With the recent loss to the comic community of Will Eisner, it is not merely sad coincidence that on our list of "Better Read" this month is Eisner's seminal work - "The Spirit". Specifically we showcase Volume 1 of "The Spirit Archives", a deliciously perfect hardback reprinting of the complete "Spirit" newspaper inserts. The first volume in 240 pages features June through December 1940.
This printing by DC Comics features a top-quality binding, rich creamy paper, and full bright colors. There is a preface by Eisner himself, a foreword by the most worthy Alan Moore, and a well-written and instructional Introduction by R.C. Harvey. Of course, a top-quality package like that does carry a corresponding price tag, asking $50 (a little cheaper on Amazon, natch).
As for the stories themselves, I can't suppress a sense of awe upon reading these tales, as the originality and freshness of these stories jumps effortlessly across more than six decades. Yes, certainly to our modern eyes the plots and scripts of these early seven-page Eisner stories seem somewhat naive and simplistic at times. However, it is important to place them in their context, and to understand the huge cultural gap between the two times.
While the scripting may seem a little forced at moments, we must remember that Eisner at this time was only in his early twenties. It is easy to forgive his overly wholesome "Remember kids, crime doesn't pay" message. I can even forgive "I'm working with Uncle Sam now, working to preserve on Earth the one place where men may live in freedom and in peace... America." Well, I've penciled out "the one place" in my copy, and replaced it with "one of the places", and now I can forgive him it.
Despite the fact that many of these early stories deal with complex issues at a very shallow level, there is still a wealth of humour and invention which is particularly striking. But what's truly staggering to behold is Eisner's almost unconscious mastery of the powers of this new-born medium. The framing, sequencing, use of breakout panels, transitions and other techniques unique to the comics format is stunning to behold. In the hands of Will Eisner, the comic book form seems to have been born fully-formed - as if a hirsute Cro-Magnon Da Vinci picked up a burnt stick and painted the Mona Lisa on a cave wall.
In fact, to open up an "average" comic book these days, even one "written and illustrated in the mighty Marvel style", it's incredibly frustrating to see so many "professional" comic book creators struggling to achieve the competency that Eisner as a young man demonstrated in a form which was still in its relative infancy.
Despite the rather hefty price tag of these hardback collections, I strongly suspect I will gradually acquire all dozen-or-more volumes in this set. As Archie Goodwin claims, "The Spirit has to be a virtual encyclopedia, if not a bible, of how to do comics." As such, this magnificent opus is a must-have amongst any serious comic lover's collection. I will also most certainly be adding many if not all of Eisner's other graphic novel creations from his more recent past.
Perhaps we should close with the quotation from Alan Moore in the foreword of this first volume: "There is no one quite like Will Eisner. There never has been, and on my more pessimistic days I doubt there ever will be."
Thanks, Will. It's been awesome.
Next Month: The Color of Magic.