Fagin the Jew

    (Doubleday, 2003)
™ and © Doubleday

Will Eisner has done it again. With a body of work six decades strong, this master of comics literature continues to conquer new territory.

Fagin the Jew is not an adaptation of Oliver Twist, although that famous orphan’s tale intertwines with Fagin’s for the latter half of the book. The story is uniquely Fagin’s: who he is and how he came to be.

In Fagin, Eisner decries ethnic stereotyping. Fagin may be a scoundrel, but that is no more because he is a Jew than Sikes is a ruffian or Nancy is a prostitute because they are Christians. Dickens does a great disservice, Eisner posits, by his frequent references to Fagin as “the Jew.”

Is Eisner hypocritical for taking umbrage at Dickens’ work when he himself created the stereotypical “Ebony White” in The Spirit? Eisner addresses this point in his introduction.

Eisner’s Fagin does not resemble the usual hook-nosed caricature. He is a more real character and possesses depth he lacks in Oliver Twist. A rogue by circumstance, had life treated him more fairly, he might have been something better. It’s not an apology for Fagin’s behavior; it’s an explanation.

Eisner doesn’t make Fagin a hero; he makes him a person. In that, he treats him more fairly than Dickens ever did.

— Jack Abramowitz

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