So I'm reading the continuing adventures of Dave Sim hopping around messageboards today and he mentions that today is Will Eisner's birthday. Actually Eisner's birthday is March 6th and Dave Sim had gotten the date wrong because one year on February 22nd, he had attended a surprise birthday party for Will Eisner. Anyway, I hadn't read any Will Eisner in a while so I headed over to my book shelf.
My favorite graphic novel by Will Eisner is The Dreamer which he wrote and drew in 1986. The Dreamer is an autobiography of sorts by Eisner about the early creation of comic books in the 1930's in the U.S. (I say it's an autobiography of sorts because the names of people involved in the events written about have been changed and some of the timeline of events has been compressed). This is my favorite of Eisner's graphic novels because of my interest in the behind the scenes aspects of this medium and Will Eisner, being that he was there at the dawn of American comic books as a creator, writer, artist, and studio of artists owner, definitely knows about what went on behind the curtain.
Will Eisner is most known for creating, writing, and drawing The Spirit for over thirty years (DC has a marvelous 24 volume hardcover collection of all of The Spirit and they have a softcover best of The Spirit for those that want to sample the greatness that is The Spirit). When The Spirit originally appeared, it did so in seven or eight page weekly installments as inserts in the Sunday comic strips. The Spirit was Will Eisner's forum for exploring what could be done within this medium and his innovations has made The Spirit a timeless creation.
Starting in the 1970's Will Eisner's comic work took the form of graphic novels (his A Contract With God is considered by many as the first U.S. graphic novel). Eisner's graphic novels were largely people on the street stories, and were amongst the first to show readers that comic books didn't have to have characters in colorfull outfits to be dramastic, powerful stories. Will Eisner was still creating, writing, and drawing comics until his death at the age of 87, January, 2005.
The first Eisner book I bought was in 1975, called Will Eisner's Gleeful Guide: How To Avoid Death & Taxes...and live forever. Eisner did several Gleeful Guide volumes in the 1970's (with titles such as Occult Cookery and Communicating With Plants), that were not really sequential art productions, rather they featured many illustrations by Eisner that would accompany facts and humor about the book's topics. I bought How to Avoid Death... when I first started to buy comics regularly not because I was a big Eisner fan then (I hadn't even heard of him at that point), I picked it up because his illustrations had a great Mad magazine appeal for me (and because at the time I bought anything that looked even remotely like a comic).
Years ago at the San Diego comic-con, I got to thank Will Eisner for all the enjoyment his creations have provided me and my friend, Joel, even has video tape footage of me standing between Will Eisner and Jack Kirby. I wish I had gotten How To Avoid Death.. signed, now that I think about that.
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