One of the singular pleasures of my time interviewing creative people was the opportunity to speak with one of my favourite cartoonists and a legend in his time, Will Eisner. I had the chance to interview Will – who spoke to me by phone from his home in Florida – in March of 2000. We talked about his seminal creation, The Spirit, his work as an educator, and his relentless spirit of innovation [no pun intended].
The icing on the cake was getting to meet Will in person only a few short months later at the San Diego ComiCon. I ran into him at the DC Comics booth [the publisher had just started reprinting the old Spirit strips in their archive format] and he was hanging around just taking it all in. I think Will enjoyed the show and seeing how far the art form he helped pioneer had come. I do know that he insisted on being there to hand out the Eisner awards every year in person, which I always thought was pretty cool.
I had the chance to shake his hand, thank him face-to-face for the hours of enjoyment his work had provided, and got him to autograph my Spirit Archives: Volume One which I just happened to have on me, for some strange reason. Seeing as Will died a few years later I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and speak to this giant of the medium.
The Godfather of comics.
There is nothing I can say about Will Eisner that hasn’t already been said. He was a legend in his own time, the godfather of the medium we know as comic books, and a real mensch. His generosity was boundless and his creative drive virtually endless. I think everyone who knew him or worked with at any point in his career would have told you that it would take the grim reaper himself to stop Will from writing and drawing the stories he wanted to tell.
My first non-issue update of Meanwhile… was back in 2000 and was a Will Eisner tribute – something I had wanted to put together for some time. Since DC had just signed a contract with Will to put all of his Graphic Novel works back into print, as well as archiving his Spirit stories from beginning to end, it seemed like a great opportunity to do so. The update was both an excuse to interview someone whom I looked up to for many years, and to celebrate his long tenure in the proverbial trenches of the industry we call comics.
Since Will passed away earlier this year I thought it would be a good idea to dust off the tribute and run it as a memorial.
MIKE JOZIC: You’ve been in the business quite a long time now, and you’ve done a lot of interviews, most of them probably revolving around The Spirit. Do you ever get tired of being asked the same questions, or relating the same stories over and over again?
WILL EISNER: Well, the answer to that is there was a time when no one asked me about The Spirit, or cared about it, or asked for my interview, and I wasn’t as happy then as I am now. [laughing]
It depends on the questions they give me. Sometimes at conventions, or fan gatherings, you get fannish questions that are kind of silly like, ‘Do you think The Spirit could beat up Spider-Man?’ That kind of gets silly. But if they are fundamentally interesting questions about the medium and the intellect behind it, then I’m eager to answer them.
JOZIC: And is that maybe a part of your teaching nature coming through?
EISNER: I guess so. I guess I’ve always been a kind of teacher, even when I ran the shop. Even at Eisner & Iger I was walking around the room teaching. It was very much like a classroom, I suppose.
JOZIC: While doing research for the interview, I noticed that the teacher role comes up quite a bit and it seems to be a very important role to you. I was wondering where that impulse possibly comes from?
EISNER: That’s a good question, and a very important question, because very early on in my career – as a matter of fact, that was probably while I was still with Eisner & Iger, which was 1937-38 – I became aware of the fact that this was a medium that had enormous capabilities. It was far more than just a cartoon/joke medium. It had literary potential. And it was then that I decided to devote my life to this thing. As a result, I guess, the teaching aspect comes about when I’m trying to convince other people that they should treat this medium the way I see it.
Also, I believe very strongly in the fact that if more better quality material is produced, it will raise the level of the entire medium and therefore get the respect of the literary world, which it has not been able to achieve yet. So I’m really more than teaching, I’m proselytising, I suppose.
JOZIC: [laughing] You mentioned how, when you were starting out, you had basically set out to make a career in comics, despite the fact that it was a despised medium at the time. It was not looked on very highly, and most of the artists of the time – because of the depression – were just passing through, working their way towards bigger and better things.
