04 January 2005


Will Eisner
1917 - 2004
Comics pioneer

You kids today don't appreciate what you have. Back before Scott McCloud wrote (and drew) Understanding Comics, all we had was Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art, and we liked it.

We liked it because Eisner was the first person to demonstrate mastery of every dimension of the comics medium. He could draw anything: people, cars, mountains, or rain. He could draw caricature and realistic human figures, and express infinite shadings of human emotion with their postures and their faces. He could tell a story in a single panel or on a single page — but was also the first to succeed in sustaining a long narrative in the medium. He could do comedy or tragedy, adventure or romance, if you can forgive him a small instinct for schmaltz — he was a product of a different era, before readers got too cynical. And he put it all together in an amazing body of work. None of this writer / penciller / inker nonsense for Eisner; he did it all himself.

For me, the thing that dazzles is his mastery of panel layout. Reading The Spirit is an exercise in astonishment. I'd see that some clever way of laying out a page that I thought Wally Wood had first done in the late ’50s had come out of Eisner's pen more than a decade before. I'd turn the page, and see a layout that I thought Frank Miller had first done in the late '80s. Page after page. It can seem like Eisner invented everything.

Well, not quite — but arguably more than any other single person, he is responsible for the language of the medium. He will be missed.

Update: More from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and this from Neil Gaiman:

Will Eisner was better than any of us, and he kept working in the hope that one day he'd get it right.

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