By Kat Kan, MLS
Most people who work with comics in school, public, or academic libraries should have at least heard the name Will Eisner. He wrote and drew comics from the 1930s until his death in early January of 2005. He created the character called The Spirit, wrote military how-to manuals in comic book format during WWII, and continued that work in PS, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly until 1971. He also wrote and illustrated graphic novels, starting with A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories in 1978.
In testament to his standing in the industry, Eisner is commemorated in a number of ways. The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, among the major comics industry awards in the U.S., have been given out since 1988 as part of San Diego Comic-Con International. After his death, Eisner’s niece and nephew, Nancy and Carl Gropper, started the Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation. The Foundation has funded library grants in cooperation with the American Library Association, and in 2009 began to commemorate Eisner’s birthday with Will Eisner Week — an annual celebration promoting comics, graphic novel literacy, free speech, and the legacy of Will Eisner. The celebration runs from March 1–7 every year (Eisner’s birthday is March 6). By 2017, which would have been Eisner’s 100th birthday, various agencies produced more than 100 events around the U.S. and in other countries.
For several years now, I have run a small program for Will Eisner Week at my local public library, Bay County Public Library (In fact, my 2016 program has been mentioned in the Will Eisner Week Playbook since 2017). In the past, the library had me do a program for kids and teens on a weekday afternoon, where I featured lots of age-appropriate comics for attendees to look at and gave away some free comics. This year, we scheduled an early evening program for all ages, and I brought a sampling of recently published graphic novels and comics for all ages, from TOON Books for very early readers up to graphic novels for adult readers, including Eisner’s last book, The Plot, a nonfiction account of the anti-Semitic hoax The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. I put together a one-page handout with a short biography of Eisner, and I downloaded a great comic about Eisner from Pop Culture Classroom, written by Jill Gerber, illustrated by Matt Strackbein, and edited by Dr. Katie Monnin (it’s a free download). The library made several copies of each handout available for those who attended. I gave a short talk about Eisner and his accomplishments, the Eisner Awards, and how librarians became closely connected to them by serving as judges on the Eisner juries.
We had a small audience of several families and one retired college professor who taught comics at his former institution up north (he’s what we call a snowbird: a winter resident in Florida). I brought a selection of free comics for people to take with them and encouraged everyone to come back for Free Comic Book Day in May. Considering that Panama City had suffered catastrophic damage from Hurricane Michael just five months before our program, I think it was a great success.
Programs around the country range from comics celebrity-studded panel discussions, film festivals, and comics conventions to small-town library programs, which cover just about anything related to Eisner himself or any aspect of comics and comics fandom. The Foundation provides access to a Playbook with all kinds of ideas for programming, a short biography of Eisner, and a list of past programs in many different libraries domestically and internationally. They also produce a poster and flyer each year featuring art from Eisner that any organization can customize with their program information. All of this is available at www.willeisner.com. This is a great resource for libraries to draw upon when developing their own programs and celebrations.
Anyone can sign up to hold a program. Check the official web site of Will Eisner Studios, Inc. later on this year (signups usually open around November) to sign up for 2020. If you do, you can email details about your program to be included in their list for 2020, and you can request posters to put up in your library. You can do anything from holding a mini-comic convention, to a comics how-to program, to something like my program, which was more of what I call a “comics petting zoo” with books people for people to look at. Other libraries have done displays of Eisner’s works. If you have a local comics retailer who is willing to support libraries, you could partner with the retailer for a program. If you know any comics creators local to your area, you might want to ask them to do a comics workshop; that’s what I’d like to do next year.
Just take it from me — conducting a Will Eisner Week program is both fun and easy!
If you’re looking for a graphic novel guru, you’re looking for Kat Kan. Kat looks like the stereotypical librarian with glasses and a bun, until you see the hair sticks and notice her earrings may be tiny books, TARDISes from Doctor Who, or LEGO Batgirls. Click here for more.