Will Eisner is such a unique cartoonist with a determined spirit and an unwavering vision. You could say he’s the gold standard when it comes to the tradition of the auteur cartoonist, the artist-writer who creates singular works in comics, specifically graphic novels. In the special case of Mr. Eisner, he arguably created what we now know as the graphic novel, at least in North America. Undoubtedly, his 1978 graphic novel, A Contract with God, caused quite a stir in the creative community and, most significantly, crossed over into the general public. With that in mind, it is notable to have any art show that displays original work from this landmark book. Comic Art Factory will exhibit a selection of pages (tight pencilled prelims and inked pages) that have never been exhibited nor offered for sale.
Excerpt from A Contract with God
The exhibition will take place from the 15th until the 31th of October at the Comic Art Factory gallery, based in Brussels, Belgium. Over 60 pieces will be available for sale at the gallery and through the website.
Excerpt from A Contract with God
Excerpt from A Contract with God
If there is one person who can speak to what is great about Will Eisner, it is Denis Kitchen, who published all of Will Eisner’s graphic novels. You can listen and view my recent interview with Kitchen right here. Kitchen got to know Will Eisner very well and freely admits that it was Eisner who led the way on the future of graphic novels. As far back as the 1940s, Eisner envisioned the future of long form comics collected in book form. Eisner’s long-running comic strip, The Spirit (beginning in 1940), which went on to be collected into books, indicates what lay ahead for Eisner.
The Empire State Building looms large over Alonzo.
“To finally have this collaboration between two giants available in a single volume is a gift for which we can only hope to be worthy.” — Howard Chaykin
Sometimes, a book is placed under my nose and I just can’t stop reading. So it is with Family Man, the crime noir graphic novel written by Jerome Charyn and drawn by Joe Staton. This is a deluxe edition to the 1995 series by Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics. This new 2019 edition is by It’s Alive and IDW Publishing. For a brief moment, both publishers were working together. What matters most is that this book packs a wallop, full of the grim and gritty underbelly of New York City that novelist Jerome Charyn knows so well. As is the case here at Comics Grinder, while we enjoy sharing images from books with you, we also don’t rely on it so much to the exclusion of thoughtful reviews. That said, let’s take a closer look at a book that well deserves it.
Alonzo pays his respects and kisses Don Furioso’s hand.
As a reviewer who also happens to be a cartoonist, I can tell you on an intimate level that this is a very special book. It’s a perfect pairing of writer and artist. Both Staton and Charyn are not holding back anything while also working as a team. Charyn is busy condensing his prose to the perfect concise distillation. Staton is busy letting loose with his highly expressive line ever mindful of disciplined efficiency and consistency. Both are being the artists they were born to be, both working on the same page. Take a look at the panel above. A whole story, a whole way of life, is held together in that one rectangle. Staton is depicting a connection between two brute men. Alonzo is the Mafia hitman showing respect. Don Furioso is the kingpin in decline who has been reduced to fretting over his colon.
Family Man page excerpt
We can see that Alonzo and the don are both past their prime and yet remain quite deadly creatures with no immediate plans to depart this earth. To that end, Alonzo the mob’s hitman, fixer, and “family man,” has been assigned the job of killing a band of rogue assassins who are bent on killing off all the Mafia dons in the city. It won’t be an easy task for Alonzo by any means. Add to the mix Charles, his own brother, the local Monsignor who works for the NYPD. If the killers don’t get him, Alonzo’s own brother just might.
Family Man page excerpt
Let’s take a moment to skip back to Joe Staton’s artwork. If you examine the above examples, you’ll start to focus in on the distinctive shades running throughout. Before everything went digital, artists had to be rather crafty about finding ways to create tones to spice up black & white line art. One way was with the use of a special bristol board that was embedded with shading inside the board. Applying a brush that had been dipped into a special solution would reveal the shading hidden within the board. What tones ended up making it to the surface were dependent upon the artist’s choice of brushstrokes. It’s my guess that Staton had a hefty stockpile of Duotone board at his disposal. By the early ’90s, around the time of the creation of this graphic novel, this old-fashioned board was pretty much already extinct. Staton probably had hoarded more than enough of this board going back decades. The results are stunning, of course, and it would take some doing to even try to come close to emulating it in Photoshop. Staton has a clean sharp style to begin with so this special shading technique was really just an option, an option that he makes the most of in this book.
