On March 6th, Will Eisner would have been 97 years old. For the uninitiated, Eisner (after whom the major awards in the comic book industry are named) was one of the founding fathers of the modern comic book. His studio, Eisner and Eiger, produced the first comics that were composed of all new material. Prior to that, comic books were just reprinted syndicated comic strips from newspapers.
Eisner created “The Spirit”—as well as “Blackhawk” and numerous other titles. “The Spirit” was a separate, 16-page section that was inserted into Sunday newspapers. At its height, over five million copies of the section were sold every week. When Eisner was drafted into the Army in World War II, he created the illustrated Army Manual—the first time a graphic pamphlet was used to inform and instruct adults on very serious matters … like how to clean your rifle so it won’t jam when you need to use it. Yes, among many other innovations, he created the educational comic. In the 1970s, he also created some of the first and most innovative graphic novels.
This week, in the world of comics and cartooning, is officially known as “Will Eisner Week.” Many events are and will be held around the country and around the world in his memory and his honor. In NYC, longtime comics conventioneer Mike Carbonaro had a panel devoted to Will’s lasting impact and importance. I was happy to be asked to share my thoughts with those in attendance, along with longtime DC Comics creator Denny O’Neil and former Marvel Comics editor Danny Fingeroth.
I did not know Will long, I met him toward the end of his career, but I did get to do a couple of projects with him, including a CD-ROM (remember those?) on “The Spirit” back in 1995. He was focused, energetic, a gentleman, and the nicest, most enthusiastic guy I have every met. And his work certainly lives on, now finding a new audience through the efforts of Denis Kitchen and other who have reprinted much of Will’s wonderful graphic novel work.