Neither Hitchcock Nor Truffaut

Eisner/Miller, interview between Frank Miller and Will Eisner, interview conducted by Charles Brownstein (2005): The legendary film text commonly known as Hitchcock/Truffaut (though that isn’t its actual title) features French nouvelle vague director Francois Truffaut (aka the French Guy in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) conducting an exhaustive interview with Alfred Hitchcock. It’s a terrific book.

This book, featuring an exhausting dialogue between legendary comic-book writer-artist Will Eisner (The Spirit, A Contract with God, Fagin the Jew) and semi-legendary comic-book writer-artist Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, 300, Sin City), consciously emulates the earlier book in its title while severely underperforming in pretty much every other comparison between the two volumes.

Truffaut was a critic and a film historian as well as a writer-director, and he did tons of preparation and contextualization for his book, supplying a lengthy introduction that explained Hitchcock’s body of work to the casual reader and structuring the interview chronologically so that the two men could work their way through Hitchcock’s life and work from past to present.

Neither Miller nor interview “conductor” Charles Brownstein (the latter of whom is completely silent in the transcription of the interview) supply these things. A casual reader will have almost no idea why either Eisner or Miller is important to the history of comic books at the end of this book. Or care.

That casual reader won’t make it to the end of the book unless he or she has a high tolerance for tedium. This is probably the worst conducted long-form interview I’ve ever read. Miller seems to have absolutely no clue as to how to ask follow-up questions or press a point, and the late Eisner was (famously) reticent about offering anything other than the most superficial analysis of his own or other people’s work.

Eisner was a shrewd businessman at a time — the 1940’s — when most comic-book writers and artists weren’t. This comes up again and again, and Eisner reveals himself to be something of a prick whenever the topic of artists and writers who weren’t shrewd businessmen (say, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, or writer-artist Jack Kirby) comes up. It’s not a pleasant side of the man, but it’s pretty much the only substantive thing that the 60,000-word interview reveals.

Miller, famously a champion of creator’s rights since the 1980’s, pretty much allows Eisner to go unchallenged in this area and others. Inadvertantly funny moments occur whenever Miller and Eisner clearly and emphatically disagree with one another while both stating and re-stating how they actually agree.

If I were cynical, I’d guess that this interview sat on the shelf for three years (it was conducted in 2002 but not published until 2005) because publisher Dark Horse was well aware of what a stink-bomb it had. But when Eisner died, the interview gained some heft as Eisner’s last long-form discussion of his life and career, so onto the stands it went. It certainly seems like a rush job for something ostensibly three years in the making — there isn’t even an index. If I were cynical. Not recommended at all except as a sleep aid.

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