DANIEL BEST: You joined forces with Jerry Iger to form the Art Syndication and the Eisner/Iger Studios in the 1930s. What was the idea behind that?
WILL EISNER: Eisner & Iger Corporation was a "packaging" company that produced the
contents of comic books for publishers. It created characters and stories with a
staff of writers and artists.
DB: You had a lot of talented artists go through the studio in your time there - Bob Kane, Jack Kirby, Lou Fine, George Tuska, Bob Powelll, Reed Crandell, Nick Cardy and many more. Do you have any memories of those artists, or others, that you’d like to share?
WE: I remember all these men as devoted to the comic book medium, which was in its infancy then. Each was a stylist with his own approach. Jack Kirby, Lou Fine, George Tuska and Nick Viscardi were very hard workers but none of them at the time thought comics had a real future.
DB: You gave up your shares in the studio to write and draw the Spirit - that must have been a bold move back then.
WE: Yes, it was a bold move but while it seemed foolhardy to my partner, it was an undeniable opportunity for me because it gave me a chance to escape the comic book ghetto and write for an adult audience. I was never comfortable with working for the young comic book reader and believed that comics with serious subjects could achieve an adult audience.
DB: Where did the idea for the Spirit come from?
WE: The idea for THE SPIRIT was based on the concept of the SCARLET PIMPERNEL.
DB: Visually the Spirit has an impressive costume - simple yet effective.
WE: The Spirit was intended as a free lance detective. The Newspaper Syndicate demanded a costume so I added a mask and gloves. The Spirit was never supposed to possess super powers.
DB: How is it that you managed to completely own the Spirit?
WE: In negotiating with the syndicate, I countered their demand for ownership by offering them the right to file a copyright in their name in exchange for the insertion of a clause in our contract that recognized my ownership which I could exercise upon a dissolution of our formal agreement.
DB: P’Gell and P’Gall - where did those names come from?
WE: P'Gell comes from the Place Pigal area in Paris, notorious during World War II.
DB: DC Comics is reissuing the Spirit Archives - what is it like seeing the early Spirit stories back in print again?
WE: Very exciting and affirming of the durability of what I created. Really rewarding.
DB: Where did the art for the archives come from? Do you still have originals art from all those years ago?
WE: D.C. is using my originals. I have them all except for 1940 - 1944.
DB: How do you think modern readers react to the archives?
WE: D.C. reports they are well received and selling well.
DB: You worked at a time when the Senate hearings into comic books were underway - what were those times like?
WE: I was not touched by the Senate hearings because I was regarded as a newspaper feature. It did not influence me in any way.
DB: You've been responsible for a lot of innovations in the medium over the course of your career. You were also the first person to use the term "graphic novel." Where did you get that term from and why did you use it? Was A Contract With God the first-ever graphic novel?
WE: I used the word as a way of trying to describe the book to a mainstream publisher. Only recently I learned that years before the term was used (in 1973) by an underground comic book. It was a coincidence.
DB: The Spirit is a very visual strip - almost cinematic. Outside of the 1987 TV movie has anyone ever approached you with the idea of a Spirit movie?
WE: No other movie has ever been made of THE SPIRIT. Movie rights have however been licensed but there are no plans for it at this time.
DB: Did you ever have anyone in mind to play the Spirit?
WE: I had envisioned the Spirit being played by the actor James Garner (this was in 1984.)
DB: How do you view the comics industry these days?
WE: With pleasure. The field is burgeoning. The talent is better than ever and the variety of product is better than ever before.
DB: Are there still skills of comics creation that you're trying to master?
WE: Yes. I am still trying to improve my ability to visualize internalization and human emotion. I am always in pursuit of a greater depth in storytelling.
DB: In 1972 you began teaching - how did that come about?
WE: The School of Visual Arts, I subsequently found out, asked their students who they would suggest to teach my subject and my name apparently was most popular. So the president of the school invited me to teach. I chose to name my course, "Sequential Art."
DB: What are your plans for the future?
WE: I plan to continue producing graphic novels and pursue unexplored areas with this medium.
DB: Can you expand upon that?
WE: By "unexplored areas" I mean that comics as a medium has yet to deal with difficult social issues in the manner of a polemic.