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Will Eisner's Spirit Magazine

Info About The Spirit:

The Spirit is a fictional masked crimefighter created by cartoonist Will Eisner. He first appeared June 2, 1940 in "The Spirit Section", the colloquial name given to a 16-page Sunday supplement, distributed to 20 newspapers by the Register and Tribune Syndicate and reaching five million readers during the 1940s. From the 1960s to 1980s, a handful of new Eisner Spirit stories appeared in Harvey Comics and elsewhere, and Warren Publishing and Kitchen Sink Press variously reprinted the feature in black-and-white comics magazines and in color comic books. In the 1990s and 2000s, Kitchen Sink[clarification needed] and DC Comics published new Spirit stories by other writers and artists.
The Spirit chronicles the adventures of a masked vigilante who fights crime with the blessing of the city's police commissioner Dolan, an old friend. Despite the Spirit's origin as detective Denny Colt, his real identity was virtually unmentioned again, and for all intents and purposes he was simply "the Spirit". The stories range through a wide variety of styles, from straightforward crime drama and noir to lighthearted adventure, from mystery and horror to comedy and love stories, often with hybrid elements that twisted genre and reader expectations. Eisner said in an interview that he created the strip as a vehicle to explore various genres: "When I created The Spirit, I never had any intention of creating a superhero. I never felt The Spirit would dominate the feature. He served as a sort of an identity for the strip. The stories were what I was interested in."[1]
The feature was the lead item of a 16-page, tabloid-sized, newsprint comic book sold as part of eventually 20 Sunday newspapers with a combined circulation of as many as five million copies. "The Spirit Section", as it was colloquially called, premiered June 2, 1940, and continued until October 5, 1952. It generally included two other, four-page strips (initially Mr. Mystic and Lady Luck), plus filler material. Eisner worked as editor, but also wrote and drew most entries—generally, after the first few months, with such uncredited collaborators as writer Jules Feiffer and artists Jack Cole and Wally Wood, though with Eisner's singular vision for the character as a unifying factor.

Publication history

In late 1939, Everett M. "Busy" Arnold, publisher of the Quality Comics comic-book line, began exploring an expansion into newspaper Sunday supplements, aware that many newspapers felt they had to compete with the suddenly burgeoning new medium of American comic books. Arnold compiled a presentation piece with existing Quality Comics material. An editor of The Washington Star liked George Brenner's The Clock, but not Brenner's art, and was favorably disposed toward a Lou Fine strip. Arnold, concerned over the meticulous Fine's slowness and his ability to meet deadlines, claimed it was the work of Eisner, Fine's boss at the Eisner & Iger studio, from which Arnold bought his outsourced comics work.
In "late '39, just before Christmas time," Eisner recalled in 1979,[2] "Arnold came to me and said that the Sunday newspapers were looking for a way of getting into this comic book boom". In a 2004 interview, Eisner elaborated on that meeting:
"Busy" invited me up for lunch one day and introduced me to [sales manager of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Syndicate] Henry Martin, who said, "The newspapers in this country, particularly the Sunday papers, are looking to compete with comics books, and they would like to get a comic-book insert into the newspapers"... Martin asked if I could do it... It meant that I'd have to leave Eisner & Iger [which] was making money; we were very profitable at that time and things were going very well. A hard decision. Anyway, I agreed to do the Sunday comic book and we started discussing the deal [which] was that we'd be partners in the "Comic Book Section", as they called it at that time.[3]
Eisner negotiated an agreement with the syndicate in which Arnold would copyright The Spirit, but, "Written down in the contract I had with 'Busy' Arnold — and this contract exists today as the basis for my copyright ownership — Arnold agreed that it was my property. They agreed that if we had a split-up in any way, the property would revert to me on that day that happened. My attorney went to 'Busy' Arnold and his family, and they all signed a release agreeing that they would not pursue the question of ownership."[3] This would include the eventual backup features, "Mr. Mystic" and "Lady Luck."
Selling his share of their firm to Iger, who would continue to package comics as the S. M. Iger Studio and as Phoenix Features through 1955, for $20,000,[4] Eisner left to create The Spirit. "They gave me an adult audience", Eisner said in 1997, "and I wanted to write better things than superheroes. Comic books were a ghetto. I sold my part of the enterprise to my associate and then began The Spirit. They wanted an heroic character, a costumed character. They asked me if he'd have a costume. And I put a mask on him and said, 'Yes, he has a costume!'"[5]
The character and the types of stories Eisner would tell, Eisner said in 1978, derived from his desire do short stories. I always regarded comics as a legitimate medium, my medium. Creating a detective character would... provide me with the most viable vehicle for the kind of stories I could best tell. The syndicate people weren't in full agreement with me... [I]n my first discussion with 'Busy' Arnold, his thinking centered around a superhero kind of character—a costumed character; we didn't use the word 'superhero' in those days... and I argued vehemently against it because I [had] had my bellyful of creating costumed heroes at Eisner and Iger... [S]o actually one evening, around three in the morning, I was still working, trying to find it—I only had about a week-and-a-half or two weeks in which to produce the first issue, the whole deal was done in quite a rush—and I came up with an outlaw hero, suitable, I felt, for an adult audience.[6]
The character's name, he said in that interview, came from Arnold: "When 'Busy' Arnold called, he suggested a kind of ghost or some kind of metaphysical character. He said, 'How about a thing called the Ghost?' and I said, 'Naw, that's not any good,' and he said, 'Well, then, call it the Spirit; there's nothing like that around.' I said, 'Well, I don't know what you mean.,' and he said, 'Well, you can figure that out—I just like the words "the Spirit."' He was calling from a bar somewhere, I think... [A]nd actually, the more I thought about it the more I realized I didn't care about the name."[6]
The Spirit, an initially eight- and later seven-page urban-crimefighter series, ran with the initial backup features "Mr. Mystic" and "Lady Luck" in a 16-page Sunday supplement (colloquially called "The Spirit Section") that was eventually distributed in 20 newspapers with a combined circulation of as many as five million copies.[7] It premiered June 2, 1940, and continued through 1952.[8]

