Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Kitchen Sink (pt. 4)

« Some men are like flies… without a plan – without direction… they flit restlessly about the world… escaping one danger… and another… only to fall into the spider’s web… » — Bleak’s prospects are grim (Jan. 4, 1948)

Here we are, making our way through Kitchen Sink’s valiant chronological reprinting of Eisner’s post-WWII The Spirit, namely strips from December 1947 to December 1948; still at the peak, with a bit of fatigue on the horizon. At any rate, this particular vintage inspired a score of the master cartoonist’s most sublime new covers… as you’ll witness.

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Kitchen Sink Press’ The Spirit no. 25 (Nov. 1986) cover-features Eisner’s famous and much-reprinted jailbreak saga, Slippery Eall (aka A River of Crime), originally published on November 30, 1947. The story features inmates bearing the mugs of Eisner studio contributors: letterer Abe Kanegson is Bellows; penciller-inker Jerry Grandenetti is Dapperish; and Eisner himself is Slippery Eall. Also in this issue: Death of Hugo (Dec. 7, 1947), Snow (Dec. 14) and Christmas Spirit of 1947: Joy (Dec. 21). Cover by Will Eisner. Cover colouring by Pete Poplaski.

Speaking of the slammer, Eisner muses sardonically on the cartooning life: « Working in this field is a very, not lonely, but solitary life. All of us come to realize how many hours we’ve been chained to the drawing board. We used to talk in the studio about how if we were sent to jail, it wouldn’t make any difference. We could still turn out comics and our lives would not be a hell of a lot different. »

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Here’s that celebrated opening splash, from its appearance in Will Eisner’s 3-D Classics featuring The Spirit no. 1 (Dec. 1985, Kitchen Sink); get those glasses out!

From Dave Shreiner’s ongoing talk with Eisner, published in The Spirit no. 26‘s Stage Settings column: “Eisner has always been a functionalist, rarely a decorative artist producing something for its beauty alone. He is a powerful artist in that nearly every device he uses serves more than one purpose. With a bit of prodding, he took issue with the seemingly prevalent attitude among comic book artists that splash pages serve as a second cover to a story: there for decoration and enticement, but redundant to the story.”

Eisner: « A lot of the artwork done in this field is for a kind of personal satisfaction. It’s used to display artistic muscle, rather than confining itself to an artistic purpose. I believe a lot of artists fear addressing themselves to a purpose because they’re afraid that the showiness, or dazzle dazzle of their artwork, will probably be diminished. 

Consequently, they feel the approval level, the applause meter, will fall off somewhat. We’ve talked before about one of the problems facing artists in the comic book field being that their work is judged essentially on the physical appearance of it. It’s the artwork, rather than the content. That fact contributes to comic books being looked down upon. »

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This is The Spirit no. 26 (Dec. 1986), and it brings us ‘Umbrella Handles’ (Dec. 28, 1947); The Name Is ‘Powder’ (Jan. 4, 1948); The Fallen Sparrow (Jan. 11, 1948); and Just One Word Made Me a Man (Jan. 18, 1948). Colours by Pete Poplaski, grey toning by Ray Fehrenbach.
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This is The Spirit no. 28 (Feb. 1987), and it features Life Below (Feb. 22, 1948); The Return of Roger (Feb. 29, 1948, evidently, like 2020, a leap year); The Strange Case of Mrs. Paraffin (Mar. 7, 1948); and War Brides (Mar. 14, 1948). Colours by Pete Poplaski, grey toning by Ray Fehrenbach.