EISNER: That’s true.
JOZIC: I was just curious how someone in their late teens could make that sort of a decision in that sort of environment?
EISNER: Well, that’s a very good question [and] it’s hard to answer that without being glib about it. The truth of the matter is that each of us marches to our own drummer. Each of us – particularly those in the arts – are looking for, not a justification, but a purpose in their life and in their career. And in the environment I lived in, I saw people working in the arts, but doing it just for a living.
My father painted beds. He was what they called a grainer. He had gone from being an artist, a scenery painter, to painting iron beds and make them look like wood. So, he was using his talent as a job. I kept saying, “This is not what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
But what also happens is you forget to capitalise on your strengths and take advantage of an opportunity. I was lucky. I was on the scene when the medium arrived, which consisted of artwork and text at the same time. So, while at one point I wanted to be a writer and then a painter and so forth and so on, It was a chance for me to use, as I often say, two ineptitudes to make one big eptitude. [laughing] I didn’t think I’d be a successful gallery painter, and I didn’t think I ‘d be a successful writer, so it was a chance to combine them. I was lucky that this was a new medium that was arriving at just the right time. I was there. There’s nothing that beats being on the scene…
JOZIC: Being in the right place at the right time.
EISNER: Yeah, the right place at the right time.
JOZIC: What kind of background did you have going into your first work?
EISNER: In high school, I was very active in the art department. I was the art editor of Magpie Magazine, which was the school magazine, and [it was] there [that] I got my first comic strip published. It was in the school newspaper. So, I had my first taste of blood, if you will. My baptism of fire, and I loved it. I loved it because it combined writing and art.
I spent most of my early life reading Pulps. Pulp magazines were very important at the time. The short story form was the popular literary form. And, of course, everybody knew about comic strips. I had became aware of comic strips fairly early because I was selling newspapers at thirteen, which was a very good deal for me because I could read the comic strips for free. [laughs]
I was fully prepared when I arrived. Both psychologically and intellectually.
JOZIC: You’ve always said that you approach your work with some literary pretensions. Were you an avid reader as a kid, or…where did those literary pretensions come from?
EISNER: I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to produce what I thought was literature with this medium. The pretensions, I guess, came from the fact that I wanted to employ this very peculiar, very particular literary form – artform, or form of expression – because I see this medium parenthetically as a literary artform. It’s a language in a way, and it is as much a language independently as film is, or live theatre is. It’s growing at a very rapid rate of speed, but as a form itself. That rare combination of sequentially arranged images and text to tell a story. I saw that as an opportunity to do some serious work. Had I not been able to use that medium at that time, if that medium had not been there, I probably would have stayed with writing or art itself. Neither one satisfied me fully, I’m a visual person. I need to see things visually before I can express them.
That’s when the literary pretensions come in. I kept it to try subject matter which was not considered subject matter for this medium. The medium was largely an entertainment form, a joke telling medium, for most of the years up until, roughly, the 1950s, when people like Kurtzman and the rest of these serious writers came in and tried to produce comics with a heavier theme. But, I always felt that this medium was capable of the kind of subject matter that was normally dealt with by people who were writing with words only.
JOZIC: I had always assumed that the literary pretensions were you referencing, or drawing from, other literary sources.
EISNER: No, no, no. [laughing]
I’ve done adaptations in comics, but I was influenced by what we regarded as classic literature, like Dostoyevsky and the short story writers of the thirties. O. Henry and people like that [were] all strongly influential on me. I learned how to tell a story in a compressed area.
JOZIC: You are well known for having a large part in creating the modern vocabulary of comics. Was there anybody else doing similar things around the same time that you started to experiment in The Spirit, but maybe didn’t have quite as prominent a soapbox, or forum as you did?