Eisner was drafted into the U.S. Army in late 1941, "and then had about another half-year which the government gave me to clean up my affairs before going off" to fight in World War II.[6] In his absence, the newspaper syndicate used ghost writers and artists to continue the strip, including Manly Wade Wellman, William Woolfolk, and Lou Fine.[citation needed]
Eisner's rumpled, masked hero (with his headquarters under the tombstone of his supposedly deceased true identity, Denny Colt) and his gritty, detailed view of big-city life (based on Eisner's Jewish upbringing in New York City) both reflected and influenced the noir outlook of movies and fiction in the 1940s.[citation needed] The strip is notable in that it spun stories of the little people overlooked in the city's maelstrom.[citation needed] In some episodes, the nominal hero makes a brief, almost incidental appearance while the story focuses on a real-life drama played out in streets, dilapidated tenements, and smoke-filled back rooms. Yet along with violence and pathos, The Spirit lived on humor, both subtle and overt. He was machine-gunned, knocked silly, bruised, often amazed into near immobility and constantly confused by beautiful women.[citation needed]
The feature ended with the October 5, 1952, edition.[8] As The Comics Journal editor-publisher Gary Groth wrote, "By the late '40s, Eisner's participation in the strip had dwindled to a largely supervisory role. ... Eisner hired Jerry Grandenetti and Jim Dixon to occasionally ink his pencils. By 1950, [Jules] Feiffer was writing most of the strips, and Grandenetti, Dixon, and Al Wenzel were drawing them."[9] — Grandenetti penciling as a ghost-artist, under Eisner's byline, said in 2005 that before the feature's demise, Eisner had "tried everything. Had me penciling 'The Spirit'. Later on it was Wally Wood", who drew the final installments.[10]

Fictional character biography

The Spirit, referred to in one newspaper article cited below as "the only real middle-class crimefighter", was the hero persona of young detective Denny Colt. To be precises Dennis Colt Jr. Presumed killed in the first three pages of the premiere story, Colt later revealed to his friend, Central City Police Commissioner Dolan, that he had in fact gone into suspended animation caused by one of archvillain Dr. Cobra's experiments. When Colt awakened in Wildwood Cemetery, he established a base there and, using his new-found anonymity, began a life of fighting crime wearing only a small domino mask, blue business suit, red necktie, fedora hat, and gloves for a costume. The Spirit dispensed justice with the aide of his assistant, Ebony White, funding his adventures with the rewards for capturing villains.
The Spirit was based originally in New York City which soon changed to Central City, but his adventures took him around the globe. He met up with eccentrics, kooks, and femme fatales, bringing his own form of justice to all of them. The story changed continually, but certain themes remained constant: the love between the Spirit and Dolan's feisty protofeminist daughter Ellen; the annual "Christmas Spirit" stories; and the Octopus (a psychopathic criminal mastermind who was never seen, except for his distinctive gloves).

Ebony White

Eisner is sometimes criticized for his depiction of Ebony White, the Spirit's African-American sidekick. The character's name is a racial pun, and his facial features, including large white eyes and thick pinkish lips, are typical of racial blackface caricatures popular throughout the "Jim Crow" era. Eisner later admitted to consciously stereotyping the character, but said he tried to do so with "responsibility", and argued that "at the time humor consisted in our society of bad English and physical difference in identity".[11] The character, who was consistently treated with respect by the strip's fellow cast-members, developed beyond the stereotype as the series progressed, and Eisner also introduced such African-American characters as the no-nonsense Detective Grey who defied popular stereotypes.
In a 1966 New York Herald Tribune feature by Eisner's former office manager-turned-journalist, Marilyn Mercer wrote, "Ebony never drew criticism from Negro groups (in fact, Eisner was commended by some for using him), perhaps because, although his speech pattern was early Minstrel Show, he himself derived from another literary tradition: he was a combination of Tom Sawyer and Penrod, with a touch of Horatio Alger hero, and color didn't really come into it".[12]
The DC Comics' Spirit comic-book series of the late 2000s portrays White as a street kid, driving a stolen taxi.[citation needed] He is portrayed as putting his street experience and his daring attitude to work at the Spirit's service.[citation needed]

