« See? Brute force triumphs after all!!! » — Mr. Fly (Jan. 11, 1942)
While Kitchen Sink’s ambitious chronological gathering of Eisner’s post-WWII The Spirit was intended to clean up and organize the series after decades of random, piecemeal reprinting, it was still a bit of a mess, at least early on. The methods of reproduction varied from issue to issue, and even within issues: three of four of issue one’s stories carry the original newspaper shadings, while one (« Hildie ») is newly-coloured and grey-toned. However, the folks at KSP can’t be faulted for this chaos: it all hinged upon which stories’ original line art remained in existence. Through it all, the publisher remained commendably hopeful but realistic and honest about the prevailing realities and conditions.
The colour question elicited ever-churning controversy and budgetary woes in the face of steadily diminishing sales. By issue 9, the custom colouring was abandoned to make way for the rather more economical, but muddy laser-scanning of original Spirit sections, and an extra story was added to issues 10 and 11; then inside colour was jettisoned for good, with gray toning retained. But issue size was reduced to 6 1/4” x 9 3/4″ (as opposed to the traditional comic book format, which is, as we all know, 6 5/8″ x 10 1/4″) for issues 12-16.
Denis Kitchen sums up the situation very aptly, circa issue 4, late in ’83:
« … the current color comic market demands a more sophisticated reprinting of these stories. There is nothing sacred about the original color. Though Eisner experimented boldly with color, he generally left coloring to assistants, and much of it was handled in a pedestrian manner.
We shoot these stories, where possible, from original art in Will Eisner’s archives. Where stats, negatives silverprints or other proofs are the only source, we use the best existing copies. Our colorists, where possible, use the original sections as color guides and are concerned with authenticity and precedent. Color changes, gray tones and other ‘augmentations’ are made with the approval of Will Eisner. »
If you’ve just caught us mid-swing, nothing to worry about: earlier entries are at your beck and call as follows :
« Hello… Times? … I want to place an ad in your Situation Wanted column! Wanted… dangerous assignment… will go anyplace, anywhere, anytime… contact The Spirit, Box 35! » – The Spirit, Apr. 30, 1950
If you’ve followed our series dogging the steps of The Spirit, you won’t be in the least surprised that, after a sixteen (plus colour special) residency with Warren Publishing (Apr. 1974 – Oct. 1976), the late Dennis Colt found himself, after a year’s break, updating his mailing address once more. As returning publisher (and later, also Eisner’s agent) Denis Kitchen put it Kitchen Sink’s inaugural magazine issue (no. 17, Winter 1977):
« Welcome back, SPIRIT fans! Several years ago, we launched an experiment, publishing Will Eisner’s SPIRIT in ‘underground’ format. The experiment was so successful that Eisner arranged for Warren Magazines to publish his stories in a larger format, distributed on a national scale.
Seventeen issues later, we once again have the rights to THE SPIRIT. We will continue publishing stories never before reprinted, on a quarterly basis. In addition, we are adding new features, virtually eliminating the ad pages, and upgrading the quality of the paper. We hope you like the difference and will continue to support THE SPIRIT. »
Well, the first issue was all right, but looked a bit shoddy, a surprise, given the usually-solid production hand of KS’s peerless production man, Pete Poplaski. With the following, er… quarterly issue (five months later), all the kinks had been worked out, and every subsequent entry looks sharp and terrific.
Ah, but there’s the rub: Kitchen Sink’s magazine ran for 25 issues, most of them boasting spectacular, brand-new wraparound watercolour paintings by Eisner. Some brutal excisions had to be made, to say nothing of the backbreaking process of smoothly collating the front and back halves (we have standards!). Hence the necessity of “pt. 1”. Will you settle for my dozen picks of the twenty-five? I’m afraid you’ll have to.
If you’ve just joined us mid-programme, fret not: simply rewind to our earlier instalments, if you will:
« 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. »
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!
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.
« 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. »
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.
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.
Next time out: some interesting times with Warren.
I don’t necessarily like to contemplate this fact of life, but octopus flesh gets eaten a lot (in some countries more than others). However, comic artists are mostly a classy lot: they tend to like cephalopods, so it’s not too often that one runs across a depiction of them as a foodstuff. An octopus slashed in battle is one thing, but disgraced and transformed into a dish? What kind of person would want to illustrate *that*? Perverts, that’s who!
These bold souls who have drawn the forbidden, mentioned the unmentionable, shall surely be punished by the Elder Gods.
Let’s have a cautious peek (don’t forget to leave a sacrifice at the altar of the Octopus God, however).
Today’s linguistic lesson: what’s a snarf? I’ll let Kurt Vonnegut answer that one:
« Do you know what a twerp is? When I was in Shortridge High School in Indianapolis 65 years ago, a twerp was a guy who stuck a set of false teeth up his butt and bit the buttons off the back seats of taxicabs. (And a snarf was a guy who sniffed the seats of girls’ bicycles.) »
Here’s a typical illustration of a snarf, albeit a shockingly rich one, with a fittingly well-developed proboscis, in his not-so-natural habitat: golden-hour hues, a cozy armchair, and selection of vintage selles de vélo. Next time you see a bicycle with its seat stolen (let’s face it, these saddles *must* be acquired in illicit fashion), you’ll thank me for this mental image.