EISNER: Nobody I knew was doing anything quite like The Spirit. And one of the reasons I was able to do it, candidly, was the fact that The Spirit was being published in the Sunday newspapers, and to an adult audience. Which was really the reason why I left Eisner & Iger, which was a very comfortable position. We had a very successful company by that time. I left that to take the risk to go into a newspaper feature, which had never been done before. The Spirit was the first time that a complete seven page, eight page, story was published weekly in the Sunday newspapers. The newspapers gave me an adult audience that I really hungered for. It gave me a chance to get out of what I regarded at the time as the Comic Book Ghetto.
I should add that I’ve always been an experimenter. I really get my kicks out of trying something that looks almost impossible to do in this medium. That probably led to my trying things other guys didn’t try before. Because remember, on the news-stands, the comic book publishers demanded material that would sell. The Spirit didn’t have to follow that dictum. The Spirit wasn’t bound by that. The Spirit had an audience ready made, so I had a totally different opportunity. I shouldn’t really get all the credit for being so totally innovative other than the fact that I had the opportunity to be innovative, that’s what I’m trying to say.
JOZIC: So you were in the right place and the right time again. [laughing]
EISNER: Yeah, right place, right time. Right opportunity! Nobody had such a chance at the time.
JOZIC: You also retained the copyrights, which was something that nobody else really had at the time, and I remember reading a comment from you where you said that most of the writers and artists at the time didn’t have those rights because they didn’t have the muscle to do so.
EISNER: That’s right.
JOZIC: But you bucked the trend. How did you have more muscle than others like Bob Kane, or Siegel and Shuster?
EISNER: Very simple. First of all, the Register & Tribune Syndicate – which was the newspaper syndicate – together with Busy Arnold, came to me and asked me to produce for them a syndicated newspaper supplement, which was very much like the TV Guide is today. They called it a ready print. And since it was something that no one had ever done before, I was in a position to make a demand.
I felt it was very important to have a copyright, not so much for the money aspect of it, because owning a copyright doesn’t automatically give an author a lot of money, it doesn’t even give him that much control. But this gave me creative control. Owning your own copyright gives you creative control, and this is what I really wanted. And I was able to get it because, candidly, they didn’t know anything about the medium. The only corrections I ever got from the editors were punctuation errors. Beyond that, they couldn’t argue with me because I was the only expert in town.
JOZIC: There were no rules.
EISNER: [laughing] I was making the rules.
It was a good business. By then, I had learned a little bit about business and I had good lessons. Iger was a very aggressive businessman. I learned a lot from him about how to negotiate a deal. So, I did negotiate a deal that would get me the copyright.
JOZIC: You seem to have, over the course of your career, had quite a bit of business savvy.
EISNER: Yeah, I love business.
JOZIC: That’s kind of ironic, because a lot of independent publishers find that the business side totally throws their creative side, and they get too busy with one or the other.
EISNER: The big joke in my shop was that I always had one foot under the front office desk and one foot under the drawing board. [laughs] It was almost schizophrenic, but I love the business side. I understand it very well and I like the game of it. At the same time, I like the creative area, too.
It’s very understandable. To sit at your drawing board and devote yourself to creating ideas and living in an unrealistic world prevents you from dealing with the realities of a business deal. It’s sometimes very difficult to do, but I’ve been able to do it, and I enjoy it.
JOZIC: The Spirit has been around for a very long time and he seems to be one of the few costume characters that hasn’t succumbed to various, and sundry, film adaptations.
EISNER: Not yet, anyway. He’s at the threshold of succumbing. [laughs]
JOZIC: Oh, really?
EISNER: Yeah, the people who produced Batman purchased the rights from me about two or three years ago to do a Spirit film. And very candidly, I couldn’t care less about film. I’m totally uninterested in film. If they do a good Spirit movie, I won’t get the credit for it. If they do a bad one, my status as a writer and a cartoonist, will not be diminished. You will not think any less of me if they put a lousy film out. It’s like Shakespeare. There are lousy productions of Shakespeare and there are good ones. It doesn’t mitigate the essential character of the man’s work.
