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Two Masters of Paint, Pen & Ink have left their Studio and Us Behind...

Father Geek here with some sad, sad news to start off 2005... Two giants of pen and brush have departed this earthly realm. Comic Writer-Artist-Creator WILL EISNER, and legendary Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine and Book illustrator FRANK KELLY FREAS have died... both were active at their given trades until the end came. I count myself lucky to have met both these immortals at numberous events over the years (1971-2002), to have sat and talked with them informally, to have shared cups of coffee and food, to have collected their comics, magazines, and books, to have owned examples of their original art. They were not only great artists, but were great men; brilliant, fun, helpful, caring individuals who never stopped loving what they did for a living.

I last met with FRANK KELLY FREAS in Los Angeles over the Thanksgiving holidays of 2002. I spent hours in the exhibit booth he and his daughter had at an annual event called LOS-CON going through hundreds of drawings from his long career that he had brought to sell at the event where he and my son, Harry, were Guests of Honor. I collect robots, so they helped me dig out several of his versions, or should that be visions, of the metal men and women that populated the stories he had illustrated in ANALOG, IF, FANTASTIC UNIVERSE, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, even the old pulp PLANET STORIES. Annnd speaking of stories Kelly was full of them. Sixty years worth of tales of working with the writers and publishers and other artists that blazed the trail for the generations of Sci-fi lovers to follow. I still have everyone of those hand drawn robots, Adam Link to the Asimovs, even a large phantastical mounted Knight in Armour, and a wonderful whimsy of Alfred E. Neuman in pen & ink. I'll never forget Kelly Freas, I loved his art, I loved the man. Hanging in my bedroom here in Austin is one of his greatest works, an emotional painting of a robot more human than those who created him, a single tear rolling off his metal cheek. Its was done for the cover of the October 1953 issue of ASTOUNDING STORIES and later reused as an album cover by QUEEN, and then as Kelly's bio. That painting sums up FRANK KELLY FREAS for me... one of the definitive artists for Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazines and books... right up there with Frank R. Paul, Chesley Bonestell, Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok. Goodbye Kelly we here at Geek Headquarters will never ever forget you.

To me WILL EISNER was comicbooks. Even the industry's top awards are called THE EISNERS. This man's career spanned the entire history of the comicbook. He started in the newspapers and on June 2nd 1940 he introduced the world to THE SPIRIT by creating a comicbook sized newsprint insert to be included free in the Sunday paper. These "Spirit" inserts were to continue thru November 5th of 1952. No one else in comics history has done that, not Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, Peanuts, Little Orphan Annie, or Tarzan. These thin little "Giveaway" comicbooks can cost you up to 7 or 8 hundred dollars apiece now on Ebay. Will moved the SPIRIT over into real comicbooks in September of 1942 when it became the cover and lead story in POLICE #11 and that gem could now cost you $2800.00 at auction, if you can find one. Will established several influiencal art studios and began training future artists. THE SPIRIT continued with its own comic title in Quality Comics in 1944, then Fiction House in the summer of 1952, and Harvey in October of 1966. When Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton created a demand for UNDERGROUND comics in the late 60's and early 70's Eisner saw the chance to create more freely his complex characters so he struck a deal with Kitchen Sink Publishing and issued the 1st SPIRIT UNDERGROUND in Jan. 1973. He maintained his relationship with Dennis Kitchen thru time coming out with new underground titles, and publishing formats over the years, including THE NEW ADVENTURES OF THE SPIRIT in 1997. He traveled the world as a spokesman for comics & graphic novels, meeting with 100s of thousands of fans, teaching scores of artists and writers, and publishing their works. Like Kelly Freas he was a delightfully intense, inspiring individual... and the world is a lesser place for his passing, buuuut a better place for his having been among us. Farewell, WILL EISNER... AICN salutes you.

Well, that's it from Father Geek... I'm headed to curl up in bed under that wonderfully painful FREAS painting, and dig out my stack of early WWII era SPIRIT NEWSPAPER SECTIONS and remember two absolutely phantasmagorical talents, no... make that men.

Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 4, 2005, 6:37 p.m. CST


    by zappaman

    sweet princes. Goodnight...

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 6:47 p.m. CST

    by Evil Chicken

    Both were visionaries. Both will be missed. I always loved the Queen cover that Freas did and, of course, Alfred E. Newman. But Will Eisner's "The Spirit" became the prototype for the comic book industry. They will be missed. All the best to their families.

