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Monday, January 24, 2021

in spirit
Comic book great Will Eisner died back on January 3rd. It turns out Eisner, who spent most of his last years in South Florida, had a Tampa Bay connection: His biographer is Bob Andelman, a familiar local author.

In advance of the May publication of “Will Eisner: A Spirited Life”, Andelman wrote a short piece for the St. Petersburg Times on Eisner’s career and influence.

Eisner, who went to high school with Batman creator Bob Kane, provided first jobs in the comics business to everyone from Jack Kirby (co-creator of Captain America and the Fantastic Four) and Joe Kubert (Tarzan, Fax From Sarajevo , Yossel: April 19, 2021 ) to Pulitzer-winning writer and artist Jules Feiffer.

“What Will did, as did Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates ),” said Feiffer, whose first professional job was working in Eisner’s studio, “was create an atmosphere that no one had ever seen before, a world of light and shadow, darks and grim darks. Will was much more Warner Bros. and Caniff was RKO or Columbia.

“But the two were consummate storytellers who wrote their own stuff, knew how to tell a story, create action and characters with more depth than anyone else. They both used silent panels to build up tension. And they did it brilliantly.”

If not for Eisner’s influence, Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman might never have published his graphic nove l Maus: A Survivor’s Tale . (Eisner is credited with popularizing - if not inventing - the medium of the graphic novel with the 1978 publication of his graphic story collection, A Contract With God .) And fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay would have been missing quite a few Eisner-inspired tales.

Particularly interesting is the story behind one of Eisner’s last projects, the forthcoming “The Plot: The Secret Story Of The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion”:

“There will be a lot of challenges to this book,” he said, anticipating the debate.

The Plot represents a new dimension in Eisner’s storytelling. Where his last book, Fagin the Jew, took a supporting character from Charles Dickens ‘ Oliver Twist and gave him a life and legend of his own, The Plot represents his first nonfiction attack on antisemitism. It stems from his research into the origins of a book called The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Amazon.com categorizes Protocols as “controversial,” along with books on UFOs and conspiracies.

Protocols, an inflammatory, untrue representation of Judaism, has circulated in the Arab world for decades, inflaming contempt for Jews and Israel. The “plot,” as referred to in the title of Eisner’s work, is the perpetration of this hoax as truth.

“I think it really remarkable that Will is ready to tackle some of the most pernicious and monstrous propaganda directly and accessibly,” said Eisner’s friend Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods. ” “The Plot is what the Spirit might have done, if he could draw.”

“The people who I want to read this are the people for whom Protocols of Zion is being published,” Eisner said. “The whole purpose of The Plot , the only justification for doing it, is that this medium has the chance of being read by the people for whom Protocols was written. There are 10 books condemning Protocols, all by academics for sophisticated readers. Those are not the people who need to be told this book is a fraud. But in a graphic novel, I have a chance of capturing readers who never heard of this before.”

Using the graphic novel as a storytelling method was always Eisner’s overriding aim. Unfortunately, the built-in societal preconceptions about the comic book format gives the impression that such work is nothing more than a dumbing-down effort of more complex subjects (or, as usual, a medium for children or those with lesser comprehension skills). That dismisses comics as a medium with its own merits, independent of comparisons with books, movies or any other media. As usual, a reminder is required about comics being a medium of expression, and not a genre.

I’ve got a couple of Eisner’s books in my bookcase, and a few scattered issues of Kitchen Sink’s run of “The Spirit” hidden away somewhere. Now’s as good a time as any to revisit them.

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/24/2005 09:57:53 PM
Category: Publishing, Pop Culture, Creative | Permalink |

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