JOZIC: How do you feel about the few productions that have already been done, like the television movie and …
EISNER: The television movie left me feeling very sorry for Warner Bros., I felt sad for them. I sent them a condolence note because they spent all this money and came up with a mouse. And I don’t mean M-A-U-S. [laughs]
Filmmakers very often don’t really, I think, understand the fact that a cartoon strip, cartoon story, or even a book, has a characteristic of its own that, to adapt it into film, requires a great deal of creative application. There are some comics that lend themselves easily…Batman [and] Superman lend themselves easily because they’re both circus characters, and circus is very easy to film. But when you try to take something like The Shadow, or even Dick Tracy, both were failures at the box-office.
Warner Bros. made a very honest attempt to be faithful to the character of The Spirit, and that was a mistake. [laughs] But, I must again emphasise that, personally, I couldn’t care less about film. I’m not interested in film. I wouldn’t be worried about whatever they did with the character because it doesn’t really matter.
JOZIC: At the time the TV movie came out, I had never heard of The Spirit before, and that was actually my first exposure to the character.
EISNER: What was your reaction to it?
JOZIC: I don’t remember the show, but I remember really enjoying it. And about ten minutes after it was finished, I was on the phone to one of my local comic stores asking if they had any Spirit comics in.
EISNER: Well, that was one of the reasons why I agreed to license that film of The Spirit. At the time, The Spirit was being published by Kitchen Sink and they were in need of anything that would help the circulation of the book. So, I thought that would help them sell a lot of The Spirit. They were doing the book on a regular, continuing, basis.
JOZIC: Is that also why you gave your blessing to the Edgewood “Ten Minutes” adaptation?
EISNER: That was an interesting one. I agreed to that, largely, because I wanted to see what the hell they would do with it. [laughing]
There were a few other attempts. There was a film done in Germany of one of the stories done in A Contract With God called, “The Super”. They did it beautifully. It looked like a Fritz Lang movie. I’ve always been impressed with Fritz Lang. I’m very influenced by the old German noir movies.
These were small adventures. I was amused to see what they could do with it. It had no impact on anything. They just did it and that was it.
JOZIC: I have a copy of it, actually.
EISNER: Oh yeah? The Edgewood thing?
JOZIC: Yeah, I wasn’t sure what it was going to be. It was about thirteen minutes long. It was ambitious, I mean they obviously tried.
EISNER: Yeah, two amateurs tried this thing and apparently got nowhere with it, I think. I didn’t expect a little ten minute thing like that to get an Oscar. [chuckles]
But, basically, my intentions have always been with print.
JOZIC: Now, you say that you couldn’t care less about the film medium, but…
EISNER: You’re going to say now that my stuff is related to that, is that right?
JOZIC: I remember you referring once to what you do as ‘cinematic storytelling’.
EISNER: What I said, what I tried to explain at the time I was asked that question – as I’m asked that question often – is that when you’re writing to an audience, particularly in this medium, you try to write to them, or reach them, in a language, and in a reading rhythm, they understand. Film, beginning with the late ’30s and the early ’40s, was a dominant, growing means of communication. And film was influencing the reading rhythm, as I call it, or the reading habits of people. Just as MTV is influencing the reading habits of the young readers today, and the internet will continue to further influence reading habits. So, what I did is I employed the language that I felt was common at the time.
For example, the books I do now, beginning with A Contract With God, are all stage related. I don’t do an awful lot of dazzling perspective shots. You know, keyhole photography and so forth.
JOZIC: It’s interesting that you mention language because recently, Steven Grant was saying that one of the problems that comic books are facing today is that there is a large portion of the general population that are comic illiterate. They really don’t know how to read a comic book.
