Will Eisner And The Comic In America Art Essay


William Erwin "Will" Eisner was an acclaimed American comics writer, artist and entrepreneur. He is actually considered one of the most important contributors to the development of the medium and is known for the cartooning studio he founded; for his highly influential series The Spirit; for his use of comics as an instructional medium; for his leading role in establishing the graphic novel as a form of literature with his book A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories; and for his educational work about the medium as exemplified by his book Comics and Sequential Art.

The innovations that Will Eisner gave to the comics language were multiple and well known. Further than numeration it is interesting to notice how a good part of his worrying was about the analysis of the constitutive elements of the comic's language specifically the sketch and the page. It is not casual that Eisner considered himself as an artist (if he was not the only one) and worried about understanding the comic's conformation and also about all the potential in this media that, in those years and in the context of production in which he started his career, it was barely one of the most discredited areas in the entertainment industry. This worrying can be observed all along his work.

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It is well known how Esiner influenced the comic industry, but it is important to give the relevance it deserves. This document will talk about the innovations and how they affected later in the industry. The influences Eisner had and how these may make him create the all new ideas will be included as well.

Comics before Will Eisner


The years in which Will Eisner grew up were formative for comics. He read newspaper comic strips as a boy, which had by that time been a popular way of entertainment for some years. When Eisner began following the "funnies", many of what are now considered the classics of the golden age had not yet debuted. And the term "comic book", which would ultimately play such a momentous role in his life, had not yet been coined.

Eisner began reading comic strips during a time when they had tremendous popularity and a powerful grip on the public's imagination (much more so than today). A popular skip such as The Gumps by Sidney Smith or Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray could bring immense wealth and fame to its creator, and newspaper publishers openly indulged in all manner of chicanery to attract top artists.

He was also attracted to the pulps. Eisner compares movies with pulps, because pulp magazines gave a sense of storytelling. And at that time, the pulps formed the basis of popular storytelling. They were everywhere, and Eisner read as many as he could.

Who is Will Eisner?

Early Years

Will Eisner, was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1917, to Jewish immigrant parents. He attended to the De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where his first drawings were published in the school's newspaper. He made his debut in comics in the year of 1936, when WOW What a Magazine! published his first work, Harry Karry and The Flame, and also Hawks of the Sea under the penname Willis Rensie. The magazine folded, even though so Eisner continued by teaming up with his friend Jerry Iger and later founding the Eisner-Iger Studio.

When Eisner entered DeWitt Clinton High School, both his artistic and writing skills flourished under the tutelage of the top-notch staff the school employed. Here, Eisner created comic strips, art directed magazines, created stage designs, illustrated various magazines published at his high school, and in general honed the skills that he would rely on so profoundly in a few short years


While in Eisner-Iger studio, they produced a huge amount of comics in all genres and styles for International markets, principally the American and British. A memorable title Eisner made in this period is Hawk of the Seas. The shop also created Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and Muss 'em Up. Eisner signed most of his work with Erwin Willis B. Rensie, Willis Nerr or Will Erwin at the time, and he also began his own Universal Phoenix Features syndicate.

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In 1939, Will Eisner left the studio to join the Quality Comics Group, where he started out by creating comics like Doll Man, Uncle Sam, Wonder Man, Lady Luck (with Nick Cardy) and Black Hawk. By 1940, he worked on a syndicated 16-page newspaper supplement for which he created his most famous comic, 'The Spirit'.

The Spirit

What is The Spirit?

Will Eisner created the The Spirit in 1940. For twelve years, the original adventures of masked crime fighter Denny Colt appeared in newspapers and comic books across the United States.

The Spirit first appeared in print as the star of a syndicated comics feature (known now as 'The Spirit Section') produced by Eisner's studio. The stories were also published in comic book format in various Quality Comics by publisher Everett 'Busy' Arnold, a business partner of Eisner's. The Spirit stories have been reprinted in several comic book series and collected editions from various publishers over the years. The main publisher was Kitchen Sink Press, who published the entire run of post-War Spirit stories as well as a selection of pre-War stories in The Spirit: The Origin Years.

The revolution of The Spirit

With The Spirit, Eisner took at its limit the language of classic comic and started to twist this language to parody. Because what Eisner made, far from hiding his procedures, was showing them. All the pages from The Spirit, and particularly the famous covers are shown as constructions, as products: the signs come to a thickness that prevents any fiction of transparency. The recurring game of the presentation pages is to receive the title of the series and sometimes the author's name as part of the decor. It is difficult to choose one example among this prodigy of visual imagination that constitutes the series of presentations of the chapters, in which the title appears under the form of papers carried by the wind or dragged by the water, signs, fences, inscriptions on tombstones and buildings. The remarkable thing is, as well, that if the needs of the story take the characters to the space shown in the presentation page, we see how the title appears in the background of the bullet. This resource emphasizes the artificial nature of the story, its construction, when making interfere within the plot external elements; by using some narratological slang, it's like if the characters in a novel make reference to the back of the book or the colophon.

These games are not limited to the cover pages. The constant invention of the narrative resources, some more visible tan others, return to The Spiri't's stories every time trickier: it's about an evident stylistic choose. And sistematically, those resources tend to put in evidence a narrator that the adventure comics try generally to hide. Starting for the most evident, in The Spirit they multiply, the enforced squares, elements from the first plane decor- that show the presence of a perspective that, as well, match or not with a character's, it cannot be avoided in every image. Far from propose an "invisible sight" Eisner emphasizes that inevitable point whence a bullet is organized. Eisner, who is defining all the future comics' resources, also starts to parody and destroy them in such way that announces (and probably influences) the games of Harvey Kurtzman in MAD. These resources incorporate problems with an infusive complex.

  What I pretend to propose is that Eisner is in charge of a certain unreality within the language of the history, product of the exhibition of the materiality of the signs and far from searching the ways to dissimulate it, instead, emphasizes. In this way, The Spirit is an anti-realistic history, and this at a certain level, contamines or feeds the kind of story that the author chooses to tell: fantastic tales or little fables every time farther from the canonic model of the investigations within the policial genre and with an increasing use of humor and absurd.

Graphic Novel

New Elements, new age.

Eisner raised as the main representative of the American "author comics". He implied to his characters into more political questions, he openly showed that The Spirit was a comic in which the masked hero was no other tan the link between many common lives that interested Eisner; and all that without letting to do of his masterpiece a constant machine of form and narrative experimentation even when his character started to being published by Warren with the magazine format. Precisely in one of those magazines, Eisner worked on a fascinating project that escaped to everything he had drawn at that moment: "Life on Another Planet", a spy history mixed with astrophysics in which the character's emotional connection was more important than the extraterrestrial link.

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This kind of stories were coming in The Spirit and were materialized in what was supposed his definitive return to his neighborhood, to his origins: A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories, inaugurated what many denominated as "graphic novel" and "comic-novel" in the American comic because of its format as a book that indicated a step forward in the scale to the comic legitimacy. Eisner pretended to make a simply graphic narration but no trascend the media, perfectly valid for itself. "A Contract with God" constituted a rupture with what was being narrated to the public although it was no more than the logical conclusion to its efforts in the comic, even though it would continue its cartoonist style.