Saturday, April 13, 2002

Will Eisner The Spirit Archives, Volume 1 (DC) - DC has made such a point of utilizing its older characters (think JSA, Starman, Jay Garrick and Alan Scott, Golden Age) that you'd think they would be better at actually keeping the original material available. Because the multiple volumes of the DC Archives series--full color, good paper, complete runs--which have one major drawback: the price. The $50 retail price keeps these stories out of the hands of all but the most dedicated readers which is a real shame. In the case of the now seven volumes of the Spirit Archives "shame" doesn't even start. It would be tough to overestimate the importance of Eisner's Spirit stories on the development of comics. The sheer visual imagination, the variety of themes and stories, the focus on character and the plain pleasure in storytelling are rarely matched even six decades later. So it's great to have them available, less great that most readers won't plunk down the money out of curiosity; at some point DC needs to do a thick tpb of the best stories. One reason is that even beyond the price, many readers will want to read in order but Volume 1 is not the best place to begin. (Incidentally, I borrowed it using an inter-library loan which may be the best way to just read these DC Archives.) Volume 1 collects all the 1940 strips (which were each seven-page stories running on Sundays) but they're most notable because you can watch Eisner's development; somebody who picks this as an introduction to Eisner won't understand all the fuss. Eisner's line is still a bit rough and the body positioning rarely shows the kind of elegance that came later. Over this volume you can also see the earliest examples of Eisner's famous splash panels. The stories also tend to be a bit haphazard, sometimes apparently just tossed-together. It's not uncommon for The Spirit's "intuition" to reveal suddenly anything he might need to know and there's a stream of such things as castle prison where the walls are apparently made of styrofoam considering that The Spirit tunnels out twice in one evening. Still, there's a bit more than pure historical interest here: one story where Dolans' daughter tries to trick The Spirit into attending her college prom is a comic gem (though it's hard to imagine a paper today running a fairly macabre corpse joke), the stories about an intelligent orangutan have real pathos (no lie) and there are some decent crime stories.


There's a good piece by Brad Leithauser on Walt Kelly in the New York Review of Books at