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Will Eisner dead at age 87


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WILL EISNER DIES

Newsarama has learned that comic legend Will Eisner died Monday evening, due to complications from heart surgery performed on December 22nd. Eisner had undergone quadruple bypass surgery, and was last reported to be recovering well.

Eisner was 87 years old, and was still actively working. His latest graphic novel, The Plot is due to be released later this year by W.W. Norton.

Newsarama will relay more information as it becomes available.

Eisner's biography from www.willeisner.com reads:

Will Eisner was born March 6, 1917 in Brooklyn, NY. The son of Jewish immigrants, his early life and experiences growing up in New York tenements would become the inspiration for much of his graphic novel work. At De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx, Eisner's budding interest in art was fostered, and it was in the school newspaper that his first work was published.

Eisner's first comic work appeared 1936 in WOW What a Magazine! He created two features for WOW—Harry Karry and The Flame. When the magazine folded after only four issues, Eisner formed a partnership with friend Jerry Iger, and the Eisner-Iger studio was born.

The studio was a veritable comics factory, churning out strips in a variety of genres in the hopes of placing them with American newspapers. Towards this end, Eisner-Iger recruited a number of young artists who would go on to become comics' legends in their own right: Bob Kane, Lou Fine, and Jack Kirby. The most enduring of Eisner's work to come out of this period is Hawks of the Seas, the high-seas adventure strip that had begun as The Flame.

The partnership ended in 1939 when Eisner joined the Quality Comics Group to produce a syndicated 16-page newspaper supplement. It was for this supplement that he created his most famous character, The Spirit.

Creating the Comic Book Section for Quality gave Eisner the opportunity to reach a wide audience in papers across the country. The supplement contained three four-color features developed by Eisner. The lead feature, The Spirit , was a detective adventure script entirely scripted and drawn by Eisner. This story of a masked detective who protects Central City from the criminal element with no more than fists, cunning, and an unbelievable tolerance for punishment quickly became the most popular feature of the section. The supplement was renamed The Spirit Section, and became Eisner's proving ground for some of the most innovative work in the genre. Even in these early stories, the presence of cinematic camera angles, atmospheric lighting effects and creative storytelling techniques distinguished The Spirit.

Eisner's work on the Spirit was interrupted in 1942 when he was drafted into the Army for service in World War II. The Army took advantage of his skills as a cartoonist, and during the war he was engaged in producing posters, illustrations and strips for the education and entertainment of the troops.

After the War, Eisner returned to a much diminished Spirit, who had faltered in less able hands during his absence. In December of 1945 he reintroduced the strip with a retelling of the Spirit's origin, and the Spirit was quickly back on track. Now with the support of other artists such as a young Jules Feiffer and later Wally Wood, Eisner continued the weekly installments of the Spirit until 1952. Never content to stay within the narrow confines of the detective genre, Eisner used the Spirit to explore a wide variety of stories, from simple tales of ordinary people to wild flights of fancy verging on science fiction.

During this period, Eisner attempted to foster several other projects for publication as newspaper strips or newsstand comics, including Kewpies, Baseball, Nubbin the Shoeshine Boy and John Law. None of these were successful, but some of the material created for them ended up in The Spirit.

While still producing the Spirit, Eisner founded the American Visuals Corporation, which was a commercial art company dedicated to creating comics, cartoons, and illustrations for educational and commercial purposes. Eisner resurrected Joe Dope, a bumbling soldier he had created during the War, for feature in P*S Magazine, a publication he produced for the Army. His other clients included RCA Records, an Oil Filter company, the Baltimore Colts, and New York Telephone. This work soon occupied most of Eisner's time, and The Spirit was abandoned in favor of this more profitable work, which continued until the late 70s.