EISNER: I agree with him about the context being off, but I think his reason is arguable. I believe what you’re having is a retention problem, or speed of transmission, if you will. Your reader is so used to images moving at a tremendous rate of speed, that it’s very hard for the comic book reader to put in the work that is necessary, in a comic book, to provide the interlocking, or intermediate, images between two static images. If you watch a television show, it’s a complete story but you’re interrupted by, something like, fifteen commercials. Five or six commercials every fifteen minutes. These commercials are moving so rapidly, and they introduce images at such a rapid rate of speed, that you have visual cliches thrown at you so rapidly. Your mind is becoming used to the fact that you must be able to ingest these things quickly. So, if you get into a comic book, unless the comic provides you with that, you’re not going to get it. I used to have that trouble with my students when I was teaching up in New York. I was baffled by their ability to be able to read comics like Spawn which has a rhythm of reading that is very close to MTV.
That’s the thing he must be referring to because the reader no longer has the time, nor the patience, to stop and digest and provide, as I said, the intervening action in-between. A man lifting his arm to strike somebody, then walking away with a man left on the ground. It just doesn’t happen fast enough for them.
It’s very complex. I’m struggling with it all the time when I’m not writing. I’m still aware that the reader is not holding still long enough for me to get the story to him.
JOZIC: Do you think that comics are a lot more complex than they’ll ever be given credit for?
EISNER: Oh yeah. The medium itself is suffering from the fact that not enough good content is being poured into it. But comics as a medium – the arrangement of sequentially arranged images with text – is still a very fine medium. As a matter of fact, I believe that it’s the fastest growing print medium in society today, largely because a need for communication with images is very present today. And it’s one of the solutions to the problem I talked about earlier which is the rate of speed with which you must transmit information and ideas.
JOZIC: I’m finding it interesting that, for such a visual culture, we seem to be so reliant on text. If you watch any television ad or talk show, there’s so much text up on the screen you can almost just read the ads and know exactly what is going on.
EISNER: Yeah, it always baffles me when I talk to people in education who say to me that kids are not reading anymore, but then I look at the internet and it’s all reading. I don’t know how the hell these kids who can’t read are getting along, but they apparently do.
It’s like the computers when they first appeared about 20-25 years ago. Everyone was saying that print media is dead, but if you walk into a computer store today and you take a look at the shelves they are bulging with texts and paper. Computers are generating more paper than anything else. [laughing]
JOZIC: Now, the name Will Eisner is tied so inseparably to The Spirit, despite the more current work that you have been doing with the graphic novels and what-not. Do you find that frustrating at all, or do you find it flattering that the character has had such a powerful effect on people?
EISNER: Well, it’s flattering to know that something that you’ve created exists, nobody can deny that. It’s something that any creator, any artist, can point to with pride. But to be identified with The Spirit alone, I would like to think that I have transcended it, that I’ve grown from that on to other things. I would like to be identified with the graphic novels that I’ve produced over the last twenty years. I’m particularly proud of the fact that A Contract with God is still in print after twenty some odd years.
JOZIC: And is that possibly a credit to your literary pretensions? [laughing]
EISNER: I don’t know. These are judgements that have to be made by other people. [laughing] I can only smile modestly.
JOZIC: Do you think that the popularity of The Spirit compared to your graphic novels is related to the wider distribution it received?
EISNER: Well, that’s a good point. As a matter of fact, the big joke in my shop among my students over the last few years is, ‘Will Eisner writes comics for people who don’t read comics.’ [laughing] One book store operator said, ‘I got a good slogan for ya that I’d like to put up on the wall: Will Eisner writes comics for your father.’ [laughs]
I think they’re both different things. The graphic novels I write are written for an adult audience. They are pretentious in that they are attempting to jump over the things that make comics what they are, which is pure entertainment. You talk about heartbreak to a fifteen or sixteen year old who would rather be reading X-Men, to him, what I’m talking about doesn’t make any sense. He hasn’t yet reached that level of life experience where he can appreciate it and be interested in it. It’s not his fault, the fault is mine. I’m writing for people who don’t get into comic books so I’m totally dependent on the word of mouth sale.
