Where There’s a Will Eisner, There’s a Way to Enjoy the Spirit of Good Comics.

14 Jul

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There are always lessons in life to be learned. It’s taken me this long to realize, that no matter how old or young, either veteran or rank amateur, there are always going to shades of nuances left to instill on the sedulous path that one hopes to canvass. Comics can be there to help one to choose the course most wisely and a graphic novel borne from scratch by Will Eisner is akin to the sole equivalent of handing in a master thesis to a university professor. There is not one living being on this planet who can successfully dispute that Will Eisner is the ambrosia of the comic book industry, served without appetizer.

    Now, how did I walk in the door this late while class was in session ?
  Chalk it up to wanting comic books to mature along with you. One day, you wake up craving something more than the usual unctuous bread & butter mainstream fare which has the daily requirements of a stiff cardboard diet. You have your sugar powdered and undernourished diet of grown people in crotch hugging tights, and you have your furry animals who in turn sniff those crotches, and you have those mentally genre challenged types who buy nothing but anime, anime, anime, and anime just to see those characters expose their crotches. Independent and small press titles can still grab one’s attention looking for a health food diet of diversity, but you take your chances good and bad.  THEN a series comes along, and no matter how favorably reviewed ( or not that favorably reviewed ) will keep your heartstrings tugging along for perhaps all of eternity, or when hence said provider writer/artist/creator raises the capital to publish the next issue.
  With Will Eisner, you can’t go wrong the man is a genre all to himself. As testament to the inventor of the graphic novel, my eyes have recently feasted upon the current printing of The Dreamer (the DC Comics Will Eisner Library) and having completed it in one sitting clocking in around one hour and half of reading time, my gut reaction was as if a revelation has suddenly enveloped over me; releasing a floodgate of consonance steadfast in the ultimate plateau of storytelling. Not only is it an enlightening read of a personal account into the hardships of breaking into the comic book industry during the era of the 1940’s sharing the spotlight with characters built on onerous legends such as Jack Kirby and Milton Caniff, but it sort of acts as a behind the scenes reference material on the passion and the pratfalls of running a comic book company.
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The book that launched the graphic novel ship of millions- a definitive game changer.
As soon as I finished reading The Dreamer, I had immediately had to have more so I placed in an order through Diamond’s Star System to obtain the entire Will Eisner library that DC has gotten the rights to keep in print including; The Building, A Life Force, Droopsie Avenue, Life On Another Planet, and Eisner’s latest, A Minor Miracle. Dark Horse also has a relatively new work from Eisner entitled The Last Days in Vietnam (printed on pulp style paper). Now I may have all of these wonderful masterworks in my possession, but as of this writing, I haven’t had the time to savor them yet.
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   Even as I push to the side these revamped sequential editions of serendipity (due to lack of funds that I hope soon to rectify – hey, do you have any idea what it cost to publish your own comic book these days ?), I’ve still managed to place the mind on idle during the course of the holiday season drooling over page after page of the first three volumes of the archives commemorating the septuagenarian anniversary of the Spirit Sunday strips.
   For those not in the know, The Spirit Sunday section elicited comics’ first exposure to total independence and sole ownership. Eisner struck a lucky unprecedented deal with The Register and Tribune Syndicate to produce a weekly eight page comic book style strip as an insert to major Sunday newspapers across the country and retained ownership and all rights to the characters – something practically unheard of in those early 1940’s war-torn days of fly by night sleazy syndicate strip owners who would rather crack their hackneyed slaves over the skull with a bullwhip then freely surrender the reins of their own creation to them.
    With The Spirit, you got the best in adventure, romance and sheer thrills and derring-do that comics had to offer and remains even unparalleled to this day. Besides The Spirit, (aka Denny Colt, a police detective once believed to be dead) also included were a colorful palate of supporting characters such as his bumbling assistant Ebony White, Police Commissioner Dolan, and his ever persistent love stricken daughter Ellen, who’s always trying to be one of the boys. The Spirit also has his fair share of worthy adversaries, although most of them were mainly rugged gangsters and con men, a few stick out of the bunch: femme fatales P’Gell and Silk Satin, The ever unseen Octopus, and Carrion with his vulture companion.
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 Above: my first exposure to a Spirit comic book strip was in this book that mom got me for my tenth birthday, but  to a eight year old, I wasn’t mature enough to grasp was going in the strip.  
   Each week’s adventure was as varied and eclectic as a comic strip could get. One week, the Spirit is out halfway around the world smashing a spy ring or a gang of saboteurs and the next he could be playing cowboy somewhere out in the high plains. Mostly the Spirit stuck around his home base of Central City kicking ass over racketeers, crime lords, witches, and masked archers. I cite the example of my old favorite Spirit adventure, The Jewel of Death ( reprinted in Volume 3 of the 26 volume The Spirit Archives hardcovers reprinted by DC Comics ) which I first read when I was eight years old when it was presented in Jules Feiffer’s memoir The Great Comic Book Heroes ( Feiffer was an assistant on the 1940’s strip). Here you have The Spirit, lurking about Damascus searching for a doctor who has the antidote for a plague sweeping over Central City. He even goes as far as seeking information in a seedy bar that is hard pressed to serve him a glass of milk. Getting roughed up by Arabian Knight rejects, dodging a massive earthquake, and being the bearer of a prophecy coming true is all in a day’s work for our hero. This particular episode sticks out from the rest of the pack for the sole reason that The Spirit is sporting white threads instead of his traditional blue ones. As seeing how DC is printing these volumes in chronological order, the following week’s strip had him back on his home turf; business as usual, protecting a renown comic book artist from fussy gangsters. That’s how versatile Eisner made his creation.
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There are a total of 26 volumes of the Spirit Archives that run for $50.00 a pop, but you might be fortunate to seek deals on Amazon or Ebay. 
    No one can equal or parallel his style, attempting to ape it would leave one’s career in tatters if one so much as steps one step close to his level of unbridled genius. He is a one man band and traveling show. He will teach you and you learn to do it your own way. It would take more than a hundred Rob Liefelds or Todd McFarlanes to reach the pinnacle at the top of their milestone game to be on equal footing
    Just when you think you have everything and you just want to pack it all in and leave, here comes Eisner like gangbusters just like a consummate actor such as Al Pacino in Godfather III with something new and magical enough to pull you back in.
    The above was originally written for the Comics Buyer’s Guide sometime in 2000 while Eisner was still alive. I’m rather short on time this week and have been swamped heavily with overtime at the office, and with San Diego Comic Con International just around the corner, I found this lovely morsel in my e-mail draft file and I thought maybe posting this would be appropriate since (I think Spike TV broadcasts or streams it on television these days – BUT DON’T QUOTE ME ON IT) an award show is held at the venue in Eisner’s name. 
 
