Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Eisner, Will

(1917-2005) US Comics artist and writer who created the Masked Avenger The Spirit. WE's roots were in Brooklyn, the inhabitants of whose crowded tenement blocks have formed the subject matter of much of his graphic storytelling. His first comics work appeared in Wow (1936). Forming a partnership with former Hearst cartoonist Jerry Iger (1903-1990), he set up a comic-book production shop, mass-producing comics for Quality, Fiction House and Fox; artists working with him at this time included Bob Kane, Mort Meskin (1916-1995), Bob Powell (1917-1967) and Lou Fine (1915-1971). Among features by the Eisner-Iger studios were Hawks of the Sea, written and drawn by WE himself, and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, conceived by WE and Iger and drawn by Meskin. Other strips created by the studios were Espionage (1938-1939) by WE and Dollman (1939-1950), conceived by WE and drawn by Fine. WE went on to work for Quality Comics, editing National and Military Comics. In 1940 he created his masterwork, The Spirit: this ran as an 8-page supplement in Sunday newspapers until 1952. It was filmed as The Spirit (1987 tvm).

WE went on to produce comic strips for military, advertising and educational purposes. Then he published four Gleeful Guides: humorous illustrated instruction books: Communicating with Plants (1974), Occult Cookery (1974), Facts, Statistics and Trivia (1974) and Living with Astrology (1974). Later came The Spirit's Casebook of True Haunted Houses and Ghosts (1976).

In 1978 WE published the first of his remarkable Graphic Novels. A Contract with God (graph 1978) tells of a Russian Jew, Frimme Hersh, who makes a Contract with God. When his adoptive daughter dies he considers that God has broken the contract, and furiously devotes his life to meanness and dishonesty. When he is very rich he goes to the religious elders to draw up a better contract, but as he reads it and plans a changed life he dies of a heart attack. WE went on to write and draw other stories about tenement life, mostly focused on an imaginary tenement block at 55 Dropsie Avenue. His multi-layered narratives are often profoundly moving and thought-provoking, revealing a touching insight into the lives of ordinary people.

In 1983 Kitchen Sink Press began publication of Will Eisner's Quarterly (#1-#8 1983-1986) as a companion periodical to the Spirit reprints they were then publishing. These comics contained new work, reprints and articles and interviews by WE.

WE remains a significant figure on the US comics field and has continued to produce graphic novels, including Life on Another Planet (Spirit Magazine #19-#26 1979-1980; exp vt Signal from Space graph 1983), A Life Force (Will Eisner's Quarterly #1-#7 1983-1985; graph 1988), The Dreamer (graph 1986), New York, The Big City (graph 1986), The Building (graph 1987), Heart of the Storm (graph 1991), Invisible People (graph 1993) and Dropsie Avenue (graph 1995). [RT]

further reading: Comics and Sequential Art (1985) and City People Notebook (1985), both by WE.

Will Eisner


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.