It's pretty early here...

*Readers on the West Coast can probably still taste their lunches at this point.

*Recurring Stories Dept: Publisher’s Weekly’s Comics Weekly supplement has some more details on the Seven Seas contract revisions (I think these articles stay posted for longer than a day). It’s now explicitly mentioned that the revised full creator ownership offers were extended to the creators of three webcomics, two of whom had previously agreed to joint ownership terms. Quotes are offered from both creators involved, Crystal Yates of Earthsong and Sarah Ellerton of Inverloch, each of whom were (respectively) “certainly” and “perfectly” happy to turn over half of their ownership rights in exchange for publication and bookstore distribution. Also included is the third creator, Dave Cheung of Chugworth Academy, who says he was never offered a joint ownership contract, and would have turned it down if given the opportunity. In addition, Seven Seas retains the rights to represent all three webcomics to film and television licensing purposes. Interesting reading.

Also from Publisher's Weekly, their carefully genre-blended Best of 2005 (but... it's not even Black Friday!). Lots of expected choices mixed in with some interesting trends (the manga is pretty evenly divided between OEL and Japanese-produced) and a few genuine puzzlers (Ghost in the Shell 2 was certainly... singular, but one of the best of the year?). Worth a look too.

Will Eisner: A Spirited Life

There’s a lot of Will Eisner tributes still going around - most recently there was Alan Moore and Rick Veitch’s appreciation in Tomorrow Stories Special #1, as well as a star-studded tribute issue of Comic Book Artist (Vol. 2, No. 6). Of course, one didn’t need to witness the outpouring of emotion following Eisner’s January 3, 2005 passing to understand the impact of the man upon the industry: he does have an award named after him, after all, and even a cursory glance at his career sees him striding through a diverse range of comics subjects and styles - costumed heroes, industrial and educational strips, realistic longform narratives - while retaining a certain business acumen oft absent from the tales of similarly-positioned comics icons.

Now comes Will Eisner: A Spirited Life, written by Bob Andelman, a 376-page prose-format biography of the man, shedding light on his accomplishments and doling out some useful personal details. Andelman mentions in the front of the book that this project was originally conceived in 2002 as Eisner’s autobiography, with Andelman aiding in organization; after the first draft, the project transformed into an authorized biography, with Andelman interviewing dozens and dozens of people whose lives bore some connection with Eisner. That’s important to know, since interviews are the key to the book’s structure - this is an extremely anecdotal work, organized into occasionally convoluted categories and subcategories, many of them overlapping chronologically, with each chapter usually broken up into a primary source narrative followed by (and sometimes interspersed with) an array of supplementing comments by involved parties. Andelman also goes out of his way to note that the book “is not a critique of [Eisner’s] brush style or wordsmithing,” and indeed the content here is focused mainly on the life and times and business of the subject, not the contents of the material he produced beyond whatever impact they ultimately had on the aforementioned germane subjects.

The book is divided into four sections - ‘Four-Color,’ ‘Opaque,’ ‘Gray,’ and ‘Black & White’ - each of them loosely corresponding to both a time in Eisner’s life and a certain subject matter, although these classifications are hardly hewn in rock: ‘Gray’ and ‘Black & White’ in particular cover many of the same years, with the former generally devoted to Eisner’s business dealings and industrial comics, and the latter largely focused on his graphic novels and influence as an artist, although both of them ultimately delve into subject matter apart from their implied areas of coverage (especially when dealing with entities like Kitchen Sink, which fall squarely into both categories). This stands in contrast to the largely chronological ’Four-Color’ and the partially-overlapping private life-focused ‘Opaque’ - the result is a strangely disjoined, sprawling book, though one full of information.

