Will Eisner is a titan figure in the history of American comics and cartooning, but does the new biography, “Will Eisner: A Dreamer’s Life in Comics” by Michael Schumacher, live up to the legend? Author Charles Solomon (“The Art of ‘Toy Story 3′”) reviewed the book for the Los Angeles Times. Here’s an excerpt:
Although he neither coined the term “graphic novel” nor invented the form, Will Eisner ranks among America’s most celebrated and influential sequential artists. The creator of “The Spirit” (a comic book hero who solved crimes without recourse to superpowers or high-tech gadgetry), “The Contract With God” (depicting tenement life during the Depression) and three books on writing and drawing sequential art, Eisner has influenced a generation of artists, writers and animators, including Jules Feiffer, Art Spiegelman and Brad Bird.
William Erwin Eisner was born in New York City in 1917. His artist manqué father encouraged his love of drawing; his discouraged, practical mother urged him to find a more secure career than art. He studied at the Art Students League under George Bridgman and Robert Brackman, whose influence is readily apparent in his work, and began his professional career doing illustrations for pulp magazines and early comic books.
In many ways, Eisner’s artistic beginnings were typical of the generation of Jewish artist-writers who helped to create the comic book as we know it, especially the superhero and crime genres. But unlike many of his contemporaries who continued to work for minimal, by-the-page salaries, Eisner organized his own studios and paid other artists to work for him, including Feiffer and Mad’s Dave Berg and Al Jaffee. He also recognized the potential of the comic book as a teaching tool, illustrating numerous publications for the U.S. military.
Schumacher doesn’t really seem to grasp what sets Eisner’s considerable output apart. What was it about “The Spirit” that attracted Bird, Tim Burton, John Musker and other bright young animators? Viewers who endured Frank Miller’s wretched “Spirit” feature film probably wonder why anyone would bother reading the comic; Schumacher mentions only that the film premiered in 2008. Instead, he fills pages with tangential, sometimes completely irrelevant details …
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– Charles Solomon
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