THE SPIRIT DY­NA­MITE

Distinguished Magazine - - ART & CULTURE -

In a ca­reer which spanned nearly six decades, Eis­ner has been in­stru­men­tal in shap­ing the medium’s form and struc­ture, el­e­vat­ing its qual­ity and po­ten­tial, pop­u­lar­is­ing this medium as a se­ri­ous form of the lit­er­ary genre, thereby in­flu­enc­ing and in­spir­ing mil­lions of artists who car­ried on his legacy to this date. To honor his ex­ten­sive ac­com­plish­ments in the field, the in­dus­try’s most pres­ti­gious and cov­eted honor has been named af­ter him, the Eis­ner Award. Though the art of comics and graphic nov­els had al­ready ex­isted be­fore Eis­ner started on his var­ied body of work, the mod­ern graphic novel was in­tro­duced by him, where he told sto­ries with an equal em­pha­sis on art and text.

Pub­lished in 1978, his first at­tempt in a graphic novel, “A Con­tract with God and Other Ten­e­ment sto­ries”, took the comic book in­dus­try by sur­prise, and this ground-break­ing book has hardly been matched up to till this date. It was a col­lec­tion of four sto­ries, of the strug­gling in­hab­i­tants of a Bronx neigh­bour­hood in the pe­riod of de­pres­sion. De­vi­at­ing from the usual light-hearted tone of comic books, A Con­tract with God ex­plored sub­jects like poverty, un­em­ploy­ment, re­li­gion and moral­ity. For Eis­ner him­self, it was like an ex­per­i­ment on the bound­aries that comic books can reach, “I was work­ing around one core con­cept — that the medium, the ar­range­ment of words and pic­tures in a se­quence, was an art form in it­self. Unique, with a struc­ture and gestalt of its own, this medium could deal with mean­ing­ful themes.”

A Con­tract with God is be­lieved to be a land­mark in the evo­lu­tion of the form and struc­ture of graphic nov­els and has been con­stantly reprinted since its first pub­li­ca­tion. For its ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with the vis­ual dis­play and free-flow­ing nar­ra­tives and graphic style, Eis­ner’s sto­ry­telling ex­tended and el­e­vated the medium into a com­plex art form, which in­spired thou­sands of artists and sto­ry­tellers af­ter him. As Neil Gaiman, the best­selling fan­tasy au­thor writes, “Eis­ner’s sto­ries were in­flu­enced by film, by theatre, by ra­dio, but were ul­ti­mately their own medium, cre­ated by a man who thought that the comic book was an art form, and who was proved right.”

At the time, when he fi­nally made an at­tempt to cut out from the rest of the crowd with his first graphic novel, Eis­ner was al­ready busy in cre­at­ing a masked crime­fighter called “The Spirit”. Though there were al­ready too many crime fight­ers and su­per­heroes in the arena of comics, at that time, The Spirit stood out with its real-life tex­ture, smart sense of hu­mour, and a philo­soph­i­cal take on life and be­yond, which was a rar­ity in this field at that time. The Spirit be­came the first ma­jor mile­stone in the ca­reer of the es­teemed and in­no­va­tive sto­ry­teller, and the first step in his en­deav­ours to el­e­vate comics to a ma­ture lit­er­ary and artis­tic form.

Eis­ner kept evolv­ing his art with all the tools and vis­ual de­vices he had learnt over the years, while not veer­ing away from the roots of the comics’ for­mat. This style was lapped up by the read­ers. Ac­cord­ing to a DC Comics, at the zenith of its pop­u­lar­ity, The Spirit reached out to 5mil­lion read­ers every Sun­day, through 20 news­pa­pers. Eis­ner’s flam­boy­ant ex­per­i­men­ta­tions with lay­outs, forms and let­ter­ing, cin­e­matic styling and the­atri­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions of char­ac­ters and se­quences, led to the ini­ti­a­tion of what he him­self termed as, “se­quen­tial art”.

This cho­sen eu­phemism was what he had ad­hered to through­out his en­tire ca­reer. Whether it was the tril­ogy of nov­els, which started with A Con­tract with God, and was later fol­lowed by Life at Force and Drop­sie Av­enue; or his tril­ogy of artis­tic jour­nals based on the peo­ple of New York, con­sist­ing of City Peo­ple Note­book, New York, The Big City and The Dreamer, Eis­ner has con­sis­tently pushed the lim­its of this art form and in­spired oth­ers to do the same. In his in­struc­tional books, “Comic and Se­quen­tial Art” and “Graphic Sto­ry­telling”, he has taught his read­ers and fans about how to go on in this path of comics, which has guided fu­ture comics artists like Neil Gaiman, Mar­jane Sa­trapi, Ali­son Bechdel, Art Spiegel­man, and many oth­ers. Ac­cord­ing to Spiegel­man, Will Eis­ner was “a giant, a pi­o­neer, a dy­namo.”

Apart from con­tem­po­rary artists com­mem­o­rat­ing his legacy through their work, Will Eis­ner has been given homage through var­i­ous works like the book Will Eis­ner: Cham­pion of the Graphic Novel, writ­ten by comics writer, ed­i­tor, and for­mer pres­i­dent of DC Comics, Paul Le­vitz. On the birth cen­ten­nial year of the artist and writer, im­por­tant ex­hi­bi­tions were or­gan­ised to show­case his ex­ten­sive body of work, in­clud­ing one in An­goulême, France at the Musée de la Bande Dess­inée and an­other in New York at the Mu­seum of Il­lus­tra­tion. More than 40years af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of the first graphic novel, Will Eis­ner is still thanked by mil­lions of read­ers world­wide for an en­tirely new gen­er­a­tion of graphic nov­els and their cre­ators, who do not shy away from push­ing bound­aries in or­der to tell their sig­nif­i­cant tales of re­al­is­tic and ma­ture hu­man con­di­tions, with new and ex­per­i­men­tal forms of art­work.

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