[The second edition of Cross’s London Guide, originally published in 1837.
Copyright © British Library Board. Via Europeana.]
The past two days I published two editorial pieces on the London/UK riots and a related instalment of my monthly column on London. It goes without saying they’re written from the perspective of a Mexican who lives in London.
They’re an attempt at making sense of the events, their possible causes and consequences, and at trying to offer an outsider-insider’s personal view for my readers in Mexico and Spanish-speaking countries, in their own language.
I had the honour of briefly meeting Will Eisner on Sunday 2 May 1999 in Mexico City. Below you will find the transcription of an interview with him I recorded (on tape) and never published at the time.
Six years later, after the news of Eisner’s death, I finally transcribed it and published it for the first time on my now-closed Never Neutral blog on 5 January 2005. He was born on 6 March 1917, and would have been 94 today.
The idea is to discuss your view on the relationships between literature and sequential art…
Eisner: Sequential art is for me the new literacy. It is a literary form. It has the same discipline that other literary forms have. It is essentially a form of communication. But it is more than an art form, it is more than a pure literary form with text in. It lives in the space between text alone and film.
We are living now in a visual era, in which the need to communicate more graphically is so important that this medium, its ability to integrate words and pictures provides us with a vehicule of speedy communication. Storytelling in this medium is very sophisticated and it involves the ability to arrange images in a sequence that is both intelligent and relates to human experience.
That’s my vision of the medium. It is capable of dealing with subject matter far more sophisticated than we have seen so far. It has the difficulties of every medium. Every medium has limitations of some kind. Words alone must use words to describe something. Comics can draw a picture of something.
For example, if you as a writer use words alone to describe a scene, say, an old staircase, you would have to describe, to say, “the wood was chipped, the boards were not sitting right and the nails were coming loose” and so on. I can show that with one picture. I have that advantage. On the other hand, this medium, comics, does not have sound, does not have space, motion; it does not have a number of other things, we must deal with those shortcomings inventively and creatively.
What has been your greatest challenge to overcome these shortcomings?
Eisner: To me, the greatest challenge is to deal with internalization. With words alone I can’t describe how you are appearing inside even though you are smiling on the outside.
As you do in your single-page comics, like the one of the emergency call, of the robber breaking into a house…
Eisner: Yes, yes. These were my attempts to demonstrate that I could be in touch with that. This is my continuous struggle: to this day, I am struggling to be increasing my ability to demonstrate internal emotion as much as possible. My big goal, my big victory is that I can get my reader to have a tear. A movie can make you cry, yes, a book can make you cry, I want to be able to do that too.
But you must know you are able to do that…
Eisner: Sometimes, yes. I try very hard. For me these are my little victories.
As a creator you can be very complex, and as a theorist you are quite accessible. How do you perceive your target audience?
Eisner: As maturity. I am dealing with a compatibility of human experience. I like to, no, I must deal with someone who has had life experience. So if I show someone who is standing by a grave and we see only his back, I want my reader to understand, my readers must have a similar experience to understand what I am talking about. So I am dealing with maturity, not necessarily with intellectual level. My subject matter deals with intellectual things.
In my last book I am dealing with the social problem of what to do with the old people living in your house right now. In Life Force I dealt with the problem we have with mortality. What is the meaning of our life? Why are we here? Why are we different than the cockroach? That is an intellectual discussion. But I transmitted that information on an emotional and experiential level.
Your comics are also a discussion of what art means…
Eisner: I define “art” as the human ability to arrange things –whether they are buildings, or images, or stones, or wood or jewelry- in an interesting and intelligible form. I call comics a “literary-art” form, because I am working with a medium that is attempting to deal with the literary aspect of human communication; it is a combination of the two.
Aren’t you tired of comics? Is there a future for the medium?
Eisner: There is a future for comics. Just as there is a future for human communication, just as there is a need in all societies for human communication. What we are always struggling with is the technology of storytelling. There was a time when printing was very crude. There was only a cave and a piece of chalk to draw. Then it became printing, and then there is film, and now is Internet, or multimedia.
Those are the things that are changing. But what never changes and will not change, I predict, is the need of human societies for storytelling. Because from stories we learn how to deal with life. And the struggle with life will continue. As long as there is a struggle for life I will have stories to tell.
Thank you, Mr Eisner.
Eisner: Thank you.