Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Will Eisner

Will Eisner: Conversations

Edited by M. Thomas Inge
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Will Eisner
    Book Description:

    Will Eisner's innovations in the comics, especially the comic book and the graphic novel, as well as his devotion to comics analysis, make him one of comics' first true auteurs and the cartoonist so revered and influential that cartooning's highest honor is named after him. His newspaper featureThe Spirit(1940-1952) introduced the now-common splash page to the comic book, as well as dramatic angles and lighting effects that were influenced by, and influenced in turn, the conventions of film noir. Even in his tales of crime fighting, Eisner's writing focused on everyday details of city life and on contemporary social issues. In 1976, he premieredA Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories, a collection of realist cartoon stories that paved the way for the modern "graphic novel." His 1985 book,Comics and Sequential Art, was among the first sustained analyses and overviews of the comics form, articulating theories of the art's grammar and structure. Eisner's studio nurtured such comics legends as Jules Feiffer, Wally Wood, Lou Fine, and Jack Cole.

    Will Eisner: Conversations, edited by comics scholar M. Thomas Inge, collects the best interviews with Eisner (1917-2005) from 1965 to 2004. Taken together, the interviews cover the breadth of Eisner's career with in-depth information about his creation ofThe Spiritand other well-known comic book characters, his devotion to the educational uses of the comics medium, and his contributions to the development of the graphic novel.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-128-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    To study the life of Will Eisner, comic artist extraordinaire, is to study the origins, history, and development of the comic book and the graphic novel. They were profoundly interrelated and one could argue that the fate of the graphic narrative in general would not have been the same without the presence of Will Eisner. He demonstrated from the start that telling stories through words and pictures was not simply some ephemeral way of amusing readers in search of temporary pleasure. Rather he saw it as a new and exciting way to address the age-old questions about human nature and...

    (pp. xv-2)
  5. The Only Real Middle-Class Crimefighter
    (pp. 3-7)

    It started with Jules Feiffer saying in his book,The Great Comic Book Heroes, that in the golden age of comic books a seminal force in the industry, the comic artist most likely to be imitated by other comic artists, was Will Eisner, who, between 1940 and 1952 with a few years off for World War II, wrote and drewThe Spirit, a comic-book-size seven-page supplement syndicated in Sunday newspapers. Not everybody remembersThe Spirit, but those who do tend to remember it distinctly and with passion.

    The Spiritwas a burlesque of, among other things, the standard adventure comic....

  6. Having Something to Say
    (pp. 8-23)
    JOHN BENSON and Will Eisner

    My first attempt to interview Will Eisner was in August 1961. I visited his offices in New York unannounced, and, although he was very cordial, he indicated that he was not interested in being interviewed. He said that he was very flattered that I still rememberedThe Spirit, but he had no plans to revive the feature and apparently had little interest in it.

    It was not until seven years later that Eisner agreed to do the following interview, his first interview for a comics-related publication. The most significant development in the intervening period that led to his change of...

  7. Will Eisner: Before the Comics
    (pp. 24-32)

    I was born in New York City on March 6, 1917. I have absolutely no way of knowing what stars converged at that time, what great earthshaking events occurred. My father was born in a little village just outside of Vienna, so I am Austrian, I guess—although I understand that the municipality kept changing hands over the years, so I might be Hungarian or Polish by extraction. His father was a kerosene miner or something like that. They weren’t farmers. My mother was conceived in Romania, born on the boat on the way over here, so she was, I...

  8. An Interview with Will Eisner
    (pp. 33-39)
    DAVE SIM and Will Eisner

    Sim: How do you see the development of comic art in recent years?

    Eisner: I think it is undergoing an exciting imaginative change. I think we’re at the threshold of a big directional change in comic book art. I’m very excited by the new, more intelligent, more intellectual talent that is coming along. I think the biggest single thing that is happening in comics is that it’s moving toward intellectualism. I think this is an exciting thing and I think as technology increases the physical format of comics is changing. And the audience is increasing. As the audience becomes more...

