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Powells.com
Saturday, January 15th, 2005


 

The Will Eisner Companion: The Pioneering Spirit of the Father of the Graphic Novel

by N.C. Christopher Couch and Stephen Weiner

A review by Chris Bolton

Many "companion" volumes fall into one of two categories: overstuffed encyclopedia accessible only to die-hard fans or superficial survey for the uninitiated. To its considerable credit, The Will Eisner Companion manages to be both a wonderful primer and an essential guidebook to the work of one of the comics medium's true pioneers.

Eisner, who passed away at eighty-seven last week, started his career at the dawn of the comic-book era and set a great many precedents. Shortly after Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold Superman to DC Comics (after Eisner's own studio turned them down), Eisner held on to the rights to his own hero, the Spirit. Years later Siegel and Shuster would complain that they'd barely seen a dime from their creation, while Eisner set the standard for a great many creator-owned properties to come, including Mike Mignola's Hellboy and Jeff Smith's Bone.

Eisner's most famous creation, The Spirit, receives the most attention -- a detailed essay and exhaustive A-Z index by editor N. C. Christopher Couch, as well as color reproductions of the Spirit's origin and one of the series' most famous stories, "Gerhard Shnobble," which capably demonstrate how Eisner's work on the series helped set the standard for the then-burgeoning comic-book form. One glance at Eisner's legendary splash pages, with their atmospheric cityscapes and dazzling visual effects, will convince any neophyte of his artistic mastery.

The second half pays due reverence to Eisner's post-Spirit career. Often credited with coining the term "graphic novel," Eisner's work in such seminal books as A Contract with God and The Dreamer is mesmerizing in its maturity (a marked contrast to the often larky tone of the Spirit adventures) and visual acumen; his influence on such modern masters as Craig Thompson (Blankets) is obvious and striking.

Loaded with eye-popping examples of Eisner's achievements, The Will Eisner Companion is simultaneously a worthy tribute to a comics master, a dazzling celebration of the seemingly limitless potential of the medium, and a fitting introduction to an essential comics innovator.


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