In the pantheon of comic book masters, Will Eisner’s name is at or near the top of pretty much everyone’s list. He was there at the birth of the genre in the late 1930s – he famously turned down a submission from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster of a comic book about a character named Superman. Will suggested they go back to art school in Cleveland and get a little better at his craft.
Eisner himself is best known as the creator of an enduring but little known character called “The Spirit.” This is a big year for The Spirit, with a major motion picture written and directed by Frank Miller currently in post-production and scheduled for release in January 2009.
Eisner is also known as the grandfather of the graphic novel for producing one of the genre’s earliest and most enduring works, 1978’s A Contract With God.
I spent three years with Eisner, interviewing him and researching his life for the biography, Will Eisner: A Spirited Life, which was published by M Press/Dark Horse in 2005.
There is a period of time in Eisner’s life, however, that is less known than all the others. From 1951 through 1972, he produced PS Magazine for the United States Army. It was a digest-sized comic book, essentially, that taught preventive maintenance to American soldiers from Korea through Vietnam.
A week ago, the Virginia Commonwealth University library announced it had scanned more than 140 issues of PS and made the magazine available to the general public, online, for the first time.
Because so much interest is being concentrated on Eisner’s work this year – and because it is a personal interest of my own, I’ve invited a trio of experts on PS Magazine to join me for a conversation about “The Unknown Eisner”:
• Cindy Jackson is Archival Assistant for Comic Arts & Digital Collections in the Special Collections & Archives Department of the James Branch Cabell (rhymes with rabble) Library at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.
• Paul Fitzgerald is a retired journalist who spent 10 years at PS Magazine where he worked alongside Will Eisner and formed a life-long friendship. Paul’s first book, Will Eisner and PS Magazine, will be published in May 2008.
• Stuart Henderson joined the PS staff in August of 1993, and he has been production manager of the magazine since March of 2002. He is also the Army magazine’s unofficial historian.
PS Magazine Website • Facebook • Wikipedia • Archive of all Will Eisner issues of PS Magazine at Virginia Commonwealth University • RadioNerds PS Magazine cover slideshow • Order Will Eisner and PS Magazine