March 2nd, 2013 at 8:49 am
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(To acknowledge Will Eisner Week, here’s a piece I was asked to contribute to the special Eisner tribute issue of Jon B. Cooke’s Comic Book Artist magazine back in 2005.)
On a professional level, Will was always a joy. During the last 15 years of his life, I interviewed him, edited his work and was flattered to have been asked to write (in collaboration with Kate Worley) a novelization of his immortal and delightful Spirit – intimidating propositions one and all, but Will’s professionalism and accessibility made virtually all of our dealings easy ones. He was one of the great gods of comics, but he had the grace to treat a simple working pro like an equal. I cherish the memory of our phone calls and correspondence and those informal shoptalk sessions filled with sharp insights offered with the occasional endearing hesitation, as though one might be too busy to listen to the thoughts of the man who practically invented the subject under discussion.
But it was Will the man, not the god, that I truly appreciated. No one glowed with success like he did, but he delighted in making fun of himself and pointing out his own failures. One of my favorite memories of him was a conversation over dinner in which he recited a list of the goofy strips (many attributed to equally goofy pseudonyms) which he’d invented as a young cartoonist, ending with his quiet tenor laugh and a shake of the head over the fact that he hadn’t starved to death in those days. A moment later he was off on the tale of how he’d turned down the opportunity to publish an unknown feature titled “Superman,” followed by his narrow escape from investing in a little loser of a magazine that would come to be called TV Guide.
I recently did an editing job on a new edition of his wonderful Dropsie Avenue trilogy, and was struck all over again by Will’s immense talent and his continual refusal to stop growing as an artist. There’s no doubt that he will be remembered longer than most of us, not only for the show-stopping virtuosity of The Spirit, but for the depth of humanity to be found in his later work. Denny Colt may be immortal, but perhaps no more so than Jacob Shtarkah or Abie Gold.
My fondest memory of him comes from a San Diego convention in the early ‘90s. My luggage had vanished somewhere across the continent and, after hours on a red-eye flight, I entered the hall to prepare for my first panel looking like someone who’d been sleeping on a steam grate. Somehow, Will had already heard about my problem. We barely knew each other at the time – but without preamble, he stepped up to me, thrust out his hand, and offered me a change of underwear, practically apologizing for the fact that he didn’t have any outer garments that would fit me. Fortunately, my bag was located soon after that, and I didn’t have to resort to plundering the great man’s skivvies.
But that’s the kind of man he was. Given a choice among gods, the one who’ll share his shorts and socks with you is the one I’ll bow to any day.