One of the most striking characteristics in Eisner’s A Contract with God is the intensity Eisner draws in the eyes. Frimme Hersh’s eyes are downcast as he comes home from his daughter’s funeral and it is not until Frimme accuses God of not following their contract that we see his eyes. And man, are they creepy!
Throughout Eisner’s works in his novel, the eyes of his characters are often highlighted when the character is in extreme emotional distress or acting in an amoral manner. As the saying goes, the eyes are portals into the soul; Eisner is showing his readers the corruption of his characters through their eyes.
Frimme is an excellent example. Just like when he challenges God after his daughter’s death, when Frimme demands and receives a new contract from the elders, his creepy eyes are shown. Not only are the eyes incredibly large, Eisner draws the reader’s attention to them through his shading. Eisner draws the tear ducts, eyelashes and the bags under Frimme’s eyes. They are weirdly childlike in roundness, and being set in an otherwise old face, resulting in a startling and creepy expression.
Eisner is an equal opportunist. In The Street Signer, both Joe and Maria have opportunities to look a little crazy. Maria, when she begs and calls in a favor to an old bookie. Like with Frimme, Maria’s eyes are very round and her eyelashes are drawn very distinctly. Eisner draws the reader’s attention to her eyes by placing them near the center of the panel and leaving a large amount of white in her eyes and face.
Joe looks absolutely insane when he realizes he doesn’t know where Maria lives. His beer is dribbling down his chin, his face is heavily shaded and hollowed, his knuckles are pronounced, and his clothes sag on him. Like with Maria and Frimme, Joe’s eyes are very circular. He has bags under them. Attention is given to the eye by the fact that the whites of his eyes are so pronounced. He has been singing and scheming through life so long, this inevitability of retribution does not sit well on him.
One last example is Mr. Scuggs from The Super. Scuggs is a bit of a paradox- he is both an innocent and corrupt character. His innocence is shown when he feeds his dog. His upturned eyes and smile are sweet, doe-like; in complete contrast with the Scuggs on the next page. After drinking, he imagines sexual fantasies. Here the corruption is evident in his eyes. In fact, this is the only time Eisner draws what the character is fantasizing right onto their eyes. Frimme’s eyes were creepy earlier, but these take a new turn. Granted, the fantasies in Scugg’s eyes aren’t violent, but the fact that the lustful mood is set after his seeing the ten year old girl is deplorable.
Eisner is a great artist. His characters are very expressive. When they are in distress, we know it. Eisner generally does not draw more than pinprick eyes until he zooms in on a close up of the character in distress. Then, the eyes are the focus on the panel; they represent the entirety of the character.
Images scanned from Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, A Novel. Copyright 2006