This article originally appeared in Strangehaven issue #17, April 2005.
There’s really not much I can add to the literally hundreds of tributes to Will Eisner, who sadly passed away on 3rd January 2005 aged 87.
Will’s most famous creation, The Spirit, much loved in the US, was never as far as I’m aware, syndicated in any form in the UK, so I became an Eisner fan relatively late. The first I saw of his work was Kitchen Sink’s Will Eisner Quarterly in the local comic shop.
“Who’s Will Eisner? Is he any good?” I asked my comics pal Dave Whitwell.
“Eisner? He’s my hero.” Dave said.
And since then I have followed Will’s work avidly, through the Kitchen Sink post-war Spirit reprints, his essential “How-to” volume Comics and Sequential Art and his ground-breaking series of graphic novels – The Building, The Dreamer and A Contract With God being my own personal favourites.
I only had limited contact with the great man, but I am proud to say that I did have the privilege of meeting him. In 1995, when I published the first issue of Strangehaven, I sent a copy out to as many industry contacts that I could afford (which meant not too many expensive airmail packages to the US) including one to a certain Mr. Eisner in California.
To my absolute amazement, shortly thereafter I received a handwritten letter on a funky-looking headed notepaper from the same Mr. Eisner. I have the letter in a boarded envelope in my studio. It stopped short of gushing praise – after all, my photographic approach was far from Eisner’s beautiful exaggerated, cartoony yet realistic art – but he was kind enough to say “I can see what you are trying to achieve, and I wish you luck.”
Fast-forward to a couple of years later, the 1997 San Diego Comic-Con International. I had been nominated for two Eisner Awards – the foremost comics industry awards in the world, the awards to which Will had given his name and that which he presented every year at the convention. Will stopped by the booth that I was sharing with an emergent Top Shelf, Eddie Campbell and Rob Walton. Will was obviously in a hurry to be somewhere else, late for a panel discussion I believe; but I swallowed my natural shyness, put my hero worship to one side and stepped forward.
“Hello Mr. Eisner, my name is Gary Millidge, I sent you a copy of my comic Strangehaven …”
“Oh Gary, hi, can I speak to you later, I’ve got to be …”
“No, that’s okay, I just wanted to say thank you for the letter and to shake your hand …”
“OK, we’ll catch up later, but I’ve got to go …”
And with that, he went.
I contacted him again a couple of years ago, when I invited him to contribute to the Alan Moore Portrait book. He agreed immediately and was one of the first to send in his contribution. Not only was he a professional, a genius, a visionary, a pioneer, but he was also a gentleman. He leaves behind just about the most impressive graphic novel back list by a single creator in existence.
I never did get to meet up with the wonderful Mr. Eisner again, but at least I did get to shake the hand of a legend.