The following is a guest post by Martha Kennedy, Curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Arts, Prints and Photographs Division.
One of the great innovators in the world of comic art, Will Eisner forged a legendary, multi-faceted career that spanned the birth of the comic book through the rise of the graphic novel. The Library of Congress joins art schools, libraries, universities, and museums across the nation in celebrating his legacy during Will Eisner Week, March 1-7, 2015, which also marks the 75th anniversary of The Spirit, one of his signature creations. The following images give glimpses of this artist’s remarkable versatility and pioneering achievements in his chosen medium.
Born in Brooklyn, Eisner grew up in the Bronx, and began drawing comics in an era that brought forth classic comic book heroes with super powers, Superman in 1938, and Batman in 1939. In 1940, Eisner unveiled a new kind of hero in The Spirit (below, left). Denny Colt had no super powers, but in marshalling his wits and human strength to fight crime, he appealed to both adult and young readers.
During World War II, Eisner designed posters (above, right) for the U.S. Army that stressed safe handling of equipment through the comic bumbling of G.I. Joe Dope. An example from the Prints & Photographs collections shows the cartoonist’s flair for creating humorous visual/verbal instruction, a skill that he also applied in postwar educational comics.
In A Contract With God (1978), Eisner introduced his then newly evolved kind of visual storytelling, grounded in his experience of city life. A title page drawing from a later story collection, Collisions, (below, left) contains elements often seen in his mature approach: a strong sense of time and place, a single incident that sets off several story lines, well-defined characters, and figures who observe and narrate.
Eisner’s remarkable ability to craft compressed narrative can be seen in a work of his late maturity, one of his creative responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (above, right). His haunting depiction of a dejected Everyman viewing a broadcast image of Ground Zero demonstrates the narrative and expressive capacity of the single-panel genre, which, he said, “enables people to talk with images.”*
- Works by Will Eisner in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog give a snapshot of the varied kinds of comic art he created.
- View a range of works of original comic book art held by Prints & Photographs.
- The Library of Congress holds many published collections of Eisner’s work and books about him.
- To study actual comic books by Eisner and other comic book creators, make an appointment with a Reference specialist in the Serial & Government Publications Division (PDF).