Last week as part of a celebration of Will Eisner week, Sequart published a number of articles about Will Eisner and I contributed a piece on his first non-fictional work Comics and Sequential Art. In the process about that, I wrote the following.
That begs the question, “Just who is Eisner’s intended audience with this book?” Obviously he is aiming it at people who want to create comics. A common criticism of comic creators used to be that the only way that they learned how to create comics was by reading and recreating the comics of their youth. That just leads to an insular medium whose scope and imagination ends up shrinking more and more with every new generation of creators. Eisner is trying to look beyond the surface of comics, where so many people tend to stop, and dig deeper into the unnoticed grammar of comics. He is also trying to encourage his readers to do the same, digging into the mechanics of comic story creation so that they may understand how this strange art form works and weave the lessons into their own work. This book is also for the readers of comics, though Eisner is never speaking directly to them. It is more like they’re sitting in the corner of a party, listening to a master storyteller pass down knowledge to his students. For those of us who only read the comics, Comics and Sequential Art functions as a guide to understand how the way a comic is put together affects the way that we read them.
I first read this book a couple of years ago. At the time, it wasn’t so much an overview of comics as it was an overview of Will Eisner’s comics. Using all of his own works as his examples in the edition of the book that I have, you can see how Eisner constructed his story. Now you could make the argument that Eisner is one of the masters of the medium so if you’re learning about comics the Eisner way, you’re learning about the best. On rereading the book for this article, I was struck by just how dry and academic it is, two things that you can’t say about the best of Eisner’s work.
I think in this day and age when the basic assumption is that the writing rules comics and the art is subservient to the words, everyone needs to revisit books like Eisner’s and Scott McCloud’s to understand just how these comics that we love work. It’s not necessarily about one over the other. That’s why reviews that don’t even hint that there’s an artist contributing the the comic until the third or fourth paragraph drive me crazy (even though I find myself still guilty of this now and again.) It’s not a case of pictures vs. words when it comes to comics; it’s about how the whole thing works together to create something magical.