Saturday, September 13, 2014

Black and White Saturday : Eisner´s SPIRIT

It´s high time that we come back to comics and which is better suited to inaugurate my BLACK AND WHITE series than Will Eisner´s THE SPIRIT ?

Original splash page from November 30, 1947

If there is one comic that is practically predestined for a black and white entry it´s Will Eisner´s best known crime series THE SPIRIT with it´s bright lights, dark shadows and moody, seedy back alleys. And if it´s not raining ( or better pouring ) it´s just after the rain as the last signs of the big flood goes down the storm drains leaving behind only a trail of discarded human trash like newspapers, cans, cigarettes and matches.

I don´t know if the picture above was the first picture of The Spirit I saw but it sure left an impression on me. Nobody drew storm drains like Will Eisner, they were big gaping maws that could swallow a man any moment and they went down, down endlessly. As a master of graphic storytelling Will had laid out the page perfectly with an entirely black background without any detail to contrast the bright luminescence emanating from the street lamps. I was really fascinated by this splash page and I don´t know how long it took me before I realized the letters to the name of the strip THE SPIRIT were carried away by the stream - hidden in plain sight.

Which was one of his signature moves, his unparalleled mastery of design where he would always put the words THE SPIRIT in the surroundings. Now I don´t want to imply anything here but part of the reason why Will Eisner did this was out of sheer necessity. When THE SPIRIT was first published in newspapers Will had not the luxury of a cover where he could set up the mood for the story or entice the readers with some intrigue to get them hooked. The front page WAS the cover but it was also the first page of the story so Will Eisner had to get inventive which he did in spades.

" But wasn´t THE SPIRIT originally printed in color ? " you might ask.

And you´re right. It was. In fact the first image I ever saw of THE SPIRIT was one of the magazines that reprinted the original stories and it was in color and it may have involved a train coming at The Spirit in some way.

But I will get to that when I´m doing a regular post on THE SPIRIT. Today it´s all about black and white. Well, not entirely as I bend the rules a bit.

Because I try to make a point, THE SPIRIT was original in color but as Derek Davis put it in his article The Will to Live on THE CHISELER blog :

Color reprints of The Spirit are hard to come by, if only because it seems next to impossible to reproduce the original color spectrum of those Sunday comics. That’s a shame, because Eisner used color as both striking accent and clue. The femmes fatale wore brilliant red or green dresses and gowns. The reader could always recognize arch villain The Octopus, whose true face is never seen, by his purple, open backed gloves ( of which the characters took not the least note ).

So there are a lot of color versions out there and most of them have different coloring especially when it are copies from different countries.

For instance I don´t know from where the colored version of the very first splash page I posted above is but it looks quite different from the german hardcover edition of The Spirit Archives from SALLECK PUBLICATIONS.

The first colored picture looks very bright and clean, as if someone had gone over the street with a toothbrush while the second version looks very dirty and the green color of mold seems to nest everywhere. It looks pretty filthy. Here´s another color interpretation of the splash page :

Here the colors also are pretty strong but unlike in the previous example the overlayering color is not green but a brownish grey and they chose a different color for the metal bars so they don´t blend over into the drain. And it´s the only picture where the fire hydrant is red as it should be.

Now all these versions are valid and I think it´s only a matter of personal taste which one you prefer. Maybe you think the first one looks too comic - book - y or the second one is too used up. You might find the color on the last one just a taste too heavyhanded. Whatever may be the case, when compared to the black and white version that one doesn´t look too bad because it has a good layout and strong blacks. But the thing is you get to color it in your mind so - at least subconsciously - it looks right.

As you might have deducted by now for this post I chose splash pages which I find the best ( or at least my favorites ) where I not only found the black and white art but also some color versions to go along with it.


Now with the next one I chose we have all kinds of different versions and I´m not sure which was the final one. It´s the splash pages from BRING IN SAND SAREF and here THE SPIRIT has an introduction for the reader.

Here is another version of the splash page without the introduction but with a story title. I think it is the version that ended up in most editions.

And here´s the colored version of the splash page to compare :

But it doesn´t end here. Because theses are not two versions of a Spirit story, these are versions two and three and it´s not even a Spirit story.

