Public Programs And Events

New York Comics & Picture-Story Symposium: Featuring Will Eisner

New York Comics & Picture-Story Symposium: Featuring Will Eisner

Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Auditorium (Room N101), Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
General Public 

Will Eisner: Breaking Fourth Walls since 1940 (if not earlier)

Originating in theater, the concept of the “fourth wall” refers to the plane through which a viewer experiences a traditional staged production. When an actor shatters the illusion of reality by acknowledging the audience’s presence—often by directly addressing the viewers—that is known as “breaking the fourth wall.” The term has come to be used for similar behavior by characters in movies, TV shows and, of course, comics. From at least as early as Richard Outcault and The Yellow Kid, through Stan Lee addressing his readers in the captions of classic Marvel Comics stories, to Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar literally speaking to their readers, comics shares—and celebrates—the potential of narrative arts to create and destroy (sometimes simultaneously) the illusion of reality that its stories work so hard to create. Raised by a theater set-painter father, comics innovator Will Eisner was part of this long tradition of fourth wall breaking. Eisner’s stories were filled with bigger-than-life characters who periodically interrupted the action—breaking the fourth wall—to address the reader or to boldly call attention to the fact that they were, indeed, characters in a comic book. Like the mask-wielding characters in Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude (and the Mad Magazine spoof thereof), George Burns commenting on the other actors in his sitcom as he watches them on closed circuit spycams, or Woody Allen bringing the “real” Marshall McLuhan into a scene to interact with characters in Annie Hall, Eisner was always glad to speak directly to readers of The Spirit, his classic noir-comics feature—or to have the Spirit (or another character) do it for him. Join comics writer and historian Danny Fingeroth (chair of Will Eisner Week) and a panel of fourth-wall-breaking experts including Dean Haspiel (The Red Hook), N.C. Christopher Couch (The Will Eisner Companion) and Christa Cassano (Ghetto Klown) as they explore Eisner’s innovative illusion-shattering in comics, and place it in an enlightening context of creative risk-taking in other comics and in other media.

WILL EISNER (1917-2005) innovated and pioneered comics in two different eras. Eisner helped invent the comics industry in the 1930s and created The Spirit in the 1940s as a heroic crime-fighting figure who appeared in a Sunday newspaper comics insert. The Spirit walked through a world of noir-inflected, urban drama, one suffused with humor and insight into the human condition, a world not afraid to essay the occasional Yiddish in-joke or Bronx social drama vignette. Then, after producing comics for training and education, Eisner, in 1978, re-invented himself—and the comics medium—with his first graphic novel, A Contract With God, followed, until his 2005 passing, with many acclaimed graphic novels and textbooks.



Emmy & Ringo award winner DEAN HASPIEL created Billy Dogma, The Red Hook, War Cry,illustrated for HBO’s Bored To Death, is a Yaddo fellow, a playwright, and helped pioneer personal webcomics. Dino has worked for Marvel, DC/Vertigo, Archie, Dark Horse, IDW, Heavy Metal, etc., including The Fox, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Deadpool, X-men, Batman, The Fantastic Four, Godzilla, Mars Attacks, and collaborated with Harvey Pekar, Jonathan Ames, Jonathan Lethem, Mark Waid, Stan Lee, & Stoya.

CHRISTA CASSANO was recently nominated for an Eisner Award for co-adapting John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Klown into a graphic novel. She has contributed to the RESIST! and A.P.B.- Artists Against Police Brutality anthologies, was an Artist-in-Residence at Yaddo and The Atlantic Center for the Arts, and is currently working on a new graphic series.

N. C. CHRISTOPHER COUCH is the author of numerous books and articles on graphic novels and comic art, including The Will Eisner Companion (with Stephen Weiner) and Will Eisner: A Retrospective (with Peter Myer). He was senior editor at Kitchen Sink Press (Northampton), where he served as Eisner’s editor, and has taught at Amherst, Columbia, Hampshire, Haverford, Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges, and the School of Visual Arts.

DANNY FINGEROTH (chair of Will Eisner Week) was Group Editor of Marvel’s Spider-Man line and has written many comics, including Spider-Man and Iron Man. He is the author of Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society and Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero. Fingeroth has spoken and taught about comics at The Smithsonian Institution, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Columbia University and the MiMaster Art Institute in Milan. He’s currently writing a biography of Marvel’s Stan Lee for St. Martin’s Press. Find out more at:


Presented by the School of Art, Media and Technology at Parsons School of Design.

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