Friday, August 19, 2005

This is not a Comic Art Friday for little boys!

It's been a hectic week here at Uncle Swan's playhouse, but never fear:

It's Comic Art Friday, at long last.

Today's artistic spectacular is presented in honor of the late, great Will Eisner, whom we eulogized here following his death in January.

Although I didn't discover Eisner until I'd been reading comics for several years, his work completely changed my view of the medium from the moment I picked my first Warren Publications Spirit reprint magazine in the early 1970s. Eisner's gift, aside from being a magnificent artist, was his ability to see the world of the comic page in the same way a movie director sees the world through the camera's lens. He used comic panels like frames of film, as part of the narrative device rather than merely as a means of separating one image from another.

Eisner was also one of the first comic artists to realize that the cartoon medium need not be limited to funny tales aimed at children. Indeed, in a famous opening panel published in 1946, the Spirit's raven-haired nemesis-slash-seductress P'Gell — lying on a chaise and wearing a slinky red dress with decolletage cut almost to the navel — looks directly at the reader and intones, "I am P'Gell — and this is not a story for little boys!"

The hero of Eisner's adventures, detective Denny Colt alias the Spirit, was a figure unlike any comic hero before him (though he spawned an interminable number of imitators). Like Batman, the Spirit had no superhuman powers; unlike the Caped Crusader, he relied mostly on his fists to overcome evildoers. Like Superman and his legion of successors, the Spirit wore a costume of sorts (though it amounted to nothing more than a baggy blue business suit, a fedora, gloves, and a domino mask); unlike the Man of Steel, he got the stuffing whomped out of him on a fairly regular basis.

And unlike practically every other male adventure hero in the comics of the 1940s, the Spirit displayed an active interest in beautiful women, in stark contradistinction to the asexual Superman and Captain Marvel, or the preferentially ambiguous Batman and Robin. Many of the key characters in the Spirit strips were female — including several of the recurring villains — and they were invariably both stunningly beautiful and intellectually complex.

Will Eisner is one of two artists — Jack Kirby is the other — who has, to one degree or another, influenced every artist who's worked in the field after him. For this homage to Eisner's trademark creation, I turned to an artist whose individual style is not especially Eisneresque, but who shares Eisner's cinematic perspective and storytelling ability — Geof Isherwood.

Geof shot photo reference for this scenario near an aqueduct in Montreal. (I trust that, unlike the Spirit, Geof didn't actually encounter a corpse in the water during his photographic sojourn.) He also posed for the Spirit figure himself, to make sure he captured the folds in Denny's suit perfectly. All of the inking, except the crosshatching in the night sky, was done with a brush in the Eisner style. And, true to Eisner's signature trope, Geof worked the name "The Spirit" into the background. (Because the Spirit strips originally appeared in Sunday newspaper supplements, Eisner developed a host of creative ways of introducing his title character in the strip's opening panel.) The temptress P'Gell observes Denny's plight from an upstairs window.

For a different, but equally evocative, take on our hero du jour, here's a Comic Art Friday repeat from the pen of the artist known as "Briz" (Brian Douglas Ahern). The Spirit is joined in this tableau by the X-Men's Kitty Pryde.

Whether you enjoy superhero adventure, sophisticated comedy, film noir, or just the beauty of sequential art at its maximum potential, you owe it to yourself to check out one of the many reprint collections of Will Eisner's Spirit currently available. It's a joy to watch a master at work.

1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Joel offered these pearls of wisdom...

I believe there's a current push for The Spirit to be written by new writers in the same way Sherlock Holmes has been continued by a new generation of writers. Will be interesting to see if this bears fruit.

7:48 PM  

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