Happy 100th Birthday, Will Eisner!
Legendary comics creator Will Eisner would have been 100 years old today. Born on March 6, 1917, Eisner was that incredibly rare combination: both a master storyteller and a savvy businessman. Starting off in the 1930s with work in the fledgling comics industry, Eisner quickly rose to become one of the powerhouses of the burgeoning publishing world. He started one of the first comics “shops,” where freelance writers and artists created content for other publishers. He made a deal in 1940 to launch The Spirit, his noirish “superhero” (without powers or a costume … just a domino mask and his wits), in a weekly comics supplement that was distributed in Sunday newspapers. It ran from 1940 to 1952 and at its peak, appeared in 20 papers across the country, reaching over 5 million readers. When Eisner ended it in 1952, he moved on to conquer new worlds, including working with the US Army on PS magazine, a comics-styled publication that taught maintenance techniques to soldiers.
In the mid-60s, Jules Feiffer (Eisner’s assistant at one point in the 1950s), wrote and compiled The Great Comic Book Heroes, a paean to the beloved comics of his youth. The Spirit was included. Eisner had the forethought to get the rights to his character, and The Spirit was reborn: Harvey Comics first reprinted some of the classic stories in two “giant” comics. In the 1970s, Jim Warren reprinted The Spirit in magazine format and black and white, with select stories recolored. After the Warren run, Eisner teamed with publisher (and cartoonist) Denis Kitchen, who brought The Spirit back in a series of publications and also offered Eisner the opportunity to tell new stories in Will Eisner Quarterly. Eisner had been intrigued by underground comix (which Kitchen published) in the late ‘60s and the freedom they allowed their cartoonists to express. That freedom drew Eisner back into comics.
It was in 1978 that Eisner found his “second act” with the publication of his graphic novel, A Contract With God. Over the next 25 years, the writer/artist produced over 15 new graphic novels until his death in 2005.
Will Eisner was a powerful presence at Comic-Con from his first appearance at the event in the mid-1970s until 2004. He was the guiding force behind both the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards and the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. In his latter years, he appeared each year at the show, standing onstage to welcome each recipient of his namesake awards. He was not only an amazing writer and artist, but also a mentor and friend and all of us at Comic-Con still miss him.
Eisner’s birthday comes at the tail end of Will Eisner Week, celebrating the legacy and work of this great storyteller. Visit WillEisner.com for more information. Comic-Con will celebrate the Will Eisner Centennial this year with articles and art in our 2017 Souvenir Book. You can be a part of it … click here for details!