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Creatively Speaking: Will Eisner's Spirit Speaks!

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Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit comic series, is in the house today. Well, not exactly. As you might know, Will died some years ago. But we were fortunate enough to get an interview with the man who runs Will Eisner Studios, the curator of his estate, Will's nephew Carl Gropper. Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) has a new film out based on the Eisner character, so we thought it would be a good time to learn a little more about the man some credit with creating the first graphic novel, the man who the comic industry awards are named after (The Eisner). Check out the interview with Gropper below, and be sure to tune back in tomorrow for a chance to win some Eisner books!

Also, if you want to see Frank Miller talking about The Spirit, hit the YouTube clip at the end of the interview on the next page. To learn more about Will Eisner visit www.willeisner.com.

DI: A lot of Depression-era comics creators, like Jerome Siegel and Joseph
Shuster, who created Superman, made little money in those days. But not
Eisner. Creating characters like Doll Man and Wonder Man, he and his partner
Jerry Iger did quite well, financially. What was their secret?

CG: Will Eisner was a combination of artist, storyteller, and entrepreneur. He
felt that he should own the work that he created. That might not be novel
today, but it was unique at the time. Will Eisner had no secret - along
with his partner, Jerry Iger, he used both his artistic and business talents
to build a viable business during the Golden Age of the Comics. A number of
times in his life he struck out in a brand new direction as when he created
The Spirit Section for the Sunday Newspapers in 1940. By 1952 he was on to
using Sequential Art for training and education and in 1978 he created the
first modern Graphic Novel with his groundbreaking "A Contract with God."
He actually coined the term, Sequential Art, to describe what comics were,
and then used the term in 1985 in his first textbook, Comics and Sequential
Art. His third Sequential Art textbook, Expressive Anatomy, was actually
completed posthumously by artist Pete Poplaski and published by W.W. Norton
this year.

DI: As I understand it, the comic book grew out of the Sunday comics in the
newspaper sort of the way TV grew out of the movie business. Though it's
changing now, I think it's still more prestigious to write for the movies
than it is TV. At what point did it become cooler to write comic books
vis-à-vis newspaper comics, or does that analogy not hold up?

CG: I think artists and cartoonists always liked to draw pictures starting with
the prehistoric cave paintings that were discovered in France. Writing
actually developed quite a bit later and because the writers had the critics
attention at that time they put forth the idea that writing was a higher
level occupation than cartooning. As you know, that's not always the case.
The same way that a movie experience is different than a television
experience, a comic book experience is different than a comic strip
experience. They're all pretty cool avocations and it's what the reader or
watcher himself or herself adds to the experience and then gets out of it
that counts.

DI: The Spirit may very well be Eisner's coolest comic creation. He wore a
mask, of course, but other than that, The Spirit didn't have much in common
with other superheroes. No great powers, no cape. Do you think The Spirit's
Everyman quality contributed to the comic's success?

CG: Yes, I think people find it easy to identify with the Spirit. He fights
crime in Central City (read New York City) and stops villains and almost
everyone is in favor of that. But even better than that, his stories are
creative and fascinating and the artwork is excellent. The stories allow
one to get lost in a world that looks somewhat like one's own and where the
good guys usually win.

DI: I haven't yet seen the new film. What would Eisner think of it were he
still alive today?

CG: Will Eisner sold options to filmmakers any number of times since he created
The Spirit in 1940. In the 1980's Warner Brothers Television completed a
pilot for a TV series which was never made. The current film was actually
optioned in 1994 and was not really started until after his death in 2005.
Will Eisner and Frank Miller, who adapted, wrote, and directed The Spirit
for the movie, were good friends and admired each other's work. Will Eisner
understood that when a character or story is licensed to Hollywood the
creator looses almost all control. He understood that it was part of the
tradeoff and he would never second-guess an artist in a different medium.

