Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Will Eisner's A Contract with God, 1978

Eisner's Contract with God,
limited first edition.
Will Eisner's A Contract with God is sometimes described as the very first graphic novel, and for a long time I've kept my eyes open for a hardcover copy of the first edition. Over the holidays, I was able to find a copy in one of the bookstores I frequent, and the price was right, so I picked it up.

The hardcover issue, as far as I know, consisted of only the fifteen hundred copies signed by Eisner as a limited edition; the remainder of the first edition was a trade paperback, which can occasionally be found signed but is itself somewhat difficult to find at all (at the moment, on ABEbooks, there are six copies of the hardcover available and five of the trade paperback). 
First Edition,
trade paperback issue

Interestingly, I don't believe the words "graphic novel" are used on or in the hardcover edition at all, appearing only on the front wrap of the trade paperback issue. Although the words "graphic novel" didn't really originate with Eisner or this book, A Contract of God is often cited as breaking ground in using this term as a description of its genre right on the cover. In a prose preface inside, of course, Eisner does try to offer an early defense of the graphic form as a unified, rather than hybrid, entity.

Both varieties of the first edition, I might note, read "First printing, October 1978" on the copyright page, and there doesn't seem to be any real reason not to treat both issues as true first editions. But I find it curious or amusing to note that only one of the two issues actually uses the words "Graphic Novel."

Perhaps it is a foolish delusion of mine, but I always imagine that there must be fewer bibliographic surprises or curiosities among modern books than we might find in older books. Examples like this one, though, remind us that sometimes even modern books may differ in details that actually are--or may become--important. 

Decorated endpapers, with Eisner's signature and limitation number.
Note that the trade paperback issue does not use these endpapers.

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