For those that are not familiar with the work of Will Eisner, he is one of the most important persons connected with cartoons and graphic novels in America. Eisner was born in 1917, and a century after his birth in 2017 the world recognized his importance by holding an impressive array of exhibitions that were held all over the globe. The biggest two were in the Museum of Illustration in New York and the Musee de la Bande Dessinee in Paris.
The long and fruitful career of Will Eisner had an everlasting effect on comics around the world. It was not just his marvelous illustrations that led the way for others to follow, it was his radical forward thinking towards the comic book. Eisner championed the cause of sequential art and it was Eisner who helped coin the phrase graphic novel.
The Graphic Novel
The term graphic novel now encompasses just about everything to do with illustrations and works containing them. But when Eisner thought the phrase up he was simply doing so out of a way of purely making a distinction, as the promoters of graphic novels wanted to break away from the mainstream comics world.
Although Eisner is generally thought of as the person who championed the graphic novel, it was a critic named Richard Kyle who wrote a press article in 1964 detailing the future of comics. And during the 1970’s the expression actually showed up in published works.
The release by DC Comics of The Sinister House of Secret Love, actually had the term graphic novel printed on its cover. And in 1974 a science fiction magazine, The First Kingdom was produced that was classed as a graphic novel.
The graphic novel was well and truly born and the term started to appear on cover jackets, and title pages. It was also the year that the digest The Fiction Illustrated was released by Byron Preiss. On the back cover it had printed America’s first adult graphic-novel revue!
Then finally, two years later in 1978, A Contract with God hit the streets, it offered four stories about a 1930’s Bronx tenement and the people who lived there. On the front cover it informed readers that the book was indeed a graphic novel.
These books were all somewhat different from what Eisner considered to constitute a graphic novel. They were also quite different to one another as literary forms. They were a mixture of monochrome, sepia, and color, and the text was written in balloon format as well as classical frame sequences. None of these books looked like each other in any shape or form.
Their diversity emphasized the changing world of the American comic book and the quite radical alterations and ideas that were happening. It was only Eisner that truly had a real editorial destiny and his books were the only real offerings of the true symbolism that he described in what he thought constituted a graphic novel.