Monday, March 7, 2011

Will Eisner's Spirit

Yesterday (as Google kindly pointed out) would have been the 94th birthday of graphic storytelling giant. Will Eisner. Eisner was the author of numerous comics and graphic novels, but his most famous creation, The Spirit, appeared in newspapers.

The domino masked crime-fighter known as the Spirit appeared in June 1940 in a syndicated Sunday newspaper supplement. The strip would continue in that format until October 1952. Later, Kitchen Sink Press and DC Comics would bring the Spirit into traditional comic book format--and of course there was the movie that should have been called Frank Miller’s Spirit since it bore only a passing similarity to Eisner’s work.

The most interesting thing about The Spirit was the way the stories were told. Unlike conventional hero comics, the Spirit was often merely an observer or a minor player in the events depicted--which were frequently character studies or musing on aspects of urban life. Sure there was a good bit of violence, noir crime, and femmes fatale a plenty, but there was also a good deal of humor. All of this was delivered in a visual style showing a greater sophistication and awareness of techniques from film than most other artists of the era.

The Spirit would be good inspiration for many sort of urban campaigns, particular in the pulp and low-powered supers genres. It certainly had an influence on the City, both directly, and  indirectly through Moore and Veitch’s Spirit homage, Greyshirt.


Jim Shelley said...

I first encountered the Spirit in The Great American Comic Book Heroes back in the 70's, and while he didn't make the instant connection with me that the GA Human Torch or Sub Mariner did, I really enjoyed Eisner's art and wanted to read more. I remember reading the first Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter story and noticing the similarities in that story to the Spirit story that appeared in GACBH and wondering if it was a homage of some sort.

As to the City and a Spirit type of character, it might be interesting to have a whole party of such adventures in a campaign. But I'd be inclined to keeping them low powered. No Superman/Starman types.

Trey said...

Hey Jim, I know what you mean about the Spirit. I think its kind of an aquired taste, requiring a more mature palate.

For a take on a "superhero" in the City, see my post "The Titan and the City."