It’s like a Masters Class in what can be done, what is possible, that the page is wide open.
And it was all unleashed on the world decades and decades ago.
Will Eisner provided the lessons and The Spirit was his awesome tool. As the volume The Best Of The Spirit, published by DC Comics, shows so well.
The legendary writer/artist had a long and illustrious career in and out of the comics industry. Before he passed away in 2005 at age eighty-eight, Eisner had not only in 1940 created, perfected, and dazzled us with several years worth of The Spirit, but had entered various other creative and commercial fields in the years and years after.
In 1978 he returned full force to the comics world with his amazing graphic novel A Contract With God, with several more works including The Building appearing from his pen over time. Eisner also graced us with his wisdom on the medium in the textbook like Comics And Sequential Art in 1985.
But all that was later. So lets start at the almost beginning of Eisner, who as a young cartoonist had already produced comics here and there. Will Eisner had an idea and managed to parlay it into a prized newspaper strip of adventure. Running every weekend as several full pages in four colour glory, The Spirit soared in popularity as Eisner grew and grew with his concept.
The Spirit is the tale of private investigator Denny Colt who is supposedly killed while on a case. But Denny survived, straightened up his natty blue suit, plopped back on his cool 1940’s hat, and as a final touch put a small mask over his eyes. Thus was born The Spirit.
The first story in this volume reprints this tale, and we get to witness the roughness of Eisner’s start with writing, layout, and art.
The story is told and the stage is set. And The Spirit shall make criminals pay in his fair city!
Every few pages another story is showcased, chronologically in publishing order, and we see not only The Spirit having great cases and fun and drama and poignant morality lessons, but also the evolution of the creator into something more, something different.
Eisner plays with the form in all different ways. From the inclusion of a splash page where building and objects interact with the features name or the stories title being incorporated all together, to panel layouts morphing all about, to the camera angles switching about very cinematically. Eisner takes full advantage of every possible storytelling concept to tell his tales in a gripping and interesting manner.
And what tales they are. Sometimes, and early on mostly, Eisner gives crime stories that are abit more standard fare, and later on in the run provides interesting twists to juice us with surprise endings. The Spirit as it went on played with the idea of having Denny Colt barely showing up in his own stories and becoming pivotal with a bystanders life while stopping crime. Other times, a wandering citizen would inadvertently help The Spirit, with the audience having no idea how our hero got into his dangerous predicament. It is obvious to even the casual reader that Eisner was very well read and learned.
Some of my favourites from this collection are The Story Of Gerhard Shnobble, which causes a certain sadness, The Story Of Rat-Tat The Toy Machine Gun, that makes you cheer, and Ten Minutes, that has tragedy upon tragedy.
Getting through this book is hazardous to your comics enjoyment, since you will see the potential of words and pictures together. Then you will read a standard everyday comic of today or yesterday. And wonder why they did not try harder.
It is not fair I know, but Will Eisner provokes that feeling.
…is currently reading Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
P.S. I met Will Eisner a few years before his passing. He was a gracious, wonderful man of great warmth.