  9. An Interview with Will Eisner
    (pp. 40-46)
    JERRY DeFUCCIO and Will Eisner

    Jerry DeFuccio: Will, what was the creative atmosphere in whichThe Spiritevolved? You know, gestation time, false starts, trying it out on your associates …?

    Will Eisner:The Spiritwas created in haste, to satisfy the need to provide a weekly comic book section for newspapers. The package, at the time, was the novelty, not the features. The Register & Tribune Syndicate and Busy Arnold had the idea, precipitated by newspaper (Sunday) requests, and came to me. I had, by then, something of a reputation in comic books. Also, I was an “independent” with a track record for production dependability....

  10. Will Eisner Interview
    (pp. 47-78)
    CAT YRONWODE and Will Eisner

    yronwode: Since you are best known to comic book readers as the creator of The Spirit, suppose we start with a history of that era—how did you come to create that character?

    Eisner: It was in 1940, late ’39, to be exact—the Register and Tribune Syndicate asked me to produce a newspaper insert for them, called a ready-print, which would be in comic book format. Now that was the mission. They left for me a certain amount of freedom to develop the characters that I wanted to do, to develop the material I thought would be appropriate. By...

  11. A Talk with Will Eisner
    (pp. 79-86)

    Will Eisner may not be a genius, but in the history of comics, he’ll do until the real thing comes along. People think they are doing Eisner a favor by comparingThe SpirittoCitizen Kane, butThe Spiritcame out every week for thirteen years, andCitizen Kane, wonderful as it was, was just one movie.

    The fact is, even withoutThe Spiritin his resumé, Will Eisner could lay claim to being the most important artist/writer/editor/creator/packager of the Golden Age of Comics. Blackhawk, Sheena, Uncle Sam—Eisner created and developed them all, along with Doll Man, Espionage, Hawks...

  12. Will Eisner
    (pp. 87-102)
    DALE LUCIANO and Will Eisner

    Dale Luciano: Since you’ve traveled in Europe and America in connection with your work, you would seem not only to have a good overview of the entire history of comics—

    Will Eisner: [Laughter] Well, you might be right about that … Certainly I’m old enough!

    Luciano: —and also the recent history of the direct-sales marketing system. Where do you think things are right now?

    Eisner: Well, there’s really some good news and some bad news. Actually, although this is nothing new, we’re in a moment of crisis. We’ve just come through a year in which, to my dismay and concern,...

  13. Mastering the Form: An Interview with Will Eisner
    (pp. 103-107)
    BEN SCHWARTZ and Will Eisner

    Although we rarely take it seriously, cartooning is an integral part of our culture. We see it every day in newspapers, TV, short and feature films, comic books, and even instruction booklets from Sony Walkman radios to sophisticated military equipment. In our society, cartooning is unquestionably a vital means of communication. When done right, it combines the precision of language with the broad emotional impact of well-crafted images.

    As will be shown in this series of interviews, cartooning is a complex blend of technical mastery and aesthetic principle. Yet how often do we think of the men and women who...

  14. A Cartoonist’s Cartoonist
    (pp. 108-112)

    If you sneak around back, you can peek into the inner sanctum and catch a glimpse of the legend himself: one of the comic-book medium’s founding fathers, creator ofThe Spirit, the first comic book inserted into a Sunday newspaper.

    He’s the balding one in the polyester pants, the old guy hunched over the desk, scribbling away on the adult comic books he has been penning in the ’80s.

    He’s alone.

    The beautiful Miss Cosmek, agent from Planet Mars—who defected to Earth, where laughter, love, and tears are not a crime—is locked away.

    Poor Gerhard Shnobble has been...

  15. Getting the Last Laugh: My Life in Comics
    (pp. 113-120)

    It was 1937. The newspaper comic strip was in its heyday. The strips were so popular that some inventive businessmen were starting to repackage them as whole books. The comics field, even in the bleak ’30s, seemed to have a bright future. A cartoonist who could draw funny pages had reason to hope, anyway.

    I was just such a cartoonist, nineteen years old and out of work. An equally desperate friend, Jerry Iger, and I decided to move into a small office on East 41st Street in New York and start a comics production company, Eisner & Iger (my fifteen-dollar initial...

