Will Eisner stands upon a pillar of the comic medium as one of its original masters, avid enthusiasts, and active advocates. Except for a brief spell, he spent much of his life deeply entrenched in comics in one way or another—a career that lasted for the better part of over sixty years, from the late 1930s until the early 2000s. He has been known as one of the originators of the “graphic novel”—a lengthy although self-contained comic art story that could span upwards of one hundred pages or more, and he also created one of the memorable characters in comic history, the Spirit.
With the goal of providing ancient and often forgotten comics of yesteryear, Pure Imagination Publishing released Will Eisner: Edge of Genius, an anthology of Eisner’s early material published between 1937 and 1940. With some fifteen pieces to peruse, readers will delight in visiting the master comic storyteller in his earlier years—as the subtitle suggests, when he was just on the brink of shaping and influencing the medium.
The book starts with a twenty-four page essay on Eisner and his life by Ken Quattro, filled with excerpts from interviews and other pieces that paint a fair representation of Eisner as a man and icon. The range of works included is impressive and certainly exhibits the type of work that Eisner would return to later in life. The first pieces are small singular comic-strip profiles of famous people from the world of sports, and though Eisner may not return to sports, he would return to nonfiction work later on. The collection also includes several miscellaneous pieces published in Funny Picture Stories, Western Picture Stories and Detective Picture Stories during this time.
Readers also get to enjoy several pieces from the series “Yarko the Great,” published by the comic title Wonderworld, and “Espionage,” published in the pages of Smash Comics. The former follows the exploits of a master magician as he solves crime and performs great amazing feats in a Houdini-esque fashion. “Espionage” and the last piece, “Uncle Sam,” are both interesting pieces for their exploration of pre-war politics and propaganda within the United States, as Eisner and many others pushed for the U.S. to enter the war, prior to Pearl Harbor.
Eisner’s recognizable style of drawing and scripting is definitely present in these early works. Fans of Eisner will have no trouble associating most of these works with the late creator. While the full effect of Eisner’s panel play is not evident in this collection, it is obvious he is heading in that direction as he bends and twists panels beyond traditional uses at the time of these comics. One issue that doesn’t seem to be answered is whether these comics are black and white reproductions and were originally in color, or were always black and white.
The book itself is imbued with simplicity, minus the excesses of graphic novels or anthologies such as a hardcover, cover jacket, and filler quotes about how everyone thinks this is a wonderful book. Rather, one can open it up and begin reading it immediately without distraction. For some reason, this resonates with the kind of work and aesthetic that Eisner himself exhibits in his work.