Will Eisner Lives on in Spirit

Few in the mainstream of the world know who he is and what he meant to the world but to the fanboys he will be greatly missed.

A moment of silence to Will Eisner. His ‘Spirit’ will live on.

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Will Eisner’s ‘Spirit’ lives on

Will Eisner, the graphic artist who expanded comic books the way Louis Armstrong expanded popular music, died Monday in Los Angeles following complications from heart bypass surgery. He was 87.

Eisner was best known for creating “The Spirit,” a crimefighter whose exploits were chronicled in a weekly newspaper supplement from 1940 to 1952.

Many artists also credit Eisner with taking comic art beyond its early staples of superheroes and one-line gags. He helped pioneer the exploration of more complex ideas in a free-form style that was more like novels told through illustration.

Eisner was born in Brooklyn in 1917, and his urban landscapes were so vivid it felt as if a subway train were rumbling under the page. He captured New York as viscerally as the famous early TV show “The Naked City.”

Eisner’s first published drawings appeared in the student newspaper at DeWitt Clinton High School, and he was barely out of his teens when he formed his first studio, Eisner-Iger, to create newspaper comic strips.

That led him to the Spirit, aka Denny Colt, who lived in a cemetery, wore a business suit, had no superpowers and didn’t even own a car. But he had a loyal sidekick, Ebony White, and together they made “Central City” a better place for good people and a harder place for bad guys.

More than the story, though, it was Eisner’s atmospheric drawing style and his narrative touch that set “The Spirit” apart.

He took a break to draw morale-boosting artwork for the military during World War II, and after “The Spirit” ended, he spent two decades drawing educational comics.

In 1978 he returned to write and draw “A Contract With God,” a stunning series of multi-layered tales about growing up in the Bronx in the 1930s.

He followed that with a series of what he called “graphic novels” that helped fuel the comic business’ move toward full-length books with increasingly adventurous styles.

Eisner won the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995 and the National Cartoonist Society’s Reuben in 1998. His New York work was featured at the Whitney in 1996. He is survived by his wife, Ann.

Originally published on January 5, 2005

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