January 5, 2005 by

Will Eisner

1 comment

Categories: Artists, Education, Military, Writers/Editors

weisner.jpgWilliam Erwin Eisner, an innovative artist and writer who created the popular newspaper comic “The Spirit,” died on Jan. 3 of complications from quadruple bypass heart surgery. He was 87.
Born to Jewish immigrants, the native New Yorker began publishing artwork in his high school newspaper. He made his first professional sale in 1936 to WOW What a Magazine! Although WOW folded after four issues, the job put him in contact with editor/artist Samuel “Jerry” Iger. Together they formed the Eisner-Iger studio, and began creating comic strips for syndication in American newspapers.
Their comic book outfit employed many artists and writers who later became legends in the comic book industry, including Bob Kane (“Batman”), Jack Kirby (“Fantastic Four,” “X-Men”), Lou Fine (“Wilton of the West,” “The Count of Monte Cristo”) and Jack Cole (“Plastic Man”). For six years, Eisner mentored Jules Feiffer, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for editorial cartooning.
Eisner left the outfit in 1939 to work for the Quality Comics Group. A year later, he created ”The Spirit,” a comic strip produced as a newspaper supplement and designed to appeal to older audiences. The main character, Denny Colt, was a coroner until a mad scientist buried him alive. Although Colt didn’t have any superpowers, he escaped from his near-death experience and became a masked detective who solved crimes in the fictional Central City. “The Spirit” also featured a young black boy named Ebony White, one of the first recurring black characters in a mainstream cartoon.
Eisner was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. While the military kept him busy drawing comics about a soldier named Joe Dope (who taught the troops how to maintain their Jeeps and weapons), other artists filled in on “The Spirit.” Eisner returned to the weekly series after the war, and continued writing/illustrating The Spirit’s adventures until 1952. For the next 25 years, he ran the American Visual Corporation, a publisher of educational comics for the military.
Although many considered the “funny books” to be a cheap form of entertainment, Eisner viewed comics as “sequential art.” He revolutionized the industry by emphasizing characters’ emotions and addressing subjects once considered taboo, such as graft, domestic abuse and poverty. Eisner was credited with producing the first modern graphic novel when he published ”A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories” in paperback format in 1978.
Eisner also wrote two influential art books (“Comics and Sequential Art,” “Graphic Storytelling”) and taught cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He received numerous honors during his seven-decade career, including four Best Artist awards from the National Cartoonists Society and the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1987, the comics industry named one of its most prestigious awards in his honor.
“The Spirit,” which has been reprinted several times since its original run, is currently being published in multivolume collections by DC Comics. Eisner’s final graphic novel, “The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” will be released in May.
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One Response to Will Eisner

  1. morgan butler

    Will Eisner was the man who showed just what could be done with the comic book medium. The Spirit had a noir, cinematic quality unlike any other to this day. As a child I was fortunate to read his work as reprinted by Warren Publications and Kitchen Sink. He was the best of the best. It only took the comicbook industry about 50 years to catch up with him. And to a man/woman, the best in the industry take their hats off to him. Thanx for all the great stories Will.

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