Some years ago I was forced to cull my collection of comics. This down-sizing was as a result of having to move into smaller digs and some stuff had to go. I junked about 1,500 comics and just kept the best 500. This process took about three months, as I could not help reading them all - just one last time. It was also a great opportunity to re-discover just how good Will Eisner's The Spirit titles are.
In the piles of boxes I found dozens of pristine The Spirit comics - masterwork illustrations that bond an eclectic mix of anti-heroes, pulp fiction crime stories and witty tales of the city, spun in a tongue-in-cheek storytelling style and drawn with unmatched originality, creativity and energy.
Will Eisner is one of the most revered and respected creators in the history of comics. An innovator all his life, he is credited with coining the term “graphic novel.” He created The Spirit in 1940 and he wrote/drew and supervised the numerous titles through the early 1950s. At a time the average comic art was very basic and one-dimensional.
He was a short story writer in the medium of graphic storytelling, with cinematic visual style adapted to the graphic snapshot of sequential art. It’s the art of his work more than the durability of his character that made his stories so essential and inimitable.
The Spirit was in many ways Eisner’s take on the urban crime milieu that was bubbling up in the movies and would later be called film noir, full of shadows and urban badlands and criminal miscreants.
And it was colorful, as the recent definitive reprints so boldly remind us. Eisner created a vibrant world of primary hues that descend into monochrome hard shadows and dark screens, punctuated by blinding street lights and the vibrant blue of The Spirit’s defining trenchcoat.
Eisner’s classic comics simply don’t have the cultural recognition of a Batman or a Spider-Man. The average fan of action movies and superhero cinema has probably never heard of The Spirit. But the writers and directors who made those movies know Will Eisner's character very well.
For example, today's luminary directors George Lucas and Steven Speilberg are quoted as having being in awe of Eisner's illustrations, the multi-layed perspectives, the worms-eye views of the action and the incredible details that are happening above, below and to the sides of every frame. Like an M.C. Escher puzzle disappearing into the distance only to end up back at the start.
WILL EISNER was born William Erwin Eisner on March 6, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. He died on January 3, 2005, following complications from open heart surgery.
In a career that spanned nearly seventy years and eight decades — from the dawn of the comic book to the advent of digital comics — he truly was the 'Orson Welles of comics' and the 'father of the Graphic Novel'. He broke new ground in the development of visual narrative and the language of comics and was the creator of The Spirit, John Law, Lady Luck, Mr. Mystic, Uncle Sam, Blackhawk, Sheena and countless others.
One of the comic industry's most prestigious awards, The Eisner Award, is named after him. Recognized as the 'Oscars' of the American comic book business, the Eisners are presented annually before a packed ballroom at Comi-Con International in San Diego, America's largest comics convention.
In 2002, Eisner received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Federation for Jewish Culture, only the second such honor in the organization's history, presented by Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman.
Wizard magazine named Eisner "the most influential comic artist of all time.