The American comic book has always been an ever-changing field of literature, and recently it has gone down a route far darker than before. Superheroes are no longer bastions of morality, some inflicting violence on their adversaries simply for the fun of it. It is all a far cry from what Will Eisner described as a graphic novel, but times change.
Graphic novels have also become more diverse, the current range of books are not memoirs or autobiographical tales which one would associate with graphic novels. Rather they are noir, fantasy, or science fiction and the novels take their influences from films, or comic books.
It was way back in 1964 that R Kyle started a movement to bring the popular comic book out of the domain of kids. He wanted to bring the comic to the adult world so that it could take its proper place in the literary spectrum.
In 1976, Fiction Illustrated described what it was trying to achieve with its literature, it stated that it aspired to be adult in its audience and approach. And that it would be open to new ideas without the characters having to bend down to a kid’s market or any one particular genre.
Early Graphic Novels
When we look at the early graphic novels, what is considered as adult by the creators is slightly different to what the publishers thought it to be. The only common link was that of rejecting mainstream comic books of the time.
The publishers first concern was to tell the audience that they are different than mainstream works, but not how they are different. And to throw some light on the matter, Byron Preiss released a statement that basically outlined that the comic books of the day were produced primarily for children and so they are identified with children.
Eisner had his own thoughts on the matter when in the preface to his book A Contract with God he wrote, as a cartoonist I had more to deal with than superheroes and super villians.
So in all these early graphic novels the common overriding factor is what the books are trying not to be, not what the actually are, and mostly not to be childish.
Why Eisner is Different
Only Eisner’s works had an editorial destiny and had a real symbolism. A Contract with God is very much a landmark in the evolution of graphic novels and has constantly been in reprint since it was first written. This cannot be said about the other books of the genre at the time, they are hardly referred to as references in the historiography of graphic novels.
To celebrate Will Eisner and his work, the literary world has decided to earmark the 6th of March every year as the beginning of Will Eisner Week. Celebrations and exhibitions are to be enjoyed all over the world to revel in the great man’s legacy, something that is very rare in the comic book world.