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WILL EISNER AND P.S. MAGAZINE

Will Eisner Centennial logoWill Eisner and P.S. Magazine: An Illustrated History and Commentary
By Paul E. Fitzgerald
224 8½ x 11-inch landscape pages, with color
2009 FitzWorld.US
paperback
$59.95

We cam divide the career of seminal cartoonist Eisner into three segments: (1) his creation of the Spirit and the newspaper comics insert in which the character appeared (which did much to shape the comic book medium) and (2) his advocacy for the artform as mature literature in the “graphic novel” are well known; less recognized, however, is (3) Eisner’s role in refining the instructional function of comics in P.S. The Preventive Maintenance Monthly — a magazine intended, as its name suggestions, as “post script” to the Army’s formal manuals and directives about operating and maintaining equipment. This last aspect of his life’s work is the subject of Fitzgerald’s modest volume. And Fitzgerald should know: he was P.S.’s first managing editor from 1952/53 until 1963 — in other words, for the first ten years of Eisner’s 20-year relationship with the project.

The book’s profuse illustrations are exactingly documented, but many of the pictures — of full-page comic strips from the 5x7-inch pages of the magazine — are reproduced much too small to read. While that is too bad, the treasure of the volume is its text, which details the ups and downs, pitfalls and triumphs, of the Eisner contract years. (Besides, lots of the pictures are still readable even at a reduced size — the covers, for example, which the book includes a generous sampling of.)

EisnerPS1

I should mention that Eisner was not the editor of P.S.; his contract with the Army was to design the publication and to produce the instructional art. Eisner’s impact in the latter effort was seminal: if he didn’t invent instructional comics, he perfected a certain kind of instructional comics.

Eisner and his staff took engineers’ descriptions of how to do something and translated them into ordinary soldier lingo. And the illustrations always depicted the action from the mechanic’s point-of-view, not the manufacturer’s. Hence, the revolution.

This part of Eisner’s creative life is at least as important as the other two parts, and Eisner was proud of it. And so Fitzgerald’s book fills in an otherwise gaping hole.

The 100th anniversary of Eisner’s birth is this year, and in honor thereof, we’ve been publishing our own fugitive interviews with him in Harv’s Hindsight, a department in the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com). We also rehearse the birth of the Spirit and Eisner’s early work in comics.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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