Eisner was born in Brooklyn, New York, born of Jewish immigrants Shmuel "Samuel" Eisner and Fannie Ingber. Young Eisner grew up in a poor household and moved frequently. At school he was the subject of antisemitism.
Eisner gained his father's love of art and was encouraged with his dad's purchase of art supplies for him. He was also a huge fan of the pulp magazines and film.
Due to financial circumstances involving his father's ever changing occupations and the Wall Street crash that marked the start of the Great Depression, Eisner's mother sent him off to work at the age of 13 to help bring in money. He found work in the competitive field of the newsboys.
During his teenage years he attended to DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. At the school he used his artistic skills to help contribute to the school newspaper, literary magazines, play backgrounds, and the yearbook. After graduation he attended Art Students League of New York under the Canadian artist, George Brandt Bridgman whom also taught artists such as Norman Rockwell. Eisner went on to become the advertising writer-cartoonist for the New York American newspaper and also led to art being featured in the pulps.
In 1936, Eisner's high school friend, Bob Kane (later known for the creation Batman & Robin), suggested sending his work into the comic Wow, What A Magazine!. That comic became the first of many Will Eisner contributed too. He contributed an adventure strip for the comic titled Captain Scott Daniel which was sold to Wow editor, Jerry Iger. Along with his work on his adventure hero Eisner also worked on the pirate comic, the Flame, and agent strip, Harry Kelly.
Eisner & Iger
Wow lasted for only a short 4 issue run. Shortly after however Eisner along with his Wow editor, Jerry Iger, teamed together to open up their own Eisner & Iger studio to produce new original comic for the rapidly growing business. The two started supplying companies like Fox Comics and helped usher in the first Superman copy to be considered by DC Comics a threat, Wonder Man. After DC called them out Wonder Man ceased publication by court orders. After the incident Fox Comics owner, Victor Fox, dropped the Eisner & Iger studio.
The studio went on to do much bigger and better things. For Fiction House the studio got their own title in the name of Jumbo Comics including tales of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and Eisner's first big creation, a pirate feature known as Hawks of the Seas. The feature is known for helping with Eisner's development in his artistry and understanding of comics in general.
Among the early publishers getting work for the studio Eisner & Iger were Quality, whom many of the characters and ideas they published are still being published today in the pages of DC Comics. Among the stories Eisner contributed were his superheroes Dollman, Black Condor, and Uncle Sam. However his biggest contributions was in the war strip Blackhawk featured in Military Comics. This series crafted by Eisner took a gathering fighting European men led by a man under the name of Blackhawk to fight back Nazi months before the US was even in going into World War II. The series gave insight on what many talents on the comic industry, not just Eisner, felt about what was going on over in Europe. Blackhawk and his men lasted on the stand after the war ended and even through the collapse of the comic industry still being published by DC. However DC made the Blackhawk and his men more into superheroes than Eisner's original ideas for the series.
During this time, Will Eisner made a profit of $1.50 with every page sold and started claiming he was "very rich before I was 22". Will Eisner and Jerry Iger made an overall profit of $25,000 in 1939. Not that bad for being in a Depression crippled America.
Will Eisner's most well know work is no doubt the newspaper comic, the Spirit. Known for its great cinematic paneling the feature is the most influential of all of Eisner's work.
The creation of the Spirit came to be when Quality Comics publisher, Everett "Busy" Arnold, started to explore new additions in Sunday papers. He took notice in the rise of the comic book and aware of feeling of many papers Sunday comic strips were almost being forced having to compete with the comic books. With Sunday papers wanting to cash in on the success the comic books were having this led "Busy" to introducing Will Eisner to sales manager of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Syndicate, Henry Martin, who was interested in comic book inserts. Eisner took the job though this meant he'd have to leave his and Jerry Iger's studio. In doing this he would have to produce the feature for newspaper and two books with "Busy".
This all led to the creation of the Spirit. Arnold copyrighted the character and gave all rights to Eisner. The name "the Spirit" came from Arnold's suggestion of a ghost type character. The feature gave Eisner more freedom and more of an adult audience. The format of the stories allowed for short tales. Avoiding the superhero that has been seen in the comics, Eisner designed the Spirit to be more of a masked detective outlaw hero. Something he believed, "suitable...for an adult audience". The Spirit ran from June 2, 1940 until 1952 with back up features such as Lady Luck and Mr. Mystic. In addition to running in the newspaper, the Spirit also found a home being reprinted in Quality's Police Comics where he starred alongside Plastic Man and the Human Bomb.
Being drafted in 1941 with the start of World War II, Eisner had to leave the Spirit though the Spirit's adventures continued through the works of "ghost" writers and artist such as such talent as Lou Fine, who also worked with Eisner on the Quality strip the Black Condor.
Eisner & World War II
Eisner was drafted right at the beginning of the war though did not leave about half a year latter to help straighten out affairs before going off to fight for the country. When he went off he was used on the camp newspaper in Aberdeen where his comic skills were put to use for training. He became a warrant officer so he wouldn't have to go through Officer Candidate School.
Characters that Will Eisner created or co-created:
Flame Girl (Fox)
Goliath the Gladiator
Mr. Death (Fox)
Mystery Man (Fox)
Samson (Fox version)
Wonder Man (Fox version)