Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Harvey and…

« It was long past midnight on a hot, wet June night many years ago… Central City lay choking for breath in an eerie fog… »

In this, part three of our chronicle following as we can the meandering and sometimes mystifying odyssey of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, we reach the most outré segments of the former Denny Colt’s road.

In a unique twist, The Spirit’s next residence, nearly a decade after his Fiction House run, had nothing at all to do with Will Eisner… in terms of securing his assent, that is.

It was down to the fabulously sketchy Israel Waldman, one of those fringe-dwelling characters who made the comics industry such a colourful snake pit. To quote the Grand Comics Database: « I.W. Publications (1958-1964) was part of I.W. Enterprises, and named for the company’s owner, Israel Waldman. Reportedly, Waldman came into possession of a printing company and among the assets were the production materials for several hundred comic books previously published by various publishers as well as a limited amount of previously unpublished material. Waldman equated possession of production materials as the right to reprint and I.W. became notable for publishing unauthorized reprints of other companies’ comics, often with new covers, as Waldman’s windfall did not often include the production materials for covers. The later half of the company’s existence, it published comics under the Super Comics name. Usually these companies were out of business, but not always. »

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This is The Spirit no. 11 (1963), featuring The Man Who Killed The Spirit (Mar. 24, 1946), cover-featured The Case of the Balky Buzzard (Apr. 21, 1946), Carrion’s Rock (May 19, 1946), all scripted by Eisner, as well as Honeybun and Flatfoot Burns shorts. Cover by Joe Simon (“Joe, did you even read the story you’re depicting?“). This one was well worth one’s hard-earned twelve pennies. Read it here.
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This is The Spirit no. 12 (1964), featuring, this time, a trio of WWII-era Spirit stories scripted by Manly Wade Wellman and Bill Woolfolk and illustrated by Lou Fine, rounded off with a pair of Flatfoot Burns shorts by Al Stahl . Cover again by Joe Simon. Read it here.

If memory serves, Waldman’s comics craftily bypassed the Comics Code (another exception!) and the newsstands, being exclusively sold in sealed bags of three in bargain-basement department stores. To bait the hook, Waldman paid top dollar for new cover artwork, approaching established pros like Ross Andru (who actually delivered some fun stuff, unlike his unforgivably atrocious turn as DC’s main cover artist in the late 1970s), John Severin, Jack Abel, and in these two cases, Jacob Kurtzberg‘s old partner, Joe Simon.

Unsurprisingly, Waldman skimped on all other materials, particularly the paper his comics were printed on, which means that I.W./Super Comics are pretty hard to come by these days in any kind of decent state, so they’re ironically pricey.

A few years later, Eisner struck a deal with another rascal (albeit one with cleaner fingernails), Alfred Harvey of Harvey Comics, Stan Lee‘s only credible competition in the credit-usurping, I created-the-Universe stakes. Again, two issues, but this time with some new Eisner material, including origin stories for The Spirit (his third, but definitive one), and his arch-nemesis Zitzbath Zark, which you may know as purple glove enthusiast The Octopus.

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Harvey’s The Spirit no. 1 (Oct. 1966), featuring the new Origin of the Spirit by Eisner, and classics Lorelei Rox (Sept. 19, 1948), Two Lives (Dec. 12, 1948), Agent Cosmek/Visitor (Feb. 13, 1949), The Story of Rat-Tat the Toy Machine Gun (Sept. 4, 1949), Ten Minutes (Sept. 11, 1949), Thorne Strand (Jan. 23, 1949), Gerhard Shnobble (Sept. 5, 1948), all scripted by Eisner, save Ten Minutes, which hails from the mind of Jules Feiffer.
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Harvey’s The Spirit no. 2 (March, 1967) features the brand-new Octopus: The Life Story of the King of Crime and 2-pager The Spirit Lab, plus a generous helping of fine oldies, namely Plaster of Paris (Nov. 7, 1948), The Deadly Comic Book (Feb. 27, 1949), Rudy the Barber (Oct. 22, 1950), The Story of Sam, the Saucer That Wanted to Fly (Sept. 17, 1950), Sam Chapparell (Oct. 10, 1948), La Cucaracha (Nov. 19, 1950), The Halloween Spirit of 1948–Ellen Meets Hazel (Oct. 31, 1948), all scripted by Eisner… the book wraps up with a preview of the next issue, which never saw print. And so it goes…

Mr. Eisner then finally had the good fortune to run into an honest man, who would prove in time to be his most steadfast ally: Mr. Denis Kitchen. Their first collaborations were a bit tentative, but quite sympathiques, with Eisner kind of slouching towards the Underground, his creation even cover-featured on Kitchen’s long-running humour anthology Snarf.

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This is Kitchen Sink Enterprises’ Snarf no. 3 (Nov. 1972), featuring an original Eisner cover.
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Another two-issue run! Kitchen Sink’s The Spirit no. 1 (Jan. 1973), featuring a new cover by Eisner, and precious relics Max Scarr’s Map (Apr. 14, 1946), Caramba (Nov. 10, 1946), Return to Caramba (Nov. 17, 1946), The Rubber Band (June 23, 1946), plus a few brand-new short pieces.
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Kitchen Sink’s The Spirit no. 2 (Nov. 1973), featuring a new Eisner cover, an original four-pager, The Capistrano Jewels, and, as boasts the cover, all about P’Gell, with Meet P’Gell (Oct. 6, 1946), The School for Girls?? (Jan. 19, 1947), Competition (Aug. 3, 1947) and The Duce’s Locket (May 25, 1947).

Next time out: some interesting times with Warren.

-RG

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