The Contract with God Trilogy by Will Eisner

The Contract with God Trilogy by Will Eisner

 

Will Eisner had a long, successful career in comics before he was able to publish these three books. He had written and drawn for newspapers, comic books, and training materials. His style of writing was not considered appropriate for serious drama. Thus these serious dramas about life in a New York City neighborhood were deemed unpublishable in the early 1970s. He finally got the first volume published and it became a critical hit, creating a new branch of the comic book industry–“graphic novels.”

The stories deal with the frustration and disillusionment of the characters living in a run-down tenement building. One man’s adopted daughter loses her life and he turns his back on God. An aging diva and an ambitious street singer use each other for personal gains. A group of people go to the Catskills to escape the hardships of the city only to find plenty of human drama dealing with each other. Many other stories show the lives and history of the fictional neighborhood (Dropsie Avenue), depicting the political, racial, and social ebbs and flows as wealth comes in and out along with various waves of immigrants and construction.

The storytelling is well done with evocative black and white drawings showing the stark reality of urban depression, decay, and decadence. The later stories have fascinating political machinations, with various characters using the brains and charisma (and sometimes brute force) to improve things as best they can. The last of the trilogy, “Dropsie Avenue,” goes through the history from the 1700s to the late 1900s, with the waves of different immigrants having their impact on the community. It made for convincing and compelling reading, as did the rest of the book. This book is rightly considered a classic.

Parental advisory: As a realistic work of fiction aimed at adults, no punches are pulled when depicting racism, violence, and sex. I’d recommend this for late teens and up.

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