Will Eis­ner’s New York: Life in the Big City

Will Eis­ner
  • Review
By – March 30, 2012

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.

Wendy Was­man is the librar­i­an & archivist at the Cleve­land Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in Cleve­land, Ohio.

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