Will Eisner

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 today.