Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Will Eisner And I?

As a long-time comics fan - and, if you remember, I even wrote one - this is extra-special: the great Renaissance E Books (who I'm an Associate Publisher for) has just stepped into graphic novels ... beginning by releasing classics like The Phantom Lady.

Well, one of the titles they also just released is a little-known treasure by the comic legend Will Eisner called The Flame - and guess who was asked to write the introduction?


If you were to create a Mount Rushmore for comic creators they'd certainly be a lot of controversy on who to immortalize.  Alan Moore?  Winsor McCay?  Art Spiegelman?  Osamu Tezuka?  Robert Crumb?  But the one that everyone – and I mean everyone -- would agree should have his face etched in stone is Will Eisner.
To say that Will Eisner, famed for his groundbreaking noir creation The Spirit, made comics what they are today is like saying the sun is just that warm thing in the sky.  Born in Brooklyn in 1917, Eisner made his first tentative steps onto the comic book stage at 16 by sending his artwork, with prodding from Batman creator Bob Kane, to Wow, What A Magazine!
Back in the late-1930s comic books were still deciding what they were and where they were going – it was a real wild west for writers and artists, with publishers, editors, writers, artists, and characters coming and going almost daily.
It was during these crazy times that The Flame was created by Eisner and Lou Fine – another illustrious member of those Golden Years.  Their brainchild, first appeared in Wonderworld Comic #3, July 1939. The Flame was so popular the character soon graduated to his own comic – but, alas, it was snuffed out after only eight issues, going dark on January 1942, a victim not of a vividly costumed menace or even the Nazis, but of the publisher's bankruptcy.
While The Flame's run in the superhero game was a short one the comic still – excuse me – burns quite bright for its originality.  In fact, you could easily trace a lot of The Flame forward to many now legendary comic characters.
Just look at his origin story: poor little Gary Preston was the only survivor of a flood that killed his father, Charteris Preston – a missionary in China.  Little Preston was saved by a benevolent order of Tibetan monks who taught him the mysterious power of heat and fire.  Gary knew that power must be used for good and The Flame was born.


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