By Jason Todd
As the creator of The Spirit, one of the original masked comic book heroes, Will Eisner established himself as a critical component of this uniquely 20th century art form.
In the earliest days of the comic book genre, Eisner did things on
the page that artists and writers are still trying to understand today.
Had he done nothing else remarkable following the initial run of
The Spirit from 1940 to 1952, we would still remember Eisner
for his unique and innovative style and his contributions to the
development of what he called “sequential art.” However, Eisner
did do more. In 1978, he published A Contract with God, a collection
of graphic stories set in a 1930s working-class Bronx neighborhood, stories that explore an aspect of American history unknown
to many Americans: tenement life for immigrant families during
the Great Depression. Much like the sentimentalism of Harriet
Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the social realism of Upton
Sinclair’s The Jungle, Eisner’s Contract was a work of literature not
made simply to entertain, but to inform, to educate, to make aware
of unknown injustices.
Eisner produced a variety of other graphic novels, helping to
concretize the term and to establish the standards of the form.
As an artistic genre, the modern graphic novel is still young and
evolving, yet what is produced today, almost 40 years later, continues to be assessed through direct comparison with Eisner’s work.
Dropsie Avenue, furthering the stories of Jewish tenement life; Life
on Another Planet, exploring the inhumanity bred by the discovery
of life beyond Earth; Fagin the Jew, reimagining Dickens’ racist
stereotype; Last Day in Vietnam, recounting the struggles of Eisner
and his fellow soldiers — these and others constitute a body of
work that established a genre while exposing harsh truths about
Eisner’s final graphic novel, published months after his death in
2005, while not his most famous, is one of his most intriguing. The
Plot narrates the tale of the creation of The Protocols of the Elders
of Zion, a nefarious and enduring work of racist propaganda. For
those unfamiliar, the Protocols is a document purportedly drafted
by a powerful Jewish cabal during the end of the 19th century, a
document that detailed their supposed plans for a Zionist world
government. Although the Protocols has been debunked a number
of times since its fabrication in 1905, it has been used for over a
century to promote hatred of and violence against the Jewish