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Will Eisner Celebration: Eisner’s Legacy

Tina Lerno, Librarian, Digital Content Team,
Will Eisner at his desk with his comic the Spirit

Today marks the start of Will Eisner Week. A week-long celebration of comic arts. So who is Will Eisner and why a whole week? The basics: William Eisner was an American cartoonist, writer, and entrepreneur. He was one of the earliest cartoonists to work in the American comic book industry, and his series The Spirit was noted for its experiments in content and form. The Eisner Award was named in his honor and is given to recognize achievements each year in the comics medium.

Ahead of our incredible program of authors and illustrators at the Will Eisner Week Celebration: Dream, Write, Draw: Connecting Children with Graphic Novels, I had a chance to talk to John Shableski, (who I fondly refer to as a graphic novel guru), and who is a past Eisner Judge (2009), Will Eisner Week Advisory Board Member and President of Reading With Pictures, and very knowledgable about all things Eisner. I asked John to share with us about Will Eisner's career and legacy.

Who was Will Eisner, and why is he considered so important to comics?

Will Eisner really was an incredible mix of art, discipline, and business. He was one of the first people to run a studio making commercial comic books. By the age of 22, he was a publisher who had to make deadlines.  Not everything worked perfectly-his first publishing venture only lasted four issues but he learned from each experience and kept improving his business models while simultaneously working on his craft as an artist and storyteller. As the year rolled on Eisner could see how the art of comics could literally save lives. In his later years, he found a brilliant way to describe the medium: Sequential Art. There are a few comics historians who will argue that the term 'graphic novel' did not originate with Mr. Eisner but he definitely made us all aware of the value of the format.

Why do you think Eisner’s legacy has been so enduring?

Much of Will’s legacy is due to his vision as a creator, businessman, and educator. Even in his earliest days as a talented artist, he was looking for new ways to show the reader his stories. As the years passed his understanding and appreciation for the medium expanded-he was always teaching and learning about the way we read comics. His passion for sharing ideas still has a guiding impact on how we think about the medium.

What do you think he would say about the ever-increasing connection between comics and libraries?

I think he would be delighted and not at all surprised at the development of the library market. He was aware that librarians were already talking about the value of comics for their patrons in the late 90s and early 2000s. It was on Will's suggestion that a librarian should be included as a juror for the Eisner Awards at Comic-Con International. Kat Kan was selected as the first public librarian Eisner juror which happened to coincide with the announcement by the American Library Association that the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Task Force would become a formal committee within the organization.

"Will's passion and contributions to the comics medium will continue to resonate for generations".

What's something our readers might not know about Eisner?

Wow, there's so much here to share. He was friends with Bob Kane in high school. They had worked together before Kane went on to fame in the world of Batman. Will's first business partner was Jerry Eiger, the uncle of the Walt Disney Company's CEO, Bob Eiger.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Will's passion and contributions to the comics medium will continue to resonate for generations. The decision to include librarians in the conversation of comics was incredibly prescient. When you look at the origins and development of the graphic novel marketplace, you can see how Eisner's influence continues to evolve. We have more brilliant stories getting published. The major traditional publishing houses have invested heavily in bringing new artists to the market. Graphic novels continue to have an impact on major awards and they staked out territory in the bestsellers lists. Every river has a place to spring from. Will Eisner is the point of origin for all of what we see today.

Books by and About Will Eisner

The Best of the Spirit
Eisner, Will

Will Eisner's the Spirit Archives
Eisner, Will

A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories
Eisner, Will

Graphic Storytelling
Eisner, Will

Will Eisner: Champion of the Graphic Novel
Levitz, Paul

Will Eisner: A Dreamer's Life in Comics
Schumacher, Michael

The Will Eisner Companion: The Pioneering Spirit of the Father of the Graphic Novel
Couch, N. C. Christopher

Will Eisner, a Spirited Life
Andelman, Bob