This site expands on Bob Andelman's biography, "Will Eisner: A Spirited Life" (M Press/Dark Horse), with new interviews and updates on related projects that bring greater depth and color to the portrayal of the legendary comic book/graphic novel artist and writer.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
The Spirit's Sidekick (ComicBookMovie.com)
An early incarnation of the Spirit’s sidekick has been the center of controversy for many years. Here’s a look at the past issue the character faced.
Whether you agree with Frank Miller’s interpretation of the character, see eye to eye with the film’s similarity to his Sin City’s, or believe he butchered Eisner’s masterpiece, The Spirit has dealt with serious issues. The Spirit is considered to be one of the first comics with serious adult tones, creating a road for mainstream comics.
In the series’ living city, its inhabitants were always occupied with things. Whether they were criminals wanting to thieve, or female fatales in New York- style tenants, the people always had drama to deal with. According to Eisner, it “gave [him] an adult audience.” He managed to fill the pages with dramatic stories that were crime-noir dramas that had adventure, love stories, mystery and sometimes horror, and of course its noted humor.
One of the comedic elements that Eisner tried to inhibit was through The Spirit’s sidekick. Ebony White, an African-American citizen growing up in the harsh city, would constantly aid the masked hero. Not necessarily a sidekick like Robin or Bucky who would help the hero fight, but more of an Alfred/Jarvis assistant who would help in tough situations and drive him around in a taxi.
In 'The Spirit,' she's Sand Saref, a jewel thief so hot she can melt the hearts of the undead -- namely the eponymous crime fighter (Gabriel Macht). Eva Mendes dished with Moviefone about re-teaming with Scarlett Johansson, why she has no problem with artistic nudity ... and why she thinks certain body parts should be in proportion.
NEW YORK -- Apart from Marvel's Stan Lee, if there is a figure who represents the link between the comic books of old and the movies coming to a theatre near you, it's Frank Miller.
The artist-writer, who gave us 300, Sin City and the Dark Knight incarnation of Batman, began his career in the colourfully ink-stained New York-based cauldron of comic-book art, mentored by the likes of Jim Shooter, Neal Adams -- but most of all, the legendary and prolific Will Eisner.
Theirs was a strange, combative relationship -- one in which Miller is finally getting the last word, three years after Eisner's death, making his solo directorial debut with a stylized movie of Eisner's signature noir hero from the '40s, The Spirit. Wherever he is, the female-form-obsessed Eisner must appreciate the casting -- Scarlett Johansson (Silken Floss), Eva Mendes (Sand Saref) and Jaime King (Lorelei), all playing various forms of femmes fatale tormenting our mordant hero (Gabriel Macht).
Bob Thompson: Scarlett Johansson and company get The Spirit (National Post)
By Bob Thompson, National Post
If you can't wait to catch The Spirit, you are not alone. For those who might not know, The Spirit is the Frank Miller live-action film version of the classic 1940s Will Eisner newspaper strip and subsequent comic book series.
Opening on Dec. 25, the movie arrives with lots of anticipation and a question; as in can Miller translate the 1940s noir images onto the big screen? At least Miller gets The Spirit. He was an Eisner friend. And his resume suits the challenge. Plus his intention to shoot the movie in the fancy Sin City CGI style made sense to just about everybody.
The star of "The Spirit," opening Friday, may not be as recognizable – with or without the mask – as castmates Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendes, but the strong-jawed Gabriel Macht is ready for his closeup.
To get in the head of a character grappling with identity issues even as he wrestled with the bad guys, Macht plastered every inch of his trailer with storyboards and Xeroxes of the 1940s comic strips by Will Eisner that the movie was based on.
"His trailer was full of Spirit-phanelia," marveled Jackson. "He was dealing with his identity crisis all the time."
