Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Back in Khe San

Will Eisner’s Last Day in Vietnam is more of a sketch book or collection of really short stories than a complete work. It’s almost completely character based with the reader acting as an almost direct witness to the action and stories presented. Some stories more so than others.

The layout is a lot like the lineless panels used throughout The Plot, and I that in part is what makes these stories feel more like character sketches more than complete stories. There is an inherently unfinished look to comic books without hard lines separating the panels. The point here seems to be that the lack of lines draws in the reader and blurs the lines separating the action taking place form the person bearing witness to it – which was what history claims to be the factor that ended the war itself. The blurring of lines between witnesses back home and action on the ground.

And yet this is exactly where Eisner shines. I absolutely love Will Eisner’s ability to capture emotion and character in his figures. When they are happy they are beaming, when they are despairing their entire body slumps over into a heap that is unmistakable. All this is captured with an eye for humanity that knows what it is one person sees in another and is capable of recognizing those emotions. Capturing it on static paper is simply amazing. Hidden under this deceptively simple art are techniques for comic book artists that seem to be forgotten – like using charcoal and textured paper for shading. I love that you can see the tools as much as the story here.

It’s definitely worth your while to look through this book, but I think there is a lot better value for your money out there if you’re looking for Eisner material. What is interesting though is the approach to the subject matter. These are incidents in the life of a soldier and these seemingly amusing anecdotes are what survived in the minds of the people involved in conflict. It’s fascinating to see what it remembered and what is expressed by those in situations that are simply incomprehensible to us as outsiders, and by the players themselves.

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