Thursday, January 06, 2005

Will Eisner, 1917-2005

I met Will Eisner once or twice a few years back. Whenever you meet someone you admire, there's a frisson of nerves, like there's some kind of aura of awesomeness around that person. On the outside, he was just an old man, like someone's grandfather. But when you meet him, you realize that this is the man who made comics the respected medium it is today, who recruited Bob Kane and Jack Kirby to work for him in the 1930s. This is the man for whom the Comics Oscars are named. The guy is The Man.

Someone told me once that he saw Eisner at every ComicCon he went to, and that every time he saw Eisner, he marvelled at the fact that Eisner was still alive. The man's legend is so large among some people that most of us just assumed he was dead already.

He wasn't famous for creating Batman or for bringing post-modern attitude to comics. He was famous for defining comics, for teaching the artform, and for inspiring comic scholars like Scott McCloud to think of comics as something other than "funnny strips." He wrote strips in the 60s that dealt with everyday people with everyday problems. He pioneered the graphic novel. He walked on water.

Meeting Will Eisner, I realized that if Benjamin Franklin were alive today, that would be what meeting him would be like. Shaking the hand of a pioneer, an inventor, and an innovator. Touching the fingers that tapped the temples from which sprang The Spirit. Hearing the voice that taught comics' most lauded professionals how to tell a story in pages with panels. I'm sure that somewhere, Nicholas Cage is finding clues to Eisner's treasure as we speak.

I linked to the official bio of Will Eisner from his website, so I won't go into his life here when there are already better sources. He's a worthwhile man to research if you like comics, and his work is a worthwhile read. There's also a good interview with him, which you can find here.

Sometimes we take such comfort just knowing that certain people are still around that we take them for granted, and when one of those people dies, it's like a slap in the cultural face. Will Eisner's passing leaves a hole in pop culture that many won't even know exists.

G'bye, Mr. Eisner. We'll miss you.