The earliest comic strips by the pioneering cartoonist and seminal graphic novelist.
In the history of American comics, no legacy looms larger than that of Will Eisner (1917-2005). The annual Will Eisner Award is “the most prestigious award in the comics industry,” and he was one of the inaugural inductees in (what else?) the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. If he were a musical artist with a boxed set, these would be his earliest demos, uncollected until this slim volume and unfamiliar to his legions of fans. This book is clearly intended for Eisner completists, readers who feel that his high school “Harry Karry” strip and the conventional (and occasionally funny) “Uncle Otto” can help illuminate the development of the mature work that was to come. According to one of the introductory chapters, the collection is “the cartooning equivalent of folios by a teenage Shakespeare, or the schoolbook scribbles of a post-adolescent Picasso.” The strips assembled here, dating from the mid-1930s, surfaced in a printing plate discovery. The “Uncle Otto” strips are presented first and are more comic and spare than the style that would flourish with Eisner’s most famous work, “The Spirit.” In these mainly four-panel strips, the protagonist never speaks, but wordplay abounds (one of the funniest finds him following the advice to “strike a happy medium”). Described as “a slapstick take on the spy serial,” “Harry Karry” began when Eisner was in high school but ultimately connects more directly to the work that would follow, both in the narrative form and the darker, more complex artistry.
The value of this work lies in its presentation of the seeds of germination for what came later.