Books

Will Eisner, who died on January 3 at 87, essentially reinvented comics as an art. Although his 1978 book A Contract With God is widely considered the first graphic novel, he was pushing the boundaries long before that, with his 1940s crime fighter strip The Spirit. But Eisner's final effort, The Plot—finished shortly before his death—may be his most groundbreaking: a work of "graphic history," in which the author deconstructs The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the fraudulent 1905 text that purportedly reveals a Jewish plot to take over the world. Eisner's visual style didn't change much after the 1940s, which gives The Plot a familiar, even conventional, look. Yet the book is less a traditional narrative than an illustrated catalog, tracing The Protocols' nefarious influence across geography and time. This is tricky territory for a comic because Eisner's material is essentially non-imagistic; the key visual sequence is a 17-page passage juxtaposing extended excerpts of both The Protocol and the 19th- century French tract from which it was plagiarized.

Eisner: Going against Protocols
photo: W.W. Norton & Company
Eisner: Going against Protocols

Still, if that makes The Plot a little choppy, it raises important issues, beginning with the tenacity of a work that has been exposed repeatedly as a hoax. For Eisner, this is not just history, but a call to action. As he writes, "[T]here is now an opportunity to deal head-on with this propaganda in a more accessible language. It is my hope that, perhaps, this work will drive yet another nail into the coffin of this terrifying vampire-like fraud."

 
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