On the subject of the inspiration behind cover-featured Life Below, Eisner explains: « I was trying to find a unique, or exciting and startling setting within a normal situation. It always intrigued me that cities, particularly New York City, had miles and miles of catacombs under the streets. People doing city stories frequently overlook the potential of them. Underneath the city are layer after layer of story material. »

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This is The Spirit no. 31 (May 1987), featuring The Last Hand (May 16, 1948); Assignment: Paris (May 23, 1948); The Emerald of Rajahpur (May 30, 1948); and The Guilty Gun (June 6, 1948). Colours by Pete Poplaski, grey toning by Ray Fehrenbach.
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This is The Spirit no. 33 (July 1987), featuring The Springtime of Dolan (July 11, 1948); Barkarolle (July 18 1948); cover-featured The Thing (July 25th, 1948), an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce‘s short story The Damned Thing and quite the Jerry Grandenetti showcase; and The Eisner Travel Agency (Aug. 1st, 1948). Cover colours by Dave Schreiner.
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This is The Spirit no. 35 (Sept. 1987), comprising cover-featured The Story of Gerhard Shnobble (Sept. 5, 1948); Cache McStash (Sept. 12, 1948); Lorelei Rox (Sept. 19, 1948); and Ace McCase (Sept. 26, 1948). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach. That poor Mr. Schnobble (the little flying guy with the grin and the bowler hat)… his is among the most tragic fates in comics.
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This is The Spirit no. 36 (Oct. 1987), and it brings cover-featured Tooty Compote (Oct. 3, 1948); Gold (Oct. 10, 1948); Nazel B. Twitch (Oct. 17, 1948); and Pancho de Bool (Oct. 23, 1948). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach. Striking shadow effects: the KS production team sure knew how to make the most of the relatively primitive mechanical means at its disposal.
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This is The Spirit no. 37 (Nov. 1987), and it hits us with Halloween (Oct. 31, 1948); cover-featured Plaster of Paris (Nov. 7, 1948); The Chapparell Lode (Nov. 14, 1948); and Quirte (Nov. 21, 1948). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach. Note the witty symmetry of the matching KS logo, top left.
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This is The Spirit no. 38 (Dec. 1987), which lands expertly and rolls with The Amulet of Osiris (Nov. 28, 1948); cover-featured The Coin (aka Stop the Plot!, Dec. 5, 1948), an action-packed humdinger featuring the return of The Octopus; Two Lives (Dec. 12, 1948); and Christmas Spirit of 1948 (Dec. 19, 1948). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach. A dizzying honey of a cover.

Past this juncture, the strip’s slow, inexorable decline commences, and the covers reflect that fact. But not to worry: Eisner was a consummate pro, and the rest of the run is not without its gems. Besides, I’ll be cherry-picking ’em for you.

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If you’ve just arrived at the intermission, fret not: take your seat and relax, here’s what you missed so far :

… or point your clicker on our general category, That’s THE SPIRIT!, and summon the lot at once… but in reverse chronological order; that’s the minute toll this dab of convenience exacts.

-RG

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Kitchen Sink (pt. 3)

« 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.

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This is The Spirit no. 1 (Oct. 1983, Kitchen Sink). Colours by Pete Poplaski, grey toning by Ray Fehrenbach. Four tales are featured: The Christmas Spirit (Dec. 23, 1945), by Eisner and John Spranger; Dead End (Dec. 30, 1945), by Eisner, Spranger and Bob Palmer; Hildie (Jan. 6, 1946), by Eisner and Alex Kotzky; and Dolan’s Origin of the Spirit (Jan. 13, 1946), by Eisner, Spranger and Palmer.
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This is The Spirit no. 4 (March 1984, Kitchen Sink). Colours by Poplaski, grey toning by Fehrenbach. Four stories within, all by by Eisner, Spranger and Palmer: Nylon Rose (Mar. 17, 1946); The Last Trolley (Mar. 24, 1946); Yafodder’s Mustache (Mar. 31, 1946); and The Kissing Caper (Apr. 7, 1946).
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Here’s a fine example of the careful colour work executed by grey tinter Poplaski and colourists Fehrenbach (in this case) and Mike Newhall, taking evident pains to avoid overwhelming Eisner’s detailed line work. In terms of old-fashioned colouring, this was a notch (or seven) about what was being done in mainstream comics in the 1980s, a period of technological changes, of magnificent highs and painful lows. This is page two of noir classic The Last Trolley (Mar. 24, 1946), from The Spirit no. 4.

