Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Kitchen Sink (pt. 5)

« … And so Hooten Landing remained unchanged through the years… a landmark and a memorial… a colonial world that had made only one or two concessions to the march of progress. » — From Ye Olde Spirit of ’76 (July 3, 1949)

Having reached the last half of Kitchen Sink’s chronological reprinting of the Post-WWII Spirit, we come at last to the end of our own chronicle. As stated earlier, facing an inexorable dwindling of Eisner’s involvement and investment in his creation due to other commitments and an understandable sagging of his stamina, the strip slowly entered its decline. Then as now, good help was hard to find, to the point where Eisner opted to wrap up the strip rather than let it peter out completely. This sober and courageous decision most certainly contributed in preserving the feature’s solid reputation to this day.

As we embark on the inarguably lesser half of the run, we encounter fewer standout covers, which is to be expected, given the creator’s diminished affection for the contents. Nevertheless, forty-four Will Eisner covers are bound to yield some genuine sparklers. Here, then, are my picks.

EisnerKS_Spirit45A
Kitchen Sink Press’ The Spirit no. 46 (July 1988) cover-features Satin, originally published on June 12, 1949. Also in this issue: the clever and entertaining The Prediction (June 19, 1949); The Elevator (June 26, 1949); and Ye Olde Spirit of ’76 (July 3, 1949). Cover by Eisner, with colours by Ray Fehrenbach. Obviously, we’re still in classic territory.
EisnerKS_Spirit46A
This is The Spirit no. 46 (Aug. 1988), which, over six instalments, « takes The Spirit to the Peligros, a fictional group of South Pacific islands, where he interacts with an entirely new set of characters, cultures and adventures. » The issue opens with Lilly Lotus (July 10, 1949); then follows with Sally of the Islands (July 17, 1949); The Masked Man (July 24, 1949); and The Ball Game (July 31, 1949), introducing latter-day sidekick and comic foil Sammy. Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach.
EisnerKS_Spirit47A
This is The Spirit no. 47 (Sept. 1988), which wraps up the masked man’s Pacific Island with the cover-featured Matua (Aug. 7, 1949), followed naturally by The Return (Aug. 14, 1949); then it’s back to Central City business with The Candidate (Aug. 21, 1949) and White Cloud (Aug. 28, 1949). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach.
EisnerKS_Spirit49A
This is The Spirit no. 49 (Nov. 1988), presenting Crime (Oct. 2, 1949); Death of Autumn Mews (Oct. 9, 1949) partly a retelling of the former Denny Colt’s origin, and boasting a true-blue classic splash pageThe Curse (Oct. 16, 1949); and Fox at Bay (Oct. 23, 1949). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach. Incidentally, The Spirit was the 1988 Harvey Awards laureate in the category of “Best Reprint Project”.
EisnerKS_Spirit50A
This is The Spirit no. 50 (Dec. 1988). Gathered therein are the Hallowe’en tale of Elect Miss Rhinemaiden of 1950 (Oct. 30, 1949), featuring the return of the sorcerous Hazel P. Macbeth; The eerie The Inner Voice (Nov. 6, 1949); Surgery… (Nov. 13, 1949); and The Thanksgiving Spirit (Nov. 20, 1949). And yes, The Spirit spends the entire issue on crutches. Eisner was ever the innovator! Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach.
EisnerKS_Spirit52A
This is The Spirit no. 52 (Feb. 1989), and it cover-features the classic Bring in Sand Saref  (Jan. 15, 1950); also in this issue: The Christmas Spirit (Dec. 25, 1949); Fan Mail (Jan. 1, 1950); and part one of the cover story, Sand Saref (Jan. 8, 1950); this cover bears some outstanding colour work by Mr. Fehrenbach, if I may say so.

