A Contract with God: And Other Tenement Stories Hardcover Centennial Edition
by Will Eisner
Let’s talk about the words “graphic novel.” You know it just means comics, right? Well, the thing is, mainstream comics want to use it to label their kiddy superhero comics and try to “legitimize” them. Where it really applies is the comic book stories that have been approached with a sort of elegance and integrity that has eluded superheroes comics for the past god-knows-how-long. The funny thing is, the creators of those “better” stories don’t mind calling them comics. They just let the work speak for itself.
Will Eisner is the grandpappy of graphic novels, and this book, which I’m embarrassed to say is my first real exposure to Eisner’s work, is a sort of revelation. Dealing with immigrant life on a tenement home in the 30s, and borrowing from the stories and happenings A Contract with God serves not just to teach, but to express what it was like living under those conditions. We are immediately immersed into Eisner’s remarkable storytelling which is tragic and all too real, with characters whose lives are filled with sacrifice in order to survive.
And what can I say about Eisner’s artwork, which are elegantly organized in open panels and lines that seem crude yet perfectly placed. The grit of the tenement building on Dropsie Avenue has evidently stuck to Eisner’s fingers.
I can’t recommend this comic enough. Eisner laid the foundation on which a lot of comics today are built, and that foundation is as steady as ever.
Get your copy from WW Norton.