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. »

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This is The Spirit no. 11 (Aug. 1985, Kitchen Sink). For this final colour issue, five stories, all by by Eisner, Spranger and Palmer: The Haunt (Oct. 27, 1946); Beagle’s Second Chance (Nov. 3, 1946); Caramba (Nov. 10, 1946); Return to Caramba (Nov. 17, 1946) and Coot Gallus (Nov. 24, 1946)
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This is The Spirit no. 17 (Mar. 1986, Kitchen Sink). Colours by Poplaski, grey toning by Fehrenbach. Four stories within, all by Eisner and Jerry Grandenetti: Be Bop (Apr. 20, 1947); Ev’ry Little Bug (Apr. 27, 1947); The Fix (May 4, 1947), and The Fortune (May 11, 1947).
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This is The Spirit no. 19 (May 1986, Kitchen Sink). Colours by Poplaski, grey toning by Fehrenbach. Four stories await within, each by Eisner, Grandenetti and letterer Abe Kanegson: Black Gold (June 15, 1947); Hangly Hollyer Mansion (June 22, 1947); Whiffenpoof!! (June 29, 1947), and Wanted (July 6, 1947).
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This is The Spirit no. 22 (Aug. 1986, Kitchen Sink). Colours by Poplaski, grey toning by Fehrenbach. Presenting a quartet of tales by Eisner, Grandenetti and Kanegson: A Killer at Large (Sept. 7, 1947); Into the Light (Sept. 14, 1947); End of the SS Raven (Sept. 21, 1947), and Orson Welles lampoon UFO (Sept. 28, 1947).

If you’ve just caught us mid-swing, nothing to worry about: earlier entries are at your beck and call as follows :

… or point and click on our general category, That’s THE SPIRIT!, and beckon everything at once… but in reverse chronological order; that’s the price you pay for convenience.

-RG

 

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 2

« In June, 1913, the family moved out in terror! … they simply abandoned the house in the Midlands. There is no record of successors. If you are looking to rent a house, cheap… it may still be there! »

On this second day of our Hallowe’en countdown, let’s peer through the mists of time at 1976, when Will Eisner was still experimenting with marketing formats for comics-type material. This was still a couple of years before his A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories (1978) appeared. During that period and beyond, Eisner was throwing a lot of material at the wall, in the finest exploitation tradition, hard on the heels of every bankable trend: Will Eisner’s Gleeful Guide to the Quality of Life, 101 Outerspace Jokes, Will Eisner’s Gleeful Guide to Communicating With Plants, Will Eisner’s Gleeful Guide to Living With Astrology, 300 Horrible Monster Jokes… and it wasn’t all good, as you can imagine.

This 160-page paperback from 1976 is arguably the cream of that crop; an easy choice for those of us who value Eisner’s expert hand at setting a shadowy mood.

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Mr. Eisner’s original back cover.

Publisher Tempo Books seems to have had limited faith in the sales appeal (too gruesome?) of the original cover, as a variant edition was issued in short order, bearing a fine, but non-Eisner cover. Can anyone identify the artist?

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-RG

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Kitchen Sink (pt. 2)

« Three A.M. The radiators in Commissioner Dolan’s office had long ago conked out… and those of us who could not go home waited… tried in various ways to ignore the damp cold made even more unbearable by the January rain. » — The Spirit, Jan. 8, 1950

Welcome back! Today, we wrap up Kitchen Sink Press’ experimental continuation of Warren Magazines’ run of The Spirit. By now, Denis Kitchen was probably coming to terms with the fact that building upon Warren’s non-system of random Spirit reprints was not only a dead end, but one with mercilessly diminishing returns, even with so deep and rewarding an archive as Will Eisner’s.

Still, don’t worry, we’re hardly running out of dazzling visuals to tickle your eyeballs with.

