born in Brooklyn NY, is recognized internationally as a giant
in the field of sequential art, a term he coined. His cartooning
career spanned nearly seventy years and eight decades.
Eisner contributed to Wow, What a Magazine shortly after high
school. While still a teenager, in 1936, he co-founded the Eisner
& Iger Studio, a "packaging house" providing
content to publishers at the virtual onset of the comic book
industry. That same year he started his buccaneering saga Hawks
of the Seas. Eisner's early staff included such future luminaries
as Jack Kurtzberg (later Jack Kirby, co-creator of Spider-Man
and Fantastic Four), Lou Fine, Bob Kahn
(later Bob Kane, creator of Batman), and Mort
Meskin. Among Eisner's early character creations were Sheena,
Queen of the Jungle, Dollman and Blackhawk.
At this shop Eisner famously turned down a crude submission called
Superman by equally young creators Jerry Siegel
and Joe Shuster. An autobiographical account of those
formative years can be found in Eisner's The Dreamer.
THE SPIRIT... In 1940, after selling his
interest in the comic book packaging company to Jerry Iger, Eisner
created his most famous character, The Spirit,
a masked crime fighter. The Spirit was the lead feature
in an unprecedented format: a 16-page color comic book that was
inserted in Sunday newspapers, one of numerous Eisner innovations.
Eisner assistants included Bob Powell, Lou Fine,
Jules Feiffer (later famous as a satirist and playwright)
and a 12-year-old Joe Kubert (Tor, Sgt. Rock, Tarzan).
At its height The Spirit insert appeared in twenty major
market newspapers with a combined circulation of 5 million readers
each Sunday, quintupling the circulation of America's best-selling
monthly comic book.
MILITARY CAREER and EDUCATIONAL COMICS... From 1942-45 Will Eisner served three years as
a Warrant Officer in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.. There,
during World War II, he created motivational posters and pioneered
the use of cartoons for instructional purposes with the publication
Army Motors. His innovative approach, combining
hard information within cartoon plots proved so effective that
he privately contracted with the U.S. Army in 1951 to
produce P*S, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly
and continued to produce the magazine for many years afterward.
He formed American Visuals Corporation in 1948 to supply
similar educational comics to clients ranging from the U.S. Government's
Job Corps to General Motors. He also formed a separate
company which produced a wide array of cartoon-based educational
materials for schools across America.
Following his army service, Eisner returned to The Spirit
in late1945 and continued producing it till 1952. Though he "retired"
the character that year, it has rarely been out of print since.
The seven and eight page stories he wrote and drew each week
are regarded as classics of the form. The first comic book reprints
were issued by Quality Comics, from 1944-50; followed
by Fiction House, 1952-54; Harvey Comics 1966-67;
Kitchen Sink Press in 1973 (the "Underground"
Spirits); Warren Publications from 1974-76 (Spirit
magazine #1-16); and Kitchen Sink Press again, from 1977-1998
in periodicals (Spirit magazine #17-41, Spirit comic
book #1-87, Spirit: The Origin Years #1-10, 3-D Spirit,
Spirit: The New Adventures #1-8 and Will Eisner's Quarterly
#1-8) and in book formats. Since 2000 DC Comics has undertaken
an ambitious program to reprint all 645 stories in color hard
covers as The Spirit Archives and in 2006 launched
another new series of authorized Spirit stories.
More than a dozen years after he was already tabbed "a national
treasure" by former assistant Jules Feiffer in The
Great Comic Book Heroes in 1965, Eisner created the very
first successful graphic novel ---and popularizing the
term--- with the publication of his seminal A Contract
with God, (1978). The semi-autobiographical "graphic
novel" revolutionized the art form, inspiring countless
fellow professionals worldwide to follow. The graphic novel is
now America's fastest-growing literary genre. Following A
Contract with God, at an age when his contemporaries had
retired, Eisner created over twenty additional graphic
novels and instructional books, including such classics as A
Life Force, Dropsie Avenue, To the
Heart of the Storm, Family Matter and The
Name of the Game --- roughly a book per year till his
Eisner taught comic art classes for years
at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and authored
two definitive instructional books on the medium, Comics
and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling,
both perennial sellers with over twenty reprintings each. The
final book in Eisner's planned instructional trilogy, Expressive
Anatomy, was on his drawing board when he died. It is
being finished with the assistance of Peter Poplaski.
