This year’s Will Eisner Week – celebrating the life and work of the acclaimed comics artist and writer, Will Eisner – ran from March 1 to 7, and Enniskillen Library is currently displaying a collection of Eisner material owned by local comics enthusiast and writer, Paul Trimble

The display includes signed graphic novels, handwritten letters, original Spirit sections from the 1940s, promotional material and photographs.

Paul, who is head of the organising committee of the Enniskillen ComicFest, met Will several times at Comic Conventions and they became friends, exchanging letters for more than a decade.

Paul was invited to Dublin to spend time with Will when he was teaching at the Cartoon Institute, and again when he and his wife Ann were in Ireland on holiday. Here, Paul writes on the work and legacy of the internationally lauded creative talent.

In the Pop Culture explosion of the past 10 years or so, the names of those writers and artists who created and chronicled the comic book characters that have proliferated in films and television shows have become better known to the general public.

However, while Amazon lists over a thousand different graphic novels for sale, and works such as ‘Maus’, ‘Persepolis’, and ‘Fun Home’ have garnered Pulitzers, given birth to film and theatre adaptations, topped best-seller lists, and elevated comics art from a disdained medium into an acclaimed one, their popularity is really down to the pioneering work of one man: Will Eisner.

Often referred to as ‘the Father of the Graphic Novel’, Eisner’s quest in life was to champion the respect and recognition of comics as a legitimate art form, as valid as novels or film, and graphic novels were the triumphant last act of his long and celebrated career.

Not that he invented the genre – others preceded him – but none had his mastery of sequential art: the ability to tell a human story in convincing, compelling pictures and dialogue.

If all Will Eisner had done in his remarkable career was just to create ‘The Spirit’, which ran in a pull-out supplement in American Sunday newspapers for more than a decade, then his name would still be fondly remembered among comics fans.

The Spirit broke new ground every week from 1939 to 1952 with innovative layouts, viewing angles, drama and pathos, and it has inspired generations of comic creators.

However, Eisner went on to pioneer the use of sequential art for educational purposes, forming a company, American Visuals, to create PS Magazine for the US army, which published preventative maintenance lessons for the GIs in an easy to understand format, and to design promotional artwork for various large American companies.

By the early 1970s, Eisner was a successful businessman and lecturer at the New York School of Visual Arts.

Intrigued by the new ‘underground comix’ movement, he created a 196-page comic in book form, ‘A Contract With God And Other Tenement Stories’, which, he explained to mystified publishers, was a graphic novel, and eventually was published by Baronet Books in 1978.

The success of A Contract With God prompted both Marvel and DC to launch their own lines of graphic novels, and the market has grown by leaps and bounds since then.

Eisner went on to draw a series of graphic novels and collections of short stories looking at life in New York City and his own life experiences, and he was just finishing ‘The Plot’ when he passed away while recuperating from quadruple bypass surgery in January, 2005, aged 89.

In 1988, the comics industry launched the Eisner Awards to honour outstanding writers and artists, which have continued annually ever since.

Will Eisner Week was launched in 2009, and runs every March for the week containing March 6 – Will’s birthday – with the motto, ‘Read A Graphic Novel’, to celebrate his legacy, and to promote literacy and sequential art in schools and libraries all around the world.