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This is The Spirit no. 29 (June, 1981), featuring a mere four Spirit tales, namely: “Framed” ((Nov. 24, 1940); “Sasha’s Sax” (June. 28th, 1942); “Blood of the Earth” (Feb. 26, 1950); cover-featured “The Island” (March 26, 1950) , as well as plenty of fine new material by Eisner.
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This is The Spirit no. 31 (Oct. 1981), featuring four Spirit tales: “Wanted for Murder” (Feb. 5, 1942); “The Siberian Dagger” (Jan. 27, 1946); “Just One Word Made Me a Man!” (Jan. 18, 1948); “The Barber” (Oct. 22, 1950), some new Eisner material and the second instalment of “Shop Talk”, in which Eisner interviews one of his peers. This time out: Harvey Kurtzman.
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This is The Spirit no. 33 (Oct. 1981), featuring a quartet of Spirit tales: “The Haunted House” (Dec. 8, 1940); “Slim Pickens” (Dec. 15, 1940); “The Portier Fortune” (Dec. 1, 1946); “Dolan Walks a ‘Beat’!” (Apr. 17, 1949), an Eisner tutorial and a look at Eisner’s P*S Years.
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This is The Spirit no. 39 (Feb. 1983), featuring five Spirit adventures: “Dead Duck Dolan” (Mar. 2, 1941); “Tarnation” (Mar. 3, 1946); “Voodoo in Manhattan” (June 23, 1940); “The Van Gaull Diamonds” (Dec. 15, 1946), “Veta Barra” (July 29, 1951), and a 12-page Shop Talk with Jack Kirby!
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As a bonus, here’s the cover of The Spirit no. 30 (July, 1981), which features an amusing, but understandably uneven brand-new 36-page Spirit jam calling upon a whopping fifty pairs of paws. If only this had been the only time Frank Miller tried his hand at Will’s creation… The issue also features pair of vintage yarns: “Army Operas No. 1” (Dec. 21, 1941) and “Beagle’s Second Chance” (Nov. 3, 1946). Can you identify all the cover jam contributors? Beware, though: that Pete Poplaski is a redoubtable stylistic chameleon.
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Here’s the key.

After 25 issues of The Spirit magazine (on top of Warren’s run), Denis Kitchen and Will Eisner would press the reset button and begin again in the comic book format. In part three, we’ll see how that endeavour fared.

If you’ve just joined us mid-programme, fret not: simply rewind to our earlier instalments, if you will:

… or simply click on its general category, That’s THE SPIRIT!, and find yourself with everything at your purple-gloved fingertips (don’t think you fooled us, Octopus!)

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: The Kitchen Sink Touch

Kitchen Sink Press, a trailblazing publisher of underground comix that grew out of Denis Kitchen’s successful attempts at self-publishing, has seen its share of tentacles. (For a detailed story of how Kitchen Sink grew from a modest artists’ cooperative into a force to be reckoned with, as well as a discussion of its 30-year legacy, pay Comixjoint a visit.)

First we have a pair of entries from the Death Rattle catalogue. There were 3 “volumes” (series, if you will) published, and my favourite is volume 2, consisting of 18 issues coming out between October 1985 and October 1988, starting out in glorious colour but reverting to black-and-white with issue 6 (which was fine, actually). It’s a remarkably consistent anthology nearly devoid of clunkers, and featuring awesome stories and art by Rand Holmes, Jaxon, Tom Veitch, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, Steve Stiles, etc.  It’s also where Mark Schultz’ Xenozoic Tales series was introduced (Death Rattle no. 8, December 1986)!

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Death Rattle no. 4 (April 1986), cover by Rand Holmes, who’s already ascended to the rank of Tentacle Tuesday Master.
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Death Rattle no. 12 (September 1987), cover by Jaxon (Jack Jackson). The cover belongs to Jaxon’s “Bulto… The Cosmic Slug“, an epic eleven-parter that I really enjoyed reading (and not only because of its manifold tentacles). We’ll talk about that again.

