Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #172 by Drew Barth
What Streets Say
I don’t know if there is anyone as influential to comics as a medium as Will Eisner. His Contract with God trilogy would become one of the shining examples of what graphic novels could do and how a self-contained story could work in mainstream Western comics. The initial story, A Contract with God, is still considered a touchstone of the medium, but what of the other two parts? A Life Force is a towering work that continues many of the themes of A Contract with God, but it is Dropsie Avenue—published nearly twenty years after Contract—that really shows Eisner at his best.
Dropsie Avenue centers on the fictional neighborhood in New York, the titular Dropsie Avenue, and how it has changed throughout the century of its existence. While much of the Contract with God stories are shorter stories about a specific building or people’s lives, Dropsie is more of a history of the neighborhood those stories take place in. Told chronologically, we start with the first Dutch farmers that settled in the South Bronx in single family homes and continue into the British, Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Puerto Rican immigrants that would call the neighborhood home until their tenement buildings eventually crumbled. A microcosm of city life from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries, Eisner shows the ways in which homes and the people in them shift with the times, culminating in the construction of a suburban neighborhood in the 1990s that would start the whole process over again.
Eisner’s skill as a graphic artists is why they name the medium’s biggest award after him. Dropsie Avenue reminds us of his skills. From a glance of the included pages, we know this is an Eisner comic. From the blending of panels to the lettering, there is a continual distinction in his lines that is unmistakable. But it is these panels—the blending of story into the next—that helps give his stories an energy and a continuity that has always remained unique to his type of storytelling. As this is a history of a single neighborhood, his blending of panels helps to contribute to the more liquid nature of how a neighborhood develops. It isn’t all at once as much as it is the push and pull of its people.
Dropsie Avenue, and much of the Contract with God Trilogy, is a testament to Will Eisner’s skill and consistency as an illustrator. Told over nearly twenty years, his style remained as impactful and distinct from the first Contract with God story to the final pages of Dropsie. And Dropsie Avenue itself shows Eisner’s continual fascination with the neighborhoods he grew up in and shows just how comics as a medium can intertwine with history, even if it’s fictitious.
Get excited. Get neighborly.