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