In the mid-60s several articles renewed popular interest in the Spirit, and the strips were reprinted in a variety of forms that continues to this day. Eisner was persuaded to create a small amount of new Spirit material at this time, but despite a growing fan insistence for more, Eisner did not have much taste for revisiting what he saw as the heroic fantasies of his youth. Seeking for a more mature expression of the comics' form, Eisner spent two years creating four short stories of "sequential art" that became A Contract With God, first published by Baronet Books in 1978. In this book, with its 1930s Bronx tenements and slice of life moral tales, Eisner returned to his roots and discovered new potential for the comics form—the graphic novel.

Eisner followed A Contract With God with a series of graphic novels published by the alternative comics publisher Kitchen Sink Press. With subject matter ranging from semi-autobiographical (The Dreamer and To the Heart of the Storm), keen observations of modern life (The Building and Invisible People) and science fiction parable (Life on Another Planet ) Eisner helped to break comics from the juvenile ghetto of superheroes and "funny books."

In addition to producing a continuing legacy of great work, Eisner taught cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and is the author of two definitive works examining the creative process, Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling. Each year he presides over the Eisner Awards, established in 1988, one of prestigious two comics industry awards, presented each year at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Recently, his work was gained wider recognition when it was showcased in the Whitney Museum's 1996 "NYNY: City of Ambition" show.

Eisner has been cited as an inspiration by comics' creators from all corners of the genre, and his influence is seen as widely. He remains one of the most active, vital, and prolific forces in the comics' field today.

Bob Andleman, author of the upcoming Eisner biography, Will Eisner: A Spirited Life has written the following obituary via the Will Eisner: A SPirited Life eNewsletter:

Legendary comics and graphic novel artist and writer Will Eisner died last night, Monday, January 3, 2005, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at the age of 87, following complications from quadruple heart bypass surgery.

Will Eisner didn't create Superman, Batman, Spider-Man or even Archie and Jughead. Some comic book fans may scratch their heads when asked to describe his work. But every artist and writer in comic books, as well as graphic artists across the entire spectrum of modern illustration, television and film, owes a debt to him.

In 1941, Eisner created a goofball detective named Denny Colt who died (not really) and was reborn as "The Spirit," the cemetery-dwelling protector of the public - and pretty girls in particular. The Spirit possessed no superpowers. He couldn ' t see through his girlfriend ' s clothing the way a curious alien like the Man of Steel might scientifically investigate Lois Lane. And he wasn't a brilliant technologist like Batman, imagineering hokey gadgets and psychedelic compounds for all-night parties with the Joker.

The Spirit broke so many molds:

- Eisner was the strip's artist and writer, a feat that is still rare today.

- The Spirit was published and distributed as an insert in Sunday newspapers, ala Parade magazine. It was seen weekly by as many as 5-million people from 1941 to 1952.

- No two Spirit sections looked alike. Although most commercial operations - from Superman to Pepsi-Cola - spend millions of dollars testing, proving and marketing their logos, Eisner thought it was more challenging to change The Spirit's masthead every week - for 12 years.

- The Spirit was a fun, mature read, aimed at adults but accessible to kids.

For all of these reasons, The Spirit was published and reissued in various forms almost uninterrupted for 60 years. Its look, feel and smartass humor is timeless, which accounts for the countless revivals.

Eisner, who went to high school with "Batman" creator Bob Kane, provided first jobs in the comics business to everyone from Jack Kirby (co-creator of " Captain America " and the " Fantastic Four " ) to Pulitzer-winning writer and artist Jules Feiffer.

If not for Eisner ' s influence, Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman might never have published his graphic novel Maus: A Survivor ' s Tale (Eisner is credited with popularizing - if not inventing - the medium of the graphic novel with the 1978 publication of his graphic story collection, A Contract With God) and fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon ' s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay would have been missing quite a few Eisner-inspired tales.

