Will Eisner dies at 87
WILL EISNER: A SPIRITED LIFE
eNewsletter No. 14
January 4, 2004
An occasional source of information about
legendary artist and writer Will Eisner
By Bob Andelman
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 didn¹t 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.
In 1941, Eisner created a goofball detective named Denny Colt who died (not
really) and was reborn as ³The Spirit,² the cemetery-dwelling protector of
the public < and pretty girls in particular. The Spirit possessed no
superpowers. He couldn¹t see through his girlfriend¹s clothing the way a
curious alien like the Man of Steel might scientifically investigate Lois
Lane. And he wasn¹t a brilliant technologist like Batman, imagineering hokey
gadgets and psychedelic compounds for all-night parties with the Joker.
The Spirit broke so many molds:
Eisner was the strip¹s artist and writer, a feat that is still rare today.
The Spirit was published and distributed as an insert in Sunday newspapers,
ala Parade magazine. It was seen weekly by as many as 5-million people from
1941 to 1952.
No two Spirit sections looked alike. Although most commercial operations
from Superman to Pepsi-Cola spend millions of dollars testing, proving and
marketing their logos, Eisner thought it was more challenging to change The
Spirit¹s masthead every week for 12 years.
The Spirit was a fun, mature read, aimed at adults but accessible to kids.
For all of these reasons, The Spirit was published and reissued in various
forms almost uninterrupted for 60 years. Its look, feel and smartass humor
is timeless, which accounts for the countless revivals.
Eisner, who went to high school with ³Batman² creator Bob Kane, provided
first jobs in the comics business to everyone from Jack Kirby (co-creator of
³Captain America² and the ³Fantastic Four²) to Pulitzer-winning writer and
artist Jules Feiffer.
If not for Eisner¹s influence, Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman might
never have published his graphic novel Maus: A Survivor¹s 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 Chabon¹s The Amazing
Adventures of Kavalier & Clay would have been missing quite a few
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 Eisner¹s late
friend Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of Mad magazine and Playboy¹s ³Little
Annie Fanny,² 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, ³Come on, Will, you shouldn¹t have to stand up
all this time; here, have a seat.² 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.
That¹s why, when Eisner handed the 2002 Eisner Award for Best Serialized
Story (Amazing Spider-Man #30-35: ³Coming Home²) to writer J. Michael
Straczynski and artists John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna, Straczynski thrust
the award in the air and remarked, ³You know, you get the Emmy, you don¹t
get it from OEmmy.¹ You win the Oscar, you don¹t get it from OOscar.¹ How
freakin¹ cool is this?²
Published in November 2004, DC Comics¹ 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.
A new generation of comics fans learned about the man in the 1970s when
underground comix publisher Denis Kitchen began reprinting ³The Spirit²
stories and eventually produced new stories of the character by top comic
book talent including Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and Neil Gaiman. Kitchen
became one of Eisner¹s closest friends and confidants, as well as his
personal representative and literary agent (with Judith Hansen). (Kitchen
can be reached via email at denis@...
More recently, ³John Law,² a 56-year- old Will Eisner character, was given
fresh life and adventures in 2002 by Australian artist and writer Gary
Chaloner as an online comic book hero at ModernTales.com. In December 2004,
Law returned to print in IDW Publishing¹s ³Will Eisner's John Law² hardcover
trade paperback. These stories were the first original John Law adventures
published since Eisner worked on the character in 1948. This edition
includes both new material and classic John Law tales by Eisner himself.
And Eisner¹s 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
There will be no funeral service, per Will¹s wishes. ³Will and I hated
funerals,² his wife, Ann, said the morning after his death. ³We made plans
long ago to avoid having them ourselves.² He will be buried next to his late
daughter, Alice, who died in 1969. Surviving Will are his wife, Ann, and his
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 Will¹s
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.
On a personal note, I am crushed. Will and I started working on what began
as an autobiography and morphed into an authorized biography three years ago
this month. His friendship and camaraderie was like none other. (Will
Eisner: A Spirited Life will be published in July for Dark Horse Comics¹ new
M Press imprint.)
In the days to come, if you¹d like to share a story or a thought about Will
and need an outlet, I¹ll make this newsletter available to anyone who¹d care
to contribute. Just reply to ASpiritedLife@...
and I¹ll 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.
MEDIA: You may quote freely from this obituary, as long as credit is given
to Bob Andelman, author of the authorized biography, Will Eisner: A Spirited
WILL EISNER LINKS
Will Eisner Official Site; Who is Will Eisner?
Fagin the Jew, Doubleday Books
Will Eisner¹s John Law, New Adventures Online
Wildwood Cemetery: The Spirit Database
Will Eisner Original Art For Sale
DC Comics¹ Will Eisner Library
Dark Horse Comics
The Spirit Checklist
Rare Eisner: Making of a Genius
Kitchen & Hansen Literary Agency
Who is Bob Andelman, Anyway?
Please share the ³Will Eisner: A Spirited Life eNewsletter² with your