Wednesday, March 6, 2024


In honor of Will Eisner's birthday, here's a (very slightly edited) post, from a few years back, celebrating the man and his work.


I had the honor of sitting on a panel beside 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 forty 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.

©copyright 2024 J.M. DeMatteis


  1. I like to think that the stairs and other structural elements spell our "Eisner" or "Will."

    Everybody talks about how fortunate it was that he could trailblaze in comics, but never how equally fortunate it is that he did not use his art skills for architecture.

    You think there are housing problems now? Just Imagine if strings of apartment buildings had to be in the shape of the letters that spell "Brooklyn"

    Or how annoyed people would be if the new subway station had to be spaced just so, ensuring that from above the platform read " New York City Transit."

    What am I saying? If there is one thing we all know about New Yorkers, they are never in a rush, and don;t mind slowing down due to things blocking their way in the name of artistic expression. Rush Hour IN New York, most chill place in the world.

    So, don;t just be glad for what he did do, which is certainly notable, be happy for what he did not do as well.!


    1. Plus, all that architectural work would have kept him away from comics. And that would have been a terrible thing!

  2. There is something about Eisner that no one talks about. He is an example of how a deadline affects creators.
    The Spirit came out weekly, and is remembered as having some very unique types of stories and drawing choices.

    When he moved into graphic novels, when he had more time to work, the types of stories got more in-depth,and experimental in what kinds of stories can be made in comics. However, the storytelling itself was more straightforward, and the drawing choices …aside from abandoning panels… not as daring or unique

    It is still same guy. Still high quality, in some ways more. However, Inthink it is a on example of how trying to make a deadline, and continuously draw attention of readers, breeds a different type of creativity.


    1. I think many, if not most, artists move from complexity to simplicity in their work. And that simplicity is incredibly difficult to achieve. I actually prefer Eisner's later work, it's clearer, more elegant, more true. That said, I get your point.

    2. Before I go on to make my point, I should clarify, I genuinely believe the page with Frimme in the rain, coming in from his daughter's funeral is among the best in the history of the medium. I also believe A Life Force is a phenomenal and unfortunately underrated story, with a great line I still quote, and have even considered putting on a T-shirt (SERIOUSLY!). The finale to The building made me tear up, IN MY EYES!

      Now, I am not sure Will Eisner's stories were ever complex. That is not a criticism. He was always able to deliver things very quickly and satisfyingly. Which why I think the exact opposite of you about Eisner's evolution.

      I think the only reason he was able to deliver such simple yet compelling store i because he started his career in a weekly strip where he only had seven pages. He learned how to tell stories economically from the beginning.

      my point is best expressed in his city saga, which takes up a shockingly large percentage of his graphic novel output. I would say these are most reminiscence to his most experimental Spirit stories. About how people in the city interact wit their surroundings, a weirdo in a mask is just not a part of those surroundings.

      I enjoy all of these works ,The building most of all. However, for ideas literally selling you on concepts involving a city and the people involved, it is hard not to see a lack of the earlier ideas used.

      Many of those stories are specifically about isolation, it is hard not to remember the days of the Spirit, and how often Eisner used looking through windows, with the story happening within.

      This was an idea also used heavily by painter Ed Hopper, who often dealt with the concept of isolation.


    3. Interesting thoughts, as always. The man continues to inspire!