You may have already read this because the story can be found on various websites. In the late 1940s Will Eisner was looking to expand his comic franchise with other comic characters and came up with John Law who first appeared in a syndicated strip called NUBBIN. Will saw potential in him and did the story MEET JOHN LAW but he couldn´t sell the strip.

And so the story was shelved. But Will Eisner believed in the story and he also had put a great deal of work into it which he didn´t want to let go to waste. So he reworked it for The Spirit and released it as the two part SAND SAREF story, one of his most famous Spirit stories of all times.

And it´s a good thing too that Will Eisner decided to recycle the JOHN LAW story because without this story and Sand Saref one of comicdom´s most famous female characters would never have been created.

Will Eisner : " It was always in contempt of the nice girl next door who your mother was always introducing you to. It was the slut down the street that was really interesting. "

If you want to take a peek behind the creative curtain, all the original artwork survived and ECLIPSE COMICS published the newly colored JOHN LAW stories in a 1983 one shot, only 35 years after the first version.

Okay, I´m going to add one more SPIRIT splash page. I had seven more pages lined up but I don´t want to drag out this post unnecessary.

Original splash page from March 24, 1946

This is another good example, not only because it´s an absolute brilliant establishing shot. Let´s take a moment to read what the text in it says :

Mostly they´re gone now, the old trolleys ..... just a few still run ..... like the old Raven´s Point Line, for example ! All day long, like drunken bugs, the creaky jalopies waddle their way through the noisy city, loading up with morning crowds which come back the same way at night ..... 

The colored version of the splash page looks the same. Or does it ?

Now the text at the top has disappeared and instead of THE LAST TROLLEY the paper in the foreground with The Spirit´s face on it says :

In the dark alleys of the underworld, where men laugh at the law and only the nimble survive, one man stands as a constant threat to the security of those whose cunning enables them to outwit the police ! There are many to testify that even DEATH cannot halt THE SPIRIT !

Okay, is it just me or is that a completely different text ? I have no idea if they changed the text of the splash page and left the rest as it was or if this was even used as the intro for a totally different story since I´m not that much of a SPIRIT afficionado. All I know is the text was changed.

And for the german edition they completely got rid of the text.

With that we come to the end of this edition of Black and White Saturday which was not as black and white as I had expected. But I hope it was entertaining and you got an idea what black and white posts will be about.

And our next black and white post focuses on George Perez´ Teen Titans.


As you may have noticed I didn´t write much about Will Eisner himself in my post because at this point you are supposed to know who he is. If the press has been only half as busy promoting the true father of the graphic novel instead of groveling before Alan Moore who allegedly did the most successful graphic novel of all times ( which strictly speaking was not a graphic novel at all but a trade collection ) you know who Will Eisner is. If you are a comic fan and you don´t know at this point you just have to get some of his work and start reading. It doesn´t matter where, just start.

Now while I won´t educate you concerning Will Eisner I am going to leave the usual links that helped me in making this post or where you can read more about Will Eisner or see some cool stuff. And I think the best place to start is naturally another of Scott Tipton´s COMICS 101 posts with tons of info and some nice Will Eisner art. I have already mentioned Derek Davis´ post The Will to Live on THE CHISELER but I recommend you read it because while it doesn´t have that many infos and facts it gives you a good idea who Will Eisner the man was and how big his influence still is :

Eisner pretty much invented the modern splash-page intro, and he did it better than anyone else. “ The Spirit ,” on that first page, could be written in block letters, in smoke, in the crumbling bricks of an abandoned warehouse. There would be seeping blood or hints of a ghostly presence. Or simply a page of closely hand - lettered explication. 

No one week looked like another. 

Speaking about splash pages, you can find John DiBello´s picks of the 13 best ones from The Spirit at the 13TH DIMENSION. That´s also the topic of THE COMICS CUBE´s comic glossary on splash page and spreads which includes a few nice Spirit pages. There´s also the 129th edition of THE LINE IS DRAWN which is all Spirit - Style pin ups ( I love the Modok one ).

COMIC BOOK STORIES also has a cool entry with lots of Spirit black and white splashes which I shamelessly used in this post as well as a boatload of DC house ads that may or may not appear in future posts on this blog.

