Driving in to Comic-Con this morning, I saw Alice in Wonderland, fully costumed, headed toward the convention center. Down the rabbit hole… Right after that, the parking garage closed with the car in front of me being the last to get in. But while the day began with odd omens, it ended with a solid reminder of why comic books are important and just what wonders of storytelling they can accomplish. A documentary, Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist, by director Andrew Cooke and writer/producer Jon Cooke, highlighted both the history of the comic book and the unique contributions made by Eisner through nearly 7 decades of work. Eisner, who died in 2005 at the age of 87, attended Comic-Con and the industry awards for excellence in the comic arts are named after him.
Eisner is recognized as one of the most important people developing both the comic book and the graphic novel formats and his series featuring the character, “The Spirit,” is considered a classic of both design and storytelling (and is soon to be made into a movie). One of the most interesting revelations of the documentary was that Eisner developed for the military a series of instructional books using comics as a model. He mentions the educational potential of this medium and the value of combining images and text in an entertaining yet informative format.
Unfortunately, we still have to fight the battle of justifying either the reading, writing, or study of comics all these years after Eisner effectively educated the military and also created stunning comic books and graphic novels that influenced several generations of later artists. You have to ask just what are the criteria that define importance: number of readers? (comics have millions); amount of money involved? (comics and related activities are a huge industry); serious subject matter? Not only have comics addressed every important topic of interest to most humans, even their forays into superheroes, or crime and detective stories have the weight of mythology behind them. Comics (like the movies) tell the stories of other, imagined worlds and it is precisely these kinds of stories that we use to make sense of the worlds we actually have to occupy on a daily basis.