In his last work, Will Eisner, the master comic book storyteller and key influencer on the development of the graphic novel format, lays out a carefully researched history of the fraud of a document known as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.
Eisner executes this story in simple pen and ink wash in his slightly cartoony and caricatured style. This is a solid and classic “comics in education” format, with his characters rendered with his beautiful expressive and entertaining lines, gestures and slightly exaggerated facial expressions. If Eisner’s style of drawing and characterization seems familiar, it should. He had an extremely long career, being active as a comic artist since the 1930’s, and influenced many of his peers and younger artists. Mad Magazine artists like Mort Drucker or Jack Davis show a very similar style to Eisner. As a visual storyteller, some of Eisner’s more famous stylistic attributes include the dramatic under-use of dialogue (pantomime, in a way), a “film noir” graphic style and his strong sense of social realism. These qualities helped to set him and his studio apart from the prevailing standards of the rest of the comic industry back in the ‘40s, when Eisner’s signature hero, The Spirit, appeared in newspapers across the USA.
The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion
(W.W. Norton and Company, Ltd.)
In the latter part of his career, Eisner raised the bar for his medium further with his graphic novel A Contract with God in which he lovingly rendered stories of human suffering and dignity in and around his New York neighbourhood. Treated as a serious work, Eisner’s simple and iconographic drawing style comes across as sincere, absolutely genuinely working in the service of his dramatic stories.
His last work, The Plot, tells the story of how a lie was created and promoted by different groups over the past 100 years to further their own agendas. The lie in question claims that a manifesto called “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” proves the existence of (I hesitate to even write the following words) “a conspiracy of International Jewry”.
Eisner’s story tells us that numerous trials and hearings have proven that the manifesto was a complete fraud, a forgery written by a Russian bureaucrat named Mattieu Golovinski. Golovinski worked in the service of members of the Russian Royal Court to influence the policy of Tsar Nicholas, who they believed was too easily influenced by outside forces and liberal ideas. It was decided that an enemy would be manufactured, and that the enemy would publicly announce a political manifesto that would play on the fear and paranoia of both the Russian government and it’s people. Using this false manifesto as “evidence”, the Tsar could then be convinced that a plot to revolt was being masterminded by a large International Jewish conspiracy.
Golovinski’s fake manifesto was based almost entirely on a novel called The Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu. That novel had been written by French author Maurice Joly in 1864 as a thinly veiled commentary on the state of French society and on the policies of French president Louis Napoleon in particular (who was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte). Golovinski’s document was a case of almost word-for-word plagiarism, using the work of an obscure French author—someone with whom most of Russian society would never be familiar. The end result of Golovinski’s fraud was a thought weapon that could provide a society with a clear scapegoat, one that had historically been unpopular: Jews.
Will Eisner’s story shows the negative influence that this document has had in countries all over the world, including the USA, Britain, and most of all, Nazi Germany, where it was cited by name in Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
Since its first publication in 1905, the fraud of “The Protocols” was conveniently forgotten by those who used it as a weapon of mass deception. Unfortunately, as the last pages of Eisner’s novel illustrate, this document has been used by neo-Nazis and other hate-mongers up to the present day.
Like the whole of Eisner’s novel, the opening words of The Plot are simple yet powerful:
“Whenever one group of people is taught to hate another, a lie is created to inflame the hatred and justify the plot. The target is easy to find because the enemy is always the other.”