Lessons from the Lives of Writers: Will Eisner

As with many of the great names in comics, Will Eisner began his career in the Golden Age with his action hero the Spirit. He worked on this project from 1940-1945 and then disappeared.

Well, he didn’t really disappear, he just quietly slipped out of the world of comics to work for the United States military illustrating service manuals and the like. Then, after his thirty-three year hiatus, Eisner returned and published A Contract With God.

A series of four vignettes dealing with Jewish life in the 1930s, A Contract With God was an influential work that helped to bring the idea to the public that comics can be about more than superheroes in tights. (This is not to say that there hadn’t been independent comics prior to Contract, but they were not so much in the public eye as Eisner’s work.) The first book length comic to term itself a graphic novel, Contract was, and is, considered groundbreaking as it deals with themes of ethnicity, anger, irony, and the confusion of life (among other things) without any breaks into fantasy or childish themes.

But Contract wasn’t created because Eisner wanted to radically transform the world of comics. It was written and drawn because he lost his daughter. Contract is, above all else, Eisner’s way of coming to terms with the passing of a beloved child. It was his method for reconciling himself with God after a major tragedy affected his life.

After Contract, Eisner went on to teach sequential art and become one of the most respected names in the comics industry. But without his drive to work through his pain in art, to break the prescribed formula for comics and novels, and the need to create meaningful art, Eisner would only be the man who created the Spirit, and we would have lost a great work.

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