Having experienced firsthand the ferocity and
horrors of World War II, Korea and Vietnam on both the
national and personal level, like all of us, Will
Eisner saw something he never thought possible on
September 11th Ė a devastating terrorist attack on
New York City and the Pentagon. While both attacks
were horrific, the attack and subsequent destruction
of the World Trade Center in New York City hit closest
to home for Eisner, who grew up in the city and
lovingly showed it as a character in many of his
Brian Jacks spoke to the native New Yorker about
the tragic and emotional events that have gripped his
city since that fateful day on September 11, 2001.
(This interview originally appeared on Comics
Newsarama, with Matt Brady assisting on editing).
Where were you when you first heard of the
attacks and what was your initial reaction?
Well, actually I saw the first film of it when I
was on the tennis court last week. My first reaction
was disbelief. I felt that it just couldnít be. And
then the next reaction, which was much more lasting,
was the feeling of vulnerability. This has never
happened to the United States. No one has attacked the
continental United States since the War of 1812,
actually. The attack on Pearl Harbor was really a
military thing and I donít think it really had the
emotional effect that this has.
Elaborating on your Pearl Harbor comment, having
lived through that event, do you notice similarities
or differences, such as how the public is reacting?
Well, there is a similarity in the emotional coming
together. I hate to use the word ďpatriotism,Ē but
the sense of feeling of community is pretty much the
same. Actually, much more intense here. People were
not walking around the streets with flags and giving
blood and calling each other. Iíve been having calls
from overseas. Iíve called people. Everybodyís
been calling each other asking, ďAre you all
right?Ē Even though they knew that I wasnít really
near the epicenter. This is much more emotional this
Also, then we had a clear enemy. We donít have a
visible enemy now. We donít have an identifiable,
clear set of villains or troops who are going to
attack this country. At the beginning of World War II
you had the presence of the Japanese nation, you had
the presence of the Nazis in Europe, and they formed
the threat. But it was a totally different kind of
thing. It engaged our patriotism at the time, but it
did not have the highly emotional response that this
Itís sort of interesting that you mentioned
villains. From a comic book superhero standpoint, we
have the good but so far weíre somewhat missing the
other side of equationÖ
Well, what you have is an amorphous enemy here.
Osama bin Laden is not enough for us. Remember, you
also have a disaster that occurred without any
specific plan. These men werenít intent on occupying
the country. From our point of view, there seemed to
be no logical plan in what they did. Fifteen or twenty
men who simply committed suicide for some reason of
their own that we really donít understand. What we
need now, what we havenít yet gotten, and that I
think is adding to the tremendous confusion, weíre
running around in a state of shock, largely because we
canít hang our anger, our rage, our sense of defense
on any describable enemy.
We need now very badly, and I hope the country will
ultimately do it, is give us a clear picture of who
the enemy is, what the enemy looks like, and how we
are going to rid the enemy. We knew what Hitler looked
like. We knew what the Japanese looked like. We knew
what they wanted and we knew what had to be done to
get rid of them. But we donít know that now. Not
New York is a very special place for you. How
has the attack affected you as a New Yorker?
Well, obviously itís my hometown, and the idea of
that happening there is unthinkable. Also, I carry
within me, as most New Yorkers do, subconsciously or
subliminally I should say, the feeling that New York
City is a place that is a confined environment.
Thatís the best way I could put it. You spend most
of your life in New York City walking through concrete
canyons. There isnít room for physical escape from
any real danger. The dangers in New York City are all
very close to you. I donít know whether that fully
explains what Iím trying to say.
Even though here I am in Florida, far, far away, I
felt very much as though I were there. As a matter of
fact, my wife was in tears. She was born in the heart
of New York, and we lived most of our early lives in
New York. As a matter of fact, my studio after I
separated from the Army in 1945 was on Wall Street,
and then I had an office on 90 West Street, which is
right next door to where it happened. So I have
memories of it, anyway - I can see it in my mind,
although Iíve never been in the Trade Center towers.
How long do you think it will take for the city
to bounce back? Or has it already bounced back?
Oh, it will bounce back; but things just wonít be
the same. This is adding to the lack of confidence,
the lack of sense of invulnerability that America has
had over the years. Remember, this is a country that
for the last 250 years has felt very safe, very
protected, by two huge oceans on either side of us.
These are big moats that nobody would ever be able to
cross. And for years this country had a political
philosophy that said we should not get involved in
foreign countries and so forth and so on. Now, all of
a sudden, the involvement in the world that weíve
been talking about is here and now.
