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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 January, 2005, 12:07 GMT
Comic book pioneer Eisner is dead
Will Eisner
Eisner aimed comic books beyond the traditional teenage reader
US artist Will Eisner, who revolutionised comic books with gritty newspaper strip The Spirit, has died.

The Spirit's crime-fighting adventures ran in Sunday US newspapers until 1952.

Published in 1978, his book A Contract with God was considered to have launched the graphic novel format, gaining comics a more adult readership.

Comic industry awards The Eisners were named after him. Eisner died aged 87 in Florida from complications following quadruple-bypass heart surgery.

Army guidance

Eisner started to draw and write comics in the 1930s as a teenager. He was the first to use "silent" balloonless panels to emphasise characters' emotions by focusing attention on their facial expressions.

He addressed subjects considered unthinkable in comic books at the time, including spousal abuse, tax audits and urban blight.

Drafted into the US Army in 1942, Eisner was asked to create Joe Dope, a bumbling comic-strip character who showed soldiers how to maintain their vehicles.

He was a pioneer as a cartoonist as well as a young entrepreneur at the dawn of comic books
Paul Levitz, DC Comics president
After the war Eisner returned to The Spirit, which he said was not aimed at a traditional teenage readership but "a 55-year-old who had his wallet stolen on the subway".

"You can't talk about heartbreak to a kid," Eisner said in 1998.

Combining elements of comic books and novels, A Contract with God drew upon stories of Eisner's childhood and the immigrant Jewish experience in a poor Brooklyn tenement.

"Will was a multifaceted treasure," said DC Comics president Paul Levitz.

"He was a pioneer as a cartoonist as well as a young entrepreneur at the dawn of comic books."

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