Saturday, March 7, 2015

Will Eisner Week, Day 7: A Contract with God

Before I close out Will Eisner Week, I probably should talk about the book that is credited with popularizing the term "graphic novel." A Contract with God was Will Eisner's first attempt to publish a book of comics aimed specifically at adults. It eventually came out in 1978, well after Eisner had established himself as a comics creator (you can read about his career here), and it shows his literary aspirations.

Ironically, this book is not so much a novel at all but a collection of four thematically related stories. Still, the term graphic novel still stuck, and the name gets used to this day when referring to all kinds of books that contain comics (I talk more about that point here).

In any case, this book contains four stories. The first is the title tale, about a rabbi whose faith is tested after the death of his daughter.
The second, "The Street Singer" is about a woman who used to be an opera singer trying to mentor a young man into a singing career.
The third is "The Super," about an antisemitic building superintendent who finds himself the victim of crime.
The last, "Cookalien" is a tale of some city dwellers vacationing in the Catskills.
As you can see, none of the subjects of these stories were typical of the comics of the time, and this book marked a move toward telling a wider range of fictional stories through sequential art.

Many have commented on the memorable, impactful comics in this book, though their mileage has varied. Peter Schjeldahl commented on Eisner's bombastic style and summed this work up as full of "cornball histrionics." Andy Shaw commented that "the book barely shows its age despite its venerable years." I am probably most sympathetic with Timothy Callahan who wrote, "Will Eisner may never be subtle, but he’s often unforgettable, and that’s as true here as it is anywhere."

A Contract with God is currently published by W. W. Norton & Company, and they have a preview and more available here.

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