Since 1988, one of the comics industry's most prestigious awards,
The Eisner Award, has been named after him and presented
annually before a packed ballroom at America's largest comics
convention in San Diego. Nominees are selected each year by differing
blue ribbon committees, with winners selected by a vote of comics
industry professionals. Will Eisner modestly accepted several
Eisner Awards over the years, as well as several Harvey
Awards, the other prestigious industry award named after
his close friend, the late Harvey Kurtzman. In 2001 Eisner
no doubt broke a record of some sort by winning separate Harvey
Awards for works he created sixty years apart: the
1940 Spirit Archives won "Best Reprint"
while his then-newest graphic novel, Last Day in Vietnam,
published in 2000, won for "Best Graphic Novel." Eisner
has also won numerous international awards.
In May 2002 Wizard magazine
named Eisner "the most influential comic artist of all time."
Michael Chabon's Pulitzer-prize winning novel Kavalier
and Clay is based in good part on Eisner. In 2002 Eisner
received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National
Federation for Jewish Culture at the Plaza Hotel ballroom
in New York City ---only the second such honor in the organization's
history--- presented by Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Art
A new (2006) film documentary, Will Eisner: The Spirit
of an Artistic Pioneer has been produced/directed by
Montilla Pictures (Andrew and Jon Cooke).
An earlier 3-part documentary, Will Eisner: Profession
Cartoonist, was produced by Brazilian director Marisa
Furtado (see link at bottom). It won awards and has been
televised and distributed worldwide. Discussions are underway
for an American release in DVD format. Eisner was also featured
in other films, including Ron Mann's cult hit Comic Book
NEW/RECENT WILL EISNER BOOKS... Fagin the Jew, Eisner's
reinterpretation of the villain in Charles Dickens' classic Oliver
Twist, was published by Doubleday in 2003. The last
major work he completed before his death, The Plot:
The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
was published by W. W. Norton in 2005. Umberto Eco
wrote the introduction. The Plot unravels one of
the most pernicious hoaxes of the twentieth century, a notorious
piece of anti-Semitic propoganda created and disseminated by
Russia's secret police 100 years ago, purporting to be a blueprint
written by Jewish leaders for taking over the world. The
Plot has been published in eight languages, and arrangements
for an Arabic translation is under serious consideration by the
Fourteen graphic novels comprising the
essential "Will Eisner Library" will be steadily
re-issued by W. W. Norton, beginning with The
Contract with God Trilogy (2005) a hardcover combining
three titles which focus on a single mythical block in the Bronx
(A Contract with God, Dropsie Avenue and A Life
Force), with new art and commentary by Eisner. Will
Eisner's New York was published in hardcover in 2006,
combining The Building, New York: The Big City, City People
Notebook and Invisible People, with never-seen
Eisner art, plus new Eisner/Poplaski art and an introduction
by Neil Gaiman. Completing the hardcover compilations
will be Brush Strokes: My Life in Pictures in 2007, focusing
on autobiographical material.
released The Will Eisner Companion in 2004, a career
overview by Prof. Christopher Couch and librarian Steven
Weiner). DC continues to publish The Spirit Archives
in hardcover (over twenty volumes are planned) and is producing
new editions of The Spirit, beginning in 2006 with
a Batman/Spirit cross-over (Jeph Loeb/Darwyn
Cooke) and a monthly Spirit series by Cooke
Dark Horse Comics in 2005 published Eisner/Miller:
One on One, a wide-ranging dialogue between Eisner and
Frank Miller (Dark Knight, Sin City) and its M
Press imprint published Will Eisner: A Spirited Life, a
biography by journalist Bob Andelman, also in 2005.
IDW Published John Law: Dead Man
Walking in 2003, combining Will Eisner's original 1948
John Law stories with a new authorized Gary Chaloner
incarnation of the character. All-new John Law adventures
are following in 2006 from Chaloner and IDW.
ART EXHIBITS... A
career-spanning art exhibit, "The Will Eisner Retrospective"
opened at MOCCA (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art)
in New York City in May 2005, and traveled to galleries at Utah
Valley State College (Orem, UT) and The University of
Massachusetts in Amherst (2/06). An extended European tour
is under consideration.
Eisner is also prominently represented
in "Masters of American Comics," a watershed
exhibition devoted to comic art, which opened at the Museum
of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (11/05) and traveled to
the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Jewish Museum
in New York City (2006).
Will Eisner died January 3, 2005, following
complications of open heart surgery.
---Text © 2006 Denis Kitchen
The official Will Eisner
web site, overseen by Gary Chaloner is at www.willeisner.com
Denis Kitchen Art Agency exclusively represents the Eisner
estate for the sale of original artwork...
Kitchen and Hansen Agency,
the literary rights to Eisner's large body of work.
Three-minute clips (Mac
or PC) of Marisa Furtado's documentary, Will Eisner:
Profession Cartoonist, are available at:
Will Eisner's John
Law, as updated
by Gary Chaloner, can be viewed at:
* * *