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 6:50 p.m. CST

    These two were giants

    by The Real McCoy

    It's always sad when we see the passing of a legend but even sadder when that legend is still producing amazing work. Eisner, despite his age, wasn't showing any signs of stopping. I was looking foward to reading Dark Horse Comics' new book featuring a LENGTHY transcript of conversation between Frank Miller and Eisner. He still had so much to teach.

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 6:59 p.m. CST

    The "Sad" Robot hangs at Geek Headquarters?

    by indio2

    Not sure that I know Eisner's work, I have a vague memory of a Spirit character wearing a blue suit and hat from my youth here in Mexico City, but I am very familiar with Kelly Freas as I read Analog and other digests of Sci-Fi constantly during my teenage years. Nobody could draw and paint gnomes as well as Freas..... By the way I have a HBK of THE COMING OF CONAN, the Gnome press edition illustrated by Freas...... Thanks for remembering them here......

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 6:59 p.m. CST

    0h man that sucks!

    by aphextwin

    Will Eisner was one of the most inluential artists in the comic industry. The way he used dark/ light area's, radical perspectives and the depiction of psychological/ emotional issues and mood; in one word: brilliant. Frank Miller, Stan Lee are one of the many artists who, admittedly, are admirers of Eisner's work. The strange fact is that although his influance has been undiniable, his recognition by the standard comic consumer wasn't. His most well known and most published work 'spirit', was mainly an underground piece of work. It never took off in the mainstream business. Luckily. It kept him from creative boundaries and this creative freedom helpt him to evolve as the unique artist we all admirer. Aphextwin

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 7:22 p.m. CST

    Very inspirational

    by pmarq

    A few years ago I'd won that ol' Illustrators of the Future contest. I had my work favorably evaluated by Eisner (he was a judge) and I got to meet Freas over a few days while I was in LA... I thought that Freas seemed like a gnome or a goblin, with his short stature, curled mustache and large toothy grin, and his stunning white hair in its big pompadour. He was truly a nice, generous soul, and it was great to meet him in person. Both of them worked hard to inspire younger artists, and I'm sorry to see that both have left the studio this week. Someday I'll be struck by just how much of a gift it was to meet him (and come in contact of sorts with Eisner); but today its like I lost a friend. God Rest Your Souls, Gentlemen.

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 7:27 p.m. CST

    Just this morning I was looking at his autograph in the Spirit a

    by Jack Ryder

    I've meet Eisner several times is Comic-con and he was always very friendly and giving. The first time I had the nerve to approach him was to have him autograph my copy of his sequential art book, He noticed my portpholio and asked if I was an artist too. I said I wanted to be, And he said if I enjoyed drawing, That was the important thing. I only get autographs for myself, not for re-sale, on books that are special to me. And Father Geek, If you curl up with WW11 era Spirits, You'll be enjoying the work of Jack Cole and Lou Fine. Eisner was away most of the war. Still, two greats worth remembering also.

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 7:46 p.m. CST

    The spirit is gone

    by Giant Fish

    Esiner's must have been the longest and most influential career of any story-telling artist. He was brilliant. Compare a panel of his from the 40's with any artist of the same era, and nobody whom I can think of comes close in when it comes to dynamic storytelling. He invented so many of the comic-book devices we take for granted today (like streaks to indicate motion). And he produced a page EVERY SINGLE DAY. Eisner is up there in the pantheon is great artists with Harold Foster, Jack Kirby and Carl Barks.

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 7:48 p.m. CST

    Regards to both Families

    by proper

    Although I am not as familiar with Frank Kelly Freas' work A Contract With God,A Life Force,City People Notebook,Dropsie Avenue,Fagin The Jew,Life On Another Planet,Minor Miracles,New York the Big City,The Dreamer and The Outer Space Spirit are all Eisner books I have enjoyed.Nice tribute,I hope the comics column this week gives out some other works to look out for from both men.

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 7:51 p.m. CST


    by Shigeru

    Will Eisner went to High School with Bob Kane for cripes sakes.... Eisner's contribution to the art form can NOT be overstated....god bless him.

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 8 p.m. CST

    Kelly Freas illustrated the first Dune series

    by zinc_chameleon

    That's Analog January 1964. His woodcuts are still the standard by which sci-fi art should be measured; close enough to the story to give it weight, impressionistic enough to let the reader use his imagination. Just the best.

