Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Will Eisner passed away on January 4th, 2005 at the age of 86 following quadruple bypass heart surgery.

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 didn't 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 "The Spirit," the cemetery-dwelling protector of the public - and pretty girls in particular. The Spirit possessed no superpowers. He couldn't see through his girlfriend's clothing the way a curious alien like the Man of Steel might scientifically investigate Lois Lane. And he wasn't 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 strip's 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 Spirit's 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 "Batman" creator Bob Kane, provided first jobs in the comics business to everyone from Jack Kirby (co-creator of "Captain America" and the "Fantastic Four") to Pulitzer-winning writer and artist Jules Feiffer.

    If not for Eisner's influence, Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman might never have published his graphic novel Maus: A Survivor's 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 Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay would have been missing quite a few Eisner-inspired tales.

    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 Eisner's late friend Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of Mad magazine and Playboy's "Little Annie Fanny," 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, "Come on, Will, you shouldn't have to stand up all this time; here, have a seat." 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.

    That's why, when Eisner handed the 2002 Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story (Amazing Spider-Man #30-35: "Coming Home") to writer J. Michael Straczynski and artists John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna, Straczynski thrust the award in the air and remarked, "You know, you get the Emmy, you don't get it from 'Emmy.' You win the Oscar, you don't get it from 'Oscar.' How freakin' cool is this?"

    Published in November 2004, DC Comics' 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 "The Spirit" 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 Eisner's closest friends and confidants, as well as his personal representative and literary agent (with Judith Hansen). (Kitchen can be reached via email at denis@deniskitchen.com.)

    More recently, "John Law," 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 Publishing's "Will Eisner's John Law" 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 Eisner's 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 was real.

    There will be no funeral service, per Will's wishes. "Will and I hated funerals," his wife, Ann, said the morning after his death. "We made plans long ago to avoid having them ourselves." He will be buried next to his late daughter, Alice, who died in 1969. Surviving Will are his wife, Ann, and his son, John.

    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 Will's 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 Comics' new M Press imprint.)

    In the days to come, if you'd like to share a story or a thought about Will and need an outlet, I'll make this newsletter available to anyone who'd care to contribute. Just reply to ASpiritedLife@tampabay.rr.com and I'll 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 Life.


    Will Eisner Official Site; Who is Will Eisner?

    Fagin the Jew, Doubleday Books

    Will Eisner's John Law, New Adventures Online

    Wildwood Cemetery: The Spirit Database

    Will Eisner Original Art For Sale

    DC Comics' Will Eisner Library

    Dark Horse Comics

    NBM Publishing


    The Spirit Checklist

    Rare Eisner: Making of a Genius

    Kitchen & Hansen Literary Agency

    Who is Bob Andelman, Anyway?

    Please share the "Will Eisner: A Spirited Life eNewsletter" with your friends.
  • Laura's Thoughts: I have no stories to tell of Eisner. I met him once, at San Diego 2000. Actually, I ran into him a bit earlier, but I only actually met him right before the Eisner Awards started.

    I think the earlier incident says more about him. I was wandering around during the panels in the upper section. All the doors were closed, and I was looking for a particular person who was supposed to be waiting outside a panel. I turned a corner and sitting on a bench was a very old man with a younger guy. They were deep in conversation, and the image of them burned itself into my mind at that moment. The older man was clearly teaching, and the younger man's eye shone with something akin to worship... certainly respect and a thrill. I realized that if I stayed they would notice me and I would break up the moment, so I quietly turned around and left.

    Later in the con I was introduced to Will Eisner by Nick Cardy, and I recognized him as the older man I had seen in the hall. I didn't even get to shake his hand, but I feel like I knew him. He was one of the good guys.

    As I was thinking about this today, I remembered a Kipling poem... I like to think of Eisner sitting in a golden chair, splashing at a ten-league canvas. He never stopped making art while he was with us, I don't see him stopping now.

    L'Envoi To "The Seven Seas"
    Rudyard Kipling, 1892

    When Earth's last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
    When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
    We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it -- lie down for an aeon or two,
    Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.
    And those that were good shall be happy; they shall sit in a golden chair;
    They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets' hair.
    They shall find real saints to draw from -- Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
    They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

    And only The Master shall praise us, and only The Master shall blame;
    And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
    But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
    Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are!