For comic book professionals, the highest honor in the industry is either an Eisner Award, named for Eisner and given out every summer at Comic-Con International in San Diego, or a Harvey Award, named for Eisner ' s late friend Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of Mad magazine and Playboy ' s " Little Annie Fanny, " given every April in Pittsburgh. Kurtzman, who discovered talents as diverse as R. Crumb and Gloria Steinem, passed away in 1993, making Eisner the last man standing.

Literally.

At every Eisner Awards ceremony, each recipient was handed his or her award by the man himself.

Several years ago, a big red velvet chair was put on stage for Eisner. The Eisner Awards promoters said, " Come on, Will, you shouldn ' t have to stand up all this time; here, have a seat. " Eisner sat on it briefly, got a laugh out of it, but then he stood up again, and stayed on his feet the rest of the night. Eisner demonstrated his strength of character and enduring physical wherewithal by standing on stage throughout the entire presentation, shaking hands and personally congratulating the winners. Because there is a different presenter for each award, no one else stood for as long as Eisner.

That's why, when Eisner handed the 2002 Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story (Amazing Spider-Man #30-35: " Coming Home " ) to writer J. Michael Straczynski and artists John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna, Straczynski thrust the award in the air and remarked, " You know, you get the Emmy, you don ' t get it from ' Emmy. ' You win the Oscar, you don ' t get it from ' Oscar. ' How freakin ' cool is this? "

Published in November 2004, DC Comics ' The Will Eisner Companion is the first comprehensive, critical overview of the work of this legendary writer/artist. Divided into two sections - his Spirit work and his graphic novels - this authorized companion features all-new critical and historical essays by noted comics historians N.C. Christopher Couch and Stephen Weiner, as well as alphabetical indexes relating to all aspects and characters in his oeuvre. Also includes a chronology, a bibliography and suggested reading lists, as well as an introduction by Dennis O'Neil.

A new generation of comics fans learned about the man in the 1970s when underground comix publisher Denis Kitchen began reprinting " The Spirit " stories and eventually produced new stories of the character by top comic book talent including Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and Neil Gaiman. Kitchen became one of Eisner ' s closest friends and confidants, as well as his personal representative and literary agent (with Judith Hansen).

More recently, " John Law, " a 56-year- old Will Eisner character, was given fresh life and adventures in 2002 by Australian artist and writer Gary Chaloner as an online comic book hero at ModernTales.com. In December 2004, Law returned to print in IDW Publishing ' s " Will Eisner's John Law " hardcover trade paperback. These stories were the first original John Law adventures published since Eisner worked on the character in 1948. This edition includes both new material and classic John Law tales by Eisner himself.

And Eisner ' s final - and likely most controversial - graphic novel, The Plot, finished last summer, will be published this spring by W.W. Norton.

Will Eisner was the wizard behind the curtain, except in his case, the magic was real.

There will be no funeral service, per Will ' s wishes. " Will and I hated funerals, " his wife, Ann, said the morning after his death. " We made plans long ago to avoid having them ourselves. " He will be buried next to his late daughter, Alice, who died in 1969. Surviving Will are his wife, Ann, and his son, John.

Cards may be sent to:

Will Eisner Studios

8333 W. McNab Road

Tamarac, FL 33321

Unofficially, in lieu of flowers, you might consider a donation in Will ' s name to the American Cancer Society - his daughter died of cancer - or the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which Will was known to have supported.

On a personal note, I am crushed. Will and I started working on what began as an autobiography and morphed into an authorized biography three years ago this month. His friendship and camaraderie was like none other. (Will Eisner: A Spirited Life will be published in July for Dark Horse Comics ' new M Press imprint.)

In the days to come, if you ' d like to share a story or a thought about Will and need an outlet, I ' ll make this newsletter available to anyone who ' d care to contribute. Just reply to ASpiritedLife@tampabay.rr.com and I ' ll share your words with an international audience of Eisner fans and media.

Today is a very sad day for the world of arts and letters.

I didn't really know much about him before reading this, but it seems like alot of people loved him and his work. RIP

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