Born to Shmuel Eisner and Fannie Ingber on March 6th 1917, Will Eisner became one of the most influential people in the comic book industry. He first started working at the age of 13 at a newspaper company as a paperboy. However, Eisner’s first big break came from Bob Kane’s suggestion to contribute to Wow, What a Magazine in 1936. There, Eisner met Jerry Iger. After the Magazine was no longer printing, they partnered together to create a studio, called Eisner & Iger. It hired and produced comics for different comic publishers until 1939. The end of their partnership came with Eiser’s meeting with Everett Arnold to create The Spirit. He worked on that comic until 1952, despite his army career. Will Eisner was drafted into the army. However, he worked for the military past his career as a soldier as he drew instructional comics for them. This prompted him to start the American Visuals Corporation. He used this company to produce and sell training comics for all industries. The biggest turning point in Will Eisner is his innovation in writing a longer story. It did not fit the comic book medium at the time, which prompted him to create his first Graphic Novel! Though, in the years before his death in 2005, Eisner wrote books that teach about comic theory, art and writing as well as actually teaching.
Will Eisner’s teachings are what many students know him by. Unfortunately, like many of the first creators of comic books, he isn’t as known as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane and the rest of the superhero creators. However, Eisner’s works are still iconic and inspirational. His educational books are a boon to the industry. Eisner’s books, unlike those before his, focused on the overall experience and theory behind comic books especially in Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative. Meanwhile Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist, focuses on the art and design aspects of comics. These books revolutionized how people talked about comics and how educators approached comics.
Other than Will Eisner’s work on The Spirit, which is a story that transcends time and is still interesting to many, his real innovation comes from his work on longer narratives. This was introduced by his graphic novel A Contract with God. This was the first book to be called a Graphic Novel. It was written after his daughter Alice passed away and the first story is a reflection of his life and his struggle with his faith after that incident. There are other stories in this book and it deals with identity and racism. It was and still is a book that many people could identify with and can be very difficult to read at times.
These works aren’t the extent of Will Eisner’s influence. He has so many works and has taught so many classes. Scott McCloud has noted, there is no creator in the industry today who was not inspired directly or indirectly by him. It is evident by the fact that the comic book awards are called the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards as well as there is a Hall of Fame named after him. There is an annual week dedicated to him from March first to the seventh. It is unmistakable that his teachings and books have changed society and played a part in changing the status of comics from frivolous to a literary form.
Some of his influence is subtler than that. For example, Jack Kirby worked at Eisner & Iger and was inspired by his business acuity and learned by example. Will Eisner’s The Spirit is the reason Neil Gaiman has consistently read comics and wanted to work in the comic industry. Even Alan Moore and Rick Veitch created their character Greyshirt after The Spirit and have episodes in their book Tomorrow Stories dedicated as a tribute to Will Eisner!
Will Eisner should be one of the most celebrated creator in the industry. There should be more people familiar with who he is. He is the “Father of the Graphic Novel”, one of the major formats in the comic industry.