For a generation of writers and artists, Will Eisner was a touchstone figure — as a pioneering comic book artist in the 1940s, he “basically reinvented what we call the visual vocabulary of comics,” according to Denis Kitchen, publisher of Kitchen Sink Press and author of several books about the art of comics.
“Prior to his work starting around the 1940s, comics were considered puerile, juvenile, pretty low-grade stuff,” Kitchen said in a telephone interview. “But Eisner, as a very young man, was quoted by a Philadelphia newspaper when he started his career that he thought comics had the potential to be a literary form to be taken seriously.”
At the time, Kitchen went on, “the reporter practically laughed at him.” Time has proven Eisner right, of course. Comics and its offspring, the graphic novel, another area in which Eisner was a pioneer, are more popular than ever, both in the bookstores and as inspiration for Hollywood.
Among the contemporary artists who owe Eisner a debt, Kitchen said, are Frank Miller, creator of the Dark Knight series, and the writer Neil Gaiman. Eisner supported the efforts of those who came after him, establishing the Eisner Awards in 1988 to honor his fellow artists. “While he was alive he would be the guy on stage who would actually hand you the award,” Kitchen said.
Eisner, who died in 2005, is remembered by fans and peers during the annual Will Eisner Week (this year is its sixth), featuring events from San Francisco to Scotland.
“We want to make sure he’s not forgotten,” said Kitchen, who will join cartoon artist Paul Hornschemeier (“Life With Mr. Dangerous”) for an event celebrating Eisner at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway. On Saturday at 12:30 p.m., the Cambridge Public Library hosts a kids’ comics workshop with artist Jef Czekaj and others, followed by a book signing at Million Year Picnic, 99 Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge.