Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Warren

« According to statistics, millions of Americans read millions of the most carefully written crime and crime detection stories in the world! Expertly told… and prepared, after exhaustive research — the best of these are, in effect, lessons in crime and criminal psychology! Yet could you, sitting in the trolley or bus or subway at night, pick out the killer sitting opposite you? » — The Killer (Dec. 8, 1946)

Welcome to the fourth entry in our chronicle of the variegated ambulations of the former Denny Colt. Begin if you will, as we did, with his time at Quality, then follow his path through Fiction House, then on to Harvey, Super and Kitchen Sink; at that point, you’ll be all caught up.

Okay, now that we’re all here, let’s pose and answer the next burning question: how did The Spirit come to make landfall at Warren Magazines? Thankfully, we’re spared the motions of idle speculation in this case, since Jim Warren himself revealed all in the course of an interview with Jon B. Cooke, published in The Warren Companion (2001):

JW: « I would have mortgaged everything I owned to publish Will Eisner — to be involved in anything Will Eisner was doing. I called Will and said, ‘Mr. Eisner, I’d like to take you out to lunch.

I knew Will was talking to Stan Lee about The Spirit and that DC was interested in his company, American Visuals. I also knew that Harvey Comics had done a couple of Spirit reprints and that they might be interested again. I had to move fast.

So I took him out to lunch, sat him down, and said, ‘There’s no possible way that I’m going to let the great Will Eisner escape. You are someone I have revered since 1940, when I saw the very first Spirit section in the Philadelphia Record with that splash page that changed my life. Do you think I’m going to let you go to Stan Lee, whom I ‘hate’ and ‘despise’ as a competitor? Do you think I’m going to lose you to that unrepentant sociopath? You’re just going to be a computer number to Marvel; they have a factory, where they cookie-cut comics, turning out 400* titles a month!’

And I saw the expression in Will’s face — he had his pipe in his mouth at the time, just like Commissioner Dolan — and I could see that I had him. »

WhoThereLogotype

Let’s have a look at some covers. Most of the sixteen (plus the colour Special) are terrific, but I skipped a few of the lesser ones: issue one is a not-quite successful Eisner-Basil Gogos painted collaboration, and issue two is just okay. Issue 11 is another Ken Kelly painting over Eisner pencils, and 12 to 16 are composites using inside panels. Fine, but facultative. And now, on to the gems!

