LIFE, IN PICTURES by Will Eisner (Norton), 493 pages, $35.50 cloth. Rating: NNNNN
Will Eisner’s gift for spirited action and nuanced emotion in cartoons and his character-driven stories gives the three graphic novels and two shorter pieces collected here the energy and complexity we’d expect from the man who invented the graphic novel.
A Good Marriage is a dramatic three-generational saga of German-Jewish American family the Arnheims and those who marry them hoping for status and wealth. The Arnheims are a bitter, mean-spirited lot, but Eisner’s gently comic images make it clear that these are flawed humans, not monsters.
Much of The Name Of The Game is based on Eisner’s wife’s family, according to Denis Kitchen, the book’s editor. Eisner’s take on his own family, To The Heart Of The Storm, deals more directly with racism and assimilation.
On the eve of World War II, Willie is building a boat with his non-Jewish friend Buck. The two meet again years later, Buck spewing Jewish conspiracy drivel in one breath and inviting Willie home to meet the wife in the next. Both books are mildly comic, making the rain-drenched panel showing Willie walking away all the more painful.
In Sunset In Sunshine City, Eisner finds a subtler pain in the apparent contentment of Henry Klop, who finds first romance, then serenity sharing a a day-to-day life with his loving daughter. But we know that their mild happiness in the final panel comes at a big cost: Henry has abandoned the dynamic, live-for-tomorrow philosophy that has sustained him all his life.
The Dreamer, in which Willy Byron stands in for Eisner, begins at the birth of the comic book and offers a funny anecdotal history of the industry and its early players. Kitchen’s accompanying notes do a good job of comparing Eisner’s fiction with fact.
Eisner’s joy in his art shines through on every page. You can reread the stories or just browse, savouring the moments. Either way, this book is one for your permanent collection.