DI: How did the filmmakers handle the not-so-PC Ebony White sidekick? (The
original Ebony White is a stereotypical African-American caricature--think
Buckwheat meets Sambo.)

CG: Ebony White was a character of the times (think pre-World War II when even
the US Army was totally segregated) and Eisner drew him as he drew all of
his characters. The villains and femmes fatales in The Spirit certainly
looked like villains and femmes fatales. On many occasions Ebony saved the
Spirit from a calamitous outcome and he was the central focus of at least
one complete story. Today, I'm positive that Will Eisner would not draw
Ebony as he drew him in the 1940's. Darwyn Cooke in the current Spirit
monthly comic book being published by DC Comics modernized the Ebony White
character and Frank Miller in the Spirit movie decided to leave him out.

DI: During WWII, Eisner created instructional comic books for the Army. How
did this opportunity come about? And what exactly was he creating for them?

CG: Will was drafted into the army as a buck private and luckily his artistic
talent was recognized. After boot camp, he was "volunteered" for the post
newspaper and drew a number of comic strips - one called Private Dogtag. He
had the idea that sequential art could be used to help train the troops by
using a medium that that they would read and that could keep the average
GI's attention. When the communications people (read Signal Corps) in the
Pentagon saw what he was doing, they brought him to Washington to develop
equipment maintenance manuals. He ended the war as a Warrant Officer and
developed PS Magazine for the Army shortly after that.

DI: While certainly not the first graphic novel, A Contract with God, and
Other Tenement Stories, published in 1978 is often used as the yardstick
against which all others are measured, even today. Why is the work so
formidable?

CG: I would call Will Eisner's A Contract with God the first modern graphic
novel. There were certainly books made up of pictures before 1978, and the
term had been previously used, but this book opened up the eyes of both
comics creators and book publishers as to what could be done with the
medium. A Contract with God wasn't funny, had no animals, and it told a
real life story with excellent artwork. As with many new genres, it wasn't
accepted overnight. Today Graphic Novels are one of the fastest growing
segments of the publishing industry.

DI: One of the books we're giving away tomorrow is called The Dreamer. It's
about a man who aspires to be a famous comic book creator during the
Depression. Did Eisner intend for the story to be autobiographical?

CG: Writers' best novels are frequently based on their experiences (think
Hemingway) and that can probably be said of graphic novel writers too. A
number of Will Eisner's best books are partly autobiographical including The
Dreamer. Will Eisner's last book, The Plot, is historical in nature and
actually went in a brand new direction.

DI: How did Eisner feel when they named the comic book industry awards "The
Eisners"?

CG: Will Eisner thought that cartoonists and graphic novelists deserved to be
recognized for all of their contributions to society. The Eisners came
about as a result of others' recognition of that and of his contributions to
the Sequential Arts medium over a continually innovative and productive
career that spanned more than six decades.

DI: I know what an art museum curator does, but what exactly does it mean
that you're curator of Will Eisner's Estate? That's a new one to me.

CG: This is actually my second career - my first was as an independent IT
consultant to Global Banks in New York City. My Uncle was Will Eisner and I
grew up reading the bound hardcover books of the actual Spirit Newspaper
Sections that were lined up in his study. My brother and I might have been
the only active Spirit fans in those days. He has been "rediscovered" any
number of times since then. When Will Eisner passed away in 2005, my Aunt
asked me and my wife, Nancy, if we would run Will Eisner Studios for her.
It's a hard job to describe. It has been a fun, fascinating, and certainly
a learning experience for us and I thought that the Global Banks would
survive without me.

Browse through past Creatively Speaking posts here >>
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Creatively Speaking: MeetingBoy
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Read on to win a new Meeting Boy wall calendar!

