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Will Eisner Week

on Tue, 03/04/2014 - 00:00

Will Eisner Week
Will Eisner was a true architect of the comic book industry, with a career that spanned eight decades—from the pre-Superman age of the mid-1930s, through the superhero heyday of the 1940s and into the graphic novel era of the 1970s, 80s and beyond. The comic book industry’s equivalent of the Oscars is named after him, and each year his lifetime of achievements is celebrated around the world during the week of his birthday, March 6th.

Will Eisner Week was first launched in 2009 as part of a collaborative effort organized by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), and over the years since, the event has evolved into an international affair that stretches from London to New York, Minneapolis to Seattle, and everywhere in-between.

“In late 2007 I started a conversation with Ann Eisner and Denis Kitchen about creating Will Eisner Week as a program honoring Will’s commitment to comics, education, and free expression,” Charles Brownstein, executive director of the CBLDF, explains of the event’s inception. “That led to collaboration with Carl and Nancy Gropper, who run the Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation. Will was an avid supporter of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s work in his lifetime. His work to elevate the conversation about comics within the field, and to evangelize to the world-at-large were positive tools in helping us fight the censorship resulting from stigmas against comics as low value speech. Creating Will Eisner Week as an event to celebrate those aspects of his legacy made a lot of sense.”

Will Eisner Week has inevitably grown since its initial launch in 2009. “The international response to Will Eisner Week was immediately enthusiastic, and in short order it went from being a homegrown affair with efforts in a few American cities to being a thriving international effort,” Brownstein continues. “The work was almost immediately larger than we could oversee at CBLDF, so the Groppers took over managing the event, and recruited Danny Fingeroth, who’s done a great job using the week as a conductor for a wide range of energy and creativity regarding Will and the view of comics’ potential that he encouraged.”

Danny Fingeroth, who serves as the organizing committee chair for Will Eisner Week, has been a part of the comic book industry since 1974. During the 1980s, he served as an editor for Marvel Comics and likewise worked on such iconic titles as The Avengers, Daredevil and Iron Man.

“I was asked by Charles Brownstein of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBDLF) to moderate a Will Eisner Week panel in 2009 in the basement of Jim Hanley’s Universe comics store in Manhattan,” Fingeroth explains of his involvement with Will Eisner Week. “I eagerly agreed because I have been in awe of Will Eisner and his work since I was introduced to it in the pages of Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. I put together a panel that included Dennis O’Neil, Chris Couch, and Will’s best friend from high school, Kenneth Giniger. It was an amazing event. It was there that I met Carl and Nancy Gropper, who run Will Eisner Studios and the Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation, and they asked me to become involved as the chair of the Will Eisner Week organizing committee, which I was honored to agree to do.”

There have been many great comic book creators, artists and writers throughout the years, but none may have been more groundbreaking and influential as Will Eisner. The New York City native entered the industry in 1935, at the tender age of nineteen, as a freelancer within the magazine cartoon market. When one of his clients, Wow, What a Magazine!, folded, Eisner approached the now-unemployed editor of the publication, Jerry Iger, about forming an artist “factory” for the production of new comic strips and comic books.

The subsequent Eisner-Iger Studio lasted only a handful of years but was a success nonetheless, and employed such future heavyweights as Bob Kane—who co-created Batman with Bill Finger and was a high school classmate of Eisner—and Jack Kirby, who played a significant role in the crafting of the Marvel Universe during the early 1960s.

Will Eisner left Eisner-Iger Studios in 1939 for Quality Comics, where he subsequently created his most famous character, the Spirit. More significantly, Eisner was able to negotiate ownership of its copyright, something previously unheard of—not only at the time but for the decades that followed. Having assisted in the launching of both the comic book industry as well as some of its most legendary artists, Eisner further expanded his reputation in 1978 with A Contract with God, the first modern graphic novel.

Believing that the comic book medium was more than just superheroes geared towards young teens, Eisner spent two years working on the four narratives encompassed within A Contract with God, opening the doors for later graphic novel masterpieces such as Alan Moore’s Watchman and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

“Will was a tremendous advocate for a view of comics as a powerful form that supports a wide range of expression,” Charles Brownstein explains. “His life’s efforts with the medium expanded the vocabulary, syntax, and subject matter that the medium took on. Will’s efforts in the service of broadening the audience and applications for comics influenced a generation of creators who have since developed the diverse and far-reaching scope of comics content we enjoy today.”

Danny Fingeroth likewise has a deep admiration for Will Eisner and his legacy. “From the first time I saw Eisner’s work in Feiffer’s book, then later on in the Harvey, Warren, and Kitchen reprints, and then the graphic novels, starting with A Contract with God through To the Heart of the Storm, The Dreamer, and on and on, his work touched me profoundly and I want to share that feeling with people, especially those who may not know that much about his enormous and varied body of work,” he says.

“Will Eisner was crucial to the development of the comic book and the modern graphic novel, as well as to the use of comics in education, and the teaching of comics in colleges and universities,” Fingeroth further elaborates. “His innovations and contributions were so colossal that people tend to take them for granted as if they were part of the landscape and not the results of the inspired work of some genius pioneers, among whom Will was one of the most significant. Plus, his stories, from The Spirit to A Contract with God and beyond are just great comics!”

Thanks to the organizing efforts of Charles Brownstein and Danny Fingeroth, cities around the world come together during the week of March 6th to celebrate the remarkable achievements of Will Eisner—a fitting tribute to both the man and his legacy.

Anthony Letizia

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