Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Comic Review: Fagin the Jew

Another book I picked up from the local college library and it wasn't until I got home that I noticed the author of the work, Will Eisner, and then my eyes bugged out. I'm not familiar with any of his other work, or even know much about the man, but the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards ("the Eisners") are named after him and that's a major award in the comic world. Heck, recently I've seen a number of people on deviantArt lately supporting one of this years nominees in the webcomic category, the awesome Lackadaisy Cats, so I was really curious to see what was so amazing about this man's work.

Fagin the Jew by Will Eisner

Summary: Unhappy with the way that Fagin ("the jew") was portrayed, Eisner recreates Oliver Twist with Fagin as the main character and shows how he became the person he was.
As a quick note, I've never read Oliver Twist but, as far as I can tell from sparknotes, Eisner keeps the original story intact and mostly expands on Fagin's backstory/what happened when Oliver wasn't in the scene.

The Good: Eisner does a good job at making Fagin's backstory a mixture of good and bad moments, with more unhappy ones, without making it over-dramatic and Fagin becomes a more sympathetic character than you would expect. The pacing was good and every scene shown (except for possibly the greatest scene in the entire book) was integral to the story. The events from the original book are also included and explained so readers don't need to have read Oliver Twist, although having a basic idea of what the book is about is a good idea,  

The Bad: While the new parts of Fagin's story manage to be sad but not overdone, the compressed version of Oliver's story makes his seem more like a soap opera and melodramatic. I found myself bored by those parts and hoping that the story would quickly go back to Fagin's explanations of the events. It was probably not Eisner's intention to make Oliver so unlikeable but I found myself wondering why so many people like Charles Dickens work after reading this*,

The Art: The art is done in a sephia colored ton, like the color except less intense, and it almost looks like it was colored using watercolors instead of ink (or perhaps very watered down ink washes?). The color works nicely for the period feel and, whether it's a page with more text on it or filled with comic panels instead, the space is used well and I had no trouble figuring out where to look next. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and all the characters look distinct (which is even more impressive when you see just how many background characters there are) so it's clear that Eisner is not only a good writer but a great artist as well.

In the foreword, Eisner talks about some of his previous comics where he had minorities as characters and realizing that, unintentionally, he was feeding stereotypes and became more concientious about his writing. He also started writing stories involving Jewish characters (he is, well, was since he died in 2005, Jewish)  and Fagin's backstory, especially at the beginning of the book, would not have been nearly as strong if he had cut out all of the underlying prejudices and hardships faced bcy Jews in England at the time. I know that this should be obvious, the word Jew is even in the title, but it really was that extra background Eisner brought to the story that got the story moving and grounded.

*although I recall having similar thoughts when reading Great Expectations back freshman year of high school, a classic case of reading "classic" books when I just didn't have enough reference to enjoy them and now I hate them. 

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