Today you have people who are much more sophisticated. Younger readers who are more sophisticated and go into a comic book store and pick up one of my novels. But the person who goes into Borders to buy a John Updike novel is not going to go into a comic book store to buy a Will Eisner graphic novel.
JOZIC: Do you think that will change with the new DC deal?
EISNER: Exactly, you just put your finger on it. That’s exactly the reason I agreed to accept DC’s offer. I felt that, of all the publishing houses in the field, they were the only ones who could possibly carry me across the bridge.
JOZIC: They’ve got the muscle. [laughing]
EISNER: They’ve got the muscle, and they’ve got the deep pockets to be able to promote it and do it.
JOZIC: Are you happy with the arrangement so far?
EISNER: Well, it’s still the honeymoon, but I expect to be very happy there. The contract is very fair, very respectful of my work. I have a secret core of moles in DC because about five or six of those guys in there were former students of mine. [laughing] DC has been very nice about granting me the basic underlying deal that I wanted. They made a very, very nice offer.
And I’m not an employee of DC, I’ll be published by others, too. DC has the license for all the existing graphic novels and The Spirit, but on any new book they’ve got to be in competition with everybody else.
JOZIC: Who, other than DC, will be publishing your stuff?
EISNER: Well, the next book out is going to be published by Dark Horse and it’s called, Last Day in Vietnam. Dark Horse is going to publish it in time for the San Diego con. And I did a couple of adaptations of children’s stories and that’s being done by NBM.
I have a kind of handshake arrangement with DC where they get the first look at anything I do. I do that out of courtesy. The way it used to be with Denis [Kitchen] and Kitchen Sink was that I would always give them the first look at whatever I was doing. But I’m not locked in. I’m not an employee.
JOZIC: This is kind of a clumsy segue, but you mentioned Vietnam and I wanted to talk about you convincing the military to use comic books to teach preventive maintenance.
EISNER: That’s right. Another thing I’m very proud of.
JOZIC: I read that and I thought, how frustrating must it be to convince the U.S. military to use comic books, but not be able to get Joe Public off the street to pick one up?
EISNER: Well, again it’s timing. We talked about timing earlier in this conversation, I was there at the right time. Remember that this was wartime, and during wartime the military is more amenable to trying outlandish ideas than they are during peace time. So, I was able to convince them that this medium could teach much more rapidly than the usual, standard technical manuals they were dealing with. And I had a lot of trouble, if you can imagine, convincing them, but they tested it. They challenged us and they took it out and tested it at, I think, the University of Chicago or one of the Midwestern universities. My books against the classic, standard technical manuals. I’m talking about the repair of equipment. Field fixes and so forth, and we outdistanced them. We performed so much better.
As a matter of fact, P.S. Magazine, which I reintroduced to the army in 1950 when the Korean war started, is still in print fifty years later. It’s still being published. There’s still a monthly magazine called P.S. Magazine being published by the army in the same, exact format that I devised in 1950. That’s incredible. That’s one of these quiet little accomplishments that I’m very proud of. [laughs]
JOZIC: You have a lot of quiet accomplishments, though.
JOZIC: The companies that you’ve built, the teaching, it’s all stuff you don’t normally hear about because most people want to talk about just the comics that you’ve done or are doing. But you’ve put your time in. [laughs]
EISNER: Yeah, and I’ve still got a long way to go yet.
JOZIC: I remember reading an interview with you where the person asked you when you would retire and you said something along the lines of, ‘I still haven’t achieved my goal of breaking into the mainstream, so I have no plans to stop.’
EISNER: Exactly. That’s exactly how I feel. I haven’t really climbed up over the wall. I was very excited when Maus won the Pulitzer Prize. I thought, ‘Awwww, this is the beginning here,’ but it hasn’t really happened. I think there’s a ways to go yet. But it’ll happen. Sooner or later I’ll churn out something that serious readers will grab and say, ‘This is it!’ [laughs]
JOZIC: If you could be considered one of the main voices of change for your period when you started out in the thirties, who would you say…do you still follow what goes on in the industry? The people who are working in it?
