Dennis Kitchen, Kitchen Sink Press, KSP

 Will Eisner

(1917-2005)

WILL EISNER(1917-2005), 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.

EARLY CAREER... 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.

UNENDING SPIRIT... 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.

GRAPHIC NOVELS... 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 death.

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.

AWARDS... 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 Spiegelman.

DOCUMENTARIES: 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 Confidential.

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 United Nations.

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.

DC Comics 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 solo.
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

 

WEB SITES

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...

http://www.deniskitchen.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Category_Code=A_WE

Kitchen and Hansen Agency, LLC represents the literary rights to Eisner's large body of work.

http://www.kitchenandhansen.com

Three-minute clips (Mac or PC) of Marisa Furtado's documentary, Will Eisner: Profession Cartoonist, are available at:

http://marisafo.sites.uol.com.br/willeisner.html

Will Eisner's John Law, as updated by Gary Chaloner, can be viewed at:

http://www.moderntales.com/series.php?name=johnlaw

 

* * *

Search our site for Will Eisner

Back to Bios Main

Back to Denis Kitchen Online Main

 Harvey Kurtzman Original Comic Art  Contact Us   graphic novels and comic books  About Us
 Harvey Kurtzman Original Comic Art  Links   graphic novels and comic books  Artist Bios
 Harvey Kurtzman Original Comic Art  Denis Kitchen Art Agency   graphic novels and comic books  Denis Kitchen Publishing
 Harvey Kurtzman Original Comic Art  Go Shopping In Our Store   graphic novels and comic books  See Our Sample Catalog

 

 

website built and maintained by Stacey Kitchen.