Saturday, August 13, 2011


Brian Cronin, the man behind CBR's wonderful blogs Comics Should Be Good and Comic Book Legends Revealed has a new book coming out in 2012 called Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent?  It's a history of comics told through a series of lists, and Brian has asked a group of comics professionals—myself included—to, essentially, guest-star in the book, presenting some lists of our own.  (Other contributors include Mark Waid, Fred Van Lente, Dave Gibbons and Joe Casey.)   I wrote up my list—Five Writers Who Expanded My (Comic Book) Consciousness—the other day and, although I can't share the entire piece with you here (you've got to buy Brian's book for that), I will share my thoughts on one of those mind-expanding writers:  the great Will Eisner.  Enjoy!


I had the honor of sitting on a panel beside Will Eisner—one of few comic book creators who crossed, then utterly erased, the line between pop culture entertainment and genuine literature—many years ago, but we never had the opportunity to really talk, really connect.  And yet we did connect, through his work, and he spoke to me, via words and pictures, in eloquent, unforgettable—and deeply personal—ways. 

There have been times, in a career that’s lasted over thirty years, when I’ve grown tired of comics, when I’ve felt that there’s nothing left for me to say; when I’ve looked at the form with a cynical, dismissive eye.  Better, I thought, to just focus on my television and film work, on novels, on anything but those damn comic books.  

And then, I’d pick up some Eisner graphic novel—Dropsie Avenue, To the Heart of the Storm, or my absolute favorite, one of the single most brilliant works this medium has ever seen, A Contract With God—and the scales would fall from my eyes, the cynical words would dissolve on my lips, the innocence and enthusiasm of a kid reading his first comic book would burn bright in my heart.  

Will Eisner didn’t traffic in costumes and super-powers:  He looked at the (apparently) mundane, everyday world and revealed the infinite universes within each person’s heart.  His work, unfailingly, inspired me and taught me, again and again, that the true potential of comics has only begun to be tapped; that we, as writers and artists in this medium, can, and must, tell stories of intelligence, emotion—and heartbreaking, uplifting humanity. 

Eisner inspired me in another way, as well:  He never stopped.  The man kept  working, producing graphic novels of unparalleled quality—producing art—till the day he died.  May we all follow his example and keep creating new worlds of imagination into our eighties and beyond.  Aspiring, as Will Eisner clearly did, to always be better at our craft.


So who are the four other mind-expanders on my list?  Feel free to hazard a guess in the comments section—or you can just wait till next year and pick up a copy of
Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent?  (But you were going to do that anyway, weren't you?)

©copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis


  1. I'm up for the challenge: the other 4 are Kirby, Gerber, Giffen and um-- Starlin? Broome? Barks?

  2. Well, you got two of them right, Jeff. Ah...but WHICH two? (To quote Bugs Bunny: "I'm a real stinker, ain't I?")

  3. Kirby and Gerber, of course!

  4. Of course! And because of your amazingly accurate guesses, you win...

    My admiration. :)

  5. Looking forward to being nicely surprised and enlightened by the other two!

  6. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, of course!--


  7. Well, you're half right, David: definitely Stan.
    So, thanks to you and Jeff Zoslaw, we now know the list is comprised of...

    Stan Lee
    Jack Kirby
    Steve Gerber
    Will Eisner

    Ah...but who's the fifth? He's not a mainstream comics writer, that much I can tell you. In fact he's as far from the mainstream as you can get.

  8. Harvey Pekar.

    Wishing you nothing, but goodwill and hipness from here to the stars,

  9. That's it, Jack! Congratulations! You've won a NEW CAR!

    Okay, I made that up. You didn't win anything. But I'm impressed that you got it. :)

  10. And what a comic they all could've made together! Before Steve died, I had posted on his blog how great a Pekar-style comic about his life would be, with each chapter drawn by one of his previous collaborators (Colan, Mooney, Sal Buscema etc). Oh well...

  11. Fantastic idea, Jeff, and one that would have been a perfect vehicle for Gerber's unique worldview. Too bad it never came to pass.

  12. This has little to do with the topic at hand, JMD, but I was wondering if you'd ever read Jim Butcher's DRESDEN FILES novels? I read the first three this past week, and I think you'd enjoy them if you haven't already. There are a few comic book references scattered throughout, including Kraven the Hunter. -- David

  13. Never read them David. I'll hop over to Amazon and check them out. Thanks!

  14. Hi, J.M.! Quick story-- I got to edit one whole issue of HOWARD THE DUCK. I asked Steve Gerber to write it, but he said no. I then asked Harvey Pekar to write it, and after considering it for a bit, he too said no. I regret that I didn't push him more. I could've suggested that he simply write a regular AMERICAN SPLENDOR story, but instead of Harvey looking like Harvey, he'd look like Howard. It all could've been a dream (Or him dismissing the whole idea in the story as here's what some stupid editor in New York City wanted me to do...), and it could've been called "Harvey the Duck." Alas, for better or worse, it was not to be. I did get Brian Bolland to draw the cover, and Val Mayerik to draw the issue.

    Anyway, good list, sir!

    1. A Harvey Pekar HOWARD THE DUCK story? I would have paid good money for that, Jim.
      Let's hope that somewhere, in some parallel universe, that story exists!

      Hope all's well with you!