Will Eisner: A Spirited Life by Bob Andelman (book review).

May 27, 2015 | By | Reply More

I’m going to presume from the start that you’re a comicbook fan and that you have at least heard of Will Eisner or his most famous creation, Denny Colt aka The Spirit. Not to be confused with that dark film that Frank Miller made. You might even have heard of some of Eisner’s other works, like ‘A Contract With God’, to know that he was very prolific from the 1950s to 2005.


Bob Andelman’s book is a biography of Will Eisner in a second deluxe edition with some addition information that wasn’t available with the first. As I’m starting with this edition, I have to take some wild guesses but I suspect top of the list for this material is all the additional interviews that gives a warts and all and things that were missed the first time even because they wanted to give their side or couldn’t give their experience in time before or a bit of both.

Andelman not only succeeds in telling about Eisner’s life but also gives a strong insight into Jewish life in New York from the 1920s in the throes of the depression. Out of this came a talented artist who got his break into early newspaper strips and a massive syndication across the USA. In those days, the newspapers didn’t just do three panel a day from the story but something like ‘The Spirit’ which ran for seven pages in their Sunday supplement. When Eisner was drafted into the army, he became the artistic driving force on ‘Army Motors’ and ‘PS: The Preventive Maintenance Monthly’, explaining technical material in more down-to-earth terms that the lower ranks could understand about equipment and vehicle maintenance. Things aren’t always in a timeline order but it’s not difficult to piece together.

Oddly, the Spirit only really covered about ten years originally as Eisner drew/wrote a lot more stories about other subjects although this is what he is most remembered for. The most important thing I learnt is how it’s important to express feeling through what is drawn. I knew that to some extent but it’s a potent message for all of you looking to doing comicbook art. One of the reasons Eisner laid so many of the ground rules down was because he was amongst the first to create the path and many the name that became famous worked for him in that time period.

For those who think rubber cement is good for putting paper-sized corrections on their pages might not like the fact that over years it loses its adhesiveness and stains the paper. Even worse, the translucent vellum decays doesn’t last and can quickly oxidise, destroying any art drawn or inked on it.

One thing is amazing is how many people from the 60s discovered Eisner for the first time through Jules Feiffer’s 1965 book ‘The Great Comic Book Heroes’. I read it myself in the early 70s from my local library and it was the first opportunity to see the early Silver Age comicbook characters for the first time. Bear in mind that this was the early days of comic fandom and the number of books about the subject couldn’t even be counted on a full hand.

There’s some subsidiary material here as well and a bit more info about the unreleased 1987 film version of ‘The Spirit’ starring Sam Jones and Nana Visitor. It’s supposed to be dire but so was Miller’s, so why can’t they be bookends? Who knows, one day there might be a proper Spirit film.

Oh yeah, DC’s ‘Spirit Archive’ series outsold Superman. That should tell you something about Eisner’s popularity.

I should point out that, as with many of TwoMorrows books, the text is in two columns making for a much longer read than the page count shows. There is also a lot of Eisner artwork and photos across his life. It is an extremely long read and although it doesn’t highlight all of Eisner’s bad points, it does indicate that him as an artist and him as a businessman were practically two different people. If anything, it probably reflects the type of world Eisner lived in and how the business world inflicted itself on creator rights.

TwoMorrows rarely do reprints and looking at this book, I wouldn’t be surprised at a third reprint because it will surely sell out, if only to those who missed the smaller first edition. If you want to read about and from Will Eisner then this book is a tour de force.

GF Willmetts

May 2015

(pub: TwoMorrows Publishing. 254 page illustrated deluxe hardback. Price: $39.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-60549-061-8)

check out websites: www.TwoMorrows.com and www.willeisner.com

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Category: Books, Comics

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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