Some background about the classic Sand Saref two-parter, from Tom HeintjesStage Settings column:

« The final two stories form one longer tale, and they’ve earned a place in comics history. Eisner’s work and film noir have been mentioned in the same breath for decades, and you hold in your hands one of the best reasons why. »

« The story’s history is unorthodox. Sand Saref and Bring in Sand Saref had their origins in Eisner’s shop, which had been producing various comic books and pieces of commercial art with growing frequency. The two stories were originally done as a single 11-page feature, but it didn’t star The Spirit. The lead character was John Law, a character Eisner intended to launch independently of The Spirit feature.

When the John Law project was shelved due to the often poor newsstand distribution of many comic books, Eisner later saw an opportunity, and seized it by breaking the 11-page John Law feature into a two-part Spirit story. Astute readers are now saying: ‘But Spirit stories are seven pages long, requiring fourteen pages of art.‘ Well, there are no flies on Will Eisner. He created the first three pages of ‘Sand Saref’ to bring up the page count.

Eisner said breaking the John Law story into two halves, eliminating all traces of the intended hero, and inking in the faces of The Spirit’s cast of characters wasn’t simple. “The characters were different people, so considerable dialogue had to be rewritten,” he said. “John Law was a policeman and The Spirit wasn’t. Merely because they both fought on the side of law and order didn’t make them the same character.” In fact, Eisner has Sand Saref tell The Spirit ‘you’re a cop’ in the climax of the 14-page story. »

EisnerKS_Spirit66A
This is The Spirit no. 66 (Apr. 1990), and the issue reprints Future Death (Jan. 21, 1951); The Meanest Man in the World (Jan. 28, 1951); the shadowy, ultra-violent Showdown (Feb. 4, 1951); and its cover-featured conclusion, The Octopus Is Back (Feb. 11, 1951). Cover hues by none other than Joe Matt!
EisnerKS_Spirit69A
The Spirit no. 69 (July 1990) reprints Time Bomb (Apr. 15, 1951); Hobart (April 22, 1951); Help Wanted (April 29, 1951); and cover-featured The Facts (May 6, 1951); Ray Fehrenbach is back on colours.
EisnerKS_Spirit70A
The Spirit no. 70 (Aug. 1990) reprints The Hero (May 13, 1951); The 7th Husband (May 20, 1951); King Wang (May 27, 1951); and The Thing in the Jungle (June 3, 1951); Eisner’s cover illustration mixes elements of the second and fourth stories, and it is ably coloured by Ray Fehrenbach, comme d’habitude.
EisnerKS_Spirit86A
This is The Spirit no. 85 (Nov. 1991), featuring The Ballad of Greenly Sleeve (July 6, 1952); Matt Slugg (July 13, 1952); Marry the Spirit (July 20, 1952) and of course, the sadly tantalizing cul-de-sac that was Jules Feiffer and Wally Wood‘s Outer Space (July 27, 1952). Cover by Eisner and colours by Fehrenbach.

A word or two about The Outer Space Spirit, as it’s come to be called: Eisner, looking for a worthy successor to bequeath the strip to, found young Wally Wood. Talented as he was, Wood’s tragic character flaws were already well established: unlike Eisner, he couldn’t pace himself and he couldn’t stay the course, two qualities essential to the steady production of a comic strip. But for the couple of weeks before Wood started missing deadlines, such lush, interstellar beauty! Feast your peepers here.

CatchUpEisnerAdA
Finally, as a bonus: detail from a Kitchen Sink house ad devoted to the publisher’s more-than-fine assortment of Eisnerania; it first appeared on the back cover of The Spirit no. 45 (July, 1988).

Well, that’s it! Thanks for tagging along on Will Eisner and his most famous creation’s tireless peregrinations.

If you’ve missed the earlier entries in the series (punctuality is not one of your strong suits, is it?), all is not lost. In fact, it’s all handily archived within easy reach :

… or if single-clicking is more your speed (takes all kinds!), there’s always our general category, That’s THE SPIRIT!, which will bring up everything at once… but in chronologically inverse order.

-RG

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s