DVD Review: Will Eisner: Profession: Cartoonist

DVD Review: Will Eisner Documentary


(Image Entertainment)

With the arrival of The Spirit movie in theaters this week, no one should be surprised that a documentary about Will Eisner just hit the market. After all, the same thing already happened with Alan Moore (Mindscape of…). Can Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, you-name-‘em, be far behind?

The good news is this selection is well worth the effort. An American/Brazilian collaboration, this doc is divided into three key parts; Eisner’s roots and his work on The Spirit, his middle career and move into graphic novels and, finally, a solid analysis of his distinctive graphic style and importance to the industry/artform. Among those heavily interviewed are his wife Anne, Denis Kitchen, Stan Lee, Art Spiegelman and many, many other important colleagues he made through his long career.

The real “star” is Eisner himself, who apparently was quite generous with the documentarians, providing a number of interviews, a tour of his Ft. Lauderdale home and a generous sampling of the work he did over his 70 year career.

The presentation is overall very straightforward. It pretty much sticks to a chronological order starting with his New York youth and his parents, moving on through his pre-Spirit days and beyond. An important element of his early days is his commentary about how his father being an off-Broadway stage designer having a major influence in his art. Also, his mother’s resistance to him following in his dad’s shoes, primarily due to the Eisner’s living in constant near-poverty, made Eisner a very rebellious artist yet astute businessman. These points really hit home when Kitchen enters the picture and himself was schooled in ethical, more traditional, business practices by his idol. In other words, this documentary does not shy away from examining the man in front of the drawing board, not just what he produced.

There is also some extra content. Basically its made of unedited interviews, some additional clips and other minutia that doesn’t necessarily fit into the overall doc, but is nice to have nonetheless. The ton of interviews with various Brazilians, Italians and French comic artists also add some nice touches on Eisner’s international impact.

There’s also one particular touch that makes this documentary worth having. The producers do a number of animatics based on Eisner’s work. These crude animations provide an interesting commentary on a skill most experts rarely talk about, not only Eisner’s ability to create memorable characters and settings, but also the master’s sense of timing. It’s so good it needs very little inbetween work, a commentary that a number of other comic book artists are usually associated with. These animatics make it a lot easier to illustrate just how effective a storyteller Eisner was.

In all, if you are looking for an example on how to do a documentary of anybody, this is a sterling example of how to do it right. As said before, with the number of feature films based on the works of comic book masters due over the next few years, we’d better expect a bunch more such film footage. That being the case, let’s hope those future documentarians keep Will Eisner: Profession: Cartoonist as a guide.

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