Will Eisner was born March 6, 1917 in Brooklyn, NY. The
son of Jewish immigrants, his early life and experiences
growing up in New York tenements would become the inspiration
for much of his graphic novel work. At De Witt Clinton High
School in the Bronx, Eisner's budding interest in art was
fostered, and it was in the school newspaper that his first
work was published.
Eisner's first comic work appeared 1936 in WOW What
a Magazine! He created two features for WOW - Harry
Karry and The Flame. When the magazine folded after only
four issues, Eisner formed a partnership with friend Jerry
Iger, and the Eisner-Iger studio was born.
The studio was a veritable comics factory, churning out
strips in a variety of genres in the hopes of placing them
with American newspapers. Towards this end, Eisner-Iger
recruited a number of young artists who would go on to become
comics' legends in their own right: Bob Kane, Lou Fine,
and Jack Kirby. The most enduring of Eisner's work to come
out of this period is Hawks of the Seas, the high-seas adventure
strip that had begun as The Flame.
The partnership ended in 1939 when Eisner joined the Quality
Comics Group to produce a syndicated 16-page newspaper supplement.
It was for this supplement that he created his most famous
character, The Spirit.
Creating the Comic Book Section for Quality gave Eisner
the opportunity to reach a wide audience in papers across
the country. The supplement contained three four-color features
developed by Eisner. The lead feature, The Spirit , was
a detective adventure script entirely scripted and drawn
by Eisner. This story of a masked detective who protects
Central City from the criminal element with no more than
fists, cunning, and an unbelievable tolerance for punishment
quickly became the most popular feature of the section.
The supplement was renamed The Spirit Section, and became
Eisner's proving ground for some of the most innovative
work in the genre. Even in these early stories, the presence
of cinematic camera angles, atmospheric lighting effects
and creative storytelling techniques distinguished The Spirit.
Eisner's work on the Spirit was interrupted in 1942 when
he was drafted into the Army for service in World War II.
The Army took advantage of his skills as a cartoonist, and
during the war he was engaged in producing posters, illustrations
and strips for the education and entertainment of the troops.
After the War, Eisner returned to a much diminished Spirit,
who had faltered in less able hands during his absence.
In December of 1945 he reintroduced the strip with a retelling
of the Spirit's origin, and the Spirit was quickly back
on track. Now with the support of other artists such as
a young Jules Feiffer and later Wally Wood, Eisner continued
the weekly installments of the Spirit until 1952. Never
content to stay within the narrow confines of the detective
genre, Eisner used the Spirit to explore a wide variety
of stories, from simple tales of ordinary people to wild
flights of fancy verging on science fiction.
During this period, Eisner attempted to foster several
other projects for publication as newspaper strips or newsstand
comics, including Kewpies, Baseball, Nubbin the Shoeshine
Boy and John Law. None of these were successful, but some
of the material created for them ended up in The Spirit.
While still producing the Spirit, Eisner founded the American
Visuals Corporation, which was a commercial art company
dedicated to creating comics, cartoons, and illustrations
for educational and commercial purposes. Eisner resurrected
Joe Dope, a bumbling soldier he had created during the War,
for feature in P*S Magazine, a publication he produced
for the Army. His other clients included RCA Records, an
Oil Filter company, the Baltimore Colts, and New York Telephone.
This work soon occupied most of Eisner's time, and The Spirit
was abandoned in favor of this more profitable work, which
continued until the late 70s.
In the mid-60s several articles renewed popular interest
in the Spirit, and the strips were reprinted in a variety
of forms that continues to this day. Eisner was persuaded
to create a small amount of new Spirit material at this
time, but despite a growing fan insistence for more, Eisner
did not have much taste for revisiting what he saw as the
heroic fantasies of his youth. Seeking for a more mature
expression of the comics' form, Eisner spent two years creating
four short stories of "sequential art" that became
A Contract With God, first published by Baronet Books in
1978. In this book, with its 1930s Bronx tenements and slice
of life moral tales, Eisner returned to his roots and discovered
new potential for the comics form - the graphic novel.
Eisner followed A Contract With God with a series of graphic
novels published by the alternative comics publisher Kitchen
Sink Press. With subject matter ranging from semi-autobiographical
(The Dreamer and To the Heart of the Storm), keen observations
of modern life (The Building and Invisible People) and science
fiction parable (Life on Another Planet ) Eisner helped
to break comics from the juvenile ghetto of superheroes
and "funny books."
In addition to producing a continuing legacy of great work,
Eisner taught cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in
New York, and is the author of two definitive works examining
the creative process, Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic
Storytelling. Each year he presides over the Eisner Awards,
established in 1988, one of prestigious two comics industry
awards, presented each year at Comic-Con International in
San Diego. Recently, his work was gained wider recognition
when it was showcased in the Whitney Museum's 1996 "NYNY:
City of Ambition" show. Eisner has been cited as an inspiration
by comics' creators from all corners of the genre, and his
influence is seen as widely. He remains one of the most
active, vital, and prolific forces in the comics' field