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As I read Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, I was struck by his unique approach to narration. Unlike the traditional comic format which separates its narrative text from its illustrations, via a box or a bubble, Eisner seamlessly blends his narrative text into his illustrations, and sometimes, his narrative text even becomes part of the illustration itself.  To help you visualize this, I’ve set the opening page of Watchmen by Alan Moore next to the opening page of A Contract with God.

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Comics are unique in their ability to utilize the combination of words and pictures to express meaning that neither element is capable of expressing on its own. Ironically, the traditional layout of comics hinders its ability to unite these two elements; by separating the text and the image, via the narrative boxes, the traditional layout sets these two elements in opposition to one another. In other words, it facilitates a binary relationship between the text and the image, where one aspect is always privileged at the expense of the other. In fact, it is because of this opposition that I typically must read a comic three times before I am able to appreciate it. Usually, I am drawn to either the text or the illustrations, depending on the comic, and focus on that element during the entire first read; then, after I am familiar with the one element, I re-read the comic, paying special attention to the other. It is normally only on the third read that I am able to unite these two elements and gain a fuller understanding of the work.

It is because of these aforementioned reasons that I believe Will Eisner’s A Contract with God is an such an incredible important text; through its melding of text and illustrations, it produces one of the most coherent, uninterrupted, and in my eyes, pure comic experience. By smoothly blending these two elements together, Eisner’s avoids setting them in opposition to each other; and instead, allows them to beautifully complement each other, like they should.

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