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The Contract with God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue (A Contract With God, A Life Force, Dropsie Avenue) Hardcover – December 17, 2005
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Starred Review. Famed innovator Eisner showed the creators of modern comics what a potentially rich medium they were working with. In particular, he used the term "graphic novel" to sell A Contract with God (1978), a collection of interrelated comics stories about residents in a Jewish tenement section of New York. He returned to that territory in A Life Force (1988), showing one man's uncertain progress, and in Dropsie Avenue (1995), an historical panorama of the whole neighborhood. Printed together for the first time in this volume, the works reinforce each other beautifully. Eisner's virtuoso art always has been admired, but his writing sometimes has been disparaged as thin and sentimental. Over the span of these three books, though, emotions jostle and balance each other; sometimes the stories seem upbeat, sometimes fatalistic. The characters frequently are defeated in the short term but always yearning for more than their surroundings offer. In any case, Eisner's illustrations are superb: water drenches a man walking alone at night in a thunderstorm; a fat housewife athletically performs a "heart attack" right after her husband has collapsed with a real one; aerial cityscapes expand; and every possible expression flickers over the characters' faces. This is an important, wonderful book. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Comics veteran Eisner launched a second career with A Contract with God (1978), one that eclipsed his pioneering 1940s work featuring the masked crimefighter the Spirit and led the way for the contemporary graphic novel. Two further Depression-era books set on the same fictitious street in the Bronx followed. In the wake of Eisner's recent death, the three are here gathered into a single volume. Contract consists of four vignettes, each focusing on a resident of 55 Dropsie Avenue. More ambitious, A Life Force (1983) details the intertwining lives of a handful of the tenement's inhabitants. Dropsie Avenue (1995) portrays the neighborhood's history from 1870, when British immigrants displaced Dutch--descended farmers, to its improbable rebirth from the ruins of the Bronx at the close of the twentieth century. By this point, Eisner's drawing style, always slightly cartoonish, had become even looser and more exaggerated, while his storytelling remained masterful. Along with his other late-life graphic novels, also slated for collection, the trilogy compellingly if melodramatically portrays New York Jewish life. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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In fact, Eisner is much better when he focuses almost entirely on his stark, black & white artwork to tell his stories. A Life Force suffers somewhat from an overabundance of text taken mainly from newspaper stories of the time. It breaks up the flow of the very human stories he tells. In this sense, A Contract with God is the most powerful of the three books here: unflinchingly honest and emotional. Dropsie Avenue is a clever conceit that works very well--tracing the history of a single neighborhood--but suffers a bit when compared to the title story.
Granted, these stories are period pieces and sometimes a bit difficult to follow with their plethora of characters and overlapping plots. Still, they are worth the effort, bringing to life a (mainly) depression-era society that is becoming harder and harder for many of us to picture. Thus, the benefit of a presentation like Eisner's. Certainly, anyone who feels that art can be used to tell a story as well as words will find plenty of supporting material in this volume. It is definitely worth reading.
All these artists and cartoonists owe this new environment of respect in no small part to the work of Will Eisner, specifically the work contained in this volume. While Eisner was not the first artist to tell a story with pictures, he without question hammered out a stylistic language that others could learn and understand. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that he brought the concept of the graphic novel home and gave it a firm structure and a future. Also important was Eisner's unyielding believe in the graphic novel as a form of fine art, as legitimate a tool for storytelling as any of the traditional oral or written forms. All current artists working in comics owe Eisner in the same way that all Afro-American ballplayers owe a debt of gratitude to Jackie Robinson. Like Robinson, Eisner completely believed in what he was doing and refused to accept anything less than respect for his work, all done in a day when respect didn't come easily or automatically for them.
Now, about the work itself - what can one say? No one will ever replace or improve on Eisner's innate ability to tell a story with pictures. His work was absolutely gorgeous and fluid, the line and brushwork immaculate and dense without every looking fussy. He forged a unique and instantly recognizable style that is the true mark of a virtuoso in any artistic medium, and he was a very gifted storyteller into the bargain. There are certain panels in his best work, like "A Life Force" or "Droopsie Avenue," that are just jaw dropping in their beauty and absolutely unforgettable.
To this day his work is unmatched in its depth and sophistication of theme. Norton deserves much praise for reissueing these trailblazing works in a well bound and attractive hardcover. Recommended highly.
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Will Eisner’s “The Contract With God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue” is a collection of three stand-alone graphic novels set on Dropsie Avenue, a...Read more