Greetings from the Bronx Boys
With Family Man, Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton create their very own crime noir mythos. Alonzo, the mob hitman, and Charles, his monsignor brother, have numerous tales to tell and to act out. The setting, the mood, and the attitude all add up to an edgy good time. Joe Staton (Batman, Green Lantern) seems to channel the best of the work he’s done during his impressive career. He also seems to offer a tip of the hat to Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Jerome Charyn plays with various crime fiction tropes and brings in his unique sensibility as evidenced by his critically-acclaimed Isaac Seidel crime novel series. Alonzo is a “family man” in more ways than one. He used to be a true family man with a wife and kids. Later on, he became a family man to the mob alone. And, to further frustrate and complicate matters, he finds himself in mortal conflict with his only remaining member of flesh and blood family, his brother, Charles, the man of god who is not what he seems. As Charyn and Staton drop each layer of the narrative into place, the reader becomes all the more invested in the outcome.
Family Man page excerpt
A satisfying narrative, whatever the medium, is made up of a finely spun web of action, deliberation, long and short pauses, and a resolution that resonates, perhaps even transcends. It’s a matter of a myriad of creative choices and observations, big and small. Bit by bit, it all comes into focus: Alonzo, our big hefty protagonist, seems up to any challenge given enough time to digest a hoagie. Something about a certain metropolis is forever swirling in the background, and creeping into the foreground. New York City welcomes everyone but it coddles no one. Better to be tough, tough it out. A flamboyant so-called “man of god ‘ should wear a cloak or cape. And Alonzo better have a secret weapon. All the hoods eat hoagies too. Lastly, in the end, all the corruption, filth, mayhem, and blood lust tallies up. Maybe nobody gets the girl, like they used to in the movies. It’s all set “one hour into the future” with a crime-ridden New York City on her knees! But Alonzo will prevail, one way or another, and live or die as a “family man.”
Family Man, published by It’s Alive and IDW
I welcome everyone, especially my longtime readers, to check out the video review below. I invite you all to like, subscribe, do whatever you like to engage with, the Comics Grinder YouTube channel. Comics Grinder welcomes your support, as always, to help expand our reach and scope with your feedback and general goodwill! Take a look:
Family Man, by Jerome Charyn & Joe Staton, is a 300-page hardcover. For more details, and how to purchase, visit IDW Publishing right here.
Jackie Estrada’s “Comic Book People 2,” a behind-the-scenes look at the comics industry in the 1990s, will be available at your local comics shop on September 2 and on Amazon on September 10. You can currently find the first book “Comic Book People: Photographs from the 1970s and 1980s,” right here. You can find “Comic Book People 2” scheduled for release at your LCS right here.
“Comic Book People 2” is a high-quality hardcover coffee table book that offers a unique peek at the comics industry in the 1990s. It features some 600 candid photos of comics creators taken by Jackie Estrada at the San Diego Comic-Con, WonderCon, Chicago ComiCon, APE, SPX, and other shows during the decade, along with commentary and anecdotes about each person. The photos depict not only the big names of the period but also up-and-coming stars early in their careers as well as Golden and Silver Age comic book greats who were still with us.
“The 1990s were a great time for new faces that are now familiar fixtures, such as Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Jeff Smith, Terry Moore, Garth Ennis, Colleen Doran, David Lapham, and Paul Pope,” says Estrada. “But even as these new creators came on the scene, a number of Golden and Silver Age greats were still with us, and I was fortunate to be able to photograph many of them.” Among the venerated artists in the book are Frank Frazetta, Carmine Infantino, Gene Colan, Al Williamson, Sheldon Moldoff, Nick Cardy, and of course Will Eisner and Jack Kirby.
The 1990s were a transitional era in comics: Image emerged, lots of other new publishers got into the mix, the direct market flourished, and the self-publishing and indie comics movements really took off. The number of comic conventions also increased all around the U.S. And Jackie Estrada was there, capturing the scene in candid images.
It was during the 1990s that Estrada and her husband Batton Lash formed Exhibit A Press to produce his comics series Wolff& Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre (aka Supernatural Law). Many of the photos in Comic Book People 2 were taken at shows where they exhibited, from the Chicago ComiCon and WonderCon to the Small Press Expo and APE, as well as the San Diego Comic-Con. The book covers the full spectrum of creators, from mainstream superhero writers and artists to small press cartoonists, as well as people behind the scenes in the industry, such as publishers, editors, retailers, and distributors. Among the events of the 1990s featured are the foundings of Milestone and Friends of Lulu and activities of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
Jackie has been both a comics fan and a photographer since the 1960s, and she has been to every San Diego Comic-Con. Her involvement in comics has included editing publications for Comic-Con, being the administrator of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards since 1990, serving as president of Friends of Lulu, and being the co-publisher of Exhibit A Press, which has produced Comic Book People 2. Her photos of comics creators have appeared in numerous books and publications, from Paul Levitz’s 75 Years of DC Comics and Julius Schwartz’s autobiography Man of Two Worlds to Alter Ego and Comics Buyer’s Guide. Most prominently, dozens of her photos were used in Dark Horse’s Comics: Between the Panels and in Comic-Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans, and Friends. Most recently, her photos could be seen in the PBS special, “Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle,” on the history of superheroes.