BOOKSTEVE`S LIBRARY has some black and white splash pages as well as color covers and if you´re tired of just splash pages and want to read some stories our pal Old Groove over at DIVERSIONS OF THE GROOVY KIND has The Origin of The Spirit , Assignment Paris , The Capistrano Jewels , The Christmas Spirit as well as posts on Warren´s Spirit Magazine which features some nice black and white art as well as some color covers and The Spirit as a political cartoon ( well, kind of ). 

The big Spirit database WILDWOOD CEMETERY answers the question WHO WAS JOHN LAW ? which helped me a great deal as did episode 342 of COMIC BOOK LEGENDS REVEALED which is a special Will Eisner themed edition that provided the original pages from John Law and The Spirit.

WIZARD´S KEEP has an overview of Will Eisner´s life and since Sand Saref came up I want to include Harvey Jerkwater´s article The Beauty of Rough Edges : The Women of the Spirit at FILING CABINET OF THE DAMNED.   

When I started the post I wanted to listen to some jazz music ( right now I´m listening to some 80s pop ) so I got on YouTube and put in " jazz standards " but every second video on the list was blocked which gets annoying after a while. So I thought the best thing would be to listen to a crime soundtrack and since i couldn´t find any I just let the black and white movie THE STRANGER play in the background which was very effective. I don´t know what the movie is about besides Nazis and a lot of death or who the actors are but I guess I´ll have to watch it some day.

Now there are a lot of videos about Will Eisner on YouTube but I´m posting his appearance on PRISONERS OF GRAVITY which is always good.

The Spirit is kind of a detective so I want to include the episode KILL DEVIL from the Mike Hammer tv series with Stacy Keach, one of my guilty pleasures. There were two good things about the show : the atmosphere and the hot women which always hit on Mike. I really lucked out with this one because it´s the episode with a hot blonde who would have been a worthy candidate for my late lamented SEARCH FOR POWER GIRL series.

I couldn´t verify this but as far as I could get from the IMDB entry her name is Karen Lorre, formerly Karen Witter. What speaks for this theory is that Karen Witter is a playmate who was Miss March 1982 and was on the PLAYBOY cover in March 1983 and the cover of SPORT & FITNESS.

At the time she became a Playmate, Witter was attending the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. She soon made the transition to acting, working on tv in guest spots on series as diverse as Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer - in the before mentioned episode where she was uncredited and also in the episodes Bonecrunch as Deborah and Satan, Cyanide and Murder as Lucille - ( 1984 ), Cheers ( 1988 ), The Vineyard ( 1989 ), The X - Files ( 1995 ), Sabrina the Teenage Witch ( 1998 ), NYPD Blue ( 2000) and Malcolm in the Middle ( 2001 ). From 1990 to 1994 had a contract role as the 4th Tina Lord on ABC´s soap opera One Life to Live, for which she was nominated for a 1991 Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Female Newcomer in Daytime. Witter later appeared as Nemesis in Hercules : The Legendary Journeys, in the seventh episode " Pride Comes Before a Brawl " ( 1995 ). Karen married TV producer Chuck Lorre in 2001 ( hence the name change to Lorre in the IMDB entry ); they had two children and are now divorced. 

As a last video I picked on that´s a bit longer since the weekend is in full effect. We´re continuing with the CORTO MALTESE videos, this time with the animated movies. There are a few in italian on YouTube but I also found this one in spanish : LA BALLADA DEL MAR SALADO.

I searched for an english version but I only found a french one with english subtitles that has been divided into various parts.

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Terry Hooper-Scharf said...

Am I losing it?? No mention of the 1980s TV movie The Spirit?? It is actually a great film but you can only find it in parts on You Tube.
Eisner was brilliant!

SUBZERO said...

Well, I never saw it. I only knew that the very hot Nana Visitor who played Major Kira was in it as Ellen Dolan.

It´s not in black and white so it doesn´t fit the theme of the post ( I know that I could let it slide ) and if I mentioned it I would have to mention that Frank Miller abomination. That would be too depressing.

I would only mention that movie to post a picture of Eva Mendez butt as I think that was the only good thing audiences got out of the movie.