Will Eisner is
truly one of the pioneers of this industry.
Without his continued effort to utilize sequential art
in more than simple superhero comics, Frank Miller,
Art Spiegelman, and Joe Sacco may never have had a
medium to publish their books in.
changing, and creating, the face of comics and graphic
novels, Will also bears the distinction of being
personally involved with three major conflicts - as a
soldier in World War II, and a journalist in Korea and
Slush discussed with him the
from 1941 onward.
(Note: This interview was
originally published in May of 2000. Slush again
spoke to Will directly after the 9/11 attacks.
To read that interview, click here)
Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
I was sitting in my studio eating a roast beef
sandwich which my mother prepared for me [laughs]. I
was working on The Spirit. I was really shook
up listening to it. I was listening to the opera at
the time. It was a Carnegie Hall concert I was
listening to. I remember the thing was cut off and
they announced the attack on Pearl Harbor. And I was
really shook up because I realized that this was gonna
be it. I’d be drafted.
In 1942, you were drafted into the Army.
Early ’42. The Army gave me a six-month delay
because I was working on a newspaper feature.
What were you feeling when you received your
Well, I was ambivalent. Remember, unlike the
Vietnam War, everybody was very in favor of the war.
Particularly because of the Nazis and because of the
fact that the country seemed to be in danger. So I was
kind of eager to be part of it. I felt that I’d want
to be part of the war effort. On the other hand, this
was a year after I had started The Spirit,
which represented a whole new career for me. And I
knew that if I went into the Army this whole thing
would kind of fall apart on me. So I was torn between
the two feelings. One was the eagerness to go and sign
up. On the other hand, the loss of a possible career.
So that was my feeling.
Did people recognize your name when you went into the
Yes. I landed at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, which
was just outside of Baltimore, and the Baltimore
newspaper carried The Spirit. So I was
something of a celebrity I suppose.
Did your drill sergeants go easier on you?
No, they didn’t. As a matter of fact, my drill
sergeant was a sadistic S.O.B. [laughs]. I remember
standing there in line and he came over and looked at
me and stuck his nose in my face, as all drill
sergeants do. And he said to me, “Sheeit, man. You
don’t look like the character you draw” [laughs].
So he was really kind of nasty on me. Picked on me
because The Spirit was a heroic character and I looked
a little less than that [laughs].
But when the basic training was over, the camp
newspaper editor came by with is assistance and asked
me if I’d be willing to come on their staff and do
artwork, and do cartoons and so forth. And I said yes.
Did the army ever send you overseas?
No, I was never shipped out. The Aberdeen Proving Grounds was a training center
too and they had a school and were using visuals
and graphics and so forth. And at that time, the
Ordnance Corp, which later became the Ordnance
Department, decided to install a new program called
Preventive Maintenance. This was simply almost a
non-disciplinary element in the business of
maintaining their equipment. Preventive Maintenance,
in short, is nothing more than putting oil in your
vehicle and preventing rust. You know, this kind of
basic, simply maintenance of equipment, which they
copied from the British, who were using it very
Anyway, I remember talking to my commander officer,
who was a lieutenant colonel in charge of the
newspaper, saying the problem with this program was
that it required a voluntary contribution and that the
best instructional material that could be produced for
this thing was in the comic form. I was, at that time
convinced, that comics as a medium was a fine
instructional tool and was capable of far more than
the usual entertainment, gag-a-day stuff. Well
apparently, he picked up what I said and was making a
case at a meeting somewhere, unbeknownst to me.
Actually, what he did was he lifted my speech and used
it. And apparently they said, “Well, who the hell
could do this?” And he came back and said to me,
“Hey, would you like to get involved in this
program?” And I said sure. And so, I was shipped out
from Aberdeen to Holerbird (sp?) Ordnance Depot, which
was a truck/vehicle depot, which the Ordnance
Department had just taken over. And I began working
with a new little mimeograph magazine called Army
Motors. And I helped design that; bring it up to
the point where it was using comics, or what they now
call sequential art, as a training tool. Became very
successful and ultimately had one million, two million
That became so immediately successful that I was
transferred to Washington to work on the staff of the
Chief of Ordnance. And I remained there for the rest of
At that time, were you already aware of what the Nazis were
doing to the Jews?
Oh yeah, sure, we all know. We all knew that very
well. As a matter of fact, I tried very hard to
get me sent overseas. I kept applying for a transfer
to get into a combat area. I was as charged up as
everyone else. And particularly, as a Jew, I was
really enflamed over it. But the Chief of Ordinance,
General Campbell, refused to let me go because
apparently he wanted to keep around him a staff of,
what he used to refer to as, “bright young men.”
