Comic Book Artist Will Eisner Honored on Birthday by Google

Mar 6th, 2011 | By | Category: Art and Entertainment

This Sunday Google honored legendary comic strip artist Will Eisner with a Doodle on the search engine’s homepage, created by comic book art theorist Scott McCloud and artist Mike Dutton. It would have been Eisner’s 94th birthday.

E50 Will Eisner Comic Book Artist Will Eisner Honored on Birthday by Google

Eisner, born March 6, 1917, began his artistic career drawing for his school newspaper in the 1930s. He studied for a year at the Art Students League of New York under famed anatomy teacher George Brant Bridgman, who had studied in Paris, and who also taught Norman Rockwell. From there Eisner took jobs as a writer and cartoonist for the New York American newspaper and as an illustrator for pulp magazines such as Western Sheriffs and Outlaws.

In 1936, Eisner’s high school friend Bob Kane, who would go on to create Batman, suggested that Eisner try entering the new medium of comic books by contributing his cartoons to a new publication called Wow, What A Magazine! Wow editor Jerry Iger put Eisner to work drawing strips featuring a character similar to Indiana Jones who travels the world looking for artifacts. Iger soon had Eisner drawing more strips about pirates and spies.

Eisner and Iger began supplying work to the numerous comic book companies that began springing up in the late 1930s and early 1940s, a heyday for the industry known as the Golden Age of Comics, when top titles like Captain Marvel sometimes sold as many as 4 million copies per issue, and even a moderately successful title could turn a profit. The pair were soon making what seemed like a small fortune for two young men in the Great Depression.

In 1939, following the success of DC’s Superman, former DC employee Victor Fox commissioned Eisner to create a superhero character, Wonder Man, and Eisner entered the superhero genre. Newspapers also approached Eisner, asking him to help them cash in on the comic book superhero craze by creating a superhero cartoon strip. Eisner put a mask on his character to make a concession to the publishers, but he wanted to do something more sophisticated than superheroes. The result was Eisner’s most famous character, the Spirit.

The Spirit, the alter ego of detective Denny Colt, is a masked vigilante who fights crime in cooperation with the city’s police commissioner Dolan. Eisner gave this basic premise a twist by mixing the superhero genre with elements from crime drama, film noir, mystery, horror, comedy, and romance, creating a unique hybrid that defined traditional classification.

The Spirit began as a Sunday insert, and ran in that format from 1940 to 1952, eventually achieving a combined circulation of 20 papers with 5 million newspaper readers. It has also been a daily strip, a comic book, a TV movie, and a 2008 film written and directed by 300 writer Frank Miller.

After creating The Spirit, Eisner created instructional comics for the US Army during World War II. After the war he supplied art to the government, related agencies, and businesses, working for clients such as RCA, the Baltimore Colts, and New York Telephone. In the 1970s he began exploring comic books with serious themes, in such works as A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories, paving the way for what is today called the graphic novel. He also taught college courses on the use of comics as an artistic medium.

Eisner is considered one of the most influential figures in comic art history. Each year the comic book community gives an award for creative achievement called the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, or the “Eisner,” the industry equivalent of the Oscar.

Since Eisner’s death in 2005, other writers and artists have continued the story of the Spirit. Today the character appears in stories published by DC Comics.

Google’s Doodle depicts the Spirit’s face in place of the two O’s in “Google.” Scott McCloud, who helped design Google’s Eisner Doodle, is known for his aesthetic theories as well as his work on such comic books as Zot! and Superman. McCloud previously produced a comic book for the press release introducing Google’s Chrome browser. McCloud’s design idea was brought to life by artist Mike Dutton, a freelance artist and writer who works with Google’s graphics team.

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