December 14, 2017

 




Interview:
Will Eisner

By Brian Jacks



 

Did you ever believe that Vietnam would become as big a conflict as it eventually did?

No. In the beginning, like most Americans, I felt that we would go in there and weíd win very handily because we were, after all, the most powerful army in the world. We had all this tremendous equipment. I remember, in Vietnam, how amazed I was with how much sophisticated equipment we had and how small the enemy looked [laughs]. The little people running in and out of the forests. But we had underestimated the will of the people there. So in the beginning I felt that we would win it and then after awhile, after I visited Vietnam, I was certain we were going to lose.

When did you go over to Vietnam?

I canít remember the exact date. I think it was í67, í68, somewhere in there. I think it was just before the Tet Offensive.

What were your first impressions when you arrived in Vietnam?

I was kind of shocked by what I saw because I felt that I had landed in another planet. I had never been in a tropical environment like that before. And then the people I saw were little people; they were tiny. I remember walking down the street in Saigon and I felt like we were ten feet tall and these were all very little people. I remember saying to the guy I was with, ďI wonder how we would have felt if the Germans had prevailed in World War II and were walking down the street in New York in their uniforms, big and tall and arrogant. The way we are.Ē

I remember a conversation I had with a correspondent sitting and having a beer. Saying, ďYa know, isnít this like the British coming into America during the Revolutionary War? And fighting an action against people who were living there.Ē And he agreed with me. He said itís very much like that. So that was my reaction. I was kind of shocked. I felt a little embarrassed, I guess.

They say Vietnam is either really damn cold or really damn hot.

Well, it was hot. It was very tropical. The weather was wet and sticky. When I stayed one night in a hotel room I felt there were bugs all over the place, you know. It was a sticky, hot place.

How long were you in Vietnam for?

About six weeks.

Did you only go there for one visit?

Just once, yes.

Did the troops you met feel that they were fighting a losing war, or that they didnít know what they were fighting for?

Most of them didnít really know what they were fighting for, but they were fighting. You know, if I took you and put you into a gang fight in the middle of the street, you would soon not remember anything about the basic principals you were fighting for but you would be looking to survive. And thatís what most of these guys were doing. They were struggling to survive.

A lot of the guys felt that they were being hamstrung. They didnít feel that there was a clean, clear enemy. The enemy was all around them. It wasnít like World War II where the enemy was clearly defined. They had a uniform, you know what they looked like, you knew where they were, and so forth. Here the enemy was all over. Youíd walk down the street in Saigon and somebody would zip by on a motorcycle and youíd wonder whether they were gonna throw a bomb. As a matter of fact, I think I picked up a story from this in Last Day In Vietnam. One of the hotels in Saigon was entirely encased in a screen. Very much like a fire screen, in front of a fireplace. The whole hotel had it. The reason for that was that theyíd find that people would go by the hotel and fling hand grenades in through the windows.

I remember attending briefings where theyíd give us body counts. I remember this colonel giving us a briefing and saying that this would soon be over because they are now putting teenage kids in combat. The military was certain about winning. They had no idea of losing.

What did you think of the anti-war protestors in the United States burning their draft cards, sending donations to the North Vietnamese, and so on?

Well, I understood where they were coming from. I was sympathetic with the idea that we should get out. But it was hard to sympathize with the street action because of the kind of person I am. By then I was a fairly well-established person. Street demonstrations were understandable but I didnít find myself terribly sympathetic with it.

Was there any situations in Vietnam where you felt you were really in danger?

Well, yeah. One scary thing was the first story I did in Last Day In Vietnam where I went down to the Delta in the helicopter, in the gunship. And the story centers around the fact that where I was was coming under fire and we had to get out. So yeah, that was a hairy moment for me.

Are there any common threads that you found between soldiers in all three wars that you were involved with?

Thereís one common thread of all soldiers and that is survival. To stay alive. They all feel the same way. For the G.I.ís, thereís a common anger at the officer groups. What they refer to as ďthem.Ē The powers-at-be, the War Department, the people who were directing. Remember, as a soldier, you feel that youíre being directed by someone above. And thatís not very comfortable. Not for Americans, anyway.

A lot of guys did enjoy it. A lot of guys remained in the Army because they liked the life of a highly-defined, a highly-ordered life.

Do you know whether any of the soldiers you wrote about in Last Day In Vietnam read the book.

I got a letter from one guy who started a letter that said, ďDear Mr. Eisner. I am George.Ē It was the last of the stories, ďA Purple Heart For George.Ē And he went on to say that he had shipped out and so forth and so on. But I donít know how many have read it. I sent copies to the old people at P.S. Magazine, but theyíre all civilians now. So I donít know. Iíve gotten some letters from guys who were G.I.ís who said it was right on, which is one of the most flattering things I could get. I appreciated that.

A fellow New Yorker and member of the comic industry, Jimmy Palmiotti, wanted me to ask you how life in New York has influenced your ideas.

Oh, tremendously. New York is a big theater. New York is a whole life in itself. A whole world in itself. Itís the center of the universe. I still draw, I still mine, if you will, New York stories and ideas, because itís all there. I try to get up to New York at least twice a year. And to get a carbon monoxide fix [laughs].

But yeah, New York has been very influential on my story thinking. You walk down 42nd Street and you see there are stories all over the place. And everybodyís moving. The rhythm of movement in New York City is enormous. I donít know of any other city that has that.

Whatís next for you? Any new projects coming out?

Iím working on a book now. I want to continue doing graphic novels. Push the envelope a little bit more.

What is the book about?

Itís a book on family dynamics. The business of marriage and the dynamics of marriage. Itís kind of a social commentary. Itís a big book; itíll be about 165-170 pages. Iím up to page 130 now. I got enough 30 or 40 pages to go and Iím really in a struggle with time.

Is Dark Horse putting it out?

No, itíll probably be published by DC. Under their ďWill Eisner Library.Ē Theyíre keeping all the Will Eisner books in print, so itíll be part of that line. But Iíve been very happy with DC. Theyíve been doing a wonderful job and theyíve been very cooperative. In fact, they bend over backwards. The entire staff of people over there have been very eager to seek my advice on production and so forth.

I say this, I sound a little surprised and probably I am, because I avoided large companies all my career. Stayed with small publishing companies like Kitchen Sink and so forth. Largely because it gave me more control over the ultimate product. But DC has really done everything that I could have wished for.

And finally, what should people keep in mind this Memorial Day?

I guess the only thing they should keep in mind is the fact that we are dependant on the military, just as weíre dependant on the people in the fire house down the street. These are guys who are there when and if we need it. And I think the military is a very important part of our society.


Slush thanks Will Eisner both for his participation in this interview and for his service to our country.  Be sure to check out last year's interviews with Doug Murray, Dan DeCarlo, Will Eisner, and Joe Kubert.




Marvel.com
Interview with Will Eisner

Interview with Joe Kubert

Interview with Dan DeCarlo

Interview with Doug Murray


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