Friday, May 13, 2005


Friday Comic Book Blogging

Sometime ago, putting up pictures of cute felines became a Friday tradition in the blog world. Was it Kevin Drum who started it? Figures that a namby-pamby West Coast liberal would want everyone to feel warm and fuzzy inside as the weekend kicks off.

Anyway, I'm sorry, but I don't own a cat. Don't get me wrong; I like cats. My first pet was a cat (ah, lovely little Tippy. Somewhere in cat-heaven now.). However, I live alone; I'm a slob. Putting a cat in that environment would be hazardous to its health. My neighbor Michelle owns a cat (Remi, a cute tabby kitten, is her second one -- the fantastic Bailey departed late last year). I'm the designated cat-sitter. Anyway, I considered sneaking in and taking surreptitious pictures of Remi, but thought better of it. I felt a bit creepy, sort of like turning my face white, having little boys sleep in my bed while singing "Beat it."

But I digress.

Anyway, I'd like to start a new tradition here at the old "Ragged Thots" (which celebrated its semi-official first month of publication this past Wednesday): Friday Comic Book Blogging.

Comic books are, of course, not quite as universally warm and cuddly as cats. Conversely, they don't cough up hairballs, either. They don't purr; on the other hand, they don't scratch or bite. They don't give you long months and years of companionship. No, scratch that. They do. As I've said before, I've been reading them for decades and look how well I've turned out! Yeah, I live alone. Hmmm...

Anyway, the inaugural FCBB will be (partly at the suggestion of reader Sub-Deacon, though it was actually a no-brainer) -- drum roll, please -- Will Eisner's The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Why a no-brainer? For many reasons. It occurred to me recently that over the last ten or eleven months, the 20th century has been, literally, dying. What do I mean? Well, many individuals that can be considered titans in their various fields of endeavour -- real legends in their time have shuffled off the mortal coil: Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul, Saul Bellow. These were individuals who truly defined some of the major struggles, great and small, of the 20th century. They were true giants.

For those who believe that the illustrated literary field -- whether simple "comic books" or more mature "graphic novels" and everything that comes in between -- is a legitimate literary genre, then writer/artist Will Eisner, who died in January easily fits into that group of long-lasting unique giants. For those that disagree, well, generally speaking, Umberto Eco who wrote the introduction to The Plot, doesn't usually do that for hacks or people who just create "funny books."

Eisner's place in the world of comics would have been assured if only because of his creation of The Spirit, the tough-jawed masked defender of "the little guy" in 1940.

However, it was decades later, in the '70s and '80s when Eisner moved the whole medium forward. His 1978 volume, A Contract With God -- a collection of slices of life in the 1930s Bronx -- is recognized as the first modern graphic novel. In between, he either worked with or influenced a Who's Who of the comic world: Jack Kirby, Jules Feiffer, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman.

The Plot is a dramatization of the story of an obscure 19th century French satire that was transformed into an anti-Semitic tract, circulated around the world and is, alas, still a source today for those who find comfort in the belief that the Jews are nefariously plotting to take over the earth.

It's nothing short of amazing that Will Eisner was able to still be productive and creative to finish this work just a couple of months before his death at 87. Not everyone will necessarily like this. It is a profoundly personal book. But it makes a statement that needs to be said now more than ever. Intolerance and bigotry take many forms. Just because one of those forms is in the form of the written word, doesn't mean that it can be ignored.

On the contrary, it must be confronted and exposed to the light. The world is fortunate that Will Eisner chose to use his considerable talents over the last few months of an already prostigious life to shine that light.

The world is also fortunate to receive one last gift as another masterful 20th-century creative spirit departs the scene.

UPDATE: As a newbie on the block, it would be most arrogant of me not give a shout-out to this guy, who's been doing the politics/comic book dichotomy for nearly four years now. Our politics may not overlap, but our love of the four-color medium certainly does.

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