R-Rated Reads features the best in Comics and Graphic Novels that you’d normally hide underneath your mattress. Now, what the F%*# are you waiting for!? READ the G@&-D*%$ thing!
Written and drawn by Will Eisner
Originally published by Bayonet Books, reprinted by DC Comics
In this modern age of comic storytelling, it can be easy to forget that there was once a time when comics and graphic novels weren’t seen as a legitimate art form. Even though superheroes still dominate the medium, comic readers now have a more diverse range of subjects and genres to read than in any time since the pre-Code Golden Age of the forties and fifties. One of the most famous and prolific artists of that period was the late, great Will Eisner, whose most popular creation The Spirit incorporated aspects of film noir and pulp novels into stories involving a masked crimefighter. In 1978, when many of his contemporaries were either retired or still creating mainstream superhero books, Eisner wrote and illustrated a black-and-white graphic novel that used the medium of comics to tell highly original and deeply personal stories. This book, entitled A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories, was one of the earliest examples of how comic art can be used to explore deep, mature themes and paved the way for countless other writers and artists to help evolve the medium beyond what most people considered to be just “children’s stories.”
A Contract With God consists of four short stories centered around the Jewish residents of a Bronx tenement building in the Depression-era 1930s. The title story centers on a middle-aged Hasidic Jew whose faith in God is put to the ultimate test after the death of his daughter. The second tale, entitled “The Street Singer,” follows a homeless wino who sings for money in the alleys. The third installment, entitled “The Super” tells an extremely dark tale about a nasty slumlord who is constantly harassing his tenants until one of them discovers a disturbing secret about him. The final story, “Cookalein,” follows a family from the tenement as they vacation at a summer getaway in the country, where one member of the family experiences an embarrassing first sexual experience. All four stories are rich and emotionally complex pieces of fiction that feature well-rounded and highly relatable characters.
Each panel of A Contract With God is beautifully rendered by Eisner’s signature art style that manages to be both cartoonish and realistic at the same time. Eisner’s linework lingers on the faces of his characters in a way that conveys their inner thoughts and emotions more effectively than in any other narrative form. A Contract With God strikes the same perfect balance of form and content that Eisner’s Spirit comics did, only in a real-world environment and with far more explicit and mature content.
The book was critically adored upon its initial publication and was an instant hit with Eisner’s devoted fans, and its success soon led to two sequels, 1988′s A Life Force and 1995′s Dropsie Avenue. All three graphic novels were eventually collected into a massive volume entitled The Contract With God Trilogy. Eisner passed away in 2005, but these graphic novels continue to entertain and inspire comic readers today. During the 2010 San Diego Comic Con, an announcement was made that the first volume of Eisner’s trilogy will be adapted into a feature film, but sadly no recent developments have been announced for this project. Whether we get a movie version or not, the book is readily available in reprints from DC, just waiting for new generations of readers to discover its brilliance. 5 out of 5 High-Rise Clotheslines.