Thursday, January 06, 2005

when The Spirit moved me

Will power

The second best thing about ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’ was seeing the Sin City posters in the theater lobby. Gun Yoga and Robert Rodriguez are making me feel like a fool for not buying the ‘Sin City’ books back in the day. I’ve still got time but according to Atlas, Frank Miller is only top 25 of the 100 Best Artists of American Comic Books. Will Eisner, who died earlier this week, takes silver (can’t really fuck with The King’s gold though).

The clips from ‘Sin City’ look incredible and are the closest incarnation to Miller’s own version of chiaroscuro I've ever seen. Like most comic artists Miller is indebted to Kirby but what often gets overlooked is the influence Eisner had on Kirby (this is not to diminish the astounding Kirby-visual language that still breeds and/or trumps most comic imagery).

I am not an expert in Eisner’s work nor have I read much of his work but reproductions of his splash pages have stuck with me since I was yay high.

His whole-page/splash compositions often integrated word balloons, titles, sound effect/visual words with the action. Every graf writer should study these pages before they tackle a burner. Eisner’s use of shadow lives on in Miller’s boldest panels and his renderings of the-less-than-perfect-city permeate so many frames of ‘TheWatchmen,’ less in drawing style but in mood and atmosphere.

He often combined grit with the ‘funny comix’ tradition and here is the greatest distraction in his work… not his extreme femme fatales but the racial caricatures embodied in his sidekicks Ebony and Blubber. They glare out from the page like the ‘Japs’ or cleaver wielding Chinese sidekicks of WW2 era heroics (I wonder if the reinvention of Captain America addressed any of those images). I can half-heartedly forgive them as products of the times

Eisner always viewed the medium as an artform of the highest level and always considered it greater than the sum of it's parts (word plus text). He invented the graphic novel form by demanding that "Contract with God" be distributed as a novel, not a comicbook... and by dealing with adult themes (meaning ‘grown-ass’ not just ‘ass’).

He didn't accept the ‘Superman’ job offered to him, which is probably for the better of the Superman myth. The melancholy and quiet moments in striking wordless panels would have brought more ambiguous levels to the early Superman which wasn’t the intention of the character. Michael Chabon based Joe Kavalier of ‘Kavalier and Klay’ on Will Eisner. You can see the layers that The Escapist had in origin, metaphor, superpower and adventure were based on many of Eisners ideas about the potential for serious (not un-funny... worthy of deeper thought) storytelling through comics.

Check out Eisner’s concise resume on geocities and a nice interview from Badazzmofo.