It would be sort of dull to run the roll call here of comics pros who came in for the Will Eisner Memorial?akin to listing guests for one of the bigger comic cons. Let’s just say industry folks were in abundance and conspicuous only by their absence. With the exception of a delegation from the Marvel camp, every major publisher was represented. Perhaps it’s because Marvel never published Will, or maybe they were in their own little world when Will was off inventing things like the graphic novel or, most likely, no one invited them. Stan Lee did once tell me that he’d offered Marvel’s editor-in-chief’s seat to Will. Was that before or after Roy Thomas played Joshua to Stan’s Moses? I don’t know and no one I’ve asked knows either. Speaking of Roy, I received a note from him following my March 31st column, “How I Learned to Love the Bomb”.
Cliff: Thanks for the news [regarding Dave Cockrum], disappointing as it is. Appreciated everything except the Gary Groth comment, which was crude.
I banged out a quick reply:
Roy: The Groth comment wasn’t crude, it was cheap, which is better than he deserves.
So much for that. Back to the memorial. Yes, and no Marvelites were there except for ex-Marvel freelancers like Frank Miller and Peter David. Despite his formidable shyness, Frank kept drawing the spotlight as eulogizers felt the need to pay tribute to the new messiah’s presence (hey, $29 million in box-office receipts for Sin City’s opening week makes walking on water pale by comparison).
I must say that with few exceptions, the speeches grew rather dull. The only guy who held my interest from start to finish was Dennis Kitchen, who detailed his long relationship with Will?how they’d met at the first Phil Seuling con at the Commodore Hotel in NYC where Will was clever enough to tap into the expanded distribution network being opened up by long-haired, dope-smoking freaks like Dennis (who is all groomed and corporate these days, thank you). I knew some of these details already, but what I didn’t know was how Will had hung in with Dennis until the bitter end, when the wheels fell off Kitchen Sink Press. Or how Will subsequently approached the ruefully unemployed publisher and offered him the gig as Will’s agent. Loyalty is a rare commodity these days. Just look around your office.
Dennis had also assembled a bit of Will’s art and a healthy synopsis of his magnificent career into a handout that served as the memorial’s playbill. I quote liberally from that publication:
- Will Eisner is recognized internationally as one of the giants in the field of sequential art, a term he coined. His career spanned nearly seventy years and eight decades, beginning with contributions to
Wow, What a Magazine
- while still a teenager in 1936, followed by the start of his buccaneer saga
Hawks of the Seas
- that same year. From 1936 to 1939 the Eisner & Iger Studio provided a steady supply of content to publishers at the virtual onset of the comic book industry. Their staff included such future luminaries as Jack Kirby, Lou Fine, Bob Kane and Mort Meskin. While partnered with Jerry Iger, Eisner created
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle
- and soon after
- … In 1940, Eisner sold his interest in the comic book packaging company to Iger and created his most famous character,
- ?At its height,
- insert appeared in 20 major market newspapers with a combined circulation of 5 million readers each Sunday, quintupling the circulation of America’s best-selling monthly comic book.
Following Dennis Kitchen’s encomium, the illustrious audience was addressed by Scott McCloud, Byron Preiss, Jerry Robinson and Jim Warren. I looked at my watch. An hour and a half had passed and there were still people queuing up to the podium. Paul Levitz was passing the microphone to anyone who wanted it and everyone wanted it except for Harlan Ellison who spoke without amplification.
“Everyone here is so morose,” Harlan began. He then went on to tell of his childhood infatuation with The Spirit, his friendship with Will, and his delight at being invited by William Friedkin (at Will’s suggestion) to write a screenplay (never produced) for The Spirit.
Then Harlan called Will Eisner a cheap Jew, which went over like a lead balloon.
“Gosh?you guys are a tough room,” said Harlan.
To be continued?
© 2004, Clifford Meth