A Contract with God and other Tenement Stories: My Thoughts
By Will Eisner
The one that started it all. The first proper graphic novel. And yeah, it’s a masterpiece.
Will Eisner said in the introduction that he wanted the story to not be bounded by space or format. And it shows. The framing is impeccable, it’s iconic in its use of space, even the blank spaces add character, pauses and emphasis on what is. The art is iconic. It’s bouncy and flowy af and the characters have that comic character feel not unlike say mickey mouse, with exaggerated features but it just adds a sharp contrast to the bleak depressing setting and the stories.
Yeah everything is black here. Women get raped, people blow their brains, beat their wives and spit on god. It’s also very non-judgemental and very realistic. Eisner, I feel, knows how the comic character models contrasts and brings further shock to the narrative. The rapist marries a rich heiress and has a bright future. No one gets punished, no one gets redemption. It’s all very bleak but never is it on any side, it doesn’t take a moral stance.
The rabbi spitting on god and becoming a real estate mogul is a very fairy tale like story. That’s just a random observation yes. It’s also supposed to be semi-autobiographical and yeah, it’s very very dark as is everything here. The life before immigration, the struggles, the ending yeah I love it all here.
The Super is a brilliant tale too. It’s short and very impactful and yeah the sheer character depth of a child molester is fuck, it’s a fucking mind fuck okay it’s amazing read that story now.
The Street Singer is like a standard O’Henry story and although it falls a bit flat compared to the others, it’s still a worthy addition, enjoyable and just the sheer character depth, wife beating, drunk hopelessness is again amazing.
The last story is like this big ensemble piece and if the first story is a personal tale told metaphorically, this is like a big sprawling artpiece where rapes happen, 15 years old have sex and then are traumatised even further. Cheating is casual and common and yeah I have no complaints here. It is a very tough read and a very hard pill to swallow. I squirmed, I didn’t feel like looking but this is very realistic and while it’s not very fun enjoyable, this book as a whole doesn’t really want to entertain you, but this last story is especially hard. It has such bleak darkness all around, just tragedies occurring one after the other, that you have no time to sympathise with any one character here, they all feel simultaneously rotten and sympathetic, a product of their environment. I can’t even imagine growing up sane here so yeah Eisner spending a childhood like this feels especially frightening.
Do I recommend this book to everyone? Hell no. Carry on your sweet lives. But people wanting to witness the darkness, this is a great book for that. People who have read this? Hit me up man, recommend me more Eisner please. This guy is a genius, there’s no debate there. He’s very human, very empathetic and you can’t pick a character here and say this guy was purely evil without any motive or background. That itself qualifies this sprawling piece as a masterpiece and then it’s beautifully drawn and flows. It has a lot of white spaces and no compromises. And so, even if you hate the experience, you can’t deny it’s dark beauty.