warrenspirit3a
This is The Spirit no. 3 (Aug. 1974), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: Black Alley (June 5, 1949), Fox at Bay (Oct. 23, 1949), Surgery… (Nov. 13, 1949), Foul Play (March 27, 1949), The Strange Case of Mrs. Paraffin (March 7, 1948), The Embezzler (Nov. 27, 1949), The Last Hand (May 16, 1948) and Lonesome Cool (Dec. 18, 1949). Cover pencils and inks by Eisner, colours by Richard Corben.
warrenspirit4a
This is The Spirit no. 4 (Oct. 1974), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: Life Below (Feb. 22, 1948), Mr. McDool (Oct. 12, 1947), The Emerald of Rajahpoor (May 30, 1948), Ye Olde Spirit of ’76 (July 3, 1949), The Elevator (June 26, 1949; in colour), The Return of Vino Red (Sept. 25, 1949), The Guilty Gun… (June 6, 1948), and Flaxen Weaver (Dec. 11, 1949). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
warrenspirit5a
This is The Spirit no. 5 (Dec. 1974), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: The Return (Aug. 14, 1949), The Spirit Now Deputy (Apr. 24, 1949), The Hunted (May 1st, 1949), The Prediction (June 19, 1949), The Deadly Comic Book (Feb. 27, 1949; in colour), Death, Taxes and… The Spirit (Mar. 13, 1949), Hamid Jebru (May 18, 1949), and Ice (Jan. 2, 1949). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
warrenspirit6a
« You cannot stop me now… I am at the threshold of immortality… Yowch! »
This is The Spirit no. 6 (Feb. 1975), featuring seven black & white (and one full-colour) presentations of tales from the 1940s: Showdown (Aug. 24, 1947), The Wedding (May 2, 1948), The Job (May 9, 1948), The Lamp (July 27, 1947), Glob (March 6, 1949; in colour), The Winnah! (Dec. 3, 1950, This is ‘Wild’ Rice (Apr. 4, 1948) and Taxes and the Spirit (Apr. 16, 1950). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
warrenspirit7a
This is The Spirit no. 7 (Apr. 1975), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: The Big Sneeze Caper (Feb. 6, 1949), Hoagy the Yogi (Pt. I) (Mar. 16, 1947), Hoagy the Yogi (Pt. II) (Mar. 23, 1947), Cheap Is Cheap (June 13, 1948), Young Dr. Ebony (May 29, 1949; coloured by John Laney); A Moment of Destiny (Dec. 29, 1946); The Explorer (Jan. 16, 1949); and A Prisoner of Love (Jan. 9, 1949). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
warrenspirit8a
This is The Spirit no. 8 (Apr. 1975), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: “Sand Saref” (Jan. 8, 1950), “Bring In Sand Saref…” (Jan. 15, 1950), “Thorne Strand” (Jan. 23, 1949), “A Slow Ship to Shanghai” (Jan. 30, 1949), “Assignment: Paris” (May 23, 1948; coloured by Michelle Brand), “A Pot of Gold” (Apr. 3, 1949), “Satin” (June 12, 1949), and “Visitor” (Feb. 13, 1949). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
warrenspirit9a
This is The Spirit no. 9 (Aug. 1975), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: The Candidate (Aug. 21, 1949); White Cloud (Aug. 28, 1949); Stop the Plot! (Dec. 5, 1948); Lovely Looie (Apr. 10, 1949); The Space Sniper (May 22, 1949; in colour); The Vernal Equinox (Mar. 20, 1949); Black Gold (June 15, 1947); and Two Lives (Dec. 12, 1948). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
warrenspirit10a
« The Octopus is at it again. This time his thugs have the Spirit cornered. Has his incredible luck finally run out? A tense moment captured by Will Eisner and Ken Kelly. » Evidently, Warren’s readership wasn’t content with line art covers, fancily wrought and gorgeous as they were; so Ken Kelly was brought in to slap some paint over a tight Eisner layout et voilà! An interesting hybrid, but I’m not quite convinced of its necessity. This is The Spirit no. 10 (Oct. 1975), reprinting a whopping ten post-WWII stories: Heat (July 15, 1951); Quiet! (July 22, 1951); Death Is My Destiny (March 4, 1951); Help Wanted (April 29, 1951); The Origin of the Spirit (From Harvey’s The Spirit No. 1; in colour); Sound (Sept. 24, 1950); A Time-Stop! (Jan. 7, 1951); The Octopus Is Back (Feb. 11, 1951); Hobart (Apr. 22, 1951) and The Meanest Man in the World (Jan. 28, 1951).
eisnerspiritoa
Among my favourite features of the Spirit’s Warren run are the single, well-selected, lushly-coloured story appearing in each of the first ten issues. This, from no. 1, is page 4 of El Spirito (Feb. 1st, 1948). The Octopus’ buxom accomplice is Castanet. While I’m strictly underwhelmed by Rich Corben’s interchangeable tales of bald, lumpy, donkey-donged bodybuilders roaming the land and forever risking ritual castration at the hands of amazon tribes, his colour work here is simply sublime.
thespiritspeciala
As you can see, the panel montages were extremely well-done; The Spirit Special (1975) handily gathered in one place the colour stories from issues one to ten. According to the GCD: « Available through mail purchase only, just over 1500 are thought to have been printed. »

In closing, this final, telling exchange from the Jim Warren interview:

Jon Cooke: Do you recall dealing with Denis Kitchen about The Spirit?
Jim Warren: Will had given his word — and his word is his bond — for Denis to reprint The Spirit (this was before Will and I negotiated a deal). Denis had spent money on preparing the reprints. Will said to me, « It would be a nice gesture if you would reimburse Denis, who is a good guy, for the material he’s already prepared. » I think Will looked on me kindly when I said « Absolutely. » (What Will doesn’t know if that if he had asked for me to give Denis a Rolls-Royce, I would have driven it to Wisconsin myself!)

*an exaggeration, of course, but a pointed one. At the time, Marvel *was* doing its worst to flood the market in order to starve its competitors.

-RG

6 thoughts on “Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Warren

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