In a career stretching from the birth of the comic book industry in the 1930’s to the wild popularity of graphic novels in the last few years, Will Eisner was an inspiration to many authors, including Michael Chabon, whose prizewinning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is based in part on Eisner. This compilation of four graphic pieces, created between 1981 and 1992, is a satisfying serving of some of the best Eisner has to offer. Each of the four parts is filled to the brim with memorable characters and remarkable drawings that defy the stereotypes of typical comic books.
New York: The Big City, the first piece in the book, is a series of vignettes giving a portrait of a city which, as Eisner writes in the introduction, “is in the crevices on its floors and around the smaller pieces of its architecture, where daily life swirls.” He chooses to show his city from the bottom up, from subway grates and stoops to the ongoing theater of life as seen in the windows of apartment buildings. City People Notebook, the third component of the book, is also a series of small portraits; Eisner organizes his notebook around what he deems the “major environmental factors that characterize the city,” which are time, smell, rhythm, and space. Eisner inserts himself into many of these snippets, which resemble pages torn from a sketchbook.
The other two works in the compilation, The Building and Invisible People, are more traditional graphic novels in that they tell stories with developed characters. The Building opens with four ghosts standing outside a building; Eisner goes on to relate how each of them was associated with the building before it was torn down. Invisible People explores how ordinary people can live and die without making much of an impact on the world around them. Both stories do an excellent job of showing the isolation that can exist within big cities.
With new illustrations and introductions, as well as “out-takes,” this collection of graphic pieces is an admirable companion to last year’s The Contract with God Trilogy, and both are destined to become classic examples of one man’s extraordinary career.