When you talk about the comic book characters who have been around the longest, the first ones that will come to mind are Superman, who first appeared in 1938, and Batman a year later. In both cases, you can probably list and discuss their movie and television incarnations, as well as the cartoons and comic books in which the two have appeared. Then there's the case of Will Eisner's The Spirit, a pulpy comic character created by legendary cartoonist Will Eisner for a Sunday comics insert in 1940 that's only ventured off the comic pages once, in 1987, for a television movie.
The Spirit is the reincarnated alter ego of police officer Denny Colt, who was shot and killed on duty but then returned later as the indestructible crime fighter who works with Commissioner Dolan to take down Central City's tougher criminal element. Eisner's work was influenced by the early days of film noir, but it was also filled with humor and pathos and a never-ending supply of beautiful femme fatales to tempt and tease The Spirit. The character continued to appear in strips and comic books throughout the '40s, '50s and '60s, and then was reprinted extensively after that, most recently in a series of hardbound archives from DC Comics, who also resuscitated the character with new stories by top comic book talent.
When it came time to give The Spirit his first big screen feature film, there really was only one man to call for the job, and that was Will Eisner's close friend and frequent sparring partner Frank Miller, whose work during the '80s and '90s was as much influenced by Eisner as it was an antithesis to the virtues of The Spirit.
When we left the cast and crew of 'The Spirit' yesterday , actor Dan Lauria (who plays commissioner Dolan in the film) expressed his enthusiasm for the wardrobe he had in director Frank Miller's modern noir vision of Will Eisner's comic.
"I loved the costume you picked out for me. Right out of Bart MacLane's closet," Lauria said, referring to the actor who appeared in over a hundred classic movies including 'The Maltese Falcon'.
Of course the most important costume to get right were the threads Gabriel Macht wore as The Spirit.
"I worked hard on Gabe’s costume because at first it looked really foolish, until we spruced you up with the black outfit and everything," Miller told reporters but credits costume designer Michael Dennison for bringing the leading man's look to fruition.
FAST CHAT Frank Miller talks about 'The Spirit' (Newsday)
Frank Miller in London, image by juliet_a via Flickr
Frank Lovece Dec. 21, 2008
One of the few comics creators who has become his own brand, writer-artist Frank Miller first made his mark with a gritty, film-noir take on Marvel Comics' "Daredevil." He went on to pop-culture stardom with DC Comics' " The Dark Knight Returns," a 1986 miniseries envisioning a bitter, reactionary Batman a few decades from now, fighting against a corrupt world as seen through Miller's Ayn Rand-devotee eyes. His vision helped inspire the similarly dark Batman movies, and the less successful "Daredevil" film (2003).
Miller went on to such creator-owned comics as "Sin City" and "300," from independent publisher Dark Horse. Each became the basis of a popular movie, with director Robert Rodriguez granting Miller co-director credit for his help on "Frank Miller's Sin City" (2005).
Now flying solo, Miller, 51, has adapted " The Spirit," Will Eisner's legendary 1940-52 comics series that appeared as seven-page stories in Sunday newspapers. (The movie opens Thursday.) Its tales of an average-Joe-masked crime-fighter in a rumpled suit, encountering both Everyman criminals and exotic international thieves, became famous for both their humanistic fables and Eisner's pioneering techniques. Miller recently spoke at the Waldorf- Astoria with frequent contributor Frank Lovece.
For those poor, deprived souls who don't know his work, what makes Will Eisner so important to comics?
Well, it's like asking what Thomas Edison did for the lightbulb. Eisner was one of the people who created [the medium of] comic books. He was one of the first people who ever took comics out of the four-panel strip and showed the possibilities of the full page. And so he was one of the founding fathers. It's like asking what Thomas Jefferson had to do with the Constitution.
NY Times on Frank Miller's "The Spirit" Movie: "108 overstuffed, interminable minutes"
By A. O. SCOTT
December 25, 2008
"... I’m just trying to figure out why, somewhere in the middle of “The Spirit,”Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson arrive on screen decked out in swastikas and jackboots. Nothing in the logic of the film explains it, but then, to use the phrase “the logic of the film” when talking about “The Spirit” may be to take the “oxy” out of “oxymoronic.”
