From the TCJ Archives

Will Eisner: Having Something to Say

BENSON: I was ready to come here and say, looking out of my narrowed eyes, “Everyone says The Spirit was tongue-in-cheek, but you were really serious, weren’t you?”

EISNER: Serious only in that when I did The Spirit — and this is serious — I really wrote my heart out. I really was saying what I wanted to say. If I had been writing at a typewriter, I couldn’t have done it with more intensity and honesty. It probably is the most honest work I have done in all my life, and I’m rather proud of the fact that most, most of the things I’ve done in my career were done honestly. Very early in life I reached the point where I could afford to pick and choose the kind of work that I wanted to be involved in. Leaving the comic field and going into the educational field involved a very substantial risk in the beginning. It turned out to be economically very wise. But it was seriously done.

BENSON: We seem to have come to the end of the hour; I’m amazed that we’ve covered so much ground.

EISNER: You had some questions I never expected. You know, every once in a while I try to read these … this Graphic Story Magazine. I’ll tell you, if I were to go back (it isn’t a question of going back, it would be going forward), if I had the time to devote myself fully, that would probably be the direction in which I would probably go.

BENSON: Which direction?

EISNER: In the so-called “graphic story,” because this has been something that I believe the comic strip technique had all along. But I read this article the other day, in Graphic Story Magazine I think; it was a review of Gil Kane’s magazine Savage. I was sorry they put it down. Sorry Gil’s magazine failed … I believe he’s got the right idea. That thing I did for the Herald Tribune was in that track — I got a tremendous charge out of that; it was fun to do. It was a freebie, practically, and I did it with real good fun. But this is probably the way I’d go. But I don’t think the media itself, right now, unless I misread the public, can stand an extreme acceleration into that area. It has to come somewhat from the public. I think that the public is a very impatient reader today. You see, if you refine the technique far enough, you’ll come to film, and you’ll be a film.

BENSON: I don’t agree with that, because you, I think, refined comic technique farther than anyone else, and it was not film, it was comics.

EISNER: I’m wondering now, I would like to find out myself; because I’d jump into it in 10 minutes if I felt that there was a really substantial need for it, or a substantial appreciation. But I suspect, and I found that happening in The Spirit toward the last few years I was doing it, that people haven’t the patience to read that long, or to devote that much time or that much attention to a lengthy thing. You look at the comic strips in the newspapers; they’re all very short and punchy things.

BENSON: But comic-book stories have gotten longer. They’re 20 pages, and even that’s often part of a continued story.

EISNER: Are they popular? I mean, are they well read, are they appreciated for that? Because if that’s so, boy, I think that’s marvelous, that’s the way it should go. But they were talking about doing a whole novel in comic form. The idea of doing a novel in comic form is not new and it’s not novel, but it’s how you do it. Now, the review of Gil Kane’s stuff was rather rough; I think they were pretty hard on him. But I think he left himself open for it. I think he did that thing as though he were doing a comic book for National Comics. He wrapped it up; he was doing it for dough, he was doing it to get it out. He was hoping, I think, that the mere novelty of the approach would carry him home. I think that was his mistake.

BENSON: The book was very wordy.

EISNER: There’s nothing wrong with words; except the words aren’t used properly here.

BENSON: Did you read the “Master Tyme” strip in that issue of Graphic Story Magazine?

EINSER: Yes. Fascinating stuff; great stuff. There’s tremendous talent around, tremendous. It’s too bad these kids are going to have a hell of a time finding a mass audience. It’s disastrous to new talent, and I don’t know how much of an audience there is. They’re going through the same agony that kids did earlier, and the man who publishes a 300- or 400,000 edition of a comic and puts them on the newsstand on consignment isn’t about to take a chance on a kid like that because he’ s got too much money invested. So you’ve either got to prove to this man that he’s going to move 300,000 copies of the comic book, or …

BENSON: … or else you have to market it to a smaller audience at a higher price so as to still get a satisfactory return.

EISNER: A smaller audience may not be enough to support the artist. In one of our publishing companies here, we talked about possibly going into this market several times; but we can’t find it. How are you going to reach the people who may be interested in the stuff? How many people are interested? We don’t know.

BENSON: Warren’s Creepy and Eerie seem to stay in business.

EISNER: What are they?

BENSON: Horror stories in the Savage format. They had some fine material in the early issues — people like Alex Toth.

EISNER: Toth is great — Toth is one of the great illustrators around. But do they sell?

BENSON: Well enough to continue, and they’ve been around for four years, but I don’t think they’re doing great guns.

EISNER: Well, they may just have a piece of market and that’s it. No room for anybody else. But as an artist/publisher, I’m fascinated with the market. I’m very interested. I’d go into it in a minute if I could get some lock on it, if I could see the dimensions of it — I just don’t know. There may be just simply dozens of readers who are fascinated with this thing, and that’s all.