Originally published in 1978, Will Eisner’s A Contract With God “existed in its own continuum, patiently waiting for the rest of its kind to quietly arrive…” says Scott McCloud in his introduction to the hardcover edition, released in celebration of what would have been Eisner’s centennial year. McCloud’s intro, the publisher’s following “Brief History,” and Eisner’s own preface firmly contextualize the work and its creator within its time and the larger comics scene to which Eisner was so integral. With or without the history, it is nearly impossible to imagine a reader not being blown away by this collection.
A Contract With God explores the everyday extremes of human experience through the tenement building at 55 Dropsie Avenue. Residents strive, struggle, and schlep through the graphic short stories. Eisner explores the themes therein on multiple levels, with text and illustration that are cuttingly resonant. His characters fall in and out of faith in God, man, and love. Some are blindly optimistic and others rawly matter-of-fact in their realism. Some are both.
The stories are a fictional fleshing-out of Eisner’s life. The title story stems from his own experience of losing a child, The Street Singer and The Super from imagined realities of the characters in and around his own tenement, and my favorite, Cookalein, in some ways the most complex story in its interconnected and contrasting experiences of class, romance, and sex across its cast of characters, is what Eisner calls “a combination of invention and recall.” All the stories, in all the ways they are told, are violent, sad, intense, and beautiful. Read the rest