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January2007
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“The Leonardo of the Comic Book”

Will Eisner, universally acknowledged as one of the great masters of comic books, spoke in 2003 at the Library of Congress about this art form. He died on Jan. 3, 2005, at the age of 87.

Will Eisner, artist. "Reality 9-11." Cartoonist Will Eisner at his drawing board, undated

A compelling visual storyteller, Eisner is considered to be one of the most influential comic book artists of all time. He has been called "the Leonardo of the comic-book form" and the "single person most responsible for giving comics its brains." Since the 1930s, Eisner has written and illustrated numerous comic books and weekly strips, including the internationally acclaimed "The Spirit" (1940-52), instructional comics for the U.S. Army and 16 graphic novels. The Will Eisner Comic Industry Award is named in his honor as a testament to his contributions to the field.

Eisner coined the phrase "graphic novel" to describe a substantial comic book, often more than 200 pages in length, that consists of a single dramatic story or several interconnected narratives told through expressive illustration art. His first graphic novel, "A Contract with God" (1977), comprises four stories about Jewish tenement life in the Bronx, where he grew up. Later examples, such as "A Life Force" (1983), "The Dreamer" (1986) and "Last Day in Vietnam" (2000), also drew from his personal experiences and, as is the case with all his work, provided realistic insight into the human condition.

In the lecture, Eisner discussed his approach to writing and illustrating graphic novels and explored his views on the evolution of popular visual media. Images from early wordless books and a variety of recent graphic novels were shown, along with a selection of Eisner's own drawings.

The lecture was sponsored by the Swann Foundation for Caricature and Cartoon, which is administered by the Library of Congress and supports the preservation and development of the Swann Cartoon Collection and related collections; maintains a continuing program of exhibitions and related public programs; and provides funding for the only scholarly fellowship in the field.

There are many fascinating and informative lectures and other programs available through CyberLC, which features such diverse offerings as author Daniel Mark Epstein discussing his recent book, "Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington"; "The Art of Splendor: Islamic Luxury Goods"; and an interview with the late actor Christopher Reeve.


A. Will Eisner, artist. "Reality 9-11." Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: See http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/res/342_eisn.html

B. Cartoonist Will Eisner at his drawing board, undated. Courtesy willeisner.com. Reproduction information not available.