Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Review - The Name of the Game

The Name of the Game
by Will Eisner
2002 Eisner Award Winner for Best Graphic Album

Hey, they guy who wrote and drew this book has the same name as the award! Isn't that a crazy coincidence?

Will Eisner has won the award that holds his name several times for his work from the forties, his modern graphic novels, and once for a book on the nature of comics. The fact that the award is named for him says something about his influence in the field. When it comes to Eisner's work the typical question is if it's brilliant, excellent, or just extremely good. With The Name of the Game I have to go with "excellent".

While in the broadest sense The Name of the Game is a generational story of a family I think it's tight focus on one particular man really makes it the story of a life and how various marriages affect him. There is no other word to describe this man than "cad"; he's an unscrupulous womanizer who uses every person he meets. He's born into a New York society family in the late nineteenth century and over the next sixty years destroys lives.

But enough about the plot; it's pure melodrama and it's not the point of The Name of the Game. Eisner uses the high society family troubles as a stage for other points. The family at the heart of the story is the top of Jewish society and while they may be the cream there they cannot break through to the larger New York group. And at the same time that they are the victim of discrimination they find comfort in looking down on Jews from other national backgrounds.

Then there's the class struggles that drive so much here. The book opens with a coda that bettering ones social standing depends on making the correct marriage. I think it's obvious say that this leads to a lot of unhappy marriages that cruelly self-destruct.

Entire books have been written about what a spectacular artist Will Eisner is so I feel it's a bit redundant for me to rave over him. The expressions and body language for the characters in The Name of the Game could nearly tell this story on their own. On top of that the story spans a a full lifetime and a little bit more so every character has to grow and age as it progresses. And if that wasn't enough this is a story about people keeping up appearances and the nature of that changes rapidly; keeping tract of the styles alone must have been a phenomenally difficult task.

If that wasn't enough Eisner's skill at creating fantastic page layouts is put to terrific but subtle use. Panels blend together and borders come and go as needed. Eisner doesn't do a lot of flashy things with the pages but I'm inclined to think that's to help bring the focus in on his cast of broken characters.

The Name of the Game is a terrific piece of work by a creator who is arguably the most influential comic book artist ever (there's one person I'd argue is on the same level for defining the art form but I'll get to him later this week). It showcases some wonderful storytelling in the art by Eisner that is only brought down slightly by the weaknesses in the actual story. And those weaknesses are negligiable given that the focus of the book is elsewhere.