Saturday, April 14, 2007


The late Will Eisner, a true genius, passed away in 2005, but his books are enjoying a renaissance, and Eisner will "live forever", because, THE SPIRIT WAS WILLING!!!
This article should serve as but a small monument to the memory of Will Eisner, a cartoonist, writer, educator, and painter, who stands in a very small class of brilliant individuals who took a large journey in the world of comic books.
This article, in multiple parts, will discuss Eisner's most fanous works, and their current availability, in what I believe is a long period that will ensure that Will and his creations never be forgotten.
Here We Go!!!
After a long period of research, with Will Eisner, and Eisner's wife, Ann, historian Bob Andelman wrote a biography, "Will Eisner: A Spirited Life" that is currently available, and there are many volumes currently available, from DC COMICS, of THE SPIRIT ARCHIVES, featuring Will Eisner's most famous creation, THE SPIRIT, a masked crimefighter who has been around since June, 1940. Created by Eisner for a "comic book section", produced for insertion in Sunday newspapers, THE SPIRIT was an immediate hit, and appeared with two other features, LADY LUCK and MR. MYSTIC, by Klaus Nordling, and Bob Powell, repectively. The section, which was developed to compete with the comic books that were effectively "flying off of the newstands" showed up in the papers from coast-to-coast, and caame to be called THE SPIRIT SECTION by many.
These books are gorgeous and 22 have been published, that is, Volume 22 will appear soon. and I believe that there will be 25 for the initial grouping of original SPIRIT story reprints, but there may also be additional volumes that will reprint other SPIRIT material to round out the original material, which would include special stories done after 1952, when the first life of the character ended. While many other cartoonists assisted Eisner on the feature, drew it while Eisner served in World war II, or, like the great Wallace Wood,gave it a unique, individual, distinctly non-Eisner look in the early 1950's. Eisner's other surrogates and assistants included the brilliant Lou Fine, a gifted comic book and comic strip illustrator, and Alex Kotzky, the cartoonist behind APARTMENT 3-G, fanous comic book journeyman cartoonist Bob Powell, and many others.
Today,various "graphic novels", including a number of them that have recently been reprinted, of non-SPIRIT work by Eisner are also available from the bookstores now, including THE CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY, FAGIN THE JEW, and others. Three different publishers, including DC COMICS, WW NORTON, and DARK HORSE COMICS are currently keeping Eisner work, both SPIRIT and non-SPIRIT items, in print.
DC COMICS is also publishing new stories of THE SPIRIT, most of which are written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke, a gifted animator and cartoonist, who produces these new works as a loving tribute to Eisner's original series.
Getting back to the past, after the end of the original life of THE SPIRIT, Eisner began work developing comics as an educational tool, mainly for the US Armed Forces, writing, drawing, and packaging for the US Army's preventive maintenance magazine, PS, for which Eisner drew some racy and fun comics that also contained discussions of how to keep the equipment in first-class working order.
The early 1960's saw THE SPIRIT make a comeback of sorts, courtesy of the so-called "IW REPRINTS", which were comic book stories from the past, re-published, and with new covers, some by the great Joe Simon, and published by Israel Waldman, hence the "IW" name for these comic books.
Later on in the 1960's, Harvey Comics issued two lovely collections of THE SPIRIT, combining some old stories with new covers by Eisner, and some great, new, humorous SPIRIT fillers, also by Eisner.
These two issues, published in 1966 and 1967, respectively, unless I am mistaken, are what began my long fascination with Eisner and his work.
I was fortunate enough to travel by airplane to Florida, unaccompanied by any adults (!!!) to visit my grandparents in 1967, at the tender age of nine, when I discovered the Harvey Comics THE SPIRIT, issue #2, at the newsstand at Logan International Airport, in Boston, MA.
It took me a long time to obtain a copy of #1, but I finally did, and I really treasure these two comic books.
A few years later, my mother bought me a copy of the wonderful book, THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES, by Jules Feiffer, himself a former Eisner-assistant-writer-collaborator, that featured a fabulous essay by Feiffer on the book's title subject, and, lo and behold, THE SPIRIT, in a story that was not contained in the Harvey Comics issues!!!
Cartoonist Jim Steranko, who had a very short, but illustrious, career at MARVEL COMICS, issued THE STERANKO HISTORY OF COMICS around 1970, which contained some wonderful information and artwork related to Eisner and THE SPIRIT, including historical background on Eisner in that section, as wel as work by Lou Fine, Eisner's replacement for some SPIRIT strips during the 1940's.
The 1970's brought about the appearance of more new SPIRIT material, including reprints of the old SPIRIT SECTIONS, in black & white and in limited release, which are now very difficult to find. Later, some new, now rare, "underground" issues of THE SPIRIT, that contain old SPIRIT classics, plus some new, more adult work, that includes a bit of nudity and some sexual innuendo. These "undergrounds" were published by Denis Kitchen, and marked what was about to be a true revival of the character.
James Warren, publisher of some magazines that contained some elegant and atmospheric horror and mystery stories (CREEPY and EERIE), plus a sexy female vampire series (VAMPIRELLA) then arranged with Eisner that THE SPIRIT be published in a new, magazine size series of reprints that would include new Eisner covers. These ran only for 17 issues, I hope that's correct, it may be 16, including some issues with color, and an all-color THE SPIRIT SPECIAL.
Around this time Eisner taught cartooning in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, this led to the publication of a brand-new SPIRIT story, called, "The Invader", in a large, elegant color format, with the drawing only on one side of each page, that some of the students of the course published.
THE SPIRIT COLORING BOOK, which featured large "splash" pages from the openings of SPIRIT stories also came out, as well as Eisner's cartoon books, "The Gleeful Guides", which were devoted to such diverse topics as "occult cookery" and "how to avoid taxes and live forever", plus Eisner's 1001 OUTER SPACE JOKES.
Just at the end of the Warren Magazines run of THE SPIRIT, Denis Kitchen, who had published the "underground" SPIRIT comic books, took over as publisher of THE SPIRIT, in a similar, but nicer format, than what Warren had put out. These ran on a quarterly basis and contained interviews by Eisner, of other cartonists, including greats like Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, which have since beem reprinted, in a bok called SHOP TALK.
These issues, as published by KITCHEN SINK PRESS, had beautiful new covers by Eisner, and were printed on beautiful, white paper stock.
Sad to say, they did not last...

to be continued

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