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This article was written on 06 Jan 2005, and is filed under Miscellania.

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Will Eisner, RIP

Will Eisner, beloved author of The Spirit, had one of the longest careers, stretching from the 30′s to the present-day. Along with George Herriman, he was one of the early masters of the topology of the page (this Spirit splash page is the best example I could find on the web), and as Jules Feiffer has pointed out, his were some of the most Jewish superhero comics of the time.

Two good pieces on Eisner’s work and its importance are Michael Barrier’s Will Eisner: Moved by the Spirit, which only begins to describe Eisner’s incredible graphic and narrative sensibility, and Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. I can’t find it on the web, so here’s an excerpt:

Eventually Eisner developed story lines that are perhaps best described as documentary fables–seemingly authentic when one reads them, but impossible after the fact. There was the one about Hitler walking around in a Willy Lomanish middle world: subways rolling, Bronx girls chattering, street bums kicking him around. His purpose in coming to America: to explain himself, to be accepted as a nice guy, to be liked. Silly when you thought of it, but for eight pages, grimly convincing.

Or the man who was a million years old–whose exploits are being read about by two young archeologists of the future who discover, in mountain ruins, the tattered remains of an old Spirit pamphlet, which details his story: the story of hte oldest man in the world, cursed to live forever for being evil, until on the top of a mountain, in combat with the Spirit, he plunges into the ocean and drowns. “Ridiculous story,” say those archeologists of the future as they finish the last page; these being their final words, for coming up behind them is that very old man, his staff raised high to crush their skulls, to toss them over the mountain edge into the ocean, and then to dance away, singing.

I collected Eisners and studied them fastidiously. And I wasn’t the only one. Alone among comic book men, Eisner was a cartoonist other cartoonists swiped from.

And he still is. Whenever I pick up a modern semi-alternative adventure/mystery/noir/etc. comic, Feiffer’s panel layouts are everywhere. And so are his fables, which lived on in everything from EC Comics to The Sandman.

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