Will Eisner, American comics pioneer and creator of The Spirit, was born on March 6, 1917. He would have been 94 today.
Many of us who knew him still find it hard to believe he’s gone. He died in 2005, but for six decades, Eisner was a participant in, and inspiration for, much of the best in American comics, as well as a friend and mentor to multiple generations of comics artists.
Eisner influenced comics in dozens of ways. In the ‘40s, Eisner’s The Spirit—a seven-page newspaper feature—introduced an arsenal of visual storytelling techniques still used generations later, and provided an early testing ground for future comics stars including Jack Kirby and Jules Feiffer. (The Spirit also began a tradition of pictorially-integrated logos—inspiring today's snazzy rooftop doodle!)
Eisner was one of the first cartoonists to understand the power of visual education, and wrote eloquently about the process of making comics in Comics and Sequential Art (1985) and Graphic Storytelling (1996). As early as 1941, he publicly advocated treating comics as a distinct literary and artistic form, and—nearly four decades later—was instrumental in the rise of the graphic novel in America, beginning with A Contract with God in 1978.
For most of his career, Eisner was years, even decades, ahead of the curve. I saw him debating artists and editors half his age, and there was rarely any question who the youngest man in the room was. It helped that he never stood on ceremony. Everyone was his peer, regardless of age or status. None of us called him “Mr. Eisner.” He was just “Will.”
Eisner lived well into his eighties; long enough to see an industry award named after him. Inevitably, the prospect loomed that Will Eisner himself might win an “Eisner Award” leading to some awkward choices; Hall of Fame, maybe? Lifetime Achievement?
His only suggestion was “Most Promising Young Cartoonist.”
And so he was.
Posted by Scott McCloud