EISNER: Oh sure, I keep in touch. I get twenty or thirty copies of comics a month…
JOZIC: That may change with DC. You may get the DC crate. [laughing]
EISNER: A lot of guys from Europe send me stuff. A lot of people in this country send me stuff. I’m always encouraging people who want to self-publish because I feel they are the industry’s big hope.
There’s a lot going on, there’s a lot of brilliant people in the field today.
JOZIC: Do you see anybody in particular…
EISNER: All of them.
JOZIC: All of them?
EISNER: All of them.
It’s very hard for me to single out somebody and say he is the best, or he is the cleverest at this, because everyone is making a different kind of contribution. Along comes a thing called Usagi [Yojimbo] that is an Orientally inspired book and I wrote a forward for it.
JOZIC: By Stan Sakai.
EISNER: Yeah, and a couple of years ago a young guy named Jeff Smith sent me a copy of a new book called Bone and I wrote back and said, ‘Go man, go!’ [laughs] So, there are guys coming along all the time. It’s getting tougher, the marketplace is getting tougher, but the audience is still there. There’s still something like 3000 comic book stores in the country.
I was talking the other day with a retailer who I keep in touch with and he said, strangely enough, that in the last eight or nine months his store, which had been going downhill for the last year or so has stabilised. Sales are going up slowly but surely, so I am very encouraged. I’ll know a little bit more when I get out to San Diego and attend the dealers convention there.
JOZIC: Working in comics is a pretty solitary profession, and after doing it for sixty odd years, how have you kept from going batty?
EISNER: Well, I do a lot of travelling. For years, teaching was a way of keeping my connection with the real world. I visit conventions a lot, I accept lectures [and] I accept interviews like the one you’re conducting right now. I get out. I lead a fairly active life. I sit on the board of the Museum of Cartoon art out here in Boca and I keep in touch.
It is demanding, it is very solitary and you just can’t substitute sitting at the drawing board for talking about it. I don’t feel very out of it.
JOZIC: What do you feel is the legacy that you’ve left behind and, I suppose, continue to push forward since you’re not gone yet?
EISNER: To be honest with you, it’s a question you have to answer rather than me. I want to be seen as what I tried to pretend to be, which is a writer who writes with pictures. A storyteller who wrote and worked in a medium that ultimately achieved dignity and respect.
JOZIC: I suppose a better way to phrase that would have been, what would you like to be the legacy…[laughing]
EISNER: That’s what I would like to see.
JOZIC: Lastly, like Picasso, you’ve lived through and participated in many different movements. You’ve seen the changes and you’ve seen the ups and downs of the industry. What is it like being at Ground Zero like that and watching all of this stuff flying by?
EISNER: It’s a little bit like being Rip van Winkle. I go to a convention now and I stand there and look around, like in San Diego, at thousands of people milling about and hundreds and hundreds comics and comic book booths and I think to myself, my God, in 1937, who would have dreamed that this could really happen?
JOZIC: I suppose you’ve got an interesting perspective because while we’ve just lived through the ’80s and ’90s and the speculator glut, and perceive the industry as going to hell, you’ve been here before.
EISNER: I came up from the valley, man. [laughing]
I’ve said this before, but I’ve seen this business die three or four times, and each time it has come around. The reason for it is that I think there is something basically sound about the whole idea of telling a story, communicating with a combination of words and imagery. And I think that concept will not die.
What’s happening, the thing I have to wring my hands over, the thing I tell a lot of my students about, is that content is the problem now. That’s really where the challenge is right now. That’s the thing that will either make this industry or destroy it.
JOZIC: Until it rises again.
EISNER: Oh, it will rise again. There are young guys coming along all the time.