A review of A Family Matter by Will Eisner

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

A Family Matter
by Will Eisner
W.W. Norton & Company, September 2009
ISBN 978 0 393 32813 4

A family get-together on the occasion of a patriarch’s 90th birthday is the centrepiece of Will Eisner’s bleak and acerbic take on family life. The old man’s children, now fully grown and mostly middle-aged, gather from near and far to be with him on the special day. It is love and loyalty that motivates them, surely? And not the craven desire to curry favour with a father who is apparently well wealthy and not too long for this world? They do make an effort not to seem like carrion slowly circling, though it’s not exactly convincing.

There are many other raw issues to be going on with in the meantime: old grievances, long buried rivalries and resentments. In any family gathering, fault lines will tend to surface sooner or later.

Will Eisner was still working very much at the top of his game when he wrote and drew this comic, which was originally published in 1998, when he had just turned 80. With a deft, masterly touch he conveys character and compels the story forward too; all at once. There is a virtuoso panel sequence on pages 63-67 here: while the old man listens to his children’s plans to warehouse him in a care home for the elderly, he recalls the last moments spent with his wife.

Clearly, the way in which families (in so far as they can be said to exist in modern societies) treat and care for their old was very much on Will Eisner’s mind when he wrote A Family Matter. He was, after all, just 10 years younger than the patriarch here.

Yet his concern with the young, those fragile vessels of hope, is evident too. And there is an awareness, also, of how the stress of everyday economic survival impacts on family obligations… Like most of Will Eisner’s work, A Family Matter is a complex brew, beautifully rendered. It is an absolute gem, one of the great master’s late masterpieces.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com