To ask why anything happens in Frank Miller’s sludgy, hyper-stylized adaptation of a fabled comic book series by Will Eisner may be an exercise in futility. The only halfway interesting question is why the thing exists at all."
I've been monitoring the reviews of Frank Miller's The Spirit movie -- which, thankfully, the marketing people stopped calling "Will Eisner's The Spirit" -- and there isn't much good to be found. Rather than posting separately for each bad review, I'm providing links to many of them below.
But almost everyone else uniformly gave the film raspberries. At least Miller can look forward to being a star at this year's Razzies. And you have to wonder if the owners of the rights to Buck Rogers aren't having second thoughts about letting Miller get his mitts on their property...
USA Today, Claudia Pulg "The Spirit is uneven, but its campy adventure provides some amusing, escapist fun."
Kansas City Star, Jason Heck "'The Spirit' is terrific entertainment. It’s a better and a more complete film than “Sin City” or “300.” Having a comic book genius create a comic book movie is a very, very good idea indeed."
Chicago Tribune, Web Behrens "Produced and directed by guys who grew up with a deep appreciation for Eisner, the film remains largely faithful to the quirky, well, spirit of the 60-plus-year-old creation."
Houston Chronicle, Rick Bentley "The bold visual strokes comic artist Frank Miller used to create Sin City revealed he was the only director who could do justice to the film version of Will Eisner’s ground-breaking comic series The Spirit.
"Eisner redefined comics in the 1940s and early ’50s with his creation of a print version of the film noir style. His stories were gritty. He used humor like a hidden weapon, exposed only when he needed to make a point.
"Miller has shown the same in-your-face skill in the creation of his comics and films. The result of Miller’s vision of Eisner with The Spirit is a visual explosion ignited by at times campy acting and melodrama so thick it will hurt your teeth."
Time Magazine, Richard Corliss "The joke — the prank — is on all of us. Whether you're a deep-dish Eisnerphile or an ordinary Christmas moviegoer looking for some action-adventure in a mall full of Oscar contenders, you will be obliged to proclaim this Spirit a calamitous botch. Miller has misread the original, turning dark drama into strained comedy. Of course, artists have the liberty to make fun of any source material, however hallowed; but Miller lacks the simple competence to make the movie move. The facility he has on the page doesn't translate to the screen."
Los Angeles Times, Sam Adams "'The Spirit' might bear the name of Will Eisner, on whose 1940s comics it is loosely based, but it bears as much resemblance to Eisner's inventive, lighthearted creation as "The Dark Knight" does to its candy-colored '60s television predecessor."
Star-Ledger, Stephen Whitty "Miller has as uncertain a hand on his actors as he does on the tone."
The Oregonian, Mike Russell "'The Spirit' is a loony, embarrassing mess that takes the late Will Eisner's classic comics creation and beats it senseless with a giant toilet bowl (literally, at one point)."
Roger Ebert.com, Roger Ebert "'The Spirit' is mannered to the point of madness. There is not a trace of human emotion in it. To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material. The movie is all style -- style without substance, style whirling in a senseless void. The film's hero is an ex-cop reincarnated as an immortal enforcer; for all the personality he exhibits, we would welcome Elmer Fudd."
E! Online, Alex Markerson "The Spirit is as thin as the newsprint from which it springs."
Denton Record-Chronicle, Bob Allen "Miller makes his turgid tale devoid of color, with blood just as gray and bland as everything else in the film except for the Spirit’s tie and Scarlett Johansson’s lips."
Arizona Republic, Bill Goodykoontz "Although the acting in Sin City was campy and the story over-the-top, it worked in the context of the film. Too often The Spirit is just not very good."
The Plain Dealer, Julie E. Washington "'The Spirit' is bizarre -- and not in a good way."
St. Petersburg Times, Steve Persall "The Spirit could be retitled The Light Knight, since Frank Miller's movie is the antithesis of everything that made The Dