Thursday, March 11, 2010

Graphically Speaking: Eisner/Miller

Words: Christopher Irving

    The battle every interviewer faces is in figuring out just how much of themselves to put in a piece: Do they voice their opinions openly to the reader and subject, or do they fade into the background with the final piece, eliminating or paving around their questions?

    Eisner/Miller, an interview book by Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Charles Brownstein that documents the two comics virtuosos for 347 pages had to be a hell of an undertaking. With two legendary subjects, Brownstein was faced with whether he should be a presence in the final product or not. The book is a fascinating, if not sometimes rambling, glimpse into the thoughts and minds of both men, with Brownstein serving as a non-entity.

    Firstly, I applaud Brownstein for fighting the temptation most interviewers of comics personalities (99.9% of them always fans to some degree) have to plaster themselves over a spotlight on an established artist. My biggest pet peeve is when publishers and fan interviewers insist on printing pictures of them with the subjects: all it does to me is scream out the extrovert-ish desire for acceptance that is the sole motivation for most. I do, however, feel that when Brownstein is present in the book, primarily to describe the setting for each segment, it was written almost like stage directions. For instance, in detailing Eisner’s studio:

The studio is modest. A short hallway leads to Eisner’s work area. On the left side is his business desk, which is surrounded by bookshelves and awards. To the right is his drawing area, where a drawing board, stacks of current pages, and a light table reside.

What awards did Will win? Were they all comic book related, or some non-comic? What about his books (looking on other people’s bookshelves tells as much about a person as raiding their medicine cabinet)? I, for one, would love to know, and think it would give us even more about Eisner’s sensibilities.

    But in terms of the interview itself? I don’t feel that it got quite as heated as one might expect, but takes the tone of a friendly debate between two old friends. Let’s face it: Frank Miller is Eisner’s successor on so many levels. While Frank’s content is radically different from his mentor’s, they both still share the mutual goal of breaking comics out of the preconceived notion as kids’ stuff. Eisner’s comics were theater in sequential form, while Miller’s are cinema projected across the comics page, and they’ve both changed how people perceive the medium.

    Reading them both explain their philosophies and creative decisions to one another gave me a new appreciation for their work, beyond the one I’ve already had, to the point where I can more fully appreciate Miller’s loose art style on The Dark Knight Strikes Again, or his implied backgrounds or leaping cars in Sin City.

    Eisner/Miller is going on my comics history bookshelf, sandwiched between the likes of The Great Comic Book Heroes, Men of Tomorrow, and Kirby. Now, if only they’d follow this up with Miller/Pope.

Thanks to Jim Gibbons of Dark Horse Comics for the review copy of Eisner/Miller.