Friday, October 27, 2006

A Contract With God Trilogy

I've decided to continue posting for a while yet. I hope that someone returning to comics like I recently did finds these useful. I'm using them, the comic shop and the local library to catch up on the history of great works out there. If there's anything you think I should check out please let me know.

- - - - -

I enjoyed this book for pretty much the exact opposite reasons I enjoyed the first volume of Ultimate Spider-man. This isn’t a straight forward story and it doesn’t explore the lives of the characters in extensive detail necessarily. The plot jumps forward and moves along between the panels as much as it does in any single panel. It’s interconnected as I used to say during my English Lit days. And with each volume I see that it isn’t just the relationships between the characters that is being explored but how they relate because of their attachment and association with a location. The characters relate because they are connected to Dropsie Avenue and the street moves from being a setting for some disconnected stories to a setting for connected stories to becoming the focus of an entire volume.

As the book progresses we learn more and more about the location as we do about the characters associated to it. In the end we learn that without the location we’d have no characters to read about at all. But much like Polanski’s MacBeth we see that the action and behavior of people in this location is cyclical. Not because of the location but because people are simple creatures at their core both blessed and cursed with the gift of consciousness.

Now this book is divided up into three separate volumes and was never planned to be one larger epic. That’s fine by me. I read them all as they came out in chronological order. And well, you can see the progression, not just of Eisner’s vision of what graphic storytelling should be but at his constant evolution and improvement as an actual storyteller. The books start in a simpler form then gets ever more complex with Eisner experimenting in the actual way he tells a story, not just the artwork which is consistently some of the best ever created. Eisner is, simply put, one of the apexes of American artists. In regards to the story structure, the first volume is more like a collection of short stories that are all set in one location. The second volume takes a more complex approach with Eisner weaving multiple storylines and characters around one another, again they are all connected to the location but their lives are all drawn together through various mishaps, fate, accidents, happenstance, dumb luck and human generosity. While the last volume the story is focusing on the location and observing the plethora of humanity that washes around it.

Oddly, the more Eisner focuses on the location the more human the stories become. The more the focus is removed from individual characters the more we get to see the human condition for what it is in its glory and degradation. I do think this is all the more powerful when you read these stories together since we see how people are set up as unique beings in the world. They are more than simple creatures striving to stay alive so the heights they reach are that much higher and their lows are that much sadder. They simply know better and have the ability to be better, unlike cockroaches for instance.

This is one of the better works of fiction I’ve ever read about the human condition. While the characters desire simple things or want to simplify themselves to basic instincts, wants and needs they can’t. They can’t reduce themselves as much as they can’t escape the fact that they are human. As we get closer to the characters we, the reader, are more sympathetic to them. We may not actually like them and they may not actually be nice people but we can sympathize with them. When we watch the maw of humanity from the point of view of the indifferent location we see that as a whole they tend to work in cycles that they can’t escape. It should feel fatalistic but it doesn’t. It feels like while each individual is capable of greatness the group reduces them because of the limits inherent in social interaction. How many times have you had the same conversation with someone? Try to explain to someone that comics are moving and brilliant sometime to see what I mean. That person might be a great person but when they resort to social expectations they revert to something assumed about the unknown.

If you haven’t read any of these stories yet, I implore you to do so at your earliest convenience. These really are some of the most original stories and some of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve seen in a long time.

No comments: