Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Dick Tracy's Spirit - Part 1

Dick Tracy recently concluded a storyline involving the Spirit (Dec. 2016 through Mar. 2017). It's significant for a number of reasons. First, the creative team of Mike Curtis and Joe Staton bring the Spirit's world into the ever-expanding Tracyverse.

Second, it was well-done from start to finish, remaining true to Will Eisner's iconic character. And third, it was the type of story that would have worked for either detective individually.

So who was the Spirit?

For those who came in late, the Spirit was a masked detective created in 1940 by Will Eisner. The character was part of a 16-page newsprint insert distributed to the Register and Tribune Syndicate newspapers for their Sunday comics.

In addition to a 7-8 page Spirit story, the insert included 4-page stories from supporting characters from the Eisner shop, such as Mr. Mystic and Lady Luck.

And so it begins.

So who cares?

Quite a lot of people. Eisner used the Spirit to stretch the boundaries of sequential art. The splash page featured the title treated differently each week.

The first page of three different Spirit stories. Each week the title was
treated differently.
An example of Eisner's virtuosity. The comic
strip panels are incorporated into the house.
As the eye moves from left to right, the story
unfolds, with the dramatic point being hit
in the last panel (room) in the lower right.

The stories could be anything from a simple crime adventure to a love story, to social satire.

After the Spirit was discontinued in 1952, the comic lived on. The original comic inserts were collected and studied. Several series of reprints were also collected and studied.

As a result, Eisner's work influenced several generations of comic strip and comic book artists. He so defined the field that in 1988 the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award was created.

For the industry, the Eisner is equivalent to the Oscar. Awards are given each year for categories such as Best Writer, Best Artist/Penciller/Inker, Best New Series, Best Continuing Series, Best Letterer/Lettering, Best Limited Series or Story Arc, and more.

That's how much Eisner's artistry (and his creation) are regarded.

So how do you incorporate a character with so much history into a current comic strip? We'll look at what Curtis and Staton brought from the canon into Dick Tracy next week.

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