Speaking of Jaxon, I’d like to quote from General Jackson, a tribute written by Margaret Moser (who dated him on-and-off through the years).

« The last time I saw Jack was a humid, late summer night in 2005 at the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture. His hair was nearly white and had lost its red-brown burnish, but his mustache was bushy as ever, and he resembled God Nose himself. He was a little grumpy, probably feeling bad, and I was with my boyfriend, so I didn’t sit on his lap. I did kiss his leathery cheek and fetch him a beer. He smelled like cigarette smoke and maybe of Old Spice.

On Wednesday, June 7, just three weeks after his birthday, Jack Jackson took his life at the graves of his parents outside Stockdale. His diabetes and arthritis were getting worse, affecting his ability to draw, and he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Unwilling to face a debilitating course of chemo treatment, he put down his pen forever and made his own kind of peace with the unforgiving future. »

On to something more cheerful! Next, we have a bit of a non sequitur in this otherwise horror-centric post, although one might argue that being grabbed by an octopus is a traumatic experience. What’s The Spirit doing in here, you might ask?

« Kitchen Sink continued publishing multiple undergrounds and alternative comics through the ’80s and ’90s, but also expanded into publishing non-underground comics, graphic novels and extensive anthologies, most notably by Will Eisner, Al Capp, Milton Caniff and Harvey Kurtzman. » |source|

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The Spirit no. 34 (August 1987), cover by Will Eisner.
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Page from “A Day at the Beach“, drawn and scripted by Will Eisner and inked by André Leblanc, printed in The Spirit no. 34 (August 1987). Somehow I’m not surprised that Eisner draws a mean-yet-elegant octopus.

All rested now? Okay, back to horror.

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Flesh Crawlers no. 1 (1993), written by Richard Rainey and illustrated by Michael Dubisch. A quick look at the latter’s catalogue shows that Dubisch happily adds tentacles to whatever he’s drawing.

The scientist seems to have been preparing to dissect the specimen – turnabout is fair play! This cover reminds me of this, actually:

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Barney & Clyde is a syndicated newspaper strip with jokes that are actually funny and characters that you can get attached to, a rarity these days. You can read it online.

Back on topic, another attack of the Flesh Crawlers:

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Flesh Crawlers no. 3 (1993), written by Richard Rainey and illustrated by Michael Dubisch.

My final submission for today involves a cozy family scene where Frank is peacefully having breakfast with, err… Potted turnip babies and an almost-nude greek serial killer. I think.

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Hyena no. 4 (1993, Tundra), cover by Dave Cooper. If Jim Woodring’s work frequently creeps me out, Cooper’s comics are viscerally repulsive to me (I think he goes for “nauseating” on purpose, but I’m not in the camp of people who like to experience strong emotions by watching disgusting, repulsive things happen). This cover, though, is all right.

~ ds

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. »

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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!

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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.
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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.
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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.
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« 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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« 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).
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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.
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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

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

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Fiction House

« Our story opens on a rainy night on Central City’s waterfront… »

Continuing our chronicle of The Spirit’s wanderings from harbour to harbour over the decades, we make land today at pulp and comic book producer Fiction House, whose “Big Six” were the blandly-named but action-packed Fight Comics (86 issues, 1940–1954), Jumbo Comics (167 issues, 1938–1953), Jungle Comics (163 issues, 1940–1954), Planet Comics (73 issues, 1940–1953), Rangers Comics* (69 issues, 1941–1953) and Wings Comics (124 issues, 1940–1954). Compared to these, The Spirit’s five-issue stay was but a blip. Still, since FH’s art director was none other than Eisner’s old partner Samuel Maxwell “Jerry” Iger (1903-1990), this particular match is unsurprising.

Of course, it wasn’t common knowledge at the time, but these issues comprise little else but what came to be known as “the post-Eisner Spirit”, inarguably inferior work with the occasional highlight, generally a Jules Feiffer script let down by the visuals.