    Since originally composing this piece, as you no doubt know that Eisner passed away at the age of 88 in 2005 and since then his greatest creation, The Spirit has been revived several times across three different publishers with brand new stories by such juggernaut talents in the industry such as Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore (Kitchen Sink), the late Darwyn Cooke, J.Bone (for DC) and Matt Wagner (Dynamite Entertainment). There was also a team up with the Rocketeer in a four issue mini-series published by IDW.
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Worse comic book to film adaptation ever made. A direct poke to the scrotum insult to the legacy of Will Eisner 
    Forgot to mention that there was at one time a campy television movie made in the late 1980’s starring Flash Gordon’s Sam Jones and introduced Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Nana Visitor. In the late 2000’s, Frank Miller on one side, a modern comics renaissance man but on the other, a poor agent provocateur of directing movie flops unleashed his atrocious version of The Spirit in 2008 (it was subtitled Frank Miller’s The Spirit for ego kicks) that served as a bastard child to Robert Rodriguez’ s 2005 Sin City (a segment of that movie that Rodriguez allowed Miller to direct much to the chagrin of the DGA). The sidekick of Ebony White was omitted from the movie due to fear of racial stereotyping, but Miller goes ahead and has Samuel Jackson’s portrayal of the Octopus garbed in Nazi soldier regalia which was in fucking poor racist bad taste. I had seen this train wreck of a movie at a theater in Las Vegas and it was lucky for me, that my date, who happened to be a very modest religious black female had shined me on to accompany me to this movie. And it was a fucking good thing that she did, because I’m sure I would’ve been known as the white scourge you would want to avoid during a bi-racial one night stand.
    I will be down at Comic Con International this year on the first (the 20th) and the third day only (the 22nd). On Saturday from 7:00PM – 9:00PM, I will be attending the WGAW Animation & Videogame Writers Caucus being held at the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina Bayside Pavillion. So I’m betting it’s safe to say, that I won’t see any of you there.
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