Charles Brownstein, Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund wrote this remembrance of Will Eisner (see 'EXTRA: In Memoriam: Will Eisner') for another venue and was kind enough to share it with ICv2:
This morning we are all sitting at our desks and staring blankly at our screens in a state of visceral shock. 'What's shocking,' someone said to me this morning, 'is that it's shocking. When an 87 year old man goes in for open heart surgery, of course this is a risk.' But it is still shocking, both the man on the other end of the line and I admitted.
It's shocking because I think we all regarded Will as being so much more than a mere man. He was a giant, and his presence so overwhelming to those of us who followed him in dedicating our lives to this profession, that it is impossible to think of him in the past tense. Will was something of a spiritual guide -- a courageous force that dedicated himself absolutely to the sequential art form and did so with a pride and seriousness that allowed those who followed to do the same.
Will, in a real sense, was the father of our country. He fought an overwhelming cultural resistance to viewing comics in a serious light by employing guerilla tactics that would have made Washington nod with appreciation. Creating The Spirit to address a diverse audience in the context of a newspaper, where the average American received their information, was a masterstroke analogous to Washington's Christmas siege of the British. His decades creating educational, military, and corporate comics allowed him to explore the limits and language of the art form while infiltrating the fields of endeavor that led American life. While the comics business was trafficking in children's fare and escapist fantasies, Will was using comics to teach GIs how to fix their trucks in a war zone. This use of comics was something like guerilla warfare, wearing down the skeptics about the seriousness and usefulness of this powerful language.
Like Madison contemplating the legal template of an ideal nation, Will carefully considered the grammar, characteristics, and potential of comics. He went into the schools and taught the form and the business; he emphasized the field as a literary one at a time when the most pressing concern of a young artist was getting a job on Spider-Man. He pointed out that the art form did not need to bow to these costumes and their work-for-hire kings. He pointed out (this in the seventies!) that we could be self-governors, that is, create content that is resonant as literature. He wrote the books on the craft, Comics and Sequential Art, and later Graphic Storytelling, which would allow a template for his successors to build upon.
But there was a mysticism to Will that made him also stand out like Moses. In the mid-seventies he believed that the medium was capable of a great deal more than it was accomplishing and so he set out to create A Contract With God. Many, many professionals have said to me that the publication of that book was a turning point in their lives. In the use of content, format, and style, Will told a generation that they could consider themselves as authors and speak to the serious themes that authorship demands. In the last decades of his astonishing life he pursued this path, creating over a dozen novels, some of which will surely be counted among the most enduring literature not only of this art form, but of the twentieth century as well.
It is a bitter irony that, like Moses, Will was in sight of his promised land when he died. In 1978 when Contract appeared, there was no possibility of a venerable literary house publishing a work of comics. But later this year W.W. Norton, among the most venerated publishing houses, will be doing just that, and making The Plot, their key offering for the season. While the economic implications of comics becoming a part of the serious publishing industry are debatable, it is not debatable that this was the serious treatment to which Will aspired, for himself, and for his chosen profession.
As a soul, Will was generous, ambitious, insightful, and fair. He did not hesitate to give of himself in these last decades. A constant presence at conventions, Will made equal time for the captains of this industry, the aspirants looking to break in, and the fans whose lives he touched with his body of work. He was always a gentleman, in the classical sense, where the word actually means something beyond mere politeness.
I would wager that every person in this business has a personal story about Will. That fact alone is testimony of his core generosity. I, luckily, can count myself among the lives that Will has touched. As a teenager publishing a fan magazine, Will gave me time to interview him; and later to read and comment upon the work I was doing. As a young man, he submitted to be interviewed by Frank Miller and myself for a book discussing the art and commerce of this field. On that occasion he and his wonderful wife Ann invited us into their home and shared their time, memories, and insights unselfishly. As a man, in my current occupation, Will was always generous with his time, resources, and creativity, assisting us in bolstering the vitality of the CBLDF.
My favorite memory of Will is a conversation not captured on tape between he, Frank, and myself discussing the decline of masculinity. The truth is that men like Will Eisner are a rarity today. Seldom does one find such a wise and giving soul, passionately devoted to vocation, and above all else embodying a moral decency that held living a good life and doing no harm as its core values.
Of course we will miss Will. We already do. But to merely miss him is not enough to honor his memory. We must do our best, as he did for so many decades, to advance this art form, which he proved could be a life's work. Will led us to a fertile promised land. Now we must work that much harder to cultivate it properly.
Thank you, Mr. Eisner.