“It’s like finding the notebooks of the boy Shakespeare.”
This was Locust Moon Press Publisher Josh O’Neill’s awe-struck reaction upon seeing the newly discovered artwork of Will Eisner — his earliest known comics, drawn when he was just a young man finding his voice.
The importance of Will Eisner in the history of comics cannot be overestimated. The restless innovator, pioneer of the graphic novel, and creator of THE SPIRIT spent the bulk of the 20th Century pushing the comics medium forward. But despite endless scholarship on Eisner and his many achievements, little is known about his earliest work — until now.
His very first known comics, never-before-seen strips from his teenage years, have recently been discovered among a collection of 1930s printing plates. The multiple Eisner and Harvey Award-winning Locust Moon Press intends to publish these strips in a definitive edition entitled THE LOST WORK OF WILL EISNER, which will highlight the first origins of one of the forefathers of modern cartooning. They launched a Kickstarter today in an effort to fund the production of this historically vital book.
These remarkable and revelatory comics were lost to history until New Jersey artist and antique collector Joe Getsinger re-discovered them, hidden among an enormous lot of 1930s-era printing plates that he purchased on a lark from a friend at a collectors’ poker game.
At first Joe didn’t know what he had — but he became fascinated by two strips, UNCLE OTTO by a mysterious Carl Heck, and HARRY KARRY, credited to another unknown artist named Willis B. Rensie. As Getsinger studied the plates and learned more about the provenance of this massive collection, he found that it was linked to Empire Features, a company that provided printing plates to various newspapers for syndication. Eisner & Iger Studios — the partnership between the very young Jerry Iger and Will Eisner to distribute and publish their many fledgling comic books, strips, and magazines — was one of Empire Features’ many customers.
One day shortly after becoming aware of this connection, Getsinger was looking at a reverse-printed plate and it came to him in a flash: “Rensie” is Eisner backwards. He suddenly knew that what he had here was of extraordinary historical value.
UNCLE OTTO and HARRY KARRY, it turns out, represent the earliest known sequential artwork of Will Eisner — and until now, outside of their titles and a very small smattering of strips salvaged from the few local newspapers that intermittently published them, their contents were almost completely unknown.
Says Locust Moon creative director Chris Stevens, “In these strips you see Eisner’s imagination expanding, almost in real time. He’s experimenting with the possibilities of serialized storytelling and working through his many influences — there are very distinct E.C. Segar and Alex Raymond phases. By the end of the HARRY KARRY run you see him emerge with a close approximation of the style that brought him success and fame with THE SPIRIT in 1940.”
In an effort to raise the funds necessary to produce this project, Locust Moon is turning to crowdfunding. This is their first such campaign since their multiple-award-winning sensation LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM lit Kickstarter up and generated over $150,000.
“Will Eisner is the pioneer of the graphic novel and one of the architects of our modern cartooning language,” says Stevens. “This material gives people a chance to see where he started, and how he became what he become. These are the roots of Will Eisner.”
Locust Moon is seeking $20,000 to fund the publication of a prestige hardcover collecting this unpublished artwork, along with contextual essays and an introduction by historian, publisher, and cartoonist Denis Kitchen. Their Kickstarter campaign is ongoing, and ends on December 10th.
“We want to publish this important document of the genesis of one of the most influential and brilliant cartoonists of all time,” says Locust Moon Editor-in-Chief Andrew Carl. “This book will fill in valuable pieces in Eisner’s biography, and constitute a more complete history of the comics medium.”
“But we can’t do it without you.”