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San Diego Comic-Con Museum celebrates comics legend Will Eisner on Saturday

A detail featuring the Will Eisner's character The Spirit from the 2015 flyer for  Will Eisner Week.
Will Eisner Studios, Inc.
A detail featuring the Will Eisner's character The Spirit from the 2015 flyer for Will Eisner Week.

San Diego's Comic-Con Museum is partnering with the Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation to hold a series of Will Eisner Week panels this Saturday that focus on the life, creative output, and lasting legacy of the graphic novel pioneer and comics industry legend.

Will Eisner started in comics in the 1930s, created the character of The Spirit, and published the groundbreaking graphic novel "A Contract With God" in 1978.

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Comic-Con Museum hosts a day of panels dedicated to his legacy as part of Will Eisner Week on March 5. Comic-Con has honored the comics creator for decades with both its Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards and Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award.

"I call my panel, ‘And Now for Something Completely Different,’ because it is about Will Eisner's vision for what could be done with the graphic storytelling comics medium," said Jackie Estrada, who has run the Eisner Awards since 1990. "He felt that we're just scratching the surface on the things you could do with words and pictures."

Her three panelists were all judges for last year's Eisner Awards: Pamela Jackson from the San Diego State University Library, Alonso Nuñez of Little Fish Comic Book Studio, and Jim Thompson, an independent comics scholar. They will discuss works that they think Eisner would have been excited about because of how they explore and push the comics medium.

"A fantastic book that I'm going to be talking about is 'Mr. Invincible,' his superpower is that he can move around on a comic book page so he can go down a rope from the top panel to the bottom panel, pick something up and bring it back up to the top in order to beat up a criminal or whatever," Estrada said.

Will Eisner Week is an annual international event with Saturday's events in San Diego being just one component.


"Will Eisner Week was started by the Will and Ann Eisenhower Foundation, and it encourages libraries, institutions, people around the world to, at minimum, read a graphic novel," Estrada said. "March 6 was Will's birthday so the first week of March is traditionally Will Eisner Week. They have what they call events celebrating comics and sequential art, graphic novel literacy, free speech, and a legacy of Will Eisner."

Estrada knew Eisner and part of that legacy for her is about the man himself.

"The story I like to tell is that when Will was at conventions, I would walk around with him sometimes and people would come up to ask for autographs," she recalled. "And a lot of times when you see a popular celebrity, the person will say, 'Oh, sure, I'll give you an autograph. Thank you. Yeah, I am great, aren't I?' But Will would do was ask, 'Do you do any comics? Do you write or draw? Do you have anything with you, can I take a look at it?' So he would go back to them and be interested in what they were doing."

Attending the panels requires purchasing a ticket to the Comic-Con Museum, which includes admittance to exhibits on 80 years of Archie comics, sci-fi visionary Gene Roddenberry, PAC-MAN arcade, and the opening of the new "Dave Stevens and the Rocketeer: Art For Arf’ Sake."

Poster art for Comic-Con Museum's Will Eisner Week events.
Comic-Con International
Poster art for Comic-Con Museum's Will Eisner Week events is shown in this undated illustration.

Here are the panel descriptions for Saturday.

12:00–1:00 p.m.: Words and Pictures Together: Using Will Eisner's Work and Other Comics in the Classroom

In this panel, expert educators Mick Rabin, Ed Lim, and Betsy Gomez will explain the relevance of Eisner's work for teaching today — and beyond.

1:00–2:00 p.m.: The Past Is Now: How Censorship During Eisner's Era Foreshadowed Censorship Today

To what extent did Eisner's experience with the anti-comics crusade of the 1940s and 1950s presage the challenges to graphic novels that we are seeing now? Does Eisner's pointed critique of censorship through market forces have relevance for comics in the digital space? The Comics Code may be no more, but as this panel featuring educator Carol Tilley via Zoom will discuss comics censorship and the future of artistic freedom continue to be significant concerns.

2:00–3:00 p.m.: The Eye of Eisner: Looking at Us Through His Lens

Will Eisner saw comics as "an art form that deals with human experience," but as his own works illustrate, how comics depict the human condition can — and should — change over time. From the problematic legacy of racial caricatures to his profound examination of anti-Semitism and Jewish culture, this panel featuring educator/comics historian John Jennings will explore what lessons we can draw from Eisner's work for the representation of identity in the comic arts.

3:00–4:00 p.m.: And Now for Something Completely Different: Exploring the Graphic Storytelling Medium

Will Eisner believed that comics/graphic storytelling is a true literary art form with unlimited potential. Over the last few decades, many creators have gone "outside the comics box" to create a variety of techniques, formats, and devices for telling their stories. Moderated by Jackie Estrada, administrator of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, with 2021 Eisner Awards judges Pamela Jackson (San Diego State University Library), Alonso Nuñez (Little Fish Comic Book Studio), and Jim Thompson (independent comics scholar).