You could not ask for a better guide on the formidable world of comics than Jackie Estrada.
A man of means, with everything to live for, finds himself in a coma. At 54, he’s had a stroke that has left him in limbo. He floats along, out of his body, amused and perplexed by all the fuss still being made over him in hospital. While in limbo, he becomes ever more familiar with an entity of great power. He observes. He gives it a sex and a name, Mercy. He concludes that Mercy is fully self-contained and yet she repeatedly ventures back down to Earth to help. It’s totally altruistic. But why do it?
Written by J.M. DeMatteis, and artwork by Paul Johnson, “Mercy: Shake the World” is the sort of graphic novel that Will Eisner would have appreciated. As was his understanding, since life really begins after 50, many a graphic novel will be created with a more mature and worldly reader in mind. This is just that kind of work. “Mercy” is unafraid to let it all hang out when it comes to asking the big questions and not caring so much for the answers. It’s like we’re somehow past that, so beyond just seeking wisdom here.
Our main character is totally free to see as much of the big picture as he chooses. He doesn’t gorge himself on insight. He’s along for the ride, has all the time in the world. Enlightenment is inevitable. So, he takes it slow and easy. He’ll take Mercy any way it comes.
This is a beautifully rendered work. Johnson’s artwork is in touch with the ethereal just as much as DeMatteis’s script. Nothingness. Emptiness. You can go anywhere from there. From nothing to everything. Graphic novels are a perfect venue with which to ponder and expound upon the metaphysical. And here you have a fine example of just that. Our Everyman, with one foot in our world and the other in the netherworld, is neither hero nor villain. He’s just trying, before too long, to find out what all the fuss is about.
“Mercy: Shake the World,” a 128-page trade paperback in full color, with extras, is published by Dover Publications, and available as of June 17, 2015. Visit our friends at Dover Publications right here. And you can also find “Mercy: Shake the World” at Amazon right here.
I love to read comics. I love to talk and write about comics. And I love to create comics. It seems like over the years, bit by bit, I’ve become something of an expert on comics. I have varied interests than include fine art and pop culture. You can easily find me engrossed in the latest superhero movie or questioning whether or not we already have too many superhero movies. (Yes, we do). Anyway, I find it sometimes to be a worthy challenge to educate someone on comics who admits to knowing nothing about the subject beyond the “Sunday Funnies.” At other times, it is too much of a challenge since that person has no real point of reference beyond a marginal interest. So, the best I can do is comment when I feel like it. And, as for writing about comics, I tend to take the same attitude. I write about what I like when I want to. Sometimes I’ll write about why a comic did not work out. Sometimes I’ll write about a comic I really can not support. But, mostly, I think I gravitate to something, get excited about it, and start writing.
And why do I love comics in the first place? It all goes as far back as I can remember. I always wanted to do something “creative,” for lack of a better word. Of course, I never stopped drawing once I picked up my first crayon. But it got far more elaborate than just wanting to draw. I wanted to create whole worlds. I put on plays. I built space ships. I tirelessly drew comic strips and then comic books. I couldn’t help myself. Didn’t other kids like to do the same? Apparently not. That is what was hard to understand, at least at first. It was a little heartbreaking to see that a lot of kids, most kids, had no real interest in pursuing art. I, on the other hand, had no real interest in pursuing sports. And, to my chagrin, and torment, sports were attractive to many kids. Flash-forward a number of years, and I still draw. I know how to draw. And the typical kid who gave it up now sells insurance and smokes pot. Great.
My generation, Generation X, did not have the luxury of having a whole cool geek lifestyle ready and waiting to be slipped into like a new pair of jeans. My generation had to do a lot more fumbling about in the dark. But, if you were persistent, then it did not matter how many people might have tried to ridicule you or discourage you from “becoming an artist.” That was the thing. All of us “geeks” had an idea of wanting to become something, an artist maybe, something more than just average. Here, I could try to describe Gen X a little more. Suffice it to say for the purpose of this post, it was rebelling against the excesses of the previous generation, the Baby Boomers, the Me stuff, too much navel-gazing, sex, drugs. And Gen X loved irony, and self-deprecation, especially ironic self-deprecation, despite the pitfalls of being easily misunderstood. More on this for another post.
