by Jette Kernion
Oct 21st 2007 11:05AM
I’m not a comic-book reader, so I didn’t know much about the subject of Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist before seeing the documentary at Austin Film Festival. I knew he was the creator of The Spirit, a comic-book series that Frank Miller is adapting into a feature film … and that’s about all I knew. Fortunately, the documentary filled in many of the blanks for me about Eisner and provided some interesting details about the artist’s life.
Eisner is credited for being one of the pioneers in the comic-book form — as the film’s title indicates, he believed in making the comics sequential, giving them an ongoing storyline, which was not standard back in the 1930s when he started work as an artist. His character The Spirit was not a traditional superhero with crazy superpowers, but an ordinary guy in the smallest of masks, who happened to fight crime. During WWII and afterwards, Eisner created military instructional manuals that were drawn in a comic-book style to make them interesting and easy to understand. Later in life, he created more dramatic, personal comic books (A Contract with God) that he dubbed “graphic novels,” and paved the way for this type of work to be taken seriously.
One difficulty I had with Portrait of a Sequential Artist was that I didn’t always understand the importance and relevance of various interviewers. For example, I had no idea why Michael Chabon was onscreen, having never read The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I also wasn’t sure why Kurt Vonnegut was interviewed, although he did have good insights and was obviously knowledgeable on the subject. The movie seemed to assume that audience members knew more about the comic-book world than I do; however, that may be a fair assumption, since biopics about comic-book artists may not appeal to a wide demographic. Interestingly, one of the other interview subjects was Frank Miller, who did not mention anything about his desire to make a movie out of The Spirit, but who is obviously a huge fan of Eisner’s work.