I FOUND THE SPIRIT!
In my quest to design a cohesive, common sense, fictional universe of black superheroes, I decided to begin with the Golden Age. I thought this would be very interesting and innovative seeing as how very few black heroes were originated during this time period. The first character that I think of when I recall this era would be the Shadow. The Shadow is one of the baddest, grim and gritty pulp heroes ever invented. I was introduced to him as a young chap by my grandfather who had located the old radio shows on some obscure jazz station late on Saturday nights. These radio broadcasts were entertaining, action packed and terrifying! The Shadow was instantly emblazoned into my imagination and gave me a greater appreciation of the pulp dna that birthed our beloved superheroes. Once I learned that the Shadow's creation had predated Batman, I knew there was an inspiration there. Interestingly enough, the same grandfather I spoke of before purchased me a book called The Great Comic Book Heroes and it serves as my holy tome of comic book artifacts. This was the book that introduced me to the origins of each one of the classic DC Heroes like Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern and so on. But the book also included another pulp-noirish character called the Spirit and today in this blog...I want to talk about the Spirit. When I was younger, The Spirit, I must admit...did not appeal to me. I liked his cool white zoot suit, his slanted brim, and of course the domino mask, but his adventures weren't as outlandish as the other books I was into. He didn't fight some far away galactic menace, didn't battle villains in some special exo-skeleton, or utter any magic words so I decided he was not for me and proceeded to ignore him for 36 years. My insistence on building a universe from the ground up involved looking at the existing templates for characters that have been around for years and using them to fashion something new. I communicated to Christian (my artiste) that I would like to introduce a character in the Lucius Hammer book who called himself, The Harlem Shadow, and he would be the first official black superhero/vigilante in my fledgling world I was creating. When describing the feel of this character, I specifically said I wanted him to infuse the Harlem Shadow with a Will "Eisneresque" swagger. Essentially take The Shadow and The Spirit and create an amalgam. Drop that amalgam in the dead center of the Harlem Renaissance with a bunch of jazz musicians, torch light singers, gangsters, Irish Police and militant writers/poets and we got something. I , being the thorough researcher, felt compelled to dig into my Great Comic Book Superheroes edition, and finally read that boring Spirit story that was in the back of the book that I never had any real interest in. The only thing that ever moved me about the Spirit was his style and Will Eisner's obvious flair for visual storytelling. Well. I read the story. It took place in an exotic locale, was beautifully illustrated and even the words were positioned with visual aplomb. Cinematic. Robust. Slightly adult and filled with eye-wink innuendo. I found myself entertained. Could it be that for years I had ignored The Spirit because I had to grow up to appreciate the art of the graphic novella aka the comic book? Yes...I believe so and a wonderful awakening it has been for me to discover the genius of Will Eisner at this age of 42. Never mind the recent debacle that was the Spirit movie that Frank Miller refracted through his Sin City lens (although in my mad rush to consume everything having to do with the Spirit, I have to say that it wasn't that bad. Samuel L Jackson was slightly annoying though.), The Spirit is instantly one of my favorite comics and I will tell you why. The Spirit is entertaining. Never have I been so captivated by small, but rich stories that pull you into the Spirit's main stomping grounds...his precious Central City. Characters abound and the same goes for atmosphere...when you read these stories you will feel as if you are a denizen of the urban jungle that The Spirit calls his home. You become interested in the dozens of fascinating character portraits and story arcs that he seamlessly stitches together in between the heroic exploits of our masked protagonist. The artwork is a magnificent 2D canvas which is so wonderfully imagined it triumphantly comes across as a tangible 3D construct thrilling you with vibrant colors and inks, powerful anatomy and a slick animated/illustrated style. I really like these comics! Not because some hip comic shop owner told me that Eisner rocks or because Frank Miller impaled himself in front of millions on Christmas Day to see this character on the big screen. I like it for the most important reason there is...because it's good. I will undoubtedly be a better writer because of Eisner and his efforts. Anybody out there who considers themselves a comic fan or an aspiring writer or artist in the medium needs to get their hands on The Spirit and study it. Don't copy it...get inspired by it.
Labels: Will Eisner