We have a nice interview/contest today with someone you need to know about if you don't already. PC World named him one of the 10 Funniest People On Twitter. Like Racer X, no one really knows who MeetingBoy is, but whoever is behind this madness is one hilarious, talented fella. Tweeting out quips and one-liners, he's amassed close to 80,000 followers on Twitter as @MeetingBoy. I first got to know him (well, as much as you can know a masked-man) after he re-tweeted a Twaggie (illustrated tweet) we did off one of his tweets over on my start-up, www.twaggies.com.

Then one day, MeetingBoy asked me if I'd like to give away one of his new MeetingBoy wall calendars in a contest. I said sure, under one condition: he do the following interview. So read the interview and follow the contest rules at the bottom of this post. We'll pick one tweet/comment at random and send you the calendar in time for Christmas! Good luck!

DI: First of all, where do you take your meetings? Tell us about your day job.

MB: I work in a glass & steel high rise in New York with lots of lazy idiots. The managers spout buzzwords to impress each other, and my boss is a clueless, bullying hypocrite more concerned with covering his own ass than getting things done. Does that narrow it down?

I am stuck in 3-5 meetings a day, so if there’s a way to waste someone’s time, I’ve seen it. And I’m sick of it. I must have really bad karma to deserve this. I must have been something truly awful in a former life, like maybe a manager or CEO.

@MeetingBoy: 125 PowerPoint slides? Well, I hope you're not presenting a case for how efficient our department is.

@MeetingBoy: Definition of insanity: holding the same meeting with the same people every week and expecting different results.

@MeetingBoy: Four meetings today. And then later, no doubt, a meeting with my boss about how I'm not getting anything done.

@MeetingBoy: I'm confused by this article about Bernie Madoff. I thought "white collar prison" was just a euphemism for my office.

@MeetingBoy: 7 hour conference call, though my lawyer says I'll be paroled in 6 with good behavior.

DI: How’d all this Meeting Boy stuff get started? Walk us through the early days.

MB: Since my biggest pet peeve in meetings is people who ramble on and on, Twitter was the right place for me to vent. The forced brevity was just right. If only I could force the people who write PowerPoint presentations to stick to 140 characters instead of 140 slides!

I’d been on Twitter before, but mentions of work had become a problem once people knew I was tweeting and started following me in the office. After I got a new boss last year, I created the MeetingBoy account so I would stop hearing about it. Since then I only tweet under my own name after hours.

@MeetingBoy: I'm married to my job. I don't love it. It was a shotgun wedding; I had knocked up my credit cards with all sorts of debt.

Early on as MeetingBoy, I was getting positive responses. People identified with my complaints-- in fact the most common response to MeetingBoy is “do you work at my company?”

Of course I hate buzzwords, and so many of my rants result from sitting through an hour of them. The word I hate the most is “robust”:

@MeetingBoy: At the end of the day I think we can all agree how tired the phrase "at the end of the day" is.

@MeetingBoy: When the revolution comes, I'm shooting everyone who says "robust". Well, except the coffee roasters.

DI: When did your first little break happen?

MB: Last October, PC World named me as one of the 10 Funniest People On Twitter. My following increased dramatically as a result. This was a huge surprise to me. I had no idea I had broken out of the Favstar community of internet jokers. After that my friends who weren’t on Twitter insisted I start cross-posting my material to Facebook and MeetingBoy.com so they could follow along too.

DI: And then your big break?

MB: Earlier this year someone at Twitter added me to their Suggested Users - Funny list. I was pretty excited; after all, as my friend said, “It sure beats being on the Suggested Users - Not Funny list.”

Though some people would say my “big break” was when I got a boss that didn’t get my sense of humor, forcing me to put more of it on the internet. Speaking of my boss:

@MeetingBoy: We have high expectations for him - he got his MBA in business jargon from Wharton.

@MeetingBoy: You're right. It was wrong of me to question how another layer of paperwork would speed up the process. I apologize.

@MeetingBoy: Hey, everybody! My boss is running a special on poorly thought out, unworkable ideas today. The discount code is YESSIR.

@MeetingBoy: "Dumb it down. Remember, you're presenting it to management."

