Will Eisner – Profession: Cartoonist

Hopefully, you are aware that there’s a lot more to comic books than Spiderman and Batman. But if you don’t, consider yourself lucky- there’s an entire world of art out there ready for you to explore. American Comics may still be linked with caped crusaders in the minds of many, but around the world, the comic art form has produced some of the greatest works of the 20th and 21st centuries in any medium. And if there was only one person we could thank for that, it would be Will Eisner.

Will Eisner – Profession: Cartoonist is a 3-part documentary about the man and his work, lovingly made by a Brazilian fan and filmmaker named Marisa Furtado who met him working at an international comics convention in 1991. She struck up a friendship with guest of honor Eisner, and it eventually resulted in this intimate portrait. That Eisner is huge in Brazil was a revelation to me (as it will be to many,) but he is- the doc is full of Brazilian cartoonists heaping praise after praise on the guy- all of it deserved, but all of it a reminder of how insular we can become here in the United States.

Part One covers his early years as creator of The Spirit, a famous comic strip character that innovated the usually-pulpy world of costumed adventure heroes. Though this era is, in a way, his most historic contribution, it is also his least interesting work- most of it feels campy and corny today, and some of it downright problematic when seen with modern eyes. It doesn’t matter- despite its limited artistic value, you can still admire the innovative techniques and incredible craft poured into what was meant to be throwaway entertainment. That Eisner cared so much about every tiny detail on every page he ever drew is part of is unique contribution to the art form, and rightly deserves the praise it gets.

But Part Two is where the magic happens. In his 50’s, Eisner found himself re-awakened by the personal storytelling found in 60’s Underground Comix, pushing the medium to places he had dreamed of but never dared go. Ten years later, Eisner re-invented the comics medium again by ushering in the Graphic Novel- a longform, more literary comic that dealt with mature characters and themes, the way prose novels had been doing for centuries. That’s another reason this guy is so cool- he inspired the next generation, then drew inspiration from them, and then inspired them yet again. Perhaps only Miles Davis can claim such a consistently innovative career. And that’s what Eisner did until he died at 88: creating graphic novels, always inventing new tricks, never resting on his past accomplishments.

Part Three covers his craft, something between a master class and an overview of his thoughts on the comics medium. All three parts are full of interviews with comic art greats- Americans like Art Spiegelman, Denis Kitchen and Bill Sienkiewicz, and Brazilians like Angeli, Guazzelli, Lailson, and Mauricio de Sousa- all paying tribute to the influence Eisner had on their work, and his value in the evolution of the art form. The series itself is both lovingly put together and awkwardly cornball, with many of Eisner’s comics animated for dramatic effect; the cheesy added sound effects make the animations feel more like low-budget porn than genuine drama. You will cringe. Still, the corniness is almost fitting, for Eisner, as great as he was, is definitely a product of his generation- or like he himself said, “more Glenn Miller than Jimi Hendrix.”


2 thoughts on “Will Eisner – Profession: Cartoonist

  1. Thanks for this – i’ve heard of it, but never had the chance to see it. I will be interested to see which versions of some of his stories Eisner gives in these interviews.


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