Other characters

  • The Octopus is the archenemy of the Spirit. He is a criminal mastermind and master of disguise who never shows his real face, though he is identified by his distinctive gloves. In the second issue of the 1960s Harvey Comics Spirit comic book, his name is given as Zitzbath Zark. (Vide sitz bath.)
  • P'Gell is a femme fatale who perennially tries to seduce the Spirit to a life of crime at her side. She seduces and marries wealthy men who invariably die in mysterious ways, and uses their money to fund her crime empire in Istanbul and expand her influence and control over the underworld. After moving to Central City to find the Spirit, she continues her modus operandi of selected marriages with the creme of society, even gaining an ally in the form of Saree, the young daughter of one of her deceased husbands. In the 2000s DC Comics version, P'Gell was once a young socialite in love with a doctor, working in Third World countries, and turned to a life of crime when he was killed. P'Gell was ranked 52nd in Comics Buyer's Guide's 100 Sexiest Women in Comics list.[13]
  • Sand Saref is a childhood friend of Denny Colt, and knows he is the Spirit. Working in espionage, she usually ends up on the opposite side of the law from him. She appears several times, always involved in some criminal scheme. (Vide sans serif.) Sand Seref was ranked 73rd in Comics Buyer's Guide's 100 Sexiest Women in Comics list.[14]
  • Silken Floss is a nuclear physicist and a surgeon, who acts as the accomplice to the Octopus.
  • Dr. Cobra is a mad scientist whose chemicals and machinations inadvertently help Denny Colt become the Spirit.
  • Mister Carrion is a morbid con man with a pet vulture, Julia. (Vide carrion.)
  • Darling O' Shea is the richest and most spoiled child in the world.
  • Hazel P. Macbeth is a witch with a Shakespearean motif and apparent magical powers.
  • Lorelei Rox, an apparent siren, appeared in a September 1948 strip and subsequently in 2000s DC Comics Spirit stories.
  • Silk Satin is a tall, statuesque brunette with a white streak in her hair, originally an adventuress who later reformed and worked as an international troubleshooter for the insurance company Croyd's of Glasgow. In later stories, its revealed she has a daughter, Hildie, who motivates her to stay on the straight path. In the 2000s DC Comics revival, she is a smaller, more slender, blond CIA agent. Silk Satin was ranked 72nd in Comics Buyer's Guide's 100 Sexiest Women in Comics list.[15]

The Spirit and John Law

Several Spirit stories, such as the first appearance of Sand Saref, were retooled from a failed publishing venture featuring an eyepatched, pipe-smoking detective named John Law. Law and his shoeshine-boy sidekick, Nubbin, starred in several adventures planned for a new comics series. These completed adventures were eventually adapted into Spirit stories, with John Law's eyepatch being changed to the Spirit's mask, and Nubbin redrawn as Willum Waif or other Spirit supporting characters.
The original John Law stories were restored and published in Will Eisner's John Law: Dead Man Walking (IDW Publishing, 2004), a collection of stories that also features new adventures by writer-artist Gary Chaloner, starring John Law, Nubbin, and other Eisner creations, including Lady Luck and Mr. Mystic.

Assistants and collaborators

Like most artists working in newspaper comic strips, Eisner after a time employed a studio of assistants who, on any given week's story, might draw or simply ink backgrounds, ink parts of Eisner's main characters (such as clothing or shoes), or as eventually occurred, ghost-draw the strip entirely. Eisner also eventually used ghostwriters, generally in collaboration with him.
Jules Feiffer, who began as an art assistant circa 1946 and later became the primary writer through the strip's end in 1952, recalled, "When I first worked for Will there was John Spranger, who was his penciler and a wonderful draftsman; better than Will. There was Sam Rosen, the lettering man. Jerry Grandenetti came a little after me and did backgrounds, and Jerry had some architectural background. His drawing was stiff but loosened up after a while, but he drew backgrounds and inked them beautifully. And Abe Kanegson, who was my best friend in the office, was a jack-of-all-trades but mostly did lettering and backgrounds after Jerry left. Abe was a mentor to me."[16]
Eisner's studio also included:[8][17]
  • Art assistants: Bob Powell (1940), Dave Berg (backgrounds, 1940–41), Tex Blaisdell (1940–41), Fred Kida (1941), Alexander Kostuk a.k.a. Alex Koster (1941–43), Jack Cole (1942–43), Jack Keller (backgrounds, 1943), Jules Feiffer (1946–47), Manny Stallman (1947–49), Andre LeBlanc (1950), Al Wenzel (1952)
  • Ghost artists (pencilers): Lou Fine and Jack Cole (variously, during Eisner's World War II service, 1942–45), Jerry Grandenetti (1951), Wally Wood (1952)

Cover detail, The Spirit #6 (Feb. 1975), Warren Publishing.

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