Publisher: WW Norton

2009, 72 pages, $15.95

By Ian Chant

A birthday. A reunion. A death in the family. These are the small stories captured so eloquently in A Family Matter, one of the last works of graphic fiction icon Will Eisner.

I learned to read on superhero comic books, and when I was still a kid they turned on me with a vengeance. The much maligned Spiderman ‘Clone Saga’ pushed me out of a lifetime of comics reading. But holed up in a public library one rainy northwest afternoon, Will Eisner brought me back to the fold. I picked up a copy of A Contract With God and got hooked all over again. Will Eisner’s stories of life in the tenements of New York proved that the funny pages of my youth could just as easily be a place for serious storytelling, for exploring, small, personal, everyday narratives with phenomenal grace and depth. A Family Matteris one of those stories, and while it doesn’t stand alongside the finest works in his catalog, Eisner’s evocative illustrations breathe real life into an otherwise banal story.

Like many of the tenement stories, A Family Matter is a melodrama, and it carries every burden that implies, occasionally bending under the weight of a storyline that can feel overwrought and dialogue that is frequently simplistic. The story moves along at a breakneck pace, and it is to its detriment that Eisner seems intent on covering too large a story in too brief a span. But it’s rendered gorgeously, the art work loosed from its traditionally paneled moorings, the images flowing naturalistically into one another. Scenes from the past and present collide, and the action of the tale occurs as much in the minds eye of its cast as it does in the here and now, a storytelling style that lends itself to Eisner’s flowing visuals. This loose, simultaneous storytelling brilliantly illuminates the unforgiven wrongs that lie just beneath the surface of too many family reunions. The wounds of the past constantly make themselves felt anew, forcing their way into the present against the wishes and better judgment of Eisner’s cast.

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