thrift store finds: bringing up your parents by will eisner

Most times, these Thrift Store Finds entries write themselves. Part of the reason for that is the disclaimer I attach to the beginning of each entry which reads, as follows:

(Thrift Store Finds is a mostly-weekly “column” of sorts where I discuss some of the cool books I’ve happened upon in my neighborhood St. Vincent DePaul store. Please don’t mistake me for an expert on any of the books I am writing about… I’m just a fan of a bargain.)

 

Saying that essentially frees me from anything resembling authority on the topics I’m writing about… and therein, any responsibility to be knowledgeable about the latest comic strip collection I’ve happened across. It’s a cop out, yes. I will own up to that completely. It’s also the thing that allows me to even begin to think I have anything to say about these books, most of whom (even if I make with the fun) are created by incredibly talented artists and writers.

Well OK, 101 Shark Jokes excluded.

Even with the above proviso, I now find myself somewhat stumped in writing about today’s Thrift Store Find, as it was written and drawn by someone who is inarguably one of the finest and most groundbreaking artists comics have ever seen. This guy literally wrote the book on how to make comics. He’s revered in a way that is entirely befitting his tremendous talent… and now I find myself sitting here and trying to think of something to say about Bringing Up Your Parents by Will Eisner.

I have to admit, I was a little taken aback when I came across Bringing Up Your Parents. Though I’m not an Eisner acolyte, I know enough comics history to know that the author had a varied career that swept comics broadly. Eisner worked in pretty much every genre that you can think of that can be done with sequential art. He’s best known for his action/adventure stories featuring The Spirit as well as his semi-autobiographical stories like A Contract with God… but if you dig around, you soon find that he’s done just about every type of funnybook story under the sun. Some of Eisner’s work that I’ve encountered had elements of humor, but I had never seen him do the type of straight-up comedy that the cover of this collection suggests. Finding this book was quite a surprise for me.

Published by Scholastic Press in 1980, Bringing Up Your Parents is a cute collection of thoughts based around the idea that, as Will Smith so eloquently put it, “Parents just don’t understand!” Whereas the majority of comic paperbacks I look at here are reprints of comics that originally appeared in newspapers and comic books, as far as I can tell, Bringing Up Your Parents is an ORIGINAL work, only appearing in the small paperback format. I don’t know if that’s because Eisner just had that kind of clout or if Scholastic just saw an opportunity in the market for a “parents sure are idiots” type book. Most of my “research” on this book has come up short. It being all original work makes it pretty unique in this field… at least as much as I’ve seen of it so far.

I suppose I’ll tackle the gags first, and then I’ll talk about the art. The book moves in fits and bursts around the titular concept. Eisner moves between one panel jokes and “stories” that extend anywhere between three and four pages. By and large, I think the longer efforts are more successful, as the greater majority of the one pagers are just sort of buffoonish and aren’t really lampooning anything altogether original or interesting. Like this one:

I get it, I guess… and if it were just one groan-worthy joke, I probably wouldn’t mention its lameness. There’s a full third of the book with these types of comics though!

That being said, some of the longer jokes, or the jokes that hinge on Eisner taking one type of premised and answering it in many different ways, well those are just a whole lot of fun, really great. For example, this section called Basic Research Projects, where all the jokes are still firmly in The Fresh Prince territory… but blended with an easily understood overarching theme.

Or this one called The Language of Parent-ese is pretty good, wherein Eisner “translates” parental language:

Now let me talk about about the art, which is uniformly awesome… and far better than a slight project like this deserved. Eisner really blows me away here, by virtue of his expert character design. I mean, you’ve probably been enjoying Will Eisner’s mastery of caricature in these past couple of pictures, but just look at this strip:

There’s just so much great stuff going on in this one. The posture of the embarrassed kid, the mother looking up at him, the detachment of the two hoods… it’s a joy to look at.

I love how no one character looks exactly like anyone else… either on this page, or in the rest of this book! Like here, for instance:

I love everything about that comic on the left.

Eisner’s ability to create interesting looking people entirely distinct from one another really elevates some of the more flat jokes and gags that make up this book, as good cartooning always will. A joke may be old and lame, but if the drawing accompanying it is funny… well, that goes a long way toward hiding some of the writerly flaws.

Given the limited space he’s got to work with, the author doesn’t go crazy with compositions, and that’s a good thing. Most of these pages consist of anywhere between two and five people just… standing around. There’s not much action. It’s more like a stand-up comedy routine going through its paces. Still, there is occasional depth to these pages, as seen in this section about cave-parents.

You honestly don’t see that kind of depth or perspective in most of these paperbacks.

Bringing Up Your Parents is never going to be talked about in the same breath as Dropsie Avenue, but it’s a fun little footnote in the career of a giant in the comics field, and I was absolutely tickled to have found it for one thin quarter.

Postscript: It looks like a bunch of Eisner’s original art for this book is for sale. If you want to see some other example pages, click over here!

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2 Responses to “thrift store finds: bringing up your parents by will eisner”

  1. i’ve never heard of this before, thanks for sharing. i sure wish some of those $25 or $30 pages were still available… that’s be pretty awesome to own some original eisner art.

  2. […] A legend in comics, Eisner literally wrote the book on graphic and sequential art. He was an innovator of the highest degree; even the footnotes to his career, as this book surely is, display more care and craft than 90% of the comics published in the last fifty years. Eisner’s come up in Thrift Store Finds before, when I looked at Bringing Up Your Parents. […]

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