Sunday, March 6, 2011

Happy Birthday, Will Eisner (March 6, 1917- January 3rd, 2005)

What a treat to open Google today and see this:

Yes, it's the great Will Eisner's 94th birthday, and Google felt it was important enough to give Mr. Eisner their special graphic treatment.

For those L by L readers not familiar with Will Eisner and his work (and I'm sure there are one or two, maybe), he was, along with Jack Kirby, Walt Kelly, Harvey Kurtzman and very few others, one of the finest purveyors of comic art and writing in the history of the medium. Words like influential, seminal and groundbreaking barely begin to describe Mr. Eisner's contributions. He was that good.

Most of his fame centers around his prewar creation The Spirit, which ran as an eight- page supplement in Sunday comic sections throughout the United States from 1940 until the mid 1950's.

A classic Spirit splash page
Eisner managed to tell fully developed stories week after week in only eight pages, utilizing progressive graphic techniques that showed the influence of the cinema (especially Orson Welles' Citizen Kane) in the storytelling, sound effects and the transitions from panel to panel. The Spirit usually began with a unique and eye- catching splash page, designed to draw the reader into the plot. The addition of beautiful and dangerous femme fatales, mysterious villains, lovable regulars and the working class invulnerabilty of the Spirit himself made for terrific Sunday reading.

The fact that The Spirit was published in newspapers rather than comics (along with several other features) gave the strip its unique quality. Everything happens fast in The Spirit.

Mr. Eisner was one of the rare artists who also excelled as a businessman, and after The Spirit's run he made a small fortune doing illustrations for a wide range of publications.

His comic work (or "sequential" work as he liked to call it) was rediscovered in the '60's and re-published in comic book form, which is how I first saw it. From the first story I saw, in a Harvey Comic anthology of classic Spirit strips, I was hooked. It was incredible work.

Mr, Eisner's life and times are the history of comics in this country. It makes for fascinating reading and I thoroughly recommend his website:


DT Kelly said...

Someone at Google has good taste. I came to Eisner through "The Dreamer" and "The Building". Great stuff, especially the Dreamer - all of Eisner's early years boiled down.

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