The comic book world lost one of its founding members when Will Eisner passed away earlier this month. The name may be unfamiliar to many of you, but he was one of the originators and giants of the form, a creator of unrivaled genius. Eisner created such memorable characters as The Spirit, and the Denizens of Dropsie Avenue. He wrote two books on the art form of comics, and created the graphic novel when he published "A Contract With God" in 1978. Eisner, along with other greats of the form – such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Neal Adams – spent his career in the shadow of what most people think comics are. There is a level of intellectual snobbery that has never evaporated in the United States toward its bastard child, comic books.
For many art fans and historians, jazz is this country’s quintessential art form, and one of the few art forms created solely in this country, but few recognize that jazz has a brother, and his name is "sequential art," or to use layman’s terms, comics.
Early comics were nothing more than reprints of Sunday strips from the newspaper, but then they began to have new content and the ball was off and rolling. But it was with Action Comics number one, dated June 1938, that the comic book as we know it was born. That comic book’s cover showed a caped figure hurling a car into an embankment as frightened hoodlums ran away. That figure was Superman. Many other characters would flow through the books throughout the years, some good, some bad, some not worth mentioning.
Now, the business is held aloft by a fan base that is religious in its blindness to the fading of this once-great art form.
The public perception isn’t that comics are for kids, as many enthusiasts of the comic book would have us believe. Instead much of the public thinks that comics are stupid, juvenile trash, and unfortunately for the most part when it comes to the comics of today, they are right. The comic as an art form has walked away from its roots, and like any plants without the roots the rest of the plant dies. The founding members of the art form are relegated to sideline posts watching young pups sully the memory of an art form they helped to create.
Comics have become vile and disgusting of late, and many writers think it’s all right to kill countless innocents and rape and murder all along the page, just to get people excited. It’s not art anymore, it’s the Roman Coliseum in four color separation. I can’t bring myself to buy comics anymore. Much like George Lucas constantly changing my childhood by making Greedo shoot first, I don’t want my memory sullied by the junk that is being put out by the current "pros."
All this brings me back to Will Eisner. Eisner was one of the guiding lights of the art form, someone who always knew that comics could be more than garish violence and childhood male fantasy, he knew there was art in the form, and he tried his whole life to show it to people. The problem is, few people within the comic community listened. Eisner may have worked in the field of superheroes, but his favorite subjects were normal people with normal problems, he tackled everything from growing old in an uncaring home to the trials of men in war.
Eisner was always an innovator and produced work right up until complications from bypass surgery claimed his life. His last book, "The Plot," will be released this year. He was an artist and a cartoonist, but above all he was a storyteller. A master storyteller. His work glowed with a brilliance and an honesty that few will ever surpass.
I had the great pleasure to meet Eisner at a comic book signing several years ago. He was one of the most gracious men I have ever met. When someone in line thanked him for his work, he thanked them for buying it, and when my friend told him it was an honor to meet a living legend, Eisner looked at him and commented, "Well, you got the living part right."
Will Eisner was the soul of graphic storytelling, and now he is gone. The world is the poorer without him, and the comic world has lost one of its guiding lights. The sad thing is, so few people even noticed.
Jason Germany can be reached at [email protected]