The initial production of comicbook material for Victor Fox is inextricably tied to the Eisner-Iger Shop. The driving creative and production force of that shop was Will Eisner. Perhaps no other single individual in the industry has had the vision of comicbooks as a business and a medium for the telling of a tale as Eisner.

Eisner was born in 1917. His parents had emigrated from Austria. It is, perhaps, from his father, who painted scenery and backdrops for the Jewish Art Theater in New York City that spawned Eisner’s early interest in drawing. His drawing skills were influenced not only by illustrators of the day but also by the story telling medium of pulps and films. He worked for printers as a youth as well as selling newspapers (earning $3.50 a week in 1934).

     Graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School, he found the depression economy of New York City a tough environment. He had just lost his job at the New York American newspaper when he found out about a company that was seeking artists to draw comics. John Henle, who was a shirt manufacturer with “literary aspirations”, owned the company. Jerry Iger was doing the interviewing. Eisner was hired along with other comicbook neophytes such as Bob Kane, Dick Briefer, Louis Ferstadt, George Brenner, and Bernard Bailey. Together they produced four issues of Wow, What A Magazine! in 1936. This included his first adventure hero of Scott Dalton. A shirt factory was not conducive to the production of comicbooks and the venture soon failed.

     For a short time, he freelanced and drew stories for Comic Magazines’ Detective Picture Stories and Western Picture Stories. Undaunted and spurred on by his first taste of comicbook production (not to mention he needed the income), he contacted Iger with the idea of producing a finished comicbook product for publishers. He noted that there were only so many reprint strips available for reproduction that dominated the early issues of funny books at this time. Further he specifically recognized the need for the production of original adventure material. With pulps on the wane and the publishers seeking a new outlet, he viewed these pulp publishers as customers for “funny books”.

Capitalized by Eisner’s fifteen dollars, (which could cover three months of rent), Iger agreed to the formation of this business with Iger being the sales force. The Eisner-Iger Shop quickly obtained a group of clients.


The first customer of the Shop was Editors Press Service. Editors Press Service syndicated material for English magazines such as Wags and Okay Comics.

            

                             Heroes of Sport strip, Jumbo #4 (Dec. 1938)
  Eisner (here signed 'Erwin') drew in several different styles to give clients the            impression that the Shop had more artists than it did in actuality.

     These early features included material such as Sheena which was reprinted in the first issues of Jumbo Comics as the Shop produced material for Fiction House. In fact, the unique layout of panels that soon characterized the Eisner Shop style, was said to derive from the shape of panels as Eisner formatted the syndicated material to fit in a comicbook form.
                                                                    

 

The Shop produced material for other comic publishers such as Victor Fox, Everett Arnold’s Quality Comics and early issues of Speed Comics for Worth Publications. (Eisner drew the cover for Speed Comics #1 October 1939.)

Early on, so to convince would be customers that the Shop had the staff depth to produce on time, Eisner would produce strips with different styles and pen names (W. Morton Thomas, Spencer Steele, William Rensie, etc).



        Speed Comics #1 (Oct. 1939)
 

     Eisner brought true production line efficiency to his “slave galley”, as he would quip. Desk at the front, the process was broken down into production parts as Eisner, always the master of design, would exhort and trade art styles with the artists who joined the growing shop. The “galley” turned into a “classroom”, where each artist learned from one another and perfected their story telling talents. ”Our shop was almost like a school. We really worked together. We all sort of developed as we worked.

In order to run a successful quality shop and beat the competition, Eisner decided to hire artists on salary as opposed to on a free lance basis. He believed that this arrangement gave him total control. Changes he wanted would not be a problem since the artist’s time was his any way. This gave him the creative control that he wanted. As an accomplished artist he viewed himself as a “player manager”. He contributed to the art ideas and roughed out many of the covers that were ultimately produced. As described by George Tuska, Eisner was “a producer, director and actor on paper.”
                                                                 Smash Comics #5, pg. 4 (Dec. 1939)
                                                               Original Eisner artwork to Espionage
                                                                       starring the Black Ace
page.

     Most of the shop artists saw the production of comicbooks as a stepping stone to the more lucrative and prestigious world of “illustration”. Eisner was different. He not only saw the business potential of this medium but also saw the tremendous potential of comicbooks as a story telling medium. Eisner, although an innovator in design and layout, viewed the art as it ultimately related to “story telling”. For Eisner it was always about the story, with the art being the means of telling that story. Word and art had to be integrated as a whole to tell the tale. Simply stated, “It was a arrangement of pictures in sequence to tell a story.” Light and shading brought dynamism to the drawn page. It has been said that the “lighting” effects that he used were derived from lighting of the early theater performances he observed as well as films of the era. Broken panels, figures jumping off the page, Eisner storytelling art was not confined to the four corners of a panel or page of art. As Eisner observed, “One could not help but be ‘original’ because there was no precedent.”