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 8:04 p.m. CST

    Denny Colt walks into the sunset.

    by Uncapie

    Every year at San Diego, since I was a kid, I would spend time with Mr. Eisner who was a kind, gracious man. We'd talk about what made a great story and he'd read what material I brought for him to critique. He always gave me sage advice and helped me to become a better writer. The kindest thing he ever did was to sign my Wally Wood/Will Eisner "Spirit" collaboration where Denny Colt went to the moon with a group of scientists and convicts. He signed the phrase to me: "To Denny Colt's alter ego, your friend, Will Eisner." Little did I know, that when I saw him last year, it would be the last time. I will never forget what a great man he was and that the comic world has lost a legend that can never be replaced.

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 8:41 p.m. CST

    That Sux :( (although it isn't entirely unexpected)

    by LeFlambeur

    Will Eisner was one of the greatest comix creaters ever. There will never be another like him.

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 9:54 p.m. CST

    A friend at work summed it up best

    by RenoNevada2000

    when talking about Eisner. "I always just assumed he was one of the immortals who would always be with us..."

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 10:53 p.m. CST

    Queen Album Cover?

    by Billy_Oblivion

    That painting is a lot more interesting in geek history than as a Queen album cover. It was the cover for the Astounding issue mentioned in the story, yes. But the story it portrayed was "Farewell To The Master" by Harry Bates. So what? Hint: you know that robot as "Gort". Another hint: the name of the human was "Klaatu". If you haven't got it yet, go away and never come back to this site. You are not worthy.

  • Jan. 4, 2005, 11:25 p.m. CST

    Will Eisner is the greatest!!!!

    by Redbox

    Good Bye will! Good bye Sand! Goodbye Denny! Goodbye Wildwood Cemetary! Goodbye sweet Ellem! Bye Dolan! P'Gell, Silk Satin and even poor dated and racially stereotyped Ebony White. Goodbye Will! You are the great one who godfathered comics. Say hi to Kirby, Walt Kelly and especially to poor Jack Cole. Signed -The Octopus Cheers!!

  • The Rev and other fucking morons can go to hell, this man touched millions,thousands of whom went on to bring us treasured art and stories. A Comics Patriarch is gone and will never be forgotton...

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 1:22 a.m. CST

    rip Will Eisner

    by gigaloff

    The father of modern comics.

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 1:48 a.m. CST

    I'm just finishing up Vol. 5 of DC's THE SPIRIT ARCHIVES!!! Gre

    by Eugene O

    If you've never read Eisner, check this stuff out!!!

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 9:20 a.m. CST

    John Law

    by Bradbury

    Fans of Eisner should check out the very recent IDW book "Will Eisner's John Law." Law was a character Will introduced 56 years ago, and a few years ago he let Aussie artist Gary Chaloner revive the character in a really brilliantly done series. The book collects the work of both Chaloner and Eisner's original stuff. Chaloner is still doing John Law, as well as illustrating Tim Byrd's "Doc Wilde" series, juvenile adventures about a contemporary Doc Savage type having adventures with his kids.

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 9:42 a.m. CST

    Will Eisner

    by Lizzybeth

    Eisner can be credited with almost single-handedly inventing the graphic novel and spearheading the underground comics movement that lead to most of today's best work. He actually improved with age, too. I plan to pick up some more of his stuff today.

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 10:52 a.m. CST

    A great loss, a great influence

    by CarlSayagin2

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 12:33 p.m. CST

    A sad loss, both....

    by RobinP

    ..but their legacy will live on forever. Rest in Peace, guys. Job well done.

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 1:07 p.m. CST


    by DocPazuzu

    Are you sure about that? I could have sworn the original Analog Dune art was by John Schoenherr. I may be wrong, though. Either way, the passing of Eisner and Freas is a huge loss to comic and fantasy-SF art.

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 1:49 p.m. CST


    by Cilohocla

    The image was used on the cover of Queen's News of the World album which is notable for having We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions.

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 5:18 p.m. CST

    I don't know what to say.

    by The Beast

    I was a Kubert School graduate, and Joe often spoke of Will Eisner. They were good friends, and grew up in comics together. I felt like I could learn so much just by looking at his stuff. I always hoped that one day I'd get to meet him and talk to him about his life, and comics and what have you, but now I guess all I have is a leagacy of work he left behind and continue learning the way I ALWAYS did, and just by reading. I think I'm just rambling now, but this is a sad day in the world, and ANYBODY in comics, dailies, or illustration these days that's worth a damn, or even the HACKS that tend to become a little more famous than they deserve, owes Will Eisner a debt of gratittude, and a piece of their soul, because all these men and women are copys of copys... and it all comes back to the brains behind storytelling, Will Eisner. I'm going to my room now, and I'm going to read The Dreamer over and over until my eyes fall out. This fucking sucks.

