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Comic book pioneer Will Eisner dies at 87

Will Eisner was such a seminal figure in comic books _ from the golden age of Superman to today's era of Maus and manga _ that the industry's Eisner Award was named after him. There was no other candidate of such stature.

The father of the graphic novel, Mr. Eisner, 87, died Monday (Jan. 3, 2005) in Lauderdale Lakes from complications related to quadruple bypass surgery.

"Will was a pioneer in putting words and pictures together to form a single unit," said Jules Feiffer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic strip artist and screenwriter (Carnal Knowledge). "He was always innovative _ and the best storyteller in the business."

Feiffer worked in 1946 on Mr. Eisner's groundbreaking comic, The Spirit, his most popular creation. The 16-page supplement was included in newspapers, reaching some 5-million readers.

Created in 1940 and retired in 1952, The Spirit has rarely been out of print. It even inspired the Escapist, the hero in Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay.

But Mr. Eisner's most influential creation was A Contract with God, published in 1978. Four connected short stories about faith, it was the first graphic novel, establishing what is now the fastest-growing genre in publishing.

Mr. Eisner is survived by his wife Ann and their son, John.

Clearwater High graduate in finale of "Rebel Billionaire'

Richard Branson is one of her business heroes, and now Clearwater High graduate Sara Blakely is one step from running his empire.

Blakely, 33 and founder of the Spanx hosiery line, was chosen by Branson as one of the final two contestants in his Fox reality show The Rebel Billionaire in Tuesday's episode. Branson's other choice was Shawn Nelson, 27, CEO of the LoveSac national furniture chain.

The winner becomes president of Virgin Worldwide and gets $1-million.

Blakely and Nelson were teammates in the challenge given to the final four contestants, to create a video ad for Virgin's commercial space flight program. But Branson said he took into account all aspects of the competition in choosing them over Gabriel Baldinucci, 34, a real estate investor from Miami Beach, and Heather Maclean, 31, CEO of a video production company in Chicago.

The winner will be chosen in a two-hour finale next Tuesday.