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 A Contract With God

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Chris W

Posts : 180
Join date : 2012-09-14

PostSubject: A Contract With God   Wed May 22, 2013 11:13 pm

I've just reread "A Contract With God" and it is, like, *THE* touchstone for everything worthwhile in the comic book medium since 1978. The title story makes more sense than it did the last time I read it, as did "Street Singer." "The Super" set the bar for a writer making a character unlikeable from the start, and then getting the audience to sympathize with that character. Alan Moore, Garth Ennis and Dave Sim are the only comic-book writers who even approach that stage, in my opinion, and Eisner was the one who built it with his own two hands. "Cookalein" says more about the gender divide than anything Sim has ever done.

At some speech, Frank Miller introduced Eisner by thanking him for everything he did before "A Contract With God" and for everything he did afterwards. In a sense, Marvel and DC should have folded up shop after 1978 because they had nothing that could even come close to it, until Alan Moore brought in "Watchmen." This book set such a high standard that everything else was self-evidently wrong.

"The Super" is the one that's always stayed with me. As a writer, it's just such an amazing feat to target a character and go out of the way to make that character so unlikeable, and then do a complete 180 and put that same character in a situation where the audience is saying 'no, don't do that, he doesn't deserve it!' Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" is the only fictional experience I've had that even approaches what Eisner did with "The Super." If one's ability to write fiction means anything, it should include making people believable and likeable that the writer fundamentally disagrees with. Presumably writers meet people every day they fundamentally disagree with, whom others find believable and likeable. Right?
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Posts : 99
Join date : 2013-04-14

PostSubject: Re: A Contract With God   Thu May 23, 2013 11:54 am

I agree with your lavish praise.

And you've inspired me to pull A Contract With God and Will Eisner's other graphic novels off my bookshelf and reread them.

I wonder what market existed for these books in the late 1970s when Eisner started producing them. The comic book industry by that point was pretty much just Marvel and DC superheroes, and in the late 1970s, it mostly sucked. The 1960s indie comix movement had petered out; the 1980s independent publishers movement hadn't yet kicked into gear. Comics were considered just for kids.

And here comes an aging Eisner, long after The Spirit had been a successful strip, creating something entirely new and different, and wonderfully intelligent. I wonder, what did people at that time make of it? Did it sell? Did folks realize that Eisner was shoving the comics medium forward?
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Chris W

Posts : 180
Join date : 2012-09-14

PostSubject: Re: A Contract With God   Fri May 24, 2013 6:35 am

I don't think so. In an old "Next Men" letter column, John Byrne lamented that Eisner's new books barely sold ten thousand copies. I've just spent a few days re-reading Dave Sim's "100 hours" tour for "glamourpuss", and was struck by the part where he describes Eisner's (then-recent) death, and expounds on his (Eisner's) love of comics. As Sim described it - and he may have been stretching the truth to make his own point - it was a love for comics, first and foremost that drove Eisner.

[quote from memory] "He couldn't sell his company fast enough" once he met Denis Kitchen and saw the hippies using the medium for the literary purpose he's hoped to bring to "The Spirit" in the first place. He described Kitchen as being much more overjoyed by the Spirit television pilot than Eisner was. In the Eisner tribute issue of "Following Cerebus", Sim recounts his last meeting with Eisner, who expressed similar disappointments over the relative sales of The Will Eisner Library [which helped me complete my collection of his work] versus "The Spirit" Archives.

[Just to keep this on Sim for a moment, the last time he or I attended SPACE in Columbus, Ohio, the Cerebites all met him at the Ohio University's Will Eisner exhibit, which Sim described as 'get out of my way, there is Will Eisner art to look at!' There was a complete Spirit story, art from his newer books and examples going back to a newspaper cartoon he drew in high school.]

Eisner changed the comics field four times. Most people only know his three innovations. He formed a studio with Jerry Iger to produce new material because he realized the comics market couldn't run on newspaper reprints forever. They'd eventually run out of material. Then, he started The Spirit and kept ownership, which no comics fan could deny as one of the greatest achievements since sliced bread. A few decades later, he invented the graphic novel.

In-between The Spirit and "A Contract With God," he produced comics for the military and industries. At first he did "Joe Dope," which - in the one strip I've ever read - was funny, well-drawn, and if I ever need to know how to change the cartridge in a WWII-era grease gun, that's the instruction I'd pick. Not too long ago, every set of instructions, from installing your VCR to, well, changing the cartridge in a WWII-era grease gun, was told in thick blocks of type. Now it's all done with easy-to-understand pictures and corresponding words to explain what's going on. Will Eisner did that. Not some group of lawyers or bureaucrats, but someone who recognized the potential of comic books. He also started P.S. Magazine for the Army, and handed it off to Joe Kubert, and I miss seeing that signature on the covers.

We're still not at Will Eisner's level, never mind the late 70s. We can have long, involved discussions about The Avengers with people who don't know anything but what they've read on Wikipedia, and *that's* a successful crossover from comics to the real world. If I knew how to post images, I'd post the parody of Frank Miller's directing the "A Contract With God" movie. It's very funny, and even moreso if you're not a big Miller fan.

His Dropsie Avenue books are (deservedly) the ones that get the most attention - I reread "Dropsie Avenue" last night, and still think it's one of the greatest works of art hitherto known to mankind - but I've always held a soft spot for "Life on Another Planet", which is the least Eisner-like book in his catalogue, but to me, reads like "Watchmen" before its time, right down to the fake invasion from another planet, the extensive changes in the world, at all levels of society, up to and including President "Nixon."
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