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Reader's Den: The Contract With God Trilogy by Will Eisner - Week 1

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For this month's Reader's Den, we'll be hosting an online book discussion of Will Eisner's The Contract With God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Aveue. This is only the second time we have featured a graphic novel (the first was Joe Sacco's Palestine in October 2010).

However, as part of NYC Summer, we have two more graphic novel discussions coming up: Alan Moore's The Watchmen in July and Leela Corman's Unterzakhn in September! Please visit bit.ly/nycsummer-nypl for the full schedule.

If you need a copy of the book, you can request The Contract With God Trilogy through the NYPL catalog. This compilation (published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2006) consists of three different works: A Contract With God (1978), A Life Force (1983), and Dropsie Avenue: The Neighborhood (1995). 

To give us a loose structure for the discussion, I've listed a schedule below, but please feel free to comment on any of the four postings throughout May.

Week 1: Introduction
Week 2: A Contract With God (p. 3-180)
Week 3: A Life Force (p. 181-322)
Week 4: Dropsie Avenue (p. 323-498)

Will Eisner, for many readers, is synonymous with the annual Eisner Awards, which were established in 1988 after the discontinuation of Fantagraphics' Jack Kirby Awards in 1987. The nominees for 2013 were recently announced and this year's winners will be revealed on July 19 at Comic-con International in San Diego. 

A Contract With God is sometimes referred to as the "first graphic novel". However, most critics agree that this title most likely belongs to either Gil Kane and Archie Goodwin's Blackmark (1971), Richard Corben's Bloodstar (1976), or George Metzger's Beyond Time and Again (1967-1972). Interestingly, Will Eisner has stated that he originally thought that he had invented the term in a shrewd attempt to gain an audience with the president of Bantam Books, before learning of these earlier works.

Another point of interest is the book's many ties to New York City. Eisner was born in Brooklyn, attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. and later taught cartooning at School of Visual Arts. All three stories in this compilation are set in the apartments and surrounding blocks of 55 Dropsie Avenue, a fictional tenemant building inhabited by Dutch, Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants in the Bronx.

Lastly, Eisner is also well-known as creator of The Spirit, a masked crimefighter who first appeared in a self-titled newspaper serial in 1940, was later revived in 2006 with a Batman/Spirit crossover by Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke as well as an ongoing series by Cooke, and most recently appeared in the DC Comics First Wave limited series written by Brian Azzarello and spin-off ongoing series in 2010. The Spirit was also adapted in the hyper-stylized, but poorly-received movie by Frank Miller in 2008.

Below are some general questions to get us started:

  1. Are you familiar with Will Eisner? Have you read any Eisner Award-winning graphic novels?
  2. Have you come across any versions of The Spirit mentioned above or seen the Frank Miller film? If so, what did you think?
  3. How does The Contract With God Trilogy compare to other graphic novels you've read, on first glance?

 

Comments

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Eisner Award Winners

I am looking forward to this online discussion. I always trust that a graphic novel will be amazing if it wins an Eisner. Now to read the real thing!

Re: Eisner Award Winners

The Eisner Awards were my introduction to Will Eisner as well. Hope you are enjoying the book so far!

Eisner Awards

Thanks for this nice intro to Will Eisner's work and to the Eisner Awards, Thomas! Although I've read a number of Eisner Award winning graphic novels (Sandman, Fables and Fun Home are some of my favorites)I've never read anything by the man himself, so I'm looking forward to reading The Contract with God Trilogy with you this month!

Re: Eisner Awards

Thanks for commenting! I really enjoyed Fun Home and have been meaning to check out the Fables spin-off Fairest as well. I'm excited to hear what you think of The Contract With God Trilogy.

I am a huge graphic novel fan

I am a huge graphic novel fan but haven't read any Will Eisner so far and am looking forward to reading this one since it is so well-known and renowned. I was surprised when I opened it to see how the text and illustrations are given so much space to spread out as well as some empty space--which you don't as much in graphic novels and comics. It's a little refreshing.

Re: I am a huge graphic novel fan

That's a great observation regarding page layouts. I've read that Eisner was known for his experiments with panel sizes and shapes. Thanks for the comment!

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