Indeed, it’s a bit like listening to a group of people telling you interesting stories about the same topic, many of them covering the same ground from different viewpoints - there’s not as much massaging of the material into a seamless narrative as one might expect, and convolution is an occasional hazard. But there’s certainly some insightful stuff, and a great list of interview subjects, everyone from Denis Kitchen to Alan Moore to Rick Veitch to Jon B. Cooke to Stan Lee to Mark Evanier to Steve Geppi to Paul Levitz to Jim Warren to Dave Sim to Legs McNeil to Robert A. Iger (President and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company and grand-nephew of Jerry Iger of the Eisner & Iger Studio) and many more - there’s even a bonus appendix consisting of additional unused interview material from seventeen parties, plus an introduction by Michael Chabon and a special appreciation by Neal Adams. Surely there was no shortage of folks ready and willing to talk, and Andelman takes full advantage of such access.

Perhaps the book reads a bit more smoothly in its early pages because there’s simply not as many people equipped to offer anecdotes, circumstances thus forcing a more straightforward relaying of events, though chapters are still blocked up into individual stories when appropriate. Having just completed Gerard Jones’ Men of Tomorrow, a number of the early stories and bits of information relayed here were familiar to me (and several others have long ago passed into the annals of industry lore - if by chance you haven’t yet heard the tale of Jack Kirby mouthing off to the mobster at Eisner & Iger, well, here it is again), but it’s good to have an Eisner-centric view of events. Andelman is at his best here when covering Eisner’s personal life, utilizing his personal access to gather many details on his subject’s sketchy academic background (he never graduated high school), his home life, and the tragedy surrounding his children (some of which is made explicit, some of which is only alluded to).

The later portions of the book, moving towards the modern day, rise and fall on the strength of their topics, their stories. My personal favorites included an entire chapter devoted to Eisner’s dealings with cat yronwode (one of the forces behind Eclipse Comics and Eisner’s #1 fan, inventory keeper, reprint editor, art agent, and something of a surrogate daughter), amusing chronicles of Kitchen Sink’s all-star 8-issue The Spirit: The New Adventures series (at one point Eisner asks Dave Gibbons to make sure that Alan Moore doesn’t turn the title character into a drug addict or anything, given his reputation regarding costumed characters) and the infamous ABC-produced The Spirit television pilot, and an excellent overview of Eisner’s teaching career at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

It’s in that chapter that Andelman’s approach bears the most fruit, darting and weaving through the years and among alumni to craft a kaleidoscopic portrait of Eisner’s methods and influence. It seems like it was a fascinating class - a pass/fail simulated Golden Age-style ‘shop’ setting meant to cultivate both storytelling ability and business acumen. Testimony is given by Batton Lash (Supernatural Law), John Holmstrom (founder of Punk Magazine) and Patrick McDonnell (Mutts), among others. But it’s not all sunshine: Eisner prompts a student to drop his course after declaring “one Robert Crumb is worth a dozen Frank Frazettas to me,” Eisner throws Drew Friedman out of class for acting up, Eisner flunks Joe Quesada - partially for not turning in his projects on time (INSERT JOKE HERE). At one point Jim Shooter notes that he never had “an Eisner kid” work out (save for Quesada) when producing art for Marvel or Valiant - it’s left for the reader to provide whatever connotation they want from such a statement.

It’s in chapters like this that Andelman’s approach seems most justified; the author is often detail-oriented, dutifully providing information about various and sundry corporate maneuvers, and listing the current holders of the publication rights for all of Eisner’s major works (for example, apparently Dark Horse currently holds the reprint rights for The Spirit: The New Adventures). And it’s the details and the stories and the conversations that carry the book. During one passage regarding the delay-prone process of putting together Dark Horse’s Eisner/Miller project, Eisner snaps “I’m fighting a losing battle with time,” and this moment offers a sudden jolt of immediacy, of time passing that the rest of the book keeps at arm’s length. But for those looking for a compendium of information and anecdote and lore, much of it straight from the subject himself, it’ll be hard to find a resource more comprehensive than this book. Sitting back and letting it all sink in upon completion, I did get a sense of having been through Eisner’s life with this book - it’s just something you have to do on your own, having been given the information this tome is so eager to provide.