So I remained in the Pentagon building. I created
“Joe Dope,” and “Sergeant Half-Mast,” which
ultimately led, later on, to P.S. Magazine
after the war, which still exists today.
What the feeling like when
you heard that the Germans had surrendered.
Oh, I was, like all of us, I was very overjoyed
over the thing. Those who were Jews in the States at
that time were bothered by two elements. We’re torn
by the fact that they weren’t there involved in it.
And at the same time, we’re really dismayed by what
was happening. My father was bringing members of a
Jewish family over from Europe.
Is that so?
Well, he and the rest of his brothers and sisters
pooled a few dollars together. We were not rich. My
father was quite poor. But we pooled a few dollars
together to bring people over from Berlin who were
able to escape somehow. But there was obviously joy.
This is a real enemy that had to be defeated.
In 1950 you agreed to work for the Defense
At that time I had been back a couple of years and
was working on The Spirit. I had started a company
called American Visuals Corporation, which was using
comics as a teaching tool for industrial purposes. We
had companies like General Motors and U.S. Steel, and
organizations who had a lot of employees and were
looking for pamphlets to distribute to their employees
and instruct them. And the Army, with the advent of
the Korean War, they came back and asked me if I would
reconstitute Army Motors, and we developed P.S.
Magazine. The people who were still in the Army
working on Army Motors came to me and asked me if I would agree
to continue it. I was very interested in doing
that because it would be a further demonstration of
the use of comics as a teaching tool or as an
By then, The
Spirit was becoming burdensome to me. I was
looking for ways out of it. I became far more
interested in the use of comics as an instructional
medium than I was as an entertainment medium. I felt
that was a new channel for the use of comics. All my
life, professionally, I’ve been really obsessed with
the idea of trying something new. I’m in love with
innovation and experimentation. It’s risky, but
it’s really very exhilarating.
Well, you’ve certainly done that with your
Yes, well everything I have done has been really a
form of risk taking. But that’s the fun of the
When Korea broke out they sent you there. Was that
trip something you wanted to do?
Well, part of the contract for the production of P.S.
Magazine was the fact that I would go into the
field, put that in italics, at least a couple of times
during the year. This was in order to develop a familiarity
with what was going on. Realism was very important in
this medium because you were dealing with guys who
were working on the line, so to speak. When I did a
story or did a cartoon it had to have relevance to
what they were doing. So I would go out into the field
at least twice a year, sometimes three times a year.
And my trips included going to the combat zone in
Korea and later on in Vietnam. I went to Germany,
spent some time with the troops there. Usually these
were five to six week trips.
Was it odd being in a combat zone as a
Yeah, it was, and as a matter of fact it became
embarrassing at times. I remember standing on a
hilltop, in I think it was Korea, and this young GI
was standing next to me. He looked up at me said, “These are combat boots you’re wearing.”
And I said, “Yeah, they’re my old boots that I
wore during World War II.” And he said, “Gee, my
father has the same set” [laughs]. It suddenly
occurred to me that I was getting older and that I was
no longer part of it.
So it was interesting, but you know, war stinks.
War is horrible and all those conditions…there’s
no glamour to it. And you’re out there with a bunch
of guys who are slugging around in harm’s way, if
you will. As a civilian, I was well received because I
was, in effect, a reporter. I traveled on a high
grade. I remember in Vietnam I was traveling on the
equivalency of a brigadier general so that I got
fairly good accommodations and transportation
Many people call Korea the “Forgotten War.”
Many people haven’t even heard of it. Why do
you think this is? Is that because it's sandwiched
between World War II and Vietnam?
I think so, and the public reaction to the Korean
War was a little different. The Korean War was labeled
as a kind of “police action.” We didn’t think of
it as an action to either defend our way of life or
defend our nation. World War II was a very frightening
situation because Hitler was dominating Europe and it
was very clear that sooner or later once he succeeded
in beating England he would be over here. So we were
defending the nation, so to speak.
The Korean War was a police action. We thought of
it as sending troops over there to take care of it. Very much like the Gulf
War. The Gulf War won’t be remembered except as a
kind of police action that we took. The Vietnam war
was something else again. That opened up a whole
social struggle in the United States. A lot of people
didn’t want to go. A lot of people protested. It
exasperated the racial conflict that was brewing in
this country because a lot of the blacks felt that
they were being singled out to go fight. It was a
whole, totally different situation that will remain
with us for a long time. It’s still a wound that