Will Eisner was one of the great comic book artists. He was one of the original founders of the medium, without whom it would not exist as we know it today. He developed the production process, forming one of the first comic book workshops. He encouraged the careers of others like Jules Fieffer and Jack Kirby. Above all, he cultivated the medium, taking it beyond what other people thought were its limits: in his work with the US Army (the Joe Dope series) he deployed the medium as a training tool; in the 1980s, he worked with graphic novels such as A Contract with God.
But it was his work on The Spirit that fired my imagination, decades after it was originally written in the 1940s. The Spirit set the standards for high quality artwork and slick scripts but it was a lot more than that. The Spirit pushed the envelope. In one story, the panels on the page formed files in a filing cabinet. In another, the Spirit's own footsteps echoed the name of the man he was hunting. In a third, the title of the strip washed down the gutter. The Spirit lived in a gritty city of dark alleys and darker souls but alive with the sounds of sirens and footsteps crunching in the snow.
The Spirit was once Denny Colt, before he was wacked and left for dead by criminals. He was no superhero. He had no powers or costume, just a blue suit and fedora hat and a small face mask which he never removed. He wasn't always smart. He certainly wasn't invulnerable. He could be hurt, badly hurt.
And then there were the wimmin. "Most men practice equality", Ellen Dolan, his girlfriend once told him, "like a little boy practicing on the piano, one hour a day and then forget all about it". The Spirit never understood female sexuality. Apart from the wholesome but feisty Ellen, they were sexy, violent and unpredictable. There was Silk Satin, a thief, spy and single mother; Sand Saref, his childhood sweetheart, since turned to crime; and a host of others with names like Skinny Bones, Dulcet Tone, Nylon Rose and Powder Pouf. And then there was P'Gell.
Rest in Peace, Will.