Tribeca 07: Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist

First Look Review: A sequential biographical film.

by Scott Collura

May 2, 2007 – Spider-Man has been a big presence at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, but he’s not the only comics legend who is getting the spotlight (bat-light?) aimed at him at the 2007 fest. The late, great Will Eisner — writer, artist and trendsetter of the comic book industry — is also in evidence in a documentary about the man’s life and his influence on the art form.

The film, directed by Andrew D. Cooke, utilizes a variety of older interview footage with the man himself (Eisner died in 2005), audiotapes recorded by Eisner of his chats with other comics professionals (many from his era), home movie footage, artwork from Eisner’s comic strips and elsewhere, and plenty of talking head interviews with well-known comic artists, writers, and historians. In fact, Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist has all the ingredients of a great documentary. So why does it fall flat?

Portrait takes a more or less linear approach to detailing Eisner’s life, beginning with the tale of how his father was an apprentice painter in Europe who eventually wound up in New York. The old man would impart his talent on to his son, of course, though Eisner’s mother wanted her boy to go into a trade where he could make money. As the film points out, Eisner would manage to balance those two impulses quite handily during the course of his career.