Thought Balloonists: On The Spirit (both Eisner's... and Cooke's...)

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Will Eisner's THE SPIRITCharles Hatfield and Craig Fischer both take a long hard look at Darwyn Cooke on The Spirit and in doing so, take a look at some classic Eisner Spirit as well.


Cooke & Co.'s Spirit is a series of beautiful comics with one foot in a nostalgic timewarp. The nostalgia on view is not just for Eisner, the memory of whose passing in 2005 lends poignancy to the series, but also for a whole way of thinking about comics. Me, I like that way of thinking: I appreciate the sheer craftsman-like application of skill to a series of challenges in order to make, not just a serial, but a series of discrete and enticing objects. I like Cooke's dedication to the work, the way he, improbably, has managed one graphically inventive outing after another on a strict schedule. That certainly invokes the spirit of the Eisner shop in the late '40s. And the books are handsome. But, at the same time, I'm caught: Cooke's Spirit is a neither/nor proposition, not quite certain how to contemporize Eisner's famously 1940ish character and handicapped by the simple fact that Cooke's writing is not the equal of his handsome, design-smart artwork. His visual storytelling is aces, but, writing-wise, his Spirit seems, well, a bit backwards in spirit. Mind you, these Spirit comics are the best comics Cooke has ever done, and they're not as hobbled by nostalgia as his previous work might suggest -- but, well, they can't help but lean on Eisner's back fence. So I have to return to the question I asked myself when I heard about this series, Is a Spirit revival worth doing in the first place?
I think that Eisner was both a visionary and a vaudevillian. When I read a Spirit section, or even a longer work like A Life Force, I see an artist eager to please his audience who is both remarkably adept at his tricks and excellent at "selling the sizzle, not the steak." This phrase was used in the lower strata of popular culture (by vaudevillians, circus carnies, and exploitation filmmakers) to describe the importance of advertising in attracting an audience; once you hooked the rubes with your sizzle (with your posters and ads, with the pitchman on the midway) and got their cash, the content, the "steak," that you dished out didn't matter. Eisner's sizzling Spirit splash pages can help us understand both Eisner-the-Artist and Eisner-the-Vaudevillian...
Read Charles Hatfield's article here.
Read Craig Fischer's article here.

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This page contains a single entry by GaryC published on February 15, 2008 6:05 AM.

Miller back for two Spirit sequels? was the previous entry in this blog.

New Eisner Spirit statues from Dark Horse! is the next entry in this blog.

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