So, for me, my peculiar/particular ambition always involved writing and drawing. The world of “alternative comics” did not quite exist just yet. Neither did the world of “alternative music” for that matter. It was building its way up from the underground. “Alternatives” to the mainstream culture were out there but you had to seek them out. They were not just a click of a mouse away. (But, even today, you still need a desire to know where to click.) Mainstream comics were of little help back then as they were struggling to remain relevant. Something like “Watchmen” could truly be called, “ahead of its time.” It would take many years before it would be fully appreciated by a broader audience. And just how you went about becoming an artist was mysterious. Was art school really the answer? (No, not really — but it could help). Learn by doing is the best lesson of all. Little did I know, or fully appreciate, that all the work I did on my own, without the “support” from critiques and discussion groups, was going to be the stuff that ended up being most significant.
The tried and true path you can take if you specifically want to become a writer or an artist is to go to college and that is what I did. Of course, no one can really “teach” you how to become a writer or an artist but what can you do? Travel the world? Yeah, that would have been nice. So, I took my share of English lit courses and creative writing courses. I took more than my share of studio art courses and ended up earning a BFA. However, one of the most useful things I did during my time at unversity was to write and draw a comic strip in the student paper. At around that time, I was getting my first looks at Blutch, the Hernandez brothers and Chester Brown. Just like punk, you had to go to the shops to find it. And still, even though I’d already read quite a lot of comics and drawn quite a lot of comics, I did not necessarily identify myself as a cartoonist. I was into a lot of things and I just happened to also draw comics. Comics as a career choice just was not convincing me. I wasn’t hellbent enough on pursuing it, I suppose. I just did what I did. Also, I didn’t want to get pigeonholed into only drawing comic strips, which was what I was primarily doing with comics at the time. Comic strips, all by themselves, seemed too limiting–and I still believe, in general, that is true. Just look at the vast majority of online comics. I will have to save this topic for a future post since, of course, there is a lot more to say on this.
So, the sad fact back then, some twenty years ago, was that breaking into comics was even less of a career option than it may seem today. And, even today, it’s not so obvious but the information is far more readily available. Basically, you do what you do because you love it. And, if you’re smart, you’ll figure out how to get what you do from a hobbyist corner into a professional arena. If you’re really smart, you will keep doing what you do and keep getting better and better. Sometimes, it is true: the money will follow. And, if not, you’ll be smart enough to know what you have accomplished.
And the better educated you are, the better for you in more ways than one. That does not necessarily mean college. In fact, college can really get in the way. What anyone should do, especially a young person, but this applies to any age, is to read as much as you can. Try out as many novels as you can, from classics to pulp fiction. Read as much history as you can. Read on a variety of subjects. Know your art history, science, even math. All of that makes for a much better comics reading experience. Otherwise, if you’re uneducated, you’ll have a limited sense of taste and comics will all seem the same to you, bad, good, great. Well, maybe you’ll appreciate that some comics are better than others but you’ll still miss out on appreciating what makes one comic better than another if your general knowledge is lacking. Education is a lifelong process so you’re not expected to get every reference every time. Just make an effort.
Comics, like sex, gets better with age. It was Will Eisner who said that the ideal reader of comics is someone at age 50 and beyond. I think that’s the age that he was writing his graphic novels for. Of course, younger people appreciate stuff like “A Contract With God” too! But I understand what he was getting at. By a certain age, works of art take on a greater resonance and that’s because it is, by that time, that a person has gotten a chance to really experience life, gain some humility and wisdom. What seems to remain a big secret for the general public is that comics is a serious art form. It can be put to use for various purposes, among them a ton of very bad comics, but it can also be put to use to create wondrous works of art.
I invite you to keep checking in here. I will do whatever I want, whenever I want, but I am going to make an effort to organize things here a bit.
I’m going to try something out.
Mondays: I’ll do a fresh review of a single issue that just came out recently, most likely the week before. So, a review of a comics single, for the most part. Maybe sometimes an essay on a favorite topic.
Wednesday: I’ll save that for something special. I can provide a book review or an interview or some other special feature.
Fridays: Well, I’ll say that can be “Friday Funnies.” Or “Friday’s Treat.” It will be a comic, or a piece of art of some kind.
Maybe I should include a DONATE button on here too. Yeah, I’m really thinking about what to do next with Comics Grinder. Y’all feel free to provide some feedback from time to time. I love to freelance and contribute writing to other sites. God knows I have enough experience with that. I could tell you some stories. Overall, I don’t regret most of it. And, hey, I’m a good guy and keep things professional. Depending on who you are, there’s a little of everything here at Comics Grinder and there will surely be something that appeals to you.
And also be on the look out for my random posting when something catches my fancy.