All right, then, Holidays are over, everybody back to the grind. This week we’ve finally gotten around to debuting Suzie’s Uncle Chuck in all his food-stained glory. We thank you for your patience, although there’s as good a chance everyone was far too busy with new toys to be keeping up with the Ranch. I know I was both blessed and cursed with a little productivity killer known as Dragon Age: Origins, which the artist was also taken enough with that we finally had to go out and buy her her own copy for her PC so we’d stop fighting over Xbox time. Bioware RPGs are like designer drugs for us.

On the more productive front, I was also presented with a copy of Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art. If you don’t know who Will Eisner is, you probably don’t need to worry about it as a casual comics fan. I’ll freely admit that for a good portion of my life I didn’t know, and then when I heard the name I first thought, “The guy who used to run Disney?” (for the record, that was Michael Eisner).

Everyone’s heard of Stan Lee, but in the professional comics world Will Eisner is regarded as one of the great movers, shakers, and innovators of comics as an art form, including being credited as the inventor of the graphic novel. His best known creation is The Spirit, a two-fisted detective who recently featured in an abortion of a film that probably would have been better off labeled “Sin City 2” than anything to do with Eisner’s hero. That’s probably how most people outside the comics industry ever heard of The Spirit, but then again the movie (quite deservedly) bombed, so I’d guess he’s still not on the minds of the man and woman on the street the way Spider-Man or Superman are.

Regardless of which, you look at the comics of The Spirit and, at face value, they’re very simplistic and cartoony tales. It’s the way they’re told that matters, so much so that years ago when Neil Gaiman first decided to write comics, one of the first books he sought out was the one I just got for Christmas. The yearly comic industry awards given out at the San Diego Comic Con are named in honor of Will Eisner, and the Eisner awards are more or less the Oscars of sequential art. You might notice it even labeled on some graphic novels or trade paperbacks in the same way you see Academy Awards listed on movie DVDs… “Winner of 2 Eisner awards!”

Eisner died just a few years ago, but he left a definite legacy. Pick up a Best of The Spirit collection and you’ll see how sixty years ago this guy and his proteges were telling comics stories in crazy, exciting ways that even today a lot of publications don’t bother with. Comics and Sequential Art is an outgrowth of the arts classes he taught for many years in New York City, and is his collected treatise of the principles and techniques he observed, cataloged, and used over the years to really make the most of the unique medium of comics. It’s not just the words. It’s not just the drawings. It’s everything.

Now for certain, you don’t need to study Will Eisner to make a successful comic, any more than you need to study Sophocles to be a successful playwright. But there’s a lot of good ideas to be had, whether you’re a writer, or an artist, or an interested reader, or some or all of the above. So I’m a happy man to have Eisner’s book in my possession.

Now that I’ve filled up most of this blog with Eisner love, I should probably get to the observation that led to my header for this week. It’s going to seem short by comparison, but what the heck. The wife and I were listening to the HP Podcraft broadcast recently and they were doing a segment on Herbert West: Re-Animator. Now this is the original short story by H. P. Lovecraft they were talking of, not the movie. I’ve actually never seen the movie. But the podcasters reminded me that back in 1922, H. P. Lovecraft had written a story about dead people brought back to a semblance of life, and those reanimated corpses had a ravening hunger for human flesh.

Now H. P. Lovecraft is most famous for writing of Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones of his Cthulhu Mythos, and the Herbert West story often isn’t included in collections of his works. But there it is, and the podcast team quite correctly picked up on this and talked about it: Lovecraft had the cannibalistic undead theme on paper decades before Romero ever looked through a camera lens. Whatever his shortcomings as a writer might have been, I still consider Lovecraft to be one of the great innovators of post-Gothic horror, and this is just one more reason why.