According to Eisner, interviewed in 1990 by Tom Heintjes: « Looking back, I have to say that it’s a blemish on my career that I allowed The Spirit to continue through this period, because I compromised the character just because I was busy with other things. That’s not to say that these are all bad stories, but they just don’t have the consistent outlook they had when I was directly involved. » « I look at these stories and I want to cringe – again, not because they’re bad, but because only the merest essence of the character is retained. »

If such is the case,  then it’s no small mercy that Will didn’t live to witness Frank Miller‘s masterwork of desecration.

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This is The Spirit no. 1 (Spring, 1952), featuring “The Case of the Counterfeit Killer” (Sept. 16, 1951), cover-featured “The Curse of Claymore Castle” (Nov. 4, 1951), “The Plot of the Perfect Crime” (Oct. 28, 1951), and “Panic on Pier 8” (Aug. 19, 1951), each scripted by Feiffer. Cover artist unknown, but it’s a considerable improvement over the actual story.
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This is The Spirit no. 2 (Summer, 1952), reprinting “The Amazing Affair of the First Man on Mars” (Jan. 27, 1952), “Contraband Queen” (May 20, 1951), “The Case of the Baleful Buddah” (Nov. 18, 1951), and “The $50,000 Flim-Flam” (Apr. 15, 1951), the final three benefiting from some Eisner involvement. Again, cover artist unknown., but isn’t that gorgeously coloured?
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Ah, we’re getting more Eisner-ish, though not quite all the way. This is The Spirit no. 3 (1952), featuring “The Walking Corpse” (Mar. 9, 1952), “It Kills by Dark” (Feb. 24, 1952), “The League of Liars” (Nov. 25, 1951), and “A Man Named Nero” (Feb. 3, 1952). The first three are scripted by Feiffer, and the fourth is undermined; I wouldn’t brag about that one either.
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This is The Spirit no. 4 (1953), featuring “The Last Prowl of Mephisto” (Apr. 1, 1951), scripted and illustrated by a heavily-assisted and pressed for time Eisner; “Design For Doomsday” (Jan. 13, 1952), “The Sword and the Savage” (Sept. 2, 1951), and “The Great Galactic Mystery” (Apr. 20, 1952), these last three scripted by Feiffer. And another nearly-Eisner cover… he never would have made it this busy, I think.
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This is The Spirit no. 5 (1954), cover-featuring “Dragnet For Johnny Buffalo” (Apr. 8, 1951), and also “The Target-Man in 16-A” (July 22, 1951), “Damsels in Distress” (a relative oldie from August 3, 1947), and “The Loot of Robinson Crusoe” (July 8, 1951), scripts a toss-up or a collaboration between Feiffer and Eisner. Now this cover I can buy as the genuine Eisner article: it’s a characteristic composition for him, and it’s sloppy in all the right places. The Spirit’s sidekick in this instance is Walkalong Haggerty, who saves his hide in “Dragnet..

So concludes our masked crimefighter’s passage at Fiction House. Fortunately, the publisher’s art department and production values were top-notch, so accommodations were quite cozy. Next time out, we’ll see how The Spirit would fare at the hands of Harvey Comics and (separately) of that nefarious rascal, Israel Waldman, in the swinging Sixties.

-RG

*Fiction House’s Rangers Comics featured the excellent “The Secret Files of Dr. Drew“, which ran in issues 47 to 60 (1949-51); the feature was the combined work of several of Eisner’s top Spirit alumni, namely writer Marilyn Mercer, penciller-inker Jerry Grandenetti, and letterer Abe Kanegson. The first ten (of fourteen) episodes just about out-Eisnered Eisner, until he protested and put an end to that gorgeous nonsense. This lot was lovingly restored and collected by Michael “Mr. Monster” Terry Gilbert (2014, Dark Horse). If you ask me, it’s the sole reprint of vintage colour material bearing the Dark Horse brand worth a damn… because Gilbert handled the work himself.

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!

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« 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

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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.
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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).
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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).
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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.
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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).
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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.
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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