Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Will Eisner: A Dreamer’s Life in Comics

In Michael Schumacher’s lively 2010 biography of Spirit creator Will Eisner, Will Eisner: A Dreamer’s Life in Comics, he tells of Eisner’s first visit to a comic book convention, in New York in 1971.

Eisner wanted to see what underground comix were all about and to meet some of those cartoonists. Imagine his shock when the 54-year-old child of the Great Depression happened to pick up a copy of Zap that featured an S. Clay Wilson story involving a character whose penis is cut off and eaten.

Kitchen Sink Press publisher Denis Kitchen tried to assure the visibly upset Eisner this wasn’t a typical underground story. But also present was a young cartoonist named Art Spiegelman, who decided to speak up in defense of Wilson’s work.

Eisner left and did not return, Schumacher writes.

Come forward 39 years, to this past month’s Festival of Cartoon Art at Ohio State University — a conference that over the years has brought many established and up-and-coming cartoonists (including Eisner himself in its early years).

Bizarro cartoonist Dan Piraro entertained the audience during his afternoon presentation with what easily could pass for a stand-up comedy routine. At one point, he told about his flight to Columbus from New York City, during which a male passenger some rows ahead got up while the seatbelt sign was still lit.

A flight attendant turned on the public-address system and ordered the passenger to sit down, which he reluctantly did, muttering something to the effect of, “All right, all right already.” The attendant then stormed over to the passenger’s seat and continued to berate him, according to Piraro.

After the attendant left, the indignant passenger, a la Rodney Dangerfield, looked around to the rest of passengers as if to say, “Did you see how she treated me?”

And that’s when Piraro realized, “Holy ****, that’s Art Spiegelman!”

Some things don’t change, apparently.

Spiegelman, who was in one of the front rows at the conference when Piraro told this anecdote, denied none of it.

See my earlier posts on the conference here, here, here and here. And on one of Eisner’s graphic novels, A Contract With God, here.

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