Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Will Eisner, 1917-2005

I interviewed my friend Will Eisner a few year ago, at the Chicago Humanities Festival. At one point I asked him why he kept going, why he kept making comics when his contemporaries (and his contemporaries were people like Bob Kane -- before he did Batman -- remember) had long ago retired and stopped making art and telling stories, and are gone.

He told me about a film he had seen once, in which a jazz musician kept playing because he was still in search of The Note. That it was out there somewhere, and he kept going to reach it. And that was why Will kept going: in the hopes that he'd one day do something that satisfied him. He was still looking for The Note...

Will Eisner was better than any of us, and he kept working in the hope that one day he'd get it right.

I was woken up this morning, with the news that Will had died last night, aged 87, and I've let a few friends know, and already had to speak to one journalist about who Will was and what he did ("It's as if Orson Welles had made Citizen Kane and redefined what you could do in film, and then carried on making movies until now," I said, wishing I could come up with a better analogy, and knowing that that didn't explain it. And I didn't mention how proud he was of any of us who did good comics -- how much he cared about the medium -- or how glad I am that I got to tell him that I wouldn't have written comics if it wasn't for him. There's a reason that the Oscars of comics are the Eisner Awards.)

I'm suddenly very grateful for the time I've had with Will over the years, in England and Germany and Spain and the US, for the times that I went over to see him and Ann when I was in the Fort Lauderdale area. I'm glad I was there in Erlangen, when they gave Will an award and the place erupted into a standing ovation that went on and on until I thought that the walls would collapse and the Millenium come and we'd still be in that theatre cheering and clapping, with Will looking modestly satisfied and Ann Eisner beside him beaming down at us from the stage.

I'm going to miss him enormously, more than I can say. I made a speech last year, where I said how strange it was to discover that the gods of comics, the people who made the medium, were, when I met them, cranky old Jews. Will Eisner wasn't cranky, and he was never old. He was, in all ways, a mensch.

And I keep weighing it in my head, the sorrow at losing Will with the knowledge of how fortunate I was to have known him ("you're always sorry, you're always grateful," as Sondheim said about something quite different).

I'm more grateful than sorry.