For a while now, I’ve wanted to do a weekly book review. I read these books and want to talk about them, and give them more exposure outside of their niche interest groups. So I thought it would be perfect to start with the Contract with God Trilogy by Will Eisner. I was intimidated to read this book for a long time, because Will Eisner is one of those exalted, highest tier comic creators. He’s influenced basically every generation of creators that came after him, he’s…a big deal. But it was finally time.
This trilogy is a collection of three stories (obviously). They are: A Contract With God, A Life Force, and Dropsie Avenue: The Neighborhood. These are three stand alone stories that all focus around people living in tenements in New York City.
A Contract With God follows the devout Jewish man Frimme Hersh, who has the titular contract with God, but comes to disavow it. The first book in this trilogy also features short stories “the Street Singer,” “the Super,” and “Cookalein.” All of these stories focus on the grim life of Depression era America. They tackle issues of poverty, family, adultery, and the grim, lonely nature of life.
The second book in the trilogy, A Life Force, is all one story. Still centered around Jewish tenements, this story is an existential one. The story reflects the search for the meaning of a life, as well as the ever changing nature of living. This particular story has a lot of great examinations of life, comparing cockroaches to man several times throughout the story to create said existentialism.
The last book is Dropsie Avenue: the Neighborhood. This one was pretty cool, because it followed the development of the area that would become Dropsie Avenue for 100 years, showing the constant change of the neighborhood. It was a story that highlighted the cycles of living: live, death, and, for the neighborhood itself, resurrection. This story was woven together to create something quite large, and very fascinating. To trace the histories of this neighborhood was a task that could have gone wrong, but Eisner helps us to navigate with his mastery of sequential art.
So, if you couldn’t tell, I really liked this book. Each of the three books within the trilogy looked at the struggles and successes of life, but each in different ways, with fresh discovers and commentary to be found. It is Eisner’s command of both words and pictures that does this. His art is beautiful, but it is not polished. It depicts real life. The characters both look and feel human through his work.
I should also add that Eisner’s layouts are fun to study. This book doesn’t contain your normal comic book page full of panels and gutters. Eisner’s work is far more dynamic. Some pages have many panels (not always square) with lots of dialogue. Others have large dialogue taking up most of the page that correspond with one image (like the image above). It feels much more experimental than most comics I’ve read. What’s amazing about this is that Will Eisner wrote the first book of the trilogy in 1978. But it never felt dated. In fact, it felt like, for the most part, it could have been written in any time.
I can see why these stories continue to inspire creators. Reading this definitely made me want to change up the way I tell a story, more specifically the layout of a page. If that happens or not, remains to be seen. But seeing what someone did almost 40 years ago, and it being so dynamic makes you think you’ve still got a thing or two to learn.
This book is a thing of beauty. It weaves a tale of the American experience that I won’t soon forget. It was full of tragedy, and beauty, and in the end, it was full of life. So, if you’re looking for something to read, I have to recommend this. I give this book 4 stacks o’cakes! I don’t know if I’ll ever give out the full 5, you know? But this is a very strong 4. Very strong.