Friday Five: Will Eisner

By Peter SM RSS Fri, March 7, 2014

If you have ever read a Graphic Novel, you have Will Eisner to thank. The artist and writer popularized the term in 1978 with his critical and commercial success A Contract with God, defining the visual storytelling medium with his realistic depictions of city life and the human condition, with intricately, no-detail-is-too-small line work, striking illustration, inventive page layout, and compelling wordplay.

Eisner's greatest creation though was The Spirit, a blue-suit-clad, fedora-and-domino-mask-wearing crimefighter whose adventures in fictional Central City mashed up the crime mystery, horror, comedy, and love story genres and splashed them all together onto the newspaper page in 1940. These Spirit covers at Cover Browser, a comic book cover art database, just illustrate how ahead of his time Eisner was with composition. Or just take a look at these incredibly inventive title pages from issues of The Spirit; the way Eisner's typography is a living and breathing character within the story itself. For a more in-depth analysis, Baseline magazine conducted a great interview with Eisner where he comments on the integration between word, lettering, and image in his work.

His impact and influence can be seen in some of comicdom's greatest creators, past and present. It's no wonder that there is an award named after him that is given to the best of the best in the comic book medium ever year.

But even an award wasn't enough to honor and remember Eisner (who passed away in 2005 at age 87), so now for the past six years, the first week of March has been designated Will Eisner Week, a celebration of all things Eisner and comics with events taking place in libraries, galleries, book stores, and comic book shops across the world.

Watch this extended excerpt from the great documentary Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist (which we sadly do not have a copy of in our catalog) for more background on Eisner's life story and work.

Here' a "Friday Five" of some of Will Eisner's best and most well-known books that we do have available in our catalog (but really, you should seek out, find, and read any and all of Will Eisner's work that you can, you won't be disappointed!)
The Best of The Spirit by Will Eisner

Detective Denny Colt, left for dead after an encounter with a criminal's explosive experiment, comes "back to life" to fight crime in Central City from his base in Wildwood Cemetery, letting villains think he’s a powerful ghost named The Spirit, his costume a rumpled blue suit and fedora, red tie, and domino mask. Groundbreaking illustration and storyelling full of fast-paced action and dialogue, femme fatales, grotesque villains, and dark cityscapes, with just enough sly humor behind our hero's mask. Darwyn Cooke (who revived The Spirit for DC Comics in 2006) lists eight essential Eisner Spirit stories to read, most of which are included in this great collection!

The Contract with God Trilogy by Will Eisner

All three A Contract with God stories (A Contract with God, A Life Force, and Dropsie Avenue) are collected here for the first time. Will Eisner's legendary graphic novel narratives are set during the Great Depression and the city tenement backdrop of his immigrant youth. The main theme throughout all the stories is human beings' fractious and uneasy relationship with God and the unseen forces in the universe effecting our existence (or creating an existential crisis, depending on how you look at it). The perfect example of the graphic novel being an American art form. Essential reading!

Will Eisner's New York: Life In The Big City

Will Eisner does for New York City what Harvey Pekar did for Cleveland. This collection of stories (New York, The Building, City People Notebook, and Invisible People) is probably the greatest celebration of the Big Apple--warts and all--in literature. Eisner, a lifelong New Yorker who knew the city from the bottom up, creates more dark and melancholy vignettes on city life in these stories, with just enough of an inkling of hope and salvation. In the forward, Neil Gaiman describes the book as containing "tales as brutal, as uncaring as the city itself", with "ancient buildings barnacled with laughter and stained with tears" to the subways, "humorless iron reptiles, clacking stupidly on a webbing of graceful steel rails."

Will Eisner Reader: Seven Graphic Stories by a Comics Master

The stories in this book are collected from Will Eisner's Quarterly magazine, taking a more humorous look at life. Stories include "The Telephone", one-page phone vignettes reminiscent of the slapstick style of Don Martin from MAD Magazine; black humor engulfs "The Long Hit" as an assassin botches a job only to retire to Florida 50 years later and run into the man he was supposed to kill; "A Sunset in Sunshine City'' is also set in Florida (Eisner retired there in the mid-1980s) and concerns a man, a neighboring widow, and a big inheritance; "Humans", in which Eisner chronicles caveman ancestors as they hunt a mastodon. All of these are fairly obscure little stories, but still worth a read!

Life, in Pictures by Will Eisner

For all intents and purposes, this collection is Eisner's illustrated autobiography, containing intimate and personal reflections on his life and work. In "To the Heart of the Storm", Eisner rides a train through Europe on his way to war and as sees images and scenes from his life up until then play out on the sprawling countryside outside his window. "The Dreamer" is about his early ambitions and hard fought victories early in his life and career in New York City. "The Name of the Game" chronicles his wife’s family tree and history. "The Day I Became a Professional” describes Eisner’s first rejection from a potential publisher. The book also features famous characters from the world of comics (under pseudonyms, 'natch) and other historical figures and family members, all drawn with Eisner’s realistic and striking style.

Check out our Graphic Novels Explore topic for great booklists full of character(s), both human and superhuman, and search our catalog for more great graphic novel collections from superheroes and comic strips to autobiographical and manga titles!

Tell us what some of your favorite graphic novels are in the comments below!

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