment, every emotional twist and turn. When I hear conversations that look at comics as a sub-standard literary medium I can’t help but look at this book and truly believe that comics play a beautiful part in conveying emotions and stories that I have never seen in any other way. To read A Contract With God is like really understanding what I think is “The American Dream.” A story everyone should enjoy.