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Eric: Sad news.

Will Eisner has passed on. He had quadruple bypass surgery, and while he was expected to come through that, there's a host of problems that can arise when you have that extensive a surgery. One of them was enough, though we don't have details yet.

Which is almost odd, in a morning already made surreal by his passing. Will Eisner was all about the details.

There's always been an understanding -- at least among the cognoscenti -- that comic strips and cartoon art was really illustration, and worthy of something more than dismissal as "the funny pages." But the same can't be said for comic books. It's not that they were always seen as "kid's stuff." They weren't. Back in the heydey of the publishing world, when Superman and Action Comics sold millions of copies, they sold them to adults just as often as children. But there was still a sense that comic books weren't serious. They weren't art.

But Will Eisner knew different. And we know different now, because of him.

Eisner's storytelling techniques were seminal. The Spirit was more than an action pulp -- it was a dynamic study in how to tell a story in sequence. And it was exciting, but also poignant, and brought the funny in good and appropriate measure. The term "sequential art" is credited to Eisner. The first graphic novel was Eisner's, and there was nary a spandex clad gladiator to be found in it.

Most of all, Eisner was a teacher. He did more than produce remarkable art. He used that art to inspire and education a new generation of artists. Face it, when Jules Feiffer, Wallace Wood and Scott McCloud all cite Eisner's profound influence, you know you're looking at the headwaters.

Eisner also believed in the sequential form, as a tool as well as an art form. In his seminal Comics and Sequential Art, he covered comics as entertainment and comics as instruction -- and for many years he illustrated training manuals. He believed history and science and basic how to's could all be explained in a clear and entertaining fashion through comics.

The comics industry will mourn, of course. They loved Will Eisner. In a land of Stan Lees and Jack Kirbys and Julie Schwartzes -- beloved giants of comic art -- it was Will Eisner whose name became the highest award in the comics. And cartoonists will mourn -- Eisner was no stranger to the newspaper pages, and one of his characters still appears in Will Eisner's JOHN LAW over on Modern Tales -- that's right, the webcartoonists get to count just a little piece of Eisner among them as well. And his spirit runs through any number of webcomics.

It's odd, almost. I wasn't personally a Spirit fan. I liked it fine, but it didn't change my life the way so many others did. But I loved Eisner's technique and form and belief in the academic discipline of comics, so I feel this death. And I know many cartoonists who feel bereft now. It's like the uncle who taught you everything you knew has passed on, and you feel like he had so much left to say.

Perhaps so. But one thing is clear. So long as artists lay out stories in panels, where one panel leads to the next with a sense of drama and story... so long as men in suits fight for women in dresses who are no damn good for them... and so long as bristol board accepts india ink from a brush, Will Eisner is going to be a part of the comics.

That's the real Spirit in the comics, and he belongs to us all now.

Thank you, sir.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at January 4, 2005 10:54 AM


Comment from: AuricTech posted at January 4, 2005 2:04 PM

Master Sergeant Half-Mast is undoubtedly flying his flag at half-staff today.

Comment from: Tangent posted at January 4, 2005 2:45 PM

There are no words to express the regret and sadness I feel hearing of his passing. Farewell, Mr. Eisner. May the Goddess hold you close and guide you to the Summerlands, where you can rest and grow young again before returning to the world in the great cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Blessed Be.

Robert A. Howard

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