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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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01/04/2005 Archived Entry: "D.C. Comic Press Release: Will Eisner is dead at 87"

WILL EISNER, "THE FATHER OF GRAPHIC NOVELS" AND NAMESAKE OF THE EISNER AWARDS, IS DEAD AT 87

Will Eisner, the great American master of comic art for whom the comic industry's Eisner Awards are named, died late Monday night, January 3, 2005, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. He was 87. The cause of death was complications from quadruple heart bypass surgery.

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: WILL EISNER, "THE FATHER OF GRAPHIC NOVELS" (THE NEW YORK TIMES) AND NAMESAKE OF THE EISNER AWARDS, IS DEAD AT 87
Date: Tue, January 4, 2005 1:03 pm

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WILL EISNER, "THE FATHER OF GRAPHIC NOVELS" (The New York Times)
AND NAMESAKE OF THE EISNER AWARDS, IS DEAD AT 87

Will Eisner, the great American master of comic art for whom the comic industry's Eisner Awards are named, died late Monday night, January 3, 2005, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. He was 87. The cause of death was complications from quadruple heart bypass surgery.

In a career that spanned nearly seventy years, Eisner was recognized internationally as a giant in the field of sequential art, a term he coined. "The world has lost a true original, a constant innovator, and a prolific and powerful storyteller who created till the end," said Denis Kitchen, Eisner's literary and art agent. "On a personal level, I have lost a mentor, and a surrogate father. There will never be another anything like him."

Eisner's contributions to Wow, What a Magazine were published when he was still a teenager in 1936 and he was at the forefront of the birth of the comic book industry in the 1930s. From 1936 to 1939 Eisner partnered with Samuel "Jerry" Iger to run the Eisner & Iger Studio, providing a steady supply of content to publishers at the onset of the comic book industry. The Eisner & Iger staff included such future luminaries as Jack Kurtzberg (later Jack Kirby), Lou Fine, Bob Kane, Mort Meskin and many others. While partnered with Jerry Iger, Eisner created Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, followed by Dollman, Blackhawk and other characters.

In 1940, Eisner sold his interest in the packaging house to Iger and went on to create his most famous character, The Spirit, a masked crimefighter. The Spirit was the lead feature in an unprecedented new format: a 16-page color comic book that was inserted in Sunday newspapers, the first of numerous Eisner innovations. At the height of its popularity, The Spirit insert appeared in twenty newspapers with a combined circulation of 5 million readers each Sunday, quintupling the circulation of America's best-selling monthly comic book. The Spirit has been called "The Citizen Kane of comics" by USA TODAY and Eisner's achievement remains a benchmark in the industry. Art Spiegelman said of the series, "The Spirit still crackles with the energy of an artist consumed with the excitement of cascading new ideas. Inspired by the Hollywood noir movies of the period, Eisner brought something brand new into the world-not 'movies on paper' but picture-writing that keeps moving in your head."

The Spirit continued without Eisner's direct involvement while he served three years in World War II, producing educational cartoons and comic strips for the Army. After his discharge from the Army in 1945, Eisner returned to The Spirit producing it till 1952 and reaching heights of artistic accomplishment that have drawn comparisons between The Spirit and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Although Eisner "retired" the Spirit in 1952, the series has rarely been out of print since. The first comic book reprints were issued by Quality (from 1944-50), followed by Fiction House (1952-54), Harvey Comics (1966-67), Kitchen Sink Press (1973), Warren Publications (1974-76) and Kitchen Sink Press again (from 1977 to 1998). Since 2000, DC Comics has published 15 volumes in the hardcover series THE SPIRIT ARCHIVES, which is projected to run 24 volumes.

"Will was a multi-faceted treasure," said Paul Levitz, the President & Publisher of DC Comics. "He was a pioneer as a cartoonist as well as a young entrepreneur at the dawn of comic books. He taught generations of creators in the studio, the classroom and by example. Best of all, to our delight as students and readers, he returned to the board to develop the nascent form of the graphic novel and establish himself as the cartoonist laureate of the immigrant Jewish experience in America. Any one of his accomplishments would be enough to honor a lesser lifetime; the sum of them, done by one man is astonishing. He was a friend, an advisor and an inspiration."

