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Will Eisner's To the Heart of the Storm

Like Blankets, To the Heart of the Storm is a memoir of youth, and very much worth reading. However, while Craig Thompson's art is moving, evocative, and highly poetic, Eisner's work in Storm is simply masterful in its heavy use of realism and selective reliance upon more subtle symbolism.

The novel opens with a brief explanation in prose of the general feeling of the draft, and the effect it had on those it brought in to the armed services in the very late '30s and early forties, before it drops us next to Willie, himself drafted into World War II. Riding a train to boot camp, Eisner stares out a window, framing his stories there. From this initial vantage, we are shown and then brought into his childhood in episodic fashion. We are given very atmospheric tellings of his parents' histories before Eisner goes on to tell us of himself: his fights, his first romantic experiences, early jobs, friendships, the racism he faced as a Jew, and the 'old world' politics he dismissed as unimportant until they dragged him in. Storm is just as much a study of the pre-war mood as an autobiography, and its title isn't realized until the last page, where everything suddenly takes on more universal tones, both in spite of and due to its personal nature.

In reading, we are treated to Eisner's wonderful graphic storytelling. Will was never the only thing going for comics, but he was always ahead of his time, and shall forever be one of the greats. His mastery is evident in every panel and page of To the Heart of the Storm. Nobody handles layouts quite like Will, and the best I've seen have all owed something to the man. Pacing, mood, and transitions are all handled perfectly, often without use of explicit panels. Will's linework, like his character designs and lettering, is free and cartoonish without sacrificing a sense of realism. And he isn't afraid to go all out with brushes, or throw in some rough pencils when the composition calls for it. Every now and then, things can begin to feel a little melodramatic, but the book never spirals out of control, and it doesn't let itself wallow in the hyper-realism so many other comics fall to.

As with most any of Eisner's work from the late '70s on, the appeal of this book stretches beyond comics fandom. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in history, inter-ethnic struggles in America, or memoirs in general. Like Will's Last Day in Vietnam and The Plot, I wouldn't be against this work becoming required reading in certain history courses, either.


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