Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Quality

« I tell ya, Spirit… this neighborhood is like a lit firecracker… »

I’m surprised that it took us this long to get to Will Eisner and his signature creation, The Spirit. Is it perhaps too obvious a topic? Nah. Though the ink and the pixels may flow, and even if everyone and his chiropractor has already waxed rhapsodic about old Will, the subject retains its depths of evergreen freshness.

For most generations of cartoonists, Eisner is an irresistible influence. My own initial encounter came in the early 1970s, when I glimpsed ads for Warren’s Spirit reprints in the rear section of Famous Monsters of Filmland. And then I was introduced to his groundbreaking style and storytelling approach… only it wasn’t, in this case, quite his.

In 1975, I had stumbled upon a Dutch collection of WWII-era Spirit newspaper strips (The Daily Spirit, Real Free Press, 1975-76… a publication designed by none other than Joost Swarte), and I was captivated… by the ghost work of no less than Plastic Man creator Jack Cole!

ColeSpirit42A
« You can do that in a comic strip? » was my general feeling as a ten-year-old aspiring cartoonist. From The Spirit daily strip, January 3, 1942 (scripted by Manly Wade Wellman, illustrated by Jack Cole).

I won’t go over the action-packed history of the character… what I’ll focus on here instead is inextricably linked to Eisner’s terrific business acumen: having held onto his character’s ownership, he could shop him around the publishing world, a process still unfolding to this day, well beyond his own passing.

The Spirit, that well-travelled rascal, has witnessed his exploits bearing many a publisher’s imprint, from Quality to Fiction House, through I.W. (naughty, naughty!), Harvey, Kitchen Sink, Warren, and DC… so far. And the coolest thing is that Eisner was along for most of the ride, creating glorious new cover visuals for the venerable archives.

Today, we’ll focus on Quality’s output (1942-50), which alone was contemporary to the strip’s tenure. About half of it was Eisner, but I’m no purist: the man hired some of the finest ghosts in the medium’s history, when it came to both story and art. To name but a few favourites: Manly Wade Wellman, Jerry Grandenetti, Jules Feiffer, Wally Wood

ColePolice23A
Speaking of Jack Cole… before he got his own title, The Spirit was featured for a couple of years in Quality’s Police Comics anthology. He occasionally ran into his fellow headliner, Plastic Man. This is Police Comics no. 23 (October, 1943). Cover by Jack Cole. Read this issue here.
SpiritQ12A
This is The Spirit no. 12 (Summer 1948), cover by Eisner, and featuring a bunch of Manly Wade Wellman / Lou Fine Spirit tales, which is to say “Eye, Feets, and Lock” (August 12th, 1945), “The Case of the Missing Undertaker” (September 30, 1945), “Skelvin’s School for Actors” (November 18, 1945), “The Whitlock Diamond Caper” (June 24, 1945) and “Nitro” (October 21, 1945).
SpiritQ13A
This is The Spirit no. 13 (Autumn, 1948), cover by Eisner, and gathering a clutch of Wellman / Fine outings, i.e. “Mr. Martin’s Pistols” (September 23, 1945), “Red Scandon” (June 3, 1945), “The Strange Case of the Two $5.00 Bills” (December 9, 1945), “Mr. Exter” (May 27, 1945) and “Vaudeville Vinnie” (November 4, 1945).
SpiritQ14A
Another high-wire master class in design and tension from Mr. Eisner. This is Quality ComicsThe Spirit no. 14 (Winter, 1948), featuring reprints of Spirit adventures (“The Alibi Factory“, “The Kuttup Shop“, “Prominent Executives Vanish“, “The Masked Magician“, “Belle La Trivet“) from 1945, written by Chapel Hill‘s foremost scribe, Manly Wade Wellman, and illustrated by Lou Fine and the Quality shop.
SpiritQ15A
This is The Spirit no. 15 (Spring, 1949), cover by Eisner, and gathering a bouquet of Wellman / Fine offerings, namely “Rosilind Ripsley” (June 10, 1945), “Madame Lerna’s Crystal Ball” (September 16, 1945), and “The Case of the Will O’Wisp Murders” (November 5, 1944).
SpiritQ16A
This is The Spirit no. 16 (Autumn, 1948), boasting an Eisner cover and rounding up a rogues’ gallery of  Spirit exploits scripted by Bill Woolfolk: “The Case of the Uncanny Cat” (October 8, 1944) and “Jackie Boy” (September 9, 1944) and Manly Wade Wellman: “The Case of the Headless Burglar” (September 24, 1944), all pencilled by Lou Fine.
SpiritQ20A
I’ll bet Dolan could kick himself if he wasn’t so tidily trussed up. Fooled by a pretty… er, face again. This is The Spirit no. 20 (April 1950), featuring “The Vortex” (September 8, 1946); “The Siberian Dagger” (January 27, 1946); “Magnifying Glasses” (May 26, 1946), plus a couple of Flatfoot Burns stories by Al Stahl. Cover by Will Eisner, and a gold star and a hearty round of applause for the colourist. 

As for the insides… I’m tickled to inform you that all of Quality’s issues of The Spirit are available gratis on comicbookplus.com. Enjoy!

– RG

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