By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Nobody in the field at the time even dreamed of being just a cartoonist," he says, pronouncing the last word as though it's an epithet. "Most of the guys were there on their way uptown. They wanted to be painters or illustrators -- good artists, fine artists. I decided then that this was what I wanted to do. It combined two things I knew I was good at: writing and artwork. And the combination of the two was right there in this medium." Eisner was indeed a true pioneer: He not only created the crime-fighting Spirit, but he retained the copyright to his own creation -- a rarity even now, when corporations own the best-known heroes.
Perhaps because he's never quite fit -- because he's both vestige and trendsetter (in 1978 he created A Contract With God, the first "graphic novel," a comic book sold in paperback-book format) -- Eisner's the rare person to speak with any optimism about the future of comics. Perhaps it takes a man from the past to point -- finally, happily -- toward the future.
"I'm not terrified at all," Eisner says, smiling as always. "I think we're at the beginning really. Keep in mind that the technology keeps changing. It changed back in the cave days, when a guy had been scratching an image in clay and then a guy came along and said, 'Hey, we're writing on papyrus now.' It doesn't change the fundamental. We're in the business of storytelling, and we tell stories with images. We have learned to arrange images and text in a sequence to tell a story.
"As a matter of fact, I firmly believe that we're at a big new era because we're in a visual era. Information is being proliferated at such a speed that the transmission of it has to be done more rapidly than text alone. Text is too slow; it's deep, it gives you a great deal of depth, but it's too slow. So now we're using images, and this is what we're all about. We're at the beginning. All these kids wringing their hands are all wrong."