     But with success came the yearning of Eisner to expand his audience beyond the “twelve year old cretins from Kansas,” as quipped by Eisner. He desire was to reach an older, more mature audience. That opportunity presented itself from Everett Arnold and Henry Martin in late 1939. Arnold had sold presses to Eastern Color and wanted to get into the comicbook business. Early on, he purchased strips from Martin for his book, Feature Funnies. Sunday newspapers were feeling the competition of new comic magazines. Martin and Arnold came up with the idea of producing a weekly comicbook to be part of the Sunday newspaper. Eisner’s reputation of reliable delivery of material made him a natural for Arnold and Martin to approach. Although Eisner questioned his ability to produce this book within the time constraints, he saw this as an opportunity to escape the “comic book ghetto” and satisfy his literary aspirations by having access to an older audience. Although war was inevitable and his draft into the armed services a sure thing, Eisner agreed to this new partnership with Arnold and Martin. Thus the groundwork was laid for his seminal creation, The Spirit which first appeared June 2, 1940. (As part of the overall deal, in a unique arrangement, Eisner demanded, and received, ownership interest in three Quality titles- Smash Comics, Hit Comics and National Comics.) Eisner sold his interest in the Shop to Iger and, by agreement, took Bob Powell, Lou Fine, and Chuck Mazoujian with him. On March 28, 1940 the new group moved to 202 East 44th Street- Tudor City. The artists he brought with him wanted to get away from packaging books to order. They sought more freedom in a creative sense.

With these men as a base, Eisner assembled perhaps the finest artists ever to produce comicbooks. Joining the group was Reed Crandall, Jack Cole, Nick Cardy, Bob Fujitani, Alex Kotzky, Dave Berg, Tex Blaisdell and Chuck Cuidera, and a teenage, Joe Kubert. This group produced material for the expanding line of Quality Comics such as Police Comics, Military Comics, Hit Comics, Crack Comics, etc. After he was drafted, Lou Fine and others continued work on The Spirit. Arnold, at this point, moved the Tudor City artists up to Stamford, Connecticut merging the “Eisner artists” with the “Arnold artists”.
                                                                    Jumbo Comics #12 (Feb. 1940)
                                                                    Early Eisner cover featuring his
                                                                swashbuckling buccaneer, The Hawk.

     Following the war, Eisner believed that those years and his own maturation effected the stories he wanted to tell and the way he wanted to tell them. Through The Spirit Eisner was able to address important social issues as his art served as the vehicle to tell the story he wanted. For Eisner, it was always the story that mattered.

     To this day, Will Eisner remains the master storyteller, the “true Spirit” of comicbooks.


AIN’T IT A WONDER?

     I have been reading and collecting comics for many a year. I have become entranced not only by comics as a form of entertainment, but have become a fan of the history of the development of the art form and the characters that populate the art form. Forays into original art have brought me as close as I will ever come to be able to reach out across the years and “touch” an object created by pioneers of this craft that is a piece of that history and development of comicbooks. My interests are diverse but I have always have had an affinity for the early development in the late 1930s. Some time ago, I began the pursuit of a piece of golden age art from that period that fit may of my collecting criteria, art by Will Eisner from 1939. I had inquired of an individual if he had any golden age art. He said he had a Wonderman page from Wonder Comics #1.

     Wow! It would be real neat to own a page of this historic book. Since I owned a copy of the book, I asked the owner to identify the page by the caption. He did and I could not find it. Strange. So I asked to reaffirm which he did. A bit suspicious I asked if he would mind sending a photocopy of the page. He did. The page (clearly marked page 3) was no where to be found in the comic. Then it hit me. Could it be….? Comicbooks on a monthly schedule would have to have the contents of the next issue in progress. Could it be that this page was intended for the second appearance of Wonderman which never saw the light of day? The context of the page clearly refers to past adventures of Wonderman and the interaction of Brenda with him. The owner never realized or thought about it. Without being a comic book collector or historian, he never gave it another thought. But I did. I sent a copy of the art to Will Eisner. Not surprisingly, Eisner had no specific recollection of the page. (In fact all interviews with Eisner demonstrate that this whole episode was distasteful to him. He refused to lie for Fox and, accordingly, his shop and Fox parted ways.) He did, however, identify the art as his own. Comparing it to the art in the first issue, there is no question that the same artist did the art.
                                                                Wonder Comics #2, pg. 3 (June 1939)
                                                                    Unpublished Wonder Man page
                                                                           Will Eisner original art.

      Normally, “unpublished” art has less “value” than that which is published. But viewing art as “history”, what makes this unpublished piece of art historic is the fact (and why) it is unpublished. So another small piece of comic history-over sixty years later- now stands revealed.

 

©2004
Jon Berk
Back to...