I first encountered Will (or Bill, as the old comics guys called him) Eisner’s Spirit comics when I got a copy of Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. This stunning book, which I got for Christmas in 1966, was a chance for a 1960s kid to see for the first time what comic books had been like in the 1940s. Living in the Florida Keys, where we had moved earlier in the year, I had few chances to find old comic books for sale.
Oddly enough, while snorkeling one day, I discovered a stash of old comics that someone had evidently thrown overboard long ago in and around the marina outside our home in Marathon Shores. These comics were coverless and half-buried in the sand and silt about 15 feet deep on the salt-water side of the island where we then lived, but I’d dive for them and leave them to dry on the dock outside our house. Once dried, they were perfectly readable, if rather crinkly, and I was able over the summer to get 20 or 30 old DC comics in this fashion.
So I was primed to learn more, and Feiffer’s superb book was right up my alley. I then sent a letter to the Miami Herald asking where old comic books could be found, and they printed my letter and listed some shops in Miami that sold them. Armed with that info, I bugged my dad until he finally agreed to fly me the 107 miles to Miami!
One odd thing my dad did was keep $50 cars at a few airports he flew in and out of a lot. He’d never pay more than $50 for the cars, so they weren’t too spiffy, but they saved him the trouble of renting cars. We drove in whatever clunker Dad had stowed in Miami to several of the stores that the Herald had listed, and I was finally able to get a copy of a 1940s Spirit comic book. The Spirit feature had originally been part of a 16-page Sunday newspaper comic supplement from about 1940 to 1952, and Quality Comics had printed a magazine in the mid- to late-1940s showcasing the character. Eisner, being nobody’s fool, was smart enough to keep the copyrights and that was unheard of in comics at that time.
Will Eisner was a solid pro not only at writing and drawing comics, but in print production. He, by the time we’re discussing here, had moved on from newsstand comics to producing preventive maintenance monthlies for the U.S. Army. One of my uncles had given me some of those, as they had a ton of great Eisner artwork in them, and they were unsurpassed in explaining technical issues in a simple and understandable way. I still have a stack of these P.M. magazines somewhere in the basement, much to Patty’s dismay.
Eisner’s Spirit stories, and there are about 250 of them, I guess, were way above the norm for a comic book. They weren’t aimed at nine-year-olds, for one thing, and Eisner had a tight group of amazingly talented assistants who helped write and draw the stuff. Jules Feiffer had been one of these ghosts for Eisner.
Nowadays, Eisner’s Spirits are easily found in both comic-book form and in hardback, and much of the work is also available in digital form, if you know where to look. In the late 1960s, it was very different and Spirit comic books were few and hard to find.
There had been a couple of 64-page color reprints by Harvey Comics in 1966 and ’67 and those were comic books to be treasured; beautifully printed and colored. My next Spirit encounter was in what were called Spirit Bags in the early 1970s. These were 6″ x 9″ black-and-white reprints of the 8-page Spirit stories and had a typed commentary by Eisner on the last page. Still have all those, too.
Over the years I snagged a ton of other Spirit reprints, both in hard copies and in digital form. I recently learned that Fiction House, a second-tier comic-book publisher, had issued five Spirit comics in the early 1950s. I had never heard of them before, but Fiction House really did a nice job on these reprints of the newspaper Spirits. The coloring is amazing, especially when you consider that they only had 64 colors and tints to work with in those old days.
I now have these in digital form and they are a treat. If you have an interest in Eisner’s work, I encourage you to download them; here’s a site:
These are in the public domain. You’ll need a PC, Mac or iOS reader for the files; they’re easy to find. I particularly enjoy the Comic Zeal iPad app; it makes organizing the hundreds of comics on my iPad a snap.
Thank me later!!! Enjoy!!!
A couple of years later, when we started a student newspaper at Naples High, I made damned sure that the newspaper was called The Spirit, and I worked for days on a masthead for it; my crude homage to Will Eisner. Of course, Eisner, who was so gifted that he came up with a different and stunning masthead for each and every Spirit story, was in a much different league than I was and I cringe to look at my crude Spirit newspaper masthead now!
So it goes!