Devourer of Words 045: Kirby and Eisner at 100

Toucan reading a comic
Marc Bernardin

Comic-Con will be celebrating the lives and careers of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner this year. Much has been said, on this website and elsewhere, about the contributions both of those men have made to comics—as both an artform and an industry. So much that it seems ridiculous for me to attempt to add anything salient to that body of analysis.

Instead, I just want to talk about the only time I’d met Will Eisner.

Back in 2004, I was a journalist, a senior editor at Entertainment Weekly magazine. Because I was then, as I am now, a comics nerd, I had pushed to include reviews of comic books in the magazine’s pages in a way that would let them sit alongside movies, TV, music, and books with equal prominence.

I didn’t get paid any more to do this, but what I did get was the ability to brush up against the comics industry, which I’d fixated upon in my youth. (I also got to meet some of the creators I’d idolized as a reader and only knew from bylines and interviews—doing so, seeing that they were just people with immense talent, but people just the same, demystified the very idea of trying to write comics myself.)

Eisner Awards administrator Jackie Estrada sent me an email, asking if I’d like to be an Eisner Judge—be willing to spend a couple of days in San Diego, sequestered in a conference room with four other judges, surrounded by what felt like every comic published during the previous calendar year.

So, of course, I said yes. It was a long time ago, and I am an old man now, so I don’t recall exactly who won what—luckily, the Internet is a thing—though I do recall lobbying for the Lone Wolf and Cub creators Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima to get lifetime achievement awards. I didn’t have to lobby hard, as my fellow judges were possessed of refined taste.

But the bookend to that experience was that as a judge I was also asked to present one of the awards during the Eisner Ceremony—which is exactly like the Oscars, if you subtract the cameras and the gowns and the tuxedoes and the millionaires and replace them all with people you could buy a beer for.

Since that night in 2004, I have spoken to large groups of people in plenty of venues—I’ve moderated Comic Con panels in Hall H and Ballroom 20 as a journalist, I’ve performed on stages alongside Kevin Smith as the cohost of the Fatman on Batman podcast (and that dude can draw a crowd)—but at the Eisners, that audience was the biggest audience I’d ever been in front of.

I was the kind of nervous that a tumbler of scotch couldn’t abate. Trust me.

As I stood backstage, waiting for my turn to talk, there was an older gentlemen standing nearby. We weren’t introduced, so I didn’t know who it was, but he seemed completely at ease. He, however, noticed my nervousness, sidled over, clapped me on the shoulder, smiled, and said, “Relax … it’s not as if your name is on the trophy.”

Of course, it was Will Eisner.

I have read the work, read the scholarly essays, formed my own opinions about why he deserves his spot in the comics firmament and found they harmonize with everyone else’s.

But, for me, Will Eisner was, firstly, a sweet man who reached out to make a kid feel a little less nervous.

Marc Bernardin’s Devourer of Words appears the third Tuesday of every month here on Toucan!

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