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Eisner, Will


EISNER, WILL (William Erwin ; 1917–2005), U.S. comic book artist and author. Born in Brooklyn, n.y., the son of Jewish immigrants, Eisner published his first drawings in his high school newspaper. He published his first comic in 1936 in Wow, What a Magazine!, where he met Jerry Iger. Together they created a comic book outfit, Eisner & Iger, that employed among other artists Bob *Kane, creator of Batman and other superheroes. (Eisner turned down a comic called Superman by Jerry *Siegel and Joe *Shuster.)

In 1940 Eisner created the Spirit, a hero without super-powers. Fans called the strip the "Citizen Kane" of comics for its innovation, its seriousness, and its influences. A website devoted to the Spirit described the hero as a man "with no gimmicks or powers" other than "his freedom from society" and noted that Eisner called the Spirit a "middle-class crime fighter." At the height of its popularity, the Spirit appeared in 20 newspapers, reaching 5 million readers every Sunday. In 1942, when Eisner was drafted into the army, he started drawing comics for the military. In late 1945 he went back to the Spirit, and with the help of other artists, including Jules *Feiffer, he revived and deepened it. The Spirit expired in 1952. For the next 25 years, Eisner spent much of his time running the American Visual Corporation, a producer of education, army, and government comic books. Military manuals used to be dry and virtually unreadable but Eisner used words and pictures together to show soldiers how to do everything from cleaning their tanks to putting their lives back together after the war.

The Kitchen Sink Press reprinted all of the postwar Spirit comics from 1978 to 1998. Meanwhile, in the 1970s, Eisner was reborn as a comic artist. In 1978 he wrote and drew A Contractwith God, a comic book story about Frimme Hersh, a Jewish immigrant who becomes a slumlord in the Bronx when he discovers that God has forsaken him. With that book, Eisner became famous for his moody rain, which came to be called "Eisner spritz." His work over the years was also noted for wordless, emotional close-ups on characters' faces. Eisner is credited with coining the phrase "graphic novel" in 1978. Eisner's seriousness influenced the work of Art *Spiegelman, author of Maus. Eisner wrote two books on comic art, Comic and Sequential Art in 1985 and Graphic Storytelling in 1996.

In 2004, Eisner took on Charles Dickens in Fagin the Jew, challenging most characterizations in Oliver Twist that stereotyped Jews. In Eisner's version of events, Fagin, who is in prison awaiting the hangman, confronts Dickens and demands a recasting of his characters without the prejudice in the novel. "A Jew is not Fagin," he tells the author, "any more than a Gentile is Sikes!" another character in the story. Eisner's Last Day in Vietnam, a collection of the military battle stories he wrote in Korea and Vietnam, was issued in 2005. His last work, The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, provided a graphic history of one of the most notorious works in the pantheon of antisemitism.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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