As a Pentagon-based Warrant Officer during World War II, Eisner pioneered the instructional use of comics. His combination of information with cartoon elements proved so effective that he continued to supply information in that form to audiences as diverse as the U.S. government and schools across America.

Perhaps Eisner's most lasting legacy is the creation of the graphic novel with his 1978 publication of A Contract with God. This book launched what is now the fastest-growing genre in American publishing. Eisner subsequently created nearly twenty graphic novels, roughly a book per year, inspiring countless fellow professionals to follow his lead. His most recent graphic novel, Fagin the Jew, a reinterpretation of the character in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, was published in 2003 by Doubleday.

In May, 2005, W. W. Norton & Company will publish Will Eisner's new book, THE PLOT: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Eisner turned his attention to nonfiction with this project, producing his first book of history, a work more disturbing than fiction. He considered THE PLOT to be his most important project ever. Umberto Eco just completed an introduction to the book last week.

In addition, Norton has recently acquired world rights to the Will Eisner Library graphic novel backlist, comprising 14 graphic novels, including the seminal A Contract with God along with Dropsie Avenue, A Life Force, Name of the Game, The Heart of the Storm, and others. Norton will begin publishing these graphic novels in a new format, with new material, in November of 2005.

THE PLOT: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion unravels one of the most pernicious hoaxes of the twentieth century. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious piece of anti-Semitic propaganda created and disseminated by Russia's secret police 100 years ago, purported to be a blueprint written by Jewish leaders for taking over the world. Although the Times of London revealed in 1921 that The Protocols was a hoax, millions continue to believe its fictitious plot is true. Now, a new generation, fueled by anti-Semitism and the many Internet sites that spread hateful messages, has adapted the text to suit its purposes.

THE PLOT: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion explains how and why the Protocols were crafted and presents a pageant of historical figures, from Tsar Nicholas II to Henry Ford to Adolf Hitler. THE PLOT exposes the twisted history of the Protocols document, from 19th- century Russians to modern-day Klan members to Islamic fundamentalists. By setting the record straight, Eisner hoped he could raise public consciousness of anti-Semitism throughout the world and draw attention to the nefarious ways in which governments use propaganda to influence public opinion. Arrangements have already been made for THE PLOT to be published in eight countries, and Eisner himself was making arrangements for an Arabic translation.

Norton executive editor Robert Weil, Eisner's editor at Norton, comments, "Will Eisner possessed a tremendous intuitive gift for storytelling, conveyed through the combination of art and words. Like a superb novelist, he could engage the reader and reveal the deepest life forces, both comic and tragic. Through his depiction of place, especially through his evocation of Depression-era life on one block in the Bronx, he was able to create an entire universe of experience. These unique gifts have lifted Eisner's work from the domain of low culture, where comics and comic novels were long relegated, to the realm of literary genius."

Eisner, who taught comics classes for years at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, has authored two definitive instructional books on the medium, Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling. Both are perennial sellers.

One of the comics industry's two most prestigious awards, The Eisner, is named after him and presented annually before a packed ballroom at Comic-Con International: San Diego. Nominees are selected each year by a blue-ribbon committee, with winners selected by a vote of comics professionals. Will Eisner has modestly accepted several Eisner Awards over the years, as well as several Harvey's, named after his close friend, the late Harvey Kurtzman. In 2001 he made history again by winning separate awards for works created sixty years apart, with THE SPIRIT ARCHIVES Volume 1 winning "Best Reprint" with material originally published in 1940, while his Last Day in Vietnam, published in 2000, won "Best Graphic Novel". Eisner has also won numerous international awards.

In May 2002 Wizard magazine named Will Eisner "the most influential comics artist of all time." On June 3, 2002, Eisner received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Federation for Jewish Culture, only the second such honor in the organization's history, presented by Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman. Two separate film documentaries about Eisner's career are underway.

Eisner died on January 3 in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

For a full bio of Will Eisner, please see the website of Eisner's longtime literary agency, Kitchen & Hansen, at www.kitchenandhansen.com.

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