@MeetingBoy: "I didn't read the executive summary you sent. Can you just put the idea in a few quick sentences and send it to me? Thanks."

@MeetingBoy: New line on my job description: "maintain high morale". Told HR I could do it, but not if my boss keeps trying to motivate me.

@MeetingBoy: My boss is very susceptible to food poisoning. Apparently this occurs when he stays out late drinking.

@MeetingBoy: The boss sent an email at 11:30 "reminding" everyone that he's working from home today. He sent it from his Blackberry.

DI: Did you set out to achieve Internet fame or did the idea sort of take over by itself?

MB: I set out to vent about work in an amusing way, in part because I was so annoyed at how people in the office reacted to my being on Twitter. I certainly had no idea how to get people to write about me or who at Twitter to sweet-talk to get them to recommend me.

Being famous and anonymous is a little odd though. None of the benefits of fame have come my way. I’m not getting a better table at Sparks or celebrity gift bags at the Oscars. And no matter how many followers I have, I’m still stuck in the same meetings every day.

I would like to see a MeetingBoy calendar make an appearance on The Office. Seems like something Jim Halpert would have (though since he gave up his office, I’m not sure where he’d put it). Or maybe Michael Scott because he’s a “cool boss” and none of it applies to him..

DI: Talk about the tweets themselves. Mostly they are things you think up in these meetings every day?

MB: They are responses to things that happen in meetings. Or things I wish I could say. In a few cases I’ve actually said these things. Of course the names have been removed to protect the boring, the rude, the jargon-spewing types, the lazy, the bullies, and the people with “bad grammer”.

@MeetingBoy: I know, I know, but if your idea is so good, why hasn't some VP passed it off as their own yet?

@MeetingBoy: Sorry, I have to leave your meeting. I have something I need to do. I need to not be bored to death.

@MeetingBoy: This PowerPoint needs an art director? Wow! I never thought I'd say this to you, lady, but you're overthinking this.

@MeetingBoy: That email you claim I never sent you? Here it is. Along with your REPLY TO IT.

@MeetingBoy: No, I wasn't playing Devil's Advocate. I really think your idea is stupid.

@MeetingBoy: You are mean, incompetent, and ignorant. Life did not hand you lemons; life handed you CONSEQUENCES.

DI: But other times I see you attributing the tweets to other authors/publishers. How does that work?

MB: Sometimes I see a tweet that I wish I wrote. Other times my followers send me one I missed. Either way, if it’s something I think my audience would appreciate, I share it. After all, I don’t want to be like that guy in my office who thinks the only good ideas are the ones he thinks of.

For example, some of my favorite tweets that someone else wrote are:

@swimparallel: I've recovered from my death sickness. Now I'm back in the office. It feels like a lateral move.

@summersumz: Evaluating data, making conclusions. LIVING THE DREAM!

@kerissmithJA: Your cc list doesn’t scare me. I still refuse to respond to your email.

DI: So now you have this cool wall calendar. How’d that come about?

MB: A friend makes up a calendar with photos of his family, which I dutifully hang in my cube. I thought it would be cool to have a MeetingBoy calendar. I’d hoped to make a 365-page-a-day calendar, which I think would really work for my short quips, but I couldn’t find a way to publish it. So I went with a wall calendar, and asked for illustrators among my followers.

Of course once I had printed the calendar, I realized I couldn’t possibly put the calendar on my desk. I can’t have my boss or coworkers know that I’m MeetingBoy, and it’s probably better if they don’t even know he exists. Clearly I hadn’t thought this through.

I think the calendar makes a great Secret Santa gift. I think coworkers across the English-speaking world would love to get one.

Calendar available for sale online at http://meetingboy.com/calendar

DI: Have you learned any profound lessons going through the self-publishing process?

MB: I’ve learned that self-publishing isn’t very profitable. I’ve been very happy with all the illustrations I got, though paying for them before I sell the calendar has made money tight.