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 5:22 p.m. CST

    one more thing...

    by The Beast

    The Spirit was more than just a character, he was the spirit of comics, as was Will Eisner. I think that's it now.

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 6:09 p.m. CST

    Two giants

    by scortch

    Kelly I knew from growing up in Virginia Beach. A sweetheart of a guy, a great and generous talent. A year ago I started the New Year with the passing of my grandmother. This year, it pains me almost as much to think that a great fellow isn't around to share his talent and spirit with the world any more. Unfortunately, last year followed the death of one grandparent with another and this year, I was kicked just as hard when I was just as down by the news that Will Eisner was no longer with us. Unlike Kelly, I never met, let alone knew the man. Still - he was my comic book hero. All my other comics came and went over the years, traded, sold, given away. My Spirit sections, gathered and hoarded since I was 8, have always been in my possession along with every reprint I could get. I have the Spirit portfolio, the Contract With God signed first edition, everything I could get that was Eisner. Wow. No matter what happens this year on the good end of things, I hate having to start the year with such a sense of great, great loss.

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 7:09 p.m. CST

    Teardrop Robot

    by K|LLDOZER

    That album cover was one of the first I remember as a child - a waypoint in the journey of building my conscious processes. I remember staring at it for a long time trying to decipher the subtext of the image and building the story that led up to the snapshot in my mind. It was a great awakening for my cognitive senses, and always stops me in my tracks when i see it rendered again. a masterpiece of illustration - what a sorry day this is. nicely reviewed - we've lost a giant.

  • Jan. 5, 2005, 8:40 p.m. CST

    Something Possessed Me

    by CaptDanielRoe

    A couple of months ago, to buy a signed limited edition of Eisner's "City People," a hardbound collection of his cartoons on the subject. I never buy stuff like that. I wonder what it would fetch on Ebay today, but on the other hand it will be a great heirloom for my son if he turns out to have a taste for such things.

  • Jan. 6, 2005, 3:23 a.m. CST

    Kelly Freas Remembered

    by DrStrange

    Being in the LA area I not only know of the aforementioned Loscon but have been to several of them. Held every Thankgiving weekend like clockwork, and with equal regularity one would see KElley Freas in the Dealer's Room sitting at one of the tables signing shirts with some of his artwork on them and just generally chatting with anyone that came up to him. It looked like he enjoyed the atmosphere of the event about as much as anyone else and could have been anyone's grandfather. Quite accessible. This last convention (2004), I noticed that he was not in his usual position. New location, I thought, maybe jhe'll be back next year... Now I know why he didn't make it; he must have been ailing even back then. The people over at Lasfs (the group behind the Loscons) have a saying that bdeath does not escape one from membership, and I think that sort of applies here to fandom in general. The big names of Fandom never die, they live on in the work they leave behind them. So long for now, Mister Freas; you'll live again every time we see one of your pictures.

  • Jan. 6, 2005, 8:35 a.m. CST

    Recent CRACKED covers Mr Freas was doin too

    by isispop

    Hey all...I'm J. Long time reader/fan of this site. I've hardly ever posted though. I just wanted to say that I'm a current artist for CRACKED Magazine (yes, it's still around) & Mr. Freas was doing the recent covers for it. You probably already know that he used to do some MAD covers back in the day too. Anyhow, this guy was a class act. It is a sad day when a legend like him passes and us hacks have less & less artists like him to look up to. Thanks for the great art Kelly. We'll try to do you proud.

  • Feb. 10, 2005, 3:44 p.m. CST


    by Bradbury

    Here's a couple links, one for Eisner's John Law, the other for Doc Wilde.

  • Feb. 10, 2005, 3:46 p.m. CST

    Links Fixed

    by Bradbury

    Not sure those links came through right the first time; sorry for the double post. Here's a couple links, one for Eisner's John Law, the other for Doc Wilde.

  • Feb. 10, 2005, 3:55 p.m. CST

    Sigh. One Last Try

    by Bradbury

    I'mgiving it one last try to get the links right... Here's a couple links, one for Eisner's John Law, and the other for Doc Wilde.