COMIC BOOK HISTORY: The Spirit, as published by Jim Warren.

Published in 1975, by Jim Warren.
17 Issues.

And now for a bit of nostalgia and comic-book history.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the US publishing landscape in the 1970’s, it may come to mind the fact that Warren Publishing brought into the public eyes a bunch of magazines/comics in the early 1970s’ such as Vampirella, Creepy and Eerie. I will speak more about those other long lost jewels in other posts.

Today I will focus on one particular jewel that came to existence thank to a strange conflagration of events, merging the new and the classic in the form of The Spirit Magazine.

To give the readers of my blog some chronological context, I will remind all that in the early 70’s not only there weren’t that many specialized comicbook stores, (if any) but the majority of your comics had to be purchased on the newsstand, where Marvel and DC ruled supreme in the comic racks. Yeah, there were some Archies, and some Mad (which, by the way, is labeled as a magazine, not a comic), so how do you differentiate your product?
Shall we let Jim Warren show us how it is done?

Any Google search will tell you a bunch of statistical information about Jim Warren’s Publications. What you may not find that readily are tidbits of juicy information such as the fact that these Comics were renamed as Magazines, just to bypass the Comic Book Code Authority. Jim Warren loved comics, and showed his love by achieving a popularization of this media, not by dumbing it down, as most publishers at the time thought it was necessary to augment sales, but by adding small enticements to the sophistication of their narratives, small things, such as sexy drawings, innovative heroes, fantasy themes, etc.
And what greater labor of love towards the comic industry is there than to re-issue a long lost classic such as Will Eisner’s The Spirit?

I read in an interview (source forgotten, so take it for what is worth) that when Jim Warren approached the master Eisner, Will was more interested in finding a publisher who would be faithful to his full chronology, starting with the early Spirits and building their momentum toward more modern issues.
What is a fact is that Eisner was at the time in talks with Dennis Kitchen to achieve such a chronological publishing of his work, but it seems that Warren offer a “Sweeter” deal, and we don’t know if it is in terms of money (which I doubt cause seldom I’ve heard of Eisner doing anything JUST FOR MONEY), more exposure, more control, or what…
But the Warren company was not in favor of starting chronologically; they wanted instead to focus on the “The Spirit’s greatest hits”.
Bill DuBay had started with Warren as an illustrator in the early 70’s and he was responsible for standardizing the whole line of their magazines into what now is known as the classic Warren look, so he did carry some weight on publishing decisions. An agreement was reached, and Will Eisner was enrolled to prepare some new covers for the magazine, and was given final say on what stories were included, what colorist were used, and other things pertaining creative control.
Now, here come the most controversial part of the story: The magazines art direction was not to Will Eisner’s liking.
Jim Warren and Co. had discovered in the early stages of Vampirella, Eerie and the rest of his line of magazines just how profitable “outsourcing” was. And so Warren started outsourcing much art work to Europe (Spain in particular) and the Philippines. It was cheap, their work was of outstanding quality, and above all, they were contributing something to the American art-scene that hadn’t been done before, so arguably that made up for the fact that they were taking work away from American artists.
Ken Kelly, Richard Corben and other great artist were asked to contribute to The Spirit magazine, and some say much to Will Eisner’s chagrin, add their perspective on The Spirit, mainly on the covers.
I respect completely an artist right to have his vision not interfered with, but darned it! I have to admit it! Those collaborations made those masterpieces stand out even more!
Will Eisner was set on his ways, and had a vision of what the Spirit should look and feel like, but the amazing thing (to me) is that the majority of the contributors to The Spirit magazine were sensitive in not admirers of that vision and tried their best to enhance it.
I found this blog a while back, and I felt that I relate very well to the writers experience when staring at the cover of Warren’s The Spirit #3

Anyway, Warren only managed to publish 17 issues of The Spirit, and changed its format after issue 6 (I think, could be wrong on this), and changed from a magazine carrying all SPIRIT stories on its pages, to one where only the center story was about The Spirit (in glorious PULP color) and the rest detective-noir-crime stories, written and drawn by various talented artists and creators.

You can read Will Eisner: A dreamer’s life in comics, by Michael Schumacher, and you can get all the glorious details about Eisner having a final say on the covers and the coloring, and how he insisted in more muted coloring palette, and how he conceded to Jim Warren small victories, even though he did so reluctantly, for which all of us, Warren lovers are so grateful now.

Later, in the 1980’s Eisner returned The Spirit to Kitchen Sink Press, and he obtained somewhat his dream of proceeding chronologically reprinting the spirit, but the covers and the art, albeit also wonderful, lack that PULP feel that the Warren publishers were so adept to achieve.

The cover for Warrens’ The Spirit#1 was color by Sanjulian, while the colors (amazing colors) for cover The Spirit #3 were done by Richard Corben.

This other one was also done by Sanjulian but it got vetoed by Mr. Eisner.
I’ll leave you with a blog from a journalist who had the luck and privilege of interviewing the master on the matter at hand.
Post your comments on The Spirit, tell us if you prefer the Warren or the Kitchen versions, and any other thoughts.

One Comment Add yours

  1. George says:

    I’m just glad to see The Spirit kept alive; of all the early mystery-men, he is among the best. And now The Spirit, Doc Savage, and other pulp heroes are reappearing, along with a young Batman, in a DC comic called First Wave. Fun times.

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