Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Review: Life, in Pictures

Want to read a biographical cartoon book with literary depth? Read "Life, in Pictures", by Will Eisner.

I had written earlier about Will Eisner's book, "A Contract With God". I recently read "Life, in Pictures" which contains many autobiographical sketches about his life. It is comparable in depth and quality to A Contract With God.

The book is a collection of stories from Will Eisner's life. The first part is a story of how he got in the cartoon business. It is titled "The Dreamer", which describes the protagonist. It is a story of the harsh times during the depression when publishing was going out of business and a cartoonist was struggling to find work. Other stories are about his parents, about his life in the army. Each story is breathtakingly drawn and movingly narrated. This book, like others by Will Eisner, is a masterpiece dressed up as a graphic novel. It contains plenty of real life themes including betrayal, bigotry, and sexual adventures. Go get it, you won't be disappointed.

Will Eisner grew up in a world very different from ours. The economy was tumbling down, and there wasn't much for a young cartoonist to do: especially if he wanted to stick to principles and do the right thing. The World War intervened, and carried hundreds of thousands of young men to their graves. On their return, they found a different world and had to adapt to it. Their life  was a constant struggle and yet they did so well. I am reminded of "The Commander", Christopher Hitchens' father in Hitch-22. He fought in the Second World War, and returned to a victorious but shattered Britain. Through his life he wondered why his generation got such little credit, witnessing a country transforming every day. His generation should have been commended for the fine job they did, and instead they were snubbed every step of the way. The won the battle, and the war, and returned to a thankless, uncaring country.

Our generation is completely different. We grew up in times of plenty. Our lives lacked the constant struggle of our parents. We might have stumbled on our way to a good college, or towards a fulfilling job. But our struggles pale in comparison to the ones our parents had to make. Our lives would have been much harder a few years ago. The ones of us who moved from one country to the other have no idea how easy our lives are. Early immigrants to America had a crushingly hard life. In comparison, our generation is coasting along on its good education and upbringing, and doesn't realize it.

Honest stories about people's lives makes you reconsider your own circumstances and your definition of success. Biographies by famous people are often misleading. Their circumstances and opportunities led them to success or notoriety. The average person dies unknown, forgotten by everyone except their next of kin. If Will Eisner points out one thing, it is the brevity of life, and the foolishness of traditional measures of success.

(Image courtesy Google.)