This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of American cartoonist and writer Will Eisner.
Important exhibitions have been organised to commemorate his artistic legacy.
In the course of his long career Eisner (1917–2005) had a lasting influence on comics – not only through his works – from The Spirit in the 1940s to A Contract with God in 1978 – but also by initiating new ways of thinking and talking about the format.
Championing and teaching ‘sequential art’ he also contributed to the popularisation of the term ‘graphic novel’.
This catch-all label now refers primarily to the format but also a literary genre – the most celebrated examples of which are marked by a sense of seriousness and ambition – Art Spiegelman’s Maus for example.
As the term has spread since the 1980s however its outlines have become blurry.
The ambition of the expression ‘graphic novel’ was initially one of distinction – its promoters wanted to break with a mainstream comics production they saw as childish.
The artist whose name graces the highest award in comics gets a new volume exploring his legendary career.
Will Eisner’s 1978 short story cycle A Contract With God didn’t create the term ‘graphic novel’ but it’s credited with popularizing the term.
That isn’t even Eisner’s most recognizable contribution to comics: that’d be The Spirit – his masked crimefighter who appeared initially in a Sunday newspaper insert and then later in other incarnations. (It got a pretty wretched Frank Miller-directed film in 2008 but don’t let that tarnish the man’s legacy.)
Now former DC Comics President Paul Levitz has written Will Eisner: Champion of the Graphic Novel – a new biography of the artist and writer that presents ‘the first comprehensive overview’ of the man whose name graces the highest award in comics.
It follows Eisner’s career from dropping out of high school during the Great Depression – to The Spirit’s initial run in newspapers – to A Contract With God pushing the boundaries of the form.