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Will Eisner: A Dreamer's Life in Comics Review by Mike Rippy

Monday - June 06, 2011

O.K., let's get this out of the way right away--I am the cantankerous coot of this review staff. I love old stuff first and foremost--Comics/Movies/Furniture/Toys/ and Music. I am not a complete coot but I have a foot in the door--I am willing to give most things a chance (unless it says IMAGE on it).

Will Eisner: A Dreamer's Life in Comics by Michael Schumacher is a workman-like biography of a workman-like artist. Being a huge fan of the Spirit comics (never saw the movie on purpose), I gave this an eye-lashing because I love biographies. I stumbled upon the work of Will Eisner in 1976, when I was 7 years old and my uncle gave me a copy of Underground Spirit #1. I was hooked by the cover. Then I opened it and saw the splash page, the GIRLS, the chief's creepy jaw, the GIRLS! I always knew he was a pioneer but this biography let me know how little I actually knew.

The story takes you through the Great Depression, through 4 wars, and into the future where Eisner's art and legacy will live on. It's based on long interviews and correspondence with the man himself and eyewitness accounts and dealings with family and co-workers/employees/and other comic greats. Not many of the early comic guys were found relevant or even remembered into the rebirth of comics in the 60's let alone going on until 2005, the year Eisner died. He also taught cartooning at The School of Visual Arts in New York (many of your faves probably had his class!).

Will Eisner started on the ground floor of comics back in 1936; he went to high school with Bob Kane (heard of Batman?), and also turned down Superman before it went to D.C. He created DOLLMAN, UNCLE SAM, BLACKHAWK, and SHEENA, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE for Quality comics (purchased by D.C. in the 60's). Eisner also got around distribution by making the SPIRIT a supplement in the newspapers around the country, basically making it a strip and a comic at the same time. He is also called the father of the graphic novel (CONTRACT with GOD came out in 1978) which mainly came about because he had no interest in pandering to kids or the big 2 companies. He wanted to tell adult stories to adults. Kitchen Sink Press was mostly known for undergrounds back then, but he developed a kinship with the owner Denis Kitchen that lasted the rest of his life.

I know you already know of the Eisner Awards, The Oscar of comic books which since 1988 have been given to the finest in comics and graphic storytelling. You've seen it on the cover of your favorites for 20 + years.

This book portrays a hard working moral and honest man who lived and talked through his art. From owning the shop that had LOU FINE, JACK KIRBY, JACK COLE and WALLY WOOD to his later very personal and political one man graphic novels-- there is a lot to admire in Eisner's attitude and this book.

Mike Rippy is indeed very cantankerous.


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