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December 21, 2008

Getting in The Spirit

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I make a point to try to go to every comics-related movie (I’m supportive like that), and one of the things that struck me while watching The Spirit was my embarrassment that I had absolutely no frame of reference to compare it to. In all my time reading comics, I’d never read any of Will Eisner’s Spirit comics. Oh, I knew of it, had seen artwork from it, was a little familiar with what other people had said about it, but I never sought it out myself. That’s no way to treat a classic.

The oversight was further illustrated over the holidays as, while visiting my parents in Iowa, the Des Moines Register ran a front-page story entitled “How ‘The Spirit’ was born in Iowa amid the comics craze” detailing the birth of the comics strip in the 1940s. So my home-state newspaper played a role in the creation of The Spirit and I still wasn’t familiar with it. What kind of comics fan was I?

I’ve since remedied the situation. The first thing I ran to was DC’s collection The Spirit: Femmes Fatales, a fun roundup of The Spirit’s interactions with lovely and deadly ladies. The book spans several years in the 1940s, and it’s a lot of fun. The stories are silly and sexy, a little lacking in sense but utterly indicative of a bygone era. All of which is secondary to the amazing artwork, so rich and elegant in its noir luxuriousness, it’s obvious how much of an influence it had on generations of artists that followed.

I was disappointed in the movie, but I’m grateful to The Spirit film for turning me on to a giant missing chunk in my comics education. This reading has been fun, and there’s a lot more to discover, which I’m looking forward to. (There’s an ongoing Spirit series from DC as well; two of the movie producers, Michael Uslan and F.J. DeSanto are writing a three-issue arc beginning with issue #26; currently, two legends of the industry, Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier, are giving their take on the character).