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.

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. »

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. »

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.
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. »

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.


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.


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.

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.
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).
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. »

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)
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).
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).
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.


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.

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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!)


Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Kitchen Sink (pt. 1)

« 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.

This is The Spirit no. 18 (May, 1978), featuring a half-dozen Spirit tales, namely: “The Seventh Husband” (May 20, 1951); “Thanksgiving Spirit” (Nov. 20th, 1949); “Future Death” (Jan. 21, 1951); “Barkarolle” (July 18th, 1948); “Mad Moes” (Feb. 9, 1947); “Fan Mail” (Jan. 1, 1950), as well as some vintage Clifford one-pagers by Jules Feiffer.
This is The Spirit no. 19 (Oct. 1978), featuring five Spirit tales, namely: “Money, Money” (Nov. 23, 1947); “April Fool” (Mar. 30 1947); “Gold” (Oct. 10, 1948); “The Chapparell Lode” (Nov. 14, 1948); “Halloween” (Oct. 31, 1948), as well a pair of Clifford one-pagers by Jules Feiffer, a Lady Luck four-pager by Klaus Nordling, and part one of Eisner’s brand-new, hard-hitting serial, Life on Another Planet (eventually coloured and collected as Signal From Space).
This is The Spirit no. 20 (Mar. 1979), featuring five Spirit tales, namely: “Quirte” (Nov. 21, 1948); “Cromlech Was a Nature Boy!” (July 4, 1948); “War Brides” (Mar. 14, 1948); “Time Bomb” (Apr. 15, 1951); “Census ’50” (June 25, 1950); and “[Mission… the Moon]” (Aug. 3, 1952), plus part two of Eisner’s Life on Another Planet and some informative articles.
This is The Spirit no. 24 (May 1980), featuring five Spirit tales, namely: “Boombershlag” (Mar. 23, 1941); “Beauty” (June 9, 1946); “Cargo Octopus” (July 14, 1946); “A River of Crime” (Nov. 30, 1947); “Rescue” (Aug. 24, 1952), plus a chapter of Life on Another Planet and a host of other features, including a Spirit checklist
This is The Spirit no. 27 (Feb. 1981), featuring six Spirit tales, namely: “The Devil’s Shoes” (Feb. 1, 1942); “M.U.R.D.E.R.” (July 19, 1942); “Montabaldo” (Jan. 25, 1948); “Rife” (Jan. 14, 1951); “The Amulet of Osiris” (Nov. 28, 1948), “The Return” (Sept. 21, 1952), plus a new Eisner ‘Big City’ nine-pager, “The Treasure of Avenue ‘C‘”… and more.
This is The Spirit no. 28 (Apr. 1981), featuring six Spirit tales, namely: “Sphinx & Satin” (Oct. 5, 1941); “Professor Pinx” (Aug. 2, 1942, with Lou Fine); “Survivor” (July 16, 1950); “Deadline” (Dec. 31, 1950); “Return From the Moon” (Sept. 28, 1952), “The Martian” (Oct. 10, 1952), plus a Feiffer Clifford one-pager, a ‘Shop Talk’ discussion between Eisner and Gil Kane, and so forth.

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 blue-gloved fingertips.