Academic journal article Shofar

Thinly Disguised (Autobio)Graphical Stories: Will Eisner's Life, in Pictures

Academic journal article Shofar

Thinly Disguised (Autobio)Graphical Stories: Will Eisner's Life, in Pictures

Article excerpt

This article explores the interactions between autobiographical writing and the graphic novel through a critical analysis of Eisner's collection, Life, in Pictures: Autobiographical Stories (2007). It demonstrates how Eisner's work challenges the conventional conceptualization of autobiography and also breaks new ground in creating, reading, and theorizing the graphic novel, thus expanding the ways the reader reads and understands both genres. At the same time, it reveals the techniques through which Eisner examines the complexity of social prejudice in visual and textual narratives. Focusing on two stories in the collection, The Dreamer and To the Heart of the Storm, this article discusses how Eisner explores the potential of the graphic novel form by incorporating fiction and life writing. Furthermore, it reveals how Eisner uses these narrative modes to depict not only antisemitism, but also broader social issues regarding prejudice.

Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true? Is it fiction if parts of it are?

- Lynda Barry (One Hundred Demons)

Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.

- Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Living to Tell the Tale)

I wanr to be remembered for having cut a path in the woods. ... I did something I believed in. I believed strongly that this medium is capable of subject matter well beyond the business of pursuit and vengeance or two mutants trashing each other. If I helped prove that, then that's all I can ask for.

- Will Eisner (Eisner/ Miller: A One-on-One Interview Conducted by Charles Brownstein)

As Helena Frenkil Schlam has argued, at every point in the history of American cartoon arts some Jewish cartoonists have contributed their talents and ability to innovation and development, bringing "the sharpened perspective and moral anxiety to this artistic expression."1 Will Eisner (1917-2005, born William Erwin Eisner) undoubtedly stands among such landmark figures. Jules Feiffer might have understated Eisner's influence when he called him "a cartoonist other cartoonists swiped from" and in 1965 considered The Spirit, a weekly comic series published as supplemental inserts for Sunday newspapers from 1939 to 1942, as the "high point" of Eisner's career.2 1965 was, after all, more than a decade before Eisner became known as a graphic novelist. With a career stretching from the 1930s to the new millennium, Eisner has been respected as a pioneer and godfather in the field of comics. He not only has broken new ground in developing the visual language and text narrative of comics but also has advocated for this medium to be a form of art and of literature that is capable of addressing serious subject matters and expressing a wealth of content. He also has explored the possibility and has paved the way for the use of comics for educational and vocational purposes.3 Furthermore, Eisner has theorized comics as a "sequential art" and has examined its principles, concepts, and creative process in book-length works.4 In addition, he has helped popularize the graphic novel as a unique generic category.5 Robert C. Harvey's remark is one way to summarize Eisner's legacy- he is "a colossus in the history of 20th-century American cartooning" who stands athwart the century "one foot firmly planted in the conceptual genesis of the comic-book medium, the other resolutely striding into the future of the art form."6 The numerous prestigious awards bestowed on him are only small tokens of recognition of Eisner's lifetime contribution to and achievement in the field of comics.7 The Eisner Awards, created in his honor, are among the most esteemed of tributes to cartoonists today. They are acknowledged as the Oscars" of American comic books, covering more than twenty categories, and have been presented each year since 1989 at the largest comics convention in the United States, the Comic-Con International.

During his long career of over seven decades, Eisner explored the potential of comics in various ways: from syndicated newspaper serials to magazines, from instructional manuals to book-length graphic novels, and from fiction to life writing. …

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