I was going to try to sell them directly myself over the internet, but I couldn’t be sure that my secret identity would be safe. Luckily one of the illustrators owns a comic shop and they agreed to carry it for internet sales.

And I’d still like to make a 365-page-a-day calendar if anyone knows how to go about that.

DI: What’s next for you and what’s your ultimate goal?

MB: Next up I’m starting to do regular illustrated tweets on MeetingBoy.com. Of course I can’t draw, so I’m using some of the same illustrators from the calendar, and any new ones I pick up along the way.

My ultimate goal is to be the boss on The Office after Steve Carrell leaves at the end of this season. Though I would also accept President Obama declaring my birthday, June 23rd, to be a national holiday, maybe National Out-of-the-Office Day. Write your congressman to make it happen.

DI: Will you always hide your true identity Meeting Boy? Or will we one day find out you’re actually Racer X’s older brother?

MB: I can’t reveal my identity without losing my job and potentially risking never working again. After all, who would hire MeetingBoy? A surly, sarcastic person who will mock your every shortcoming on the internet to tens of thousands of people. Even I might balk at hiring that guy. He kind of sounds like a loose cannon.

Okay, contest time! Of all the tweets mentioned in this post, by MeetingBoy or someone else, which would you like to see illustrated on Twaggies.com? RT it with the hashtag #twaggies and we'll pick one of you at random to get the calender. If you're not on Twitter, leave your vote in the comments below. The tweet with the most RTs will also get twagged on twaggies, too!

For my interviews with Jason Alexander, Monty Hall, Mitch Albom, xkcd and more, browse through past Creatively Speaking archives here >>

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A chat with Jeff Garlin
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Jeff Garlin co-stars and executive produces the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. The unique comedy, which is one of the rare television shows to become part of the national zeitgeist, stars Seinfeld creator Larry David, with Garlin portraying his loyal manager. Born and raised in Chicago and then South Florida, Garlin studied filmmaking and began performing stand-up comedy while at the University of Miami. He has toured the country as a stand-up comedian, is an alumnus of Chicago's Second City Theatre, and has written and starred in three critically acclaimed solo shows. I was fortunate enough to get this interview with him when he spoke at an event a charity I work with produced.

DI: Which do you prefer: writing, directing, or producing?

JG: I prefer to direct what I write.

DI: If you were to retire, what would you do with your time?

JG: Nap and eat puddin'.

DI: What's your favorite food?

JG: Puddin'.

DI: Of all the comedians and actors you've worked with over the years, who has been the most enjoyable.

JG: Larry David.

DI: Is Larry David as obnoxious in real life as he is on the show?

JG: See my answer above.

DI: What's the biggest difference between Chicago and L.A.?

JG: Human contact. In Chicago you get it on a regular basis.

DI: What's one of your favorite films?

JG: Sullivan's Travels by Preston Sturges.

DI: If you could have lunch with anyone deceased, who would it be?

JG: My grandfather Harold.

DI: Who's your idol?

JG: My wife.

DI: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

JG: A comedian.

DI: Where do you like to go to unwind when you're not working?

JG: Wherever my wife tells me.

DI: If you could change one thing about Hollywood, what would it be?

JG: The street names.

DI: Shakespeare wrote: "Brevity is the soul of wit." What do you think the essence of comedy is?

JG: A plate of fresh cornbread.

DI: I heard you studied law in college and almost graduated before deciding to pursue a career in comedy. Do you think you would have been a good lawyer?

JG: That's on Wikepedia.com and it's not true. I studied film.

DI: What's more difficult: performing stand-up comedy before a live audience or performing on camera?

JG: Actually, my personal life is harder.

DI: Do you own an iPod? If so, what's the most unusual music you've got on it?

JG: Chin Ho soundbites from Hawaii Five-0.

DI: Who is the funniest comedian of all-time?

JG: Jack Benny.

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