Eisner/Miller is the most important book ever written about comic books. It’s probably more important than 95% of the comic books that are being produced, honestly. The book is just an interview, a long one, where Will Eisner and Frank Miller talk about history and comics and culture and everything else under that sun.
And it’s brilliant. Both creators have things that I agree with, but for the most part, I come down on Miller’s side most of the time. On some emotive level, I think that we need to rethink our relationship with the way that comic book publishing works, especially along the lines of the ghettoization that comic books have really worked into.
Sure, I think, you can talk about the recent works that have transitioned into the “real” book world, like Craig Thompson being printed by Pantheon, and Satrapi being printed by another company that really matters. But Miller is right. Those books are still shelved in the “comic books” or “graphic novel” section. And comic book fans love it that way.
I think that it has to do with content. Miller and Eisner work it out perfectly. We’re very comfortable with what comics do already, and we’re very unwilling to let them do different things. Miller says that he wants to speak to pop culture, and I think that he’s doing that, especially in his more “mainstream” comics work. Sure, he pisses fans off a lot, but he’s doing a lot of work to contemporize his comics. Talking heads, fashion design, and the feeling of the current era—these have been critical in all of his Batman comics.
More and more I am moving away from the belief that superhero comics are a good genre of comics. I just don’t think there’s enough inherent in the genre. Sure, more and more there are some brilliant superhero comics. I think of Hickman doing Fantastic Four or Fraction doing nearly anything. Those are good superhero comics. But at the same time, those aren’t really superhero comics; those are science fiction comics that happen to have superhero main characters.
There is some wiggling about the genres, sure, but I firmly believe that superhero comics are a place where you are generally forced into telling very specific stories. There are goods and there are bads, and it’s rare that we have a mainstream supe comic that isn’t that way; The Punisher is one of the only characters that has stories that are consistently grey.
I like the idea of grey stories because I think they’re more real, and what Eisner says about telling stories means a lot to me. Eisner had two reasons for writing: to “witness” and to convey an emotion; he wanted to make people weep. To witness, in this case, isn’t to tell you about Jesus; it’s about showing exactly how the world really is.
I think that both writers have/had something brilliant going on. There’s an awareness of contemporary art that Miller has that is at the heart of how I think of writing, that it’s a product of the present, and that sometimes the best art of now is left to rot, because it doesn’t speak to anything other than the now. But Eisner only cares about history, about telling you the past to make you weep now. Eisner needed you to care.
It’s all great stuff. Read the book.