American comic pioneer Will Eisner passed away Monday night, January 3rd in Fort Lauderdale following complications from quadruple bypass surgery. He was 87. He is survived by his wife, Ann, and his son, John. There will be no funeral in accordance with Eisner's wishes. He will be buried next to his late daughter Alice, who died in 1969.
No other individual (with the possible exception of Stan Lee) played such a pivotal role in so many parts of the comic industry over such a long period of time. Eisner created, wrote, and drew The Spirit, published as a Sunday newspaper insert from 1941 to 1952, with circulations as high as 5 million per issue. He gave Jack Kirby and Jules Feiffer their first jobs in the comics business. He reinvented himself and his work throughout his life, constantly engaging intently in the graphic story medium and pushing its boundaries.
The publication of Eisner's groundbreaking 1978 work, A Contract with God, was a seminal event in the comics business, and the effects of it are still being felt today as graphic novels take an increasing percentage of the category every year. Eisner continued to create intensely personal, beautifully written and drawn graphic novels throughout the remainder of his life. His body of artistic work is one of the great achievements of the graphic story medium by its volume, its groundbreaking qualities, and its excellence.
The Eisner Awards, presented annually at the San Diego Comic-Con International, are one of the two major industry awards in the comics business. Each year since their founding, Eisner has personally presented the awards to creators and publishers of the finest work in the comics business. The Eisner Awards also recognize a top comic retailer every year with a special award.
Here at ICv2, we learned so much from Eisner over the last 25 years (to put that in perspective, when we first came in contact with him, he had already been in the comics business for around 40 years!). Big and little truths dropped out of his mouth in every conversation. And with the scale of his artistic achievement, it's easy to forget the impact he had on the business of comics -- on creators' rights, on freedom of expression, on formats, on distribution models, and on such fundamental questions as, 'What is a comic book?'
Will Eisner was also one of the finest men we have ever met -- a true gentleman in every sense of the word. His integrity, his care for others, his dignity, and his humor made him a pleasure to be around at every encounter. We were always in awe of the artist, the businessman, and the man.
Some biographical facts in this obituary were from Eisner biographer Bob Andelman, who notified Eisner newsletter subscribers of his death this morning.
Cards may be sent to:
Will Eisner Studios
8333 W. McNab Road
Tamarac, FL 33321
Andelman also suggested, unofficially, that in lieu of flowers, mourners should consider a contribution to the American Cancer Society (Alice Eisner died of cancer) or the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, of which Eisner was a supporter.
We'll be publishing reminiscences of Eisner's life and work in the coming days. If you'd like to send us yours, click here.
To see all of the Will Eisner tributes published in the ICv2 Talk Back section, click here.