Forgotten Masterpiece: THE SPIRIT #30

Will Eisner’s THE SPIRIT is rightly hailed as one of the masterpiece comic series of all time. Between 1940 and 1952, Eisner and his studio of assistants produced a weekly comic book as a newspaper insert, as a hedge for newspapers against the growing readership of comic books. While the lead character of the Spirit did wear a mask and fight crime, Eisner used his access to a broad adult audience to produce stories that were a bit more sophisticated and subtle than was the norm in the Golden Age. Starting in the 1960s and the super hero renaissance, there was a growing interest in Eisner’s work, and those 1940s stories were reprinted by a number of publishers. By 1980, Kitchen Sink Press was republishing them in a large black and white magazine sold through the same channels as their underground publications. And one of the things that just about everybody asked for was to have Will Eisner produce a new Spirit story. This was something that Eisner wasn’t all that interested in–his interests had moved on in the intervening two decades, and he was invested in the burgeoning form of the graphic novel. But he was game, at least once, to letting other people have a go at his signature character.

The result of Eisner’s largesse was that publisher Denis Kitchen and associate editor Cat Yronwode gathered together a broad assortment of creators and put them to wok on an all-new Spirit story, produced Jam style. Each creator was encouraged to bring his or her own style and interests to the fore in their section, and while there was a loose overall plot to follow, the creators were also encouraged to take things in wild and interesting directions. The result, the “Spirit Jam” story, was an amazing collaboration by some of the greatest practitioners of the art form who were working in those days. Eisner himself contributed three pages to the effort, this opening page, the page beginning the story in earnest, and the final page which tied everything together.

This page was largely written and drawn by Denis Kitchen himself, with the exception of the center panel, where Cat Yronwode wrote her own dialogue and the artwork was produced by Mike Newhall. Steve Krupp was Kitchen’s fictional publisher, from the days when he produced material under the “Krupp Comix Werks” banner.

Popular fan artist Fred Hembeck handled the next page, with the exception of the Denis Kitchen figures, which were the work of Kitchen himself. It’s a pretty quintessential example of Hembeck’s style of humor, with a bit revolving around Carmine Infantino’s love for the Detective Chimp feature, the only place he’d been allowed to ink his own work for many years.

The second Eisner page. Hard to imagine that these depictions of Ebony were produced in 1980, but there you have it. Staying on model was apparently a more important consideration.

Peter Popalski contributed this page, as well as masterminding the Jam cover to the issue, which included contributions from Eisner, Milton Caniff, John Pound, Denis Kitchen, Richard Corben, Leslie Cabarga and Popalski himself.

Cartoonist Michael T. Gilbert, whose work on MR. MONSTER we covered only yesterday, produced the following three pages. Gilbert had garnered some attention with his own funny animal take on the Spirit, the Wraith, a few years earlier.

Unfortunately, there was a snafu in pagination that resulted in Gilbert’s three pages running out of sequence. We’ve corrected that here.

Trina Robbins produced the next three pages, with some help here and there from other hands. Alan Weiss, for example, inked Panel 2. Fershid Bharucha inked Panel 7.

Marshall Rogers inked Panel 1 here.

Trina also produced the first panel on this page, with the balance of it being done by Steve Leialoha.

But that’s as far as we go with the “Spirit Jam”, at least this time out.

2 thoughts on “Forgotten Masterpiece: THE SPIRIT #30

  1. Untrue about Carmine. He frequently inked his own work on backup strips throughout the ’50s & ’60s, notably Space Museum & one-offs in Strange Adventures & Elongated Man in Detective Comics.

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  2. As for Ebony, Eisner was completely convinced (though maybe his faith flagged a bit in his waning days) that Ebony was a positive, progressive – not to mention delightful – interpretation that was in no way offensive, & he bristled at comments indicating otherwise. Go figure,

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