For one of the most beloved and influential creators in the history of the comics medium—the industry's equivalent of the Oscars are named after him—Will Eisner has been woefully underrepresented on film. At a time when it seems like any third-string superhero has a shot at a major motion picture deal, and indie comics like Scott Pilgrim and Ghost World are equally capable of getting their shot at cinematic success, no one has been willing to touch the man who arguably invented the graphic novel. Aside from a dreary 1984 movie adaptation of Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle (a character he co-created way back in 1937), Eisner's only big-screen presence has been the dreary 2008 take on The Spirit (which our own Nathan Rabin gave a generous D).
According to an announcement at this year's freshly wrapped San Diego ComicCon, though, that's about to change. Producer Darren Dean—backed by former STARZ! head of programming Michael Ruggerio and longtime comics veteran/DC editor Bob Schreck—will be tackling a live-action version of Eisner's groundbreaking graphic novel A Contract With God, And Other Tenement Stories. The book, released in 1978 as one of the first true graphic novels, deals narrowly with the immigrant experience in New York, and broadly with the relationship between man and God. Marked by his distinctive framing skills and showing a new maturity, it was a landmark in both Eisner's career and in the history of the graphic novel. Dean will be approaching the work like an anthology; he's brought in four young directors—Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer), Tze Chun (Children Of Invention), Barry Jenkins (Medicine For Melancholy) and Sean Baker (Prince Of Broadway)—to tackle each of the four chapters of the book as a separate short film.
Casting hasn't yet begun, so there's still the possibility the adaptation will be rendered worthless before it even begins filming, but the decision to treat the material seriously—and bringing in Bob Schreck, who has a deep appreciation for the medium and was friends with Eisner in his later years, is enough to make us cautiously optimistic. As long as they don't let Frank Miller anywhere this thing, A Contract With God could be the first movie worthy of the Eisner name.