  16. Will Eisner: The Old Man on the Mountain
    (pp. 121-130)

    Comic Book Rebels: What did you think was possible in the comics medium when you started in the industry, back in 1936?

    Will Eisner: I have to give it to you from a personal perspective. I saw comics as a medium wherein I could realize my literary and art ambitions. Most people who came upon comics in 1936 simply saw it as an amorphic entertainment medium. Comics were divided into a few categories; there were daily strips, there were comic pages, and there were single panels. But comic “books” as we call them today were then the result of assembling...

  17. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  18. Night of the Paper Noir
    (pp. 131-175)

    Program Notes: In a discussion about art and cinema once, actor Rod Steiger winced when I called his cab scene with Marlon Brando inOn the Waterfront“larger than life.”

    “Kid,” he said with a cocktail of sadness and bemusement, “there IS nothing larger than life.”

    And so it goes with the collective memories of Eisner and a handful of his Tudor City artists. There IS no projector to replay that innocent, tragic, creative, noir past.

    Not really.

    But here’s a buffalo nickel anyway, it will get you on the el that crosses neon-lit prewar Manhattan, clattering towards a cramped...

  19. Will Eisner’s Vision and the Future of the Comics
    (pp. 176-184)
    R. C. HARVEY and Will Eisner

    In 1978, Will Eisner published a hardback book of short stories told in the comics medium. The stories were set in the 1930s tenements of the Bronx where Eisner grew up, and Eisner had been mulling over this material for at least twenty years. EntitledA Contract with God, the book was Eisner’s first work in fiction since leaving the world of newspaper comics in 1952 in order to concentrate on producing instructional comics. Since 1978, he has created thirteen similar works, the most recent entitledFamily Matter.

    The stories inContractare about ordinary people confronting certain events in...

  20. Interview: Will Eisner
    (pp. 185-195)
    TASHA ROBINSON and Will Eisner

    When Will Eisner co-founded the first “comic art shop” in the late 1930s, he took one of the first steps in an epic career that would significantly change the face of comics in America. Eisner’s studio—which employed Bob Kane, Lou Fine, and Jack Kirby, among others—was one of the first to produce original comic books in an era when “comics” meant newspaper funny strips. But the company was only a few years old when Eisner left to launch the groundbreaking weekly seriesThe Spirit, a standalone newspaper insert that gave Eisner freedom to experiment with his visual style...

  21. Eisner Wide Open
    (pp. 196-204)
    TOM HEINTJES and Will Eisner

    Tom Heintjes: What challenges do you see cartoonists facing that they traditionally haven’t had?

    Will Eisner: Before we can discuss any challenge facing a cartoonist, we’ve got to decide what we’re talking about: Are we talking about his art form, or are we talking about the publication that will carry his work? Cartoonists have always worked for publication, as opposed to painters, who work for galleries. It’s the final vehicle that often determines “the challenge,” as you put it. A painter’s vehicle is the gallery. The painting he makes is “the product.” The cartoonist, however, is creating something for reproduction....

  22. The Spirit of Comics: The Will Eisner Interview
    (pp. 205-219)
    DANNY FINGEROTH and Will Eisner

    Danny Fingeroth: I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview, Will. What are you working on right now? I know you’re in the middle of a project.

    Will Eisner: I just completed a book that Doubleday is publishing calledFagin the Jew. It will be published in September, I believe. I just sent off the final art the day before yesterday.

    Fingeroth: That’s not part of the DC Library?

    Eisner: DC lost the bid on it. They wanted it, but Doubleday made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. DC always gets “first look” at any...

  23. Auteur Theory
    (pp. 220-230)
    MICHAEL KRONENBERG and Will Eisner

    Comic Book Marketplace: For many years you’ve had complete autonomy over your projects—how does it feel to have carte blanche to explore and push the limits of the medium?

    Will Eisner: Great!! It feels good, I’m enjoying it. The reason I struggled to retain my property in the first place way back was I felt it was the only way to maintain control of the content, the intellectual control. That was the reason I did that in the first place. I was really more interested in that than the potential of money because in those days comics didn’t have...

  24. INDEX
    (pp. 231-239)