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Fagin the Jew

Fagin the Jew

by Will Eisner, Various (Illustrator), Diana Schutz (Editor)

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Comics luminary Will Eisner takes on literary giant Charles Dickens, in this fascinating retelling of the life of Oliver Twist's Fagin! Imagining Fagin's impoverished childhood in the slums of London and his initiation into the criminal underworld, Eisner's story counters the anti-Semitism of Victorian literature as his gorgeous brushwork creates an


Comics luminary Will Eisner takes on literary giant Charles Dickens, in this fascinating retelling of the life of Oliver Twist's Fagin! Imagining Fagin's impoverished childhood in the slums of London and his initiation into the criminal underworld, Eisner's story counters the anti-Semitism of Victorian literature as his gorgeous brushwork creates an evocative portrait of the era.

* Now with Eisner's previously unused full-color cover art!

* Foreword by Brian Michael Bendis!

* Introduction by Dickens scholar Jeet Heer!

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Eisner, the inventor of the graphic novel format, has been writing and drawing stories about Jewish working-class life since 1978's A Contract with God. This time, though, he's turned to an unlikely variation on that theme, by rehabilitating Fagin, the trainer of young thieves from Dickens's Oliver Twist. In Eisner's version, Fagin grows up in London's Ashkenazi communities, forced into crime by cruel fate and crueler prejudice; most of the book is framed as his pre-gallows plea for sympathy to Dickens (with a tacked-on epilogue in which the grown-up Oliver discovers Fagin should actually have inherited a fortune). Eisner has been drawing comics for 65 years, and his illustrations have become even more gorgeously expressive with time. He's done this book in a sepia wash that makes his carefully researched depiction of 19th-century London look both grubby and glorious, and wholly convincing. But the story errs on the side of extreme coincidence and melodrama, especially in the middle, where Eisner's inventive imagining of Fagin's early life and initiation into petty theft gives way to an awkwardly simplified run-through of Dickens's plot. The constant stream of expository dialogue becomes laughable after a while. No one can convey a story through drawn body language like Eisner can (his drawings of Fagin's partner, Sikes, convey an unnerving mixture of physical cruelty and hauteur); it's too bad his words aren't up to the same standard. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Moses Fagin, "the Jew" of Dickens's Oliver Twist, not only tells his side of the events in the novel, but he also narrates his own formative years in the process. A lower class Ashkenazic Jew, young Moses did not catch many breaks. His father was murdered. His mother died soon afterward. He became houseboy to a philanthropic Sephardic Jew who raised him, but as a young adult, Moses falls in love with the wrong girl and is thrown out into the streets. He takes up with the wrong crowd—or rather he is taken up by the wrong crowd—and he ends up in a penal colony. He has a few spots of good luck, but they are always followed by bad. When he ends up back in London, his story links up with Oliver's. Moses ends up on the gallows in this version also, but an epilogue binds his story even more tightly to Oliver's and ties Moses Fagin's life up more neatly albeit more sadly. Father of the graphic novel format, Eisner produces a book that is as much a social commentary as it is a re-imagining of Dickens's stereotypical villain. The art is recognizably Eisner, expressive and slightly exaggerated without seeming cartoonish. Here it is rendered in sepia tones that reinforce the idea that the narrative is all a memory. Teens with an interest in sequential art would do well to read anything by Eisner. If they have read Oliver Twist in school, this work might interest them even more because of the familiar subject matter. This graphic novel is recommended for most collections and large young adult collections. VOYA Codes: 5Q 3P S A/YA G (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for YoungAdults; Graphic Novel Format). 2003, Doubleday, 128p., Trade pb. Ages 15 to Adult.
—Timothy Capehart
Library Journal
Comics legend Eisner (A Contract with God) here sets out to resuscitate the reputation of Fagin, ringleader of the thieving boys in Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. In early 19th-century England, Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal had the opportunity to thrive-but Moses Fagin is a lower-class Ashkenazic Jew, expelled from central Europe. As written by Eisner, Fagin gains depth and humanity, and he could have found success on the right side of the law had not persecution, poverty, and bad luck hindered him. As a boy, he is taught dishonest street tricks by his father; when his parents die, he has a chance at a better life as the servant of a wealthy Jew. But after being caught in a tryst with a woman above his station, Fagin is drawn back into the ways of the street and is eventually transported to a penal colony for ten years, returning a broken man. When Oliver is brought into his gang, Fagin develops genuine affection for the boy, and when Fagin is condemned to die, Eisner, unlike Dickens, gives him a chance at dignity. Illustrated in the same masterly black-and-white style as the books in DC's "Will Eisner Library," this is strongly recommended for adults and teens. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-The father of the graphic novel takes an iconographic character from Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist and gives him a personal history. The scheming but humane criminal depicted in the social novel might have experienced, according to Eisner, a childhood marked by emigration from Germany and the early death of his impoverished parents, a doomed romance, and a sojourn abroad as an indentured prisoner. The foreword explains how these details are historically probable and, indeed, relevant to the literary Jew depicted by Dickens. That Eisner has a mission to explore and redress past stereotyping-his own as well as Dickens's-does not diminish the aesthetic quality of this new telling of a fictional character's life and times. The sepia tones are of course well suited to extending the period mood, while facial and body expressions, costumes, the street scenes, and rooms are all sensuously detailed. This is a work not only for students wanting an alternative view of Oliver Twist, but also for those concerned with media influence on stereotypes and the history of immigration issues.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Dark Horse Comics
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

WILL EISNER is the author of many acclaimed graphic novels, including Last Day in Vietnam and Dropsie Avenue, and is the author of two definitive works on the creative process, Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling. He has taught cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and every year presides over the Eisner Awards presented at Comic-Con International in San Diego. He lives in Tamarac, Florida.

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