While reading Contract with God, I was struck by the intense sexuality shown in it. After thinking about it for a while, I asked myself, where’s the line? At what point do graphic novels go too far? Can they??
To answer this question, I decided to look at A Contract with God, particularly The Super and the girl. The biggest thing is that she is ten years old, but come on. Look at her. She’s clearly being portrayed as this highly sexualized being, intent to seduce the super and ruin his life. Clearly she’s the real villain here. Right? Wrong. She’s ten. Eisner has gone and tricked our minds into making the child into a monster.
Another example, also from A Contract with God – the rape scene in Cookalein. It’s gruesome and makes you slightly nauseous reading it (at least it did for me), but you can’t deny that it gets the point across very quickly and effectively. You immediately feel for the girl, but also understand Benny’s side.
Is that too far?
No. That’s the point of the graphic novel. It’s using the art it contains to make us feel things that mere words can’t accomplish. If we were reading this in a normal novel form, you would hate the Super, no question. He’d be a monster because your brain would have drawn you a picture of an adorable ten-year-old girl. Quite a far cry from the picture Eisner gives us. The rape scene is made even more horrible because we are forced to become helpless witnesses, forced to stand by and watch this awful act rather than just read about it and led our brain ignore the images.
Where’s the line then? Is there one? I think graphic novels exist to push that line to its limits and then some. They want to redefine how far they can go. This is really the only medium that’s allowed, and writers recognize that. I think that graphic artists become just that because they want to challenge the taboo of sex, and make the realities of what it can be known.