- This article is about A Contract with God, the graphic novel. You may be looking for the article at Covenant (religion).
A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories is a graphic novel by Will Eisner that takes the form of several stories on a theme. Published by Baronet Books (ISBN 978-978-978-0-89437-035-9) in October 1978 in simultaneous hardcover and trade paperback editions — the former limited to a signed-and-numbered print-run of 1,500 — it is often erroneously called the first graphic novel, or the first work to describe itself as such. It is nonetheless an early landmark of the form, and critically lauded in its own right.
The work consists of four short stories — "A Contract With God", "The Super", "The Street Singer", and "Cookalein" — all set in a Bronx tenement in the 1930s, with the last story ("Cookalein") also taking place at a summer getaway for Jews. The stories are semi-autobiographical, with Eisner drawing heavily on his own childhood experiences as well as those of his contemporaries. Utilizing his talents for expressive lettering and cartoonish figures, he links the narratives by the common setting and the common theme of immigrant and first-generation experiences, across cultures.
In the introduction, Eisner cited as inspiration the 1930s books of Lynd Ward, who produced complete novels in woodcuts. "One of these books, Frankenstein, fell into my hands in 1938," two years before Eisner's acclaimed newspaper-supplement comic book The Spirit debuted, "and it had an influence on my thinking thereafter. I consider my efforts in this area attempts at expansion or extension of Ward's original premise."
The book's genesis was twofold. The first inspiration, Eisner said, came after he'd attended his first comic-book convention in the mid-1970s, and met that generation's fans and creators. "I reasoned that the 13-year-old kids that I'd been writing to back in the 1940s were no longer 13-year-old kids, they were now 30, 40 years old. They would want something more than two heroes, two supermen, crashing against each other. I began working on a book that dealt with a subject that I felt had never been tried by comics before, and that was man's relationship with God."
In his introduction to the book's 2001 reissue, Eisner further revealed that the tragic inspiration for that choice of subject, as well as the inciting incident in the book's title story, grew out of the 1970 death of his leukemia-stricken teenaged daughter, Alice. Until then, only Eisner's closest friends had even been aware that he'd had a daughter.
The term "graphic novel"
His calling the book a "graphic novel", Eisner said in that same address, came about on the spur of the moment:
|“|| I called the president of Bantam Books in New York, who I knew had seen my work with The Spirit. Now, this was a very busy guy who didn't have much time to speak to you. So I called him and said, 'There's something I want to show you, something I think is very interesting.'
He said, 'Yeah, well, what is it?'
A little man in my head popped up and said, 'For Christ's sake, stupid, don't tell him it's a comic. He'll hang up on you.' So, I said, 'It's a graphic novel.'
He said, 'Wow! That sounds interesting. Come on up.'
"Well, I did bring it up and he looked at it and looked at me through his reading glasses and said, 'This is a comic book, bring it to a smaller publisher,' which I did. . . . At the time, I thought I had invented the term, but I discovered later that some guy thought about it a few years before I used the term.
David Wade, Sojourners, July 2004: "Eisner explores the lives of the people he remembered from his youth among an impoverished but colorful immigrant community in the Bronx. His stories explore issues of life, death, faith, and failure with all the warmth and complexity one would find in fine fiction. ...[B]oth the heroic and the villainous lived in tension within his characters."
Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, October 17, 2005: "[N]ever leaving well enough alone is apparently a principle for Eisner. Over-the-topness is endemic to the comics, of course — an industry standard for popular action and horror titles, as well as for manga, and the default setting for [Robert] Crumb's work. But it is ill suited to serious subjects, especially those that incorporate authentic social history."
David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times review of The Contract With God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue, November 20, 2005: "...elaborate sagas of immigrant life, of the struggle with God and meaning — stories that attempt to tease out the complex issues of existence, issues that cannot be resolved. ... "Who knows," Eisner writes above a full-page drawing of swarming cockroaches, "why all the creatures of earth struggle so to live." It's a plaintive motif, and it resonates across these pages, as Eisner's characters strive not just to survive but to understand — a desire that, as often as not, eludes them in the end. ... Eisner's iconic status makes it hard to approach him critically; how do you take on a legend, after all? Yet to read these three novels back-to-back-to-back is to be reminded not only of his considerable innovations but also of his limitations. His visual style, developed in the 1930s, never progressed beyond a broad-strokes realism, more appropriate for the funny pages than for the nuanced work he would aspire to create. His narrative abilities, too, are uneven, occasionally gimmicky and contrived. ... Still, there remains something momentous ... a magisterial quality, as if we're witnessing the birth of a movement, a kind of aesthetic big bang."
In other media
On July 24th 2010 at Comic-Con, the producers (Darren Dean, Tommy Oliver, Bob Schrek, Mike Muggerio & Mark Rabinowitz) announced that the graphic novel is being adapted into a film. It will be written by Darren Dean and each of the four parts will have a different director: Alex Rivera, Tze Chun, Barry Jenkins and Sean Baker.
- ↑ http://www.willeisner.com/bio/graphicnovels.html[dead link]
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Transcript, Eisner's keynote address at the 2002 University of Florida Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels' Will Eisner Symposium
- ↑ Wade, David (2004). "Holy Warrior Nuns, Batman!". Sojourners Magazine.
- ↑ Words and Pictures: The New Yorker
- ↑ [dead link]
- ↑ Gustines, George (July 24, 2010). "Adapting Eisner for the Big Screen". Arts Beat (New York Times). Retrieved July 24, 2010.
- Official website
- Transcript, Eisner's keynote address at the 2002 University of Florida Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels' Will Eisner Symposium
- IMDb Pageit:Contratto con Dio