For those of you who haven’t heard of Will Eisner, he was one of the earliest practitioners of the form to stand up and say we should call comics art. Over his decades long career, he did for comics what John Ford did for Westerns: he made them an art. Before him, comics were all too frequently called trivial kid stuff and were rarely thought of as anything academic or legitimately artistic. There were great comics out before him–Krazy Kat comes to mind and Terry and the Pirates by Eisner’s own idol Milton Caniff. Eisner though took them up a notch. He created The Spirit comic and brought it to newspapers. You could actually open up newspapers and read an eight page Spirit story!
He was influenced highly by the medium of film, and The Spirit definitely shows this. Within small square panels,(back then they put way more panels on a page than the seven or so panels comics have today) he created images that looked like screen shots out of Orson Wells or Fritz Lang movies. The angles he used were right out of German expressionism. Rather heady for kid’s stuff, right? No, the comic’s a fun read and often laugh out loud funny. Don’t let the middling Frank Miller film turn you off from The Spirit. It’s a great early comic that helped shape a burgeoning industry.
More than two decades later, Eisner, instead of retiring from comics–as he very well could have–and resting on his laurels, he launched out on autobiographical stories about living in tenements, facing anti-semitism, living in poverty, dying alone, and exposed harsh realities at every turn. These are stories that are uncomfortable to read–they’re some of the most uncomfortable ones I’ve ever read in the entire medium–but they are deep, tragic, and honest.
If classic comics are your thing, check out this article I wrote on such comics as Peanuts and Little Lulu.
If you like Will Eisner, check out his biography titled A Dreamer’s Life in Comics by Michael Schumacher.