The Plot: The Secret Sto­ry of the Pro­to­cols of the Elders of Zion

Will Eis­ner; Umber­to Eco, into.
  • Review
By – August 15, 2012
If you enter the terms Jew­ish graph­ic nov­els” in the pop­u­lar search engine Google, you are like­ly to find that Will Eisner’s name sur­faces in almost every one of the approx­i­mate­ly 176,000 results. Eis­ner is wide­ly cred­it­ed with defin­ing the genre of graph­ic nov­els. His 1978 A Con­tract with God, four inter­twined sto­ries of life among the Jew­ish inhab­i­tants of the ten­e­ments of New York City, broke ground by intro­duc­ing a nov­el­length work in com­ic book for­mat. Oth­er graph­ic nov­els quick­ly fol­lowed, most deal­ing with Jew­ish themes. In 2003, Dou­ble­day pub­lished Eisner’s last fic­tion­al graph­ic nov­el, Fagin the Jew, a dark look at anti-Semi­tism in Dick­ens’ Oliv­er Twist from the point of view of the only Jew in the sto­ry. 

The Plot, fin­ished just before he died in Jan­u­ary 2005, is Eisner’s first and last graph­ic non­fic­tion. In it, he traces the his­to­ry of The Pro­to­cols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semit­ic text first dis­trib­uted in Rus­sia in 1905. The Pro­to­cols, forged from anti-gov­ern­ment pro­pa­gan­da writ­ten in France, was passed off by the Russ­ian secret police as a plan by the Jews to take over the world. Even though it was exposed as a fraud­u­lent doc­u­ment in 1921, The Pro­to­cols were still used by Hitler and oth­ers as fod­der for their anti-Semit­ic actions. Even today, this vit­ri­olic doc­u­ment is still sold in book­stores around the world. 

It is hard to crit­i­cize any work that flows from the pen of the enor­mous­ly tal­ent­ed Eis­ner. He was a genius at depict­ing real peo­ple in real sit­u­a­tions; the Jews in his graph­ic nov­els are por­trayed warts and all, and his books are filled with large pan­els show­ing a great deal of action. The Plot, how­ev­er, is not his best work. The top­ic does not lend itself to the graph­ic nov­el for­mat, espe­cial­ly the long mid­dle sec­tion in which the orig­i­nal and the forged doc­u­ments are com­pared side-by-side. While oth­er graph­ic nov­els have cer­tain­ly tak­en on such weighty mat­ters as the Holo­caust (see espe­cial­ly Art Spiegelman’s Maus books or Joe Kubert’s Yos­sel), a his­to­ry of The Pro­to­cols of the Elders of Zion does not trans­late well into a graph­ic presentation.
Wendy Was­man is the librar­i­an & archivist at the Cleve­land Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in Cleve­land, Ohio.

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