I think, yes, we will recover, but things will
never be the same. Itís no different than if one
single person had had a narrow escape in an automobile
accident of some kind. That person will never be the
same after something like that happens to them. There
will always be the memory of the fact that we are
As Jews, you and I are acutely aware of what
terrorism is capable of. Did you ever think something
like this could happen in America?
No, like most Americans I didnít think this could
ever happen. I couldnít imagine anybody succeeding
in doing this. When the Oklahoma bombing occurred, I
recall somebody saying to me it was the Arabs that did
it. I said, ďNah, nah, they couldnít possibly pull
this thing off here.Ē As far as being a Jew, this
thing hasnít hit me any harder than it would be if I
were a non-Jew. In fact, it didnít even enter into
the equation of my emotions. As a Jew, Iím aware of
the fact that enemies are not always easily described,
or wear uniforms. But no, my reaction to this had very
little to do with my being Jewish.
There is talk of going into Afghanistan. Having
experienced the Vietnam War firsthand, you understand
how difficult it is to defeat an entrenched opponent.
As a veteran of three military conflicts, how do you
think American should respond?
Well, Iím no military tactician, but I think it
has to be a combination of several things. I think,
first of all, we have to understand how the enemy
thinks. If weíre dealing with a group of people
against whom wiping out a cell is not going to change
anything, we have to think differently. I think what
we need to do is have a clear picture of where all
these cells are. And then I think you have to combine
the physical campaign together with a strong
propaganda campaign aimed at these people to
somehow convince them, or talk them out of, the belief
that they have been selected by some deity to destroy
what it is we believe in. Maybe a massive ďMarshall
This is a jihad. Itís a religious war. And
religious wars generally arenít really won by sheer
force. Religious wars are generally won by
philosophical superiority. The thing is that weíre
not going to be given a clear simple solution. Weíre
not going to go in and level Afghanistan and fly home,
dust our hands and say, ďWell, we did it. This
ainít going to happen again.Ē The Gulf War showed
us that. We were able to contain Saddam Hussein
physically from marching into Kuwait, but he is still
there and his group is still there. Itís a very much
more complex situation weíre in now than this nation
has ever been in before.
Personally, did you know anyone that was in the
World Trade Center?
No, I havenít heard of anybody yet. Except, a
nephew of mine had to be out of town. He would have
been in the Trade Center had he not been called out of
Itís strange how things turn outÖ
Yeah. I know people who had seen it happen out of
their window. As they described it to me it didnít
sound anything more than a television show. Like
watching a movie. The difference is that this was
real, and this is something weíre going to live with
for a long, long time.
Do you think the attack will or should have an
affect on entertainment in the future, such as comics
and movies which often featured mass destruction?
It has to have an effect on how movies are
made. It certainly has to have an effect even on comic
books. If I had to sit down and write a comic book
about an event like that I would have difficulty doing
Speaking of movies, Sony has said that theyíre
re-editing the upcoming Spider-Man movie and trailer
to take out all references to the World Trade
Well, that reinforces the point I just made that it
will have a cultural effect on this country.
One of the effects, of course, is the
unprecedented relief efforts rippling throughout the
comics community. For example, Marvel is putting
together a poster book for charity. Did they ask you
to take part in it?
Yes, they did ask me. I got a call this morning but
I had to turn it down because Iíve already committed
myself to another project like that. [Editorís
Note Ė This project has been announced as
Alternative Comicsí 9-11: Emergency Relief.
for more information]
How did you get involved with that project?
The guy e-mailed me the other day and caught me at
an emotional point and I e-mailed back and said yes
[laughs]. Since Iím already committed I just canít
participate in [the Marvel project]. I think that
thereís got to be a limit to those things. In a way
itís flag waving. I wouldnít advise them not to do
it, but I think itís a small thing right now. I
think the big thing we have to do is settle back and
try to create a sense of normalcy. That is normalcy
within the frame of going on and continue doing your
There was a debate the other day on the e-mail
thing I logged into. Thereís an Eisner list where
people talk to each other back and forth. Two guys
were debating over the fact whether they should be
talking about comics at a time like this. And I
intervened and I said by all means you should talk
about comics at a time like this.
Beating your chest and screaming implications at
people is not the solution. Itís a way of getting
rid of the anxiety that you feel. Nobody can really,
with any sense here, sit back as youíre asking me to
do and issue a series of comments on what we should
do, what we ought to do, where do we go. Those are
things that are very hard to do at this time.
this on the Slush Forums