Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Will Eisner Dies at 87

I'm overcome with sadness after reading my mail this morning. Will Eisner, the godfather of sequential art, the man responsible for much of the modern vocabulary of comics, has died of complications from his recent bypass surgery. The sobering word came from biographer Bob Andelman's Will Eisner: A Spirited Life e-newsletter, and I've reprinted a big chunk of it here for those of you who haven't had a chance to see it yet...

Legendary comics and graphic novel artist and writer Will Eisner died last night, Monday, January 3, 2005, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at the age of 87,
following complications from quadruple heart bypass surgery.

Will Eisner didn’t create Superman, Batman, Spider-Man or even Archie and Jughead. Some comic book fans may scratch their heads when asked to describe his work. But every artist and writer in comic books, as well as graphic artists across the entire spectrum of modern illustration, television and film, owes a debt to him.

Eisner, who went to high school with “Batman” creator Bob Kane, provided first jobs in the comics business to everyone from Jack Kirby (co-creator of “Captain America” and the “Fantastic Four”) to Pulitzer-winning writer and artist Jules Feiffer.

If not for Eisner’s influence, Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman might never
have published his graphic novel Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (Eisner is credited with popularizing — if not inventing — the medium of the graphic novel with the 1978 publication of his graphic story collection, A Contract With God) and fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay would have been missing quite a few Eisner-inspired tales.

For comic book professionals, the highest honor in the industry is either an Eisner Award, named for Eisner and given out every summer at Comic-Con International in San Diego, or a Harvey Award, named for Eisner’s late friend Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of Mad magazine and Playboy’s “Little Annie Fanny,” given every April in Pittsburgh. Kurtzman, who discovered talents as diverse as R. Crumb and Gloria Steinem, passed away in 1993, making Eisner the last man standing.


At every Eisner Awards ceremony, each recipient was handed his or her award
by the man himself.

Several years ago, a big red velvet chair was put on stage for Eisner. The Eisner
Awards promoters said, “Come on, Will, you shouldn’t have to stand up all this time; here, have a seat.” Eisner sat on it briefly, got a laugh out of it, but then he stood up again, and stayed on his feet the rest of the night. Eisner demonstrated his strength of character and enduring physical wherewithal by standing on stage throughout the entire presentation, shaking hands and personally congratulating the winners. Because there is a different presenter for each award, no one else stood for as long as Eisner.

That’s why, when Eisner handed the 2002 Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story (Amazing Spider-Man #30-35: “Coming Home”) to writer J. Michael Straczynski and artists John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna, Straczynski thrust the award in the air and remarked, “You know, you get the Emmy, you don’t get it from ‘Emmy.’ You win the Oscar, you don’t get it from ‘Oscar.’ How freakin’ cool is this?”

Published in November 2004, DC Comics’ The Will Eisner Companion is the first comprehensive, critical overview of the work of this legendary writer/artist. Divided into two sections — his Spirit work and his graphic novels — this authorized companion features all-new critical and historical essays by noted comics historians N.C. Christopher Couch and Stephen Weiner, as well as alphabetical indexes relating to all aspects and characters in his oeuvre. Also includes a chronology, a bibliography and suggested reading lists, as well as an introduction by Dennis O'Neil.

And Eisner’s final — and likely most controversial — graphic novel, The Plot, finished last summer, will be published this spring by W.W. Norton.

Will Eisner was the wizard behind the curtain, except in his case, the magic was

There will be no funeral service, per Will’s wishes. “Will and I hated funerals,”
his wife, Ann, said the morning after his death. “We made plans long ago to avoid having them ourselves.” He will be buried next to his late daughter, Alice, who died in 1969. Surviving Will are his wife, Ann, and his son, John.

Cards may be sent to:
Will Eisner Studios
8333 W. McNab Road
Tamarac, FL 33321

Unofficially, in lieu of flowers, you might consider a donation in Will’s name to
the American Cancer Society — his daughter died of cancer — or the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which Will was known to have supported.

In the days to come, if you’d like to share a story or a thought about Will and need an outlet, I’ll make this newsletter available to anyone who’d care to contribute. Just reply to ASpiritedLife@tampabay.rr.com and I’ll share your words with an international audience of Eisner fans and media.

Today is a very sad day for the the world of arts and letters.

I only had the chance to interview Will once, but it was a really great experience. I remember the afternoon quite vividly, sitting at my kitchen table and asking him tons of questions over the phone. I think the whole thing lasted about 3 hours, and Will was always patient and willing to answer anything I threw at him.

That first interview always left me with the lingering feeling of wanting to connect with him again sometime in the future. He was just a really enjoyable person to talk to - so lucid and conversational for a guy well into his 80s (never mind still working!!!). I once even entertained the idea of doing a biography of Will, but Bob Andelman beat me to the punch in a big way, and more power to him. He probably did the job 1000 times better than I ever could. Still, I'll always regret never having the chance to talk to or interact with Will one more time.

That same year I had the opportunity to meet him at the San Diego ComiCon in 2000 where I literally bumped into him while he was standing at the DC booth. I was wandering around, looking for something to do when I saw him. "Holy crap," I thought. "That's Will Eisner." So I introduced myself, shook his hand and asked him to sign my Spirit Archive Vol. 1, which he did without a second thought. I was going to try and start a conversation up with him, but in the time it took for that small exchange to happen, a line had started behind me out of nowhere and I had to clear out in a hurry or be mauled by other signature hunters.

Anyway, I just wanted to give a shout out to Will and write a few words about him. He managed to touch many lives with his work, and I include myself as one of them.

Wherever you are, Will, thanks for the wonderful body of work and the well of inspiration you provided for so many of us.

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