Page 45 Review by Stephen
The final work from the late, great Will Eisner isn't fiction but the history of a fiction purporting to be fact - a fraud originally published over one hundred years ago, explicitly to frame and defame the Jewish people as conspiring revolutionaries bent on controlling the world.
The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion ('discovered' in 1905) was supposedly an account (a transcript, if you like) of a clandestine meeting between Jewish leaders, and it was designed to scare the hell out of Russia's ruling Tsar, the easily influenced Nicholas II. It worked. Worse still, it's still working today, stirring up anti-Semitic hatred everywhere from Germany to American campuses. It refuses to go away, no matter how many times it is proven to be a forgery. As Umberto Eco writes in the introduction, it rises from its own ashes every time someone adds further proof that it's a fake: "It is as if, after Copernicus, Galileo, and Kelper, one were to continue publishing textbooks claiming that the sun travels around the earth."
Or, you know, teach Creationism as history or science in American schools
People believe what they want to believe in spite of the evidence in front of them, yet Eisner provides so much here that such wilful blindness is exposed as laughable, even if the effects are anything but. All you have to do is compare extracts from the Protocols with extracts from another, earlier piece of fiction, The Dialogue In Hell Between Machiavelli And Montesque written by French satirist Maurice Joly, first published in 1864, and Will does this to show that they're almost word-for-word identical in places, with only the identities of the protagonists changed. Furthermore, the numbers used are the same, even though the economics of the times had changed between books!
Of course, Will does a whole lot more than that, tracing the history of the book's actual creation and delving into its political context. It's fitting that the last work of a man renowned for his innovation in this medium is a departure from his own previous catalogue, and that he continued to experiment right up until this final triumph. You'd forgive an artist, once he'd reached Eisner's venerable age, if he began to use shorthand or his line perhaps became a little shakey, but quite the reverse is true here, with page after page of detailed art - of black and white beauty, whether in line or wash. And quite a lot of this is in wash. I remember Will chuckling in conversation with Frank Miller in the EISNER/MILLER book (still in stock) about obtaining his best tonal effects here from recycling his old water pot's contents after it'd cleaned his brushes for a day: "I'm so proud of that discovery!" Which says it all, really.