Eisner the cartoonist always left me a little cold: shopworn stories and whiskered gags told in some of the most gorgeously expressive cartooning you’ve ever seen. The ink flowed as naturally as breathing, but I’d look up and shrug. Eh. —I’m smart enough not to write him off as a triumph of technique over substance, but even if I weren’t: my God, what technique. I’ve nattered on about how important Scott McCloud and Understanding Comics are in the scheme of things, for laying the groundwork of a grammar of comics and its study. Will Eisner was one of the first cartoonists to look up and realize what they were messing around with, all that ink and newsprint, those squiggles and balloons, was a language. Comics is a language. That’s huge. So I understand why all the cartoonists around me revere him so.
Eisner the man? I shook his hand. I think. Cons are busy, noisy, overwhelming things, and I’m flighty and absent-minded. Maybe I just said hi. He touched Jenn’s cheek once. Which is more important to me than anything I might have said to him, or he to me. Gosh, Mister Eisner, you’re one of the most important figures ever in comics. Well, thanks, young man. —Tasha Robinson once asked him, “Do you think all of your works address heartbreak on some level?” and he said, “Probably. I’m dealing with the human condition, and I’m dealing with life. For me, the enemy is life, and people’s struggle to prevail is essentially the theme that runs through all my books.”
Will Eisner is in intensive care following open heart surgery on Wednesday afternoon. Quadruple bypass. He didn’t want anyone to know until he came through OK, but all signs are that he is recovering terrifically. He’s already joking with the nurses and “biting his lip” over delayed deadlines. [...]
He’s not supposed to return to work for 6 – 8 weeks (I’m making side bets), so it’d be nice in the interim if the industry deluged him with warm words while he’s recuperating.
He knew what he was on about and he did it with everything he had and on the way he taught tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people all over the world how to do what they were doing better, or to do it at all in the first place. He’s left this world a better place for his having been here, and if that doesn’t do much to mitigate the heartbreak of his passing, well, it’s the best any of us can ever hope for. Would that we all could do it half as well as he did. The Spirit is dead; long live the spirit.
The Onion: What is it like seeing the early-1940s Spirit stories back in print again?
Eisner: Well, I love the package. I think the package is marvelous. I try to avoid looking at the artwork because it makes my toes curl. [Laughs.] I want to grab a pencil and redo it. “Oh, my God, did I get away with this junk?”
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