Father of the Graphic Novel

William Eisner was the son of Jewish immigrants in the middle class of Brooklyn, New York, when newspapers were a major source of entertainment. Comic books have not always been full stories about superheroes and adventure but small strips in newspapers. They began as nothing else than, what was then known as, funny pages. According to the editors of Biography.com, the funny pages are what inspired the Father of the Graphic Novel, William Eisner, to pursue visual storytelling (Biography.com Editors, Biography).

With his father supporting his every artistic idea and his down-to-earth mother keeping him realistic, the son of Jewish immigrants fostered his growing talent in modest Brooklyn, New York. His talent would be discovered during his time at DeWitt Clinton High School then at the Arts Student League in New York. Eisner’s first illustration, Harry Carey, was published in the DeWitt Clinton High School newspaper and showcased. The illustration’s publication would be the start of his phenomenal comics, amazing illustrations, and lasting career.

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Will Eisner began his career as a small-time staff artist, fresh out of the Arts Student League in New York City. Brief times at the New York American and Eve, a magazine aimed towards Jewish women, lead Eisner to Wow! What a Magazine. He would meet Samuel Iger through Wow! What a Magazine, where Hawks of the Sea started as the strip, The Flame in 1936. In the aftermath of the magazine’s failure, Will Eisner, only 19 years old, and a reluctant Samuel Iger contracted as business partners and started Eisner & Iger, where they designed and released comic books to paying publishers.

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As comics rose in demand, Eisner and Iger assembled a staff of 8 talented artists to create new, fascinating stories.

A couple of these artists would become well-known for their later works. Bob Kane, creator of Batman, and Jack Kirby, a Marvel artist, are just two of these famed artists and authors. However, each of them would separate to pursue their own dreams and accept offers with bigger companies or create their own path. William Eisner was among the first to do so. While Eisner & Iger was prospering, Eisner wanted a challenge, which came in the form of Quality Comics. Quality Comics approached Eisner in 1939 with an intriguing offer. As a single, head creator, Eisner would have a 16-page section to fill with whatever he desired. After contemplating the decision, Eisner accepted the offer and sold his half of Eisner & Iger to Iger for $20,000. As Eisner left, he was accompanied by four capable artists: Chuck Mazoujian, Bob Powell, Lou Fine, and Klaus Nordling. With fresh, blank pages, Eisner would create his most popular comic book series, The Spirit. The other four artists would contribute to the section with Lady Luck and Mr. Mystic, while The Spirit would take up about half of the 16-page section. Eisner created The Spirit with the intent to introduce a new brand to the detective genre. In The Spirit, each new release had a variety of plots and storylines. Some volumes were action packed with borderline fictional fights while others divulged into the normality of everyday life. His thriving creativity was rudely interrupted by World War II, where he was drafted into the army. World War II steered Will Eisner towards educational and entertaining illustrations and posters for troops, but it never stopped Eisner’s creative mind.

Eisner would return in 1945 to save The Spirit, which had faltered during the war. With each weekly release until 1952, Eisner tried his hand at multiple forms of storytelling, including song and poetry. Eisner would later create the American Visuals Corporation, a commercial art company, where he would revive John Dope. John Dope was an unfortunately clumsy soldier created during World War II to help troops relax and laugh. Eisner would focus more on his new company and works than The Spirit as he did not want to revisit the fantasies of his youth, (Eisner Studios, The Army Years and PS Magazine). After the tragic death of his daughter, Alice, Eisner would design A Contract with God, a metaphor for his trauma and experience while coping with his daughter’s death. Eisner wove his own grief, turmoil, and perceived betrayal and abandonment of God into the remarkable piece. Eisner’s choice “to tackle his daughter’s death was an act of defiance against meaningless suffering and a step towards finding purpose and making peace with his loss” (Madden, A Contract with God and Alice). Alice’s death would come to be an inspiration to Eisner. A Contract with God was particularly renown by critics such as John Updike. John Updike thought Eisner’s work was, “not only ahead of his time; the present times are still catching up to him,” (qtd. in Kanfer). His revolutionary works would help break the mold of stereotypical silly, superhero comics and forge a new comic book industry. As documented by Eisner Studios, the Father of the Graphic Novel motivated cartoonists, fueled the rising comic book industry, and remodeled comical expression into what it is today, (Eisner Studios). William Eisner traveled across the United States to give lectures about the artistic and educational value of comic books to aspiring cartoonists until his death in January of 2005, (Eisner Studios). Throughout his travels, he met hundreds of people who idolized him and admired his fantastic work. Will Eisner’s extraordinary contributions to the comic book industry resulted in the establishment of the Eisner Awards in 1988, which are still given out every year at Comic-Con International. In his honor, DC Comics reprinted multiple volumes of The Spirit and other classic works. Will Eisner’s stories, artwork, and reputation, as the son of Jewish immigrants and amazing talent, will be a lasting influence and idol in the comic book industry for years to come.

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Father of the Graphic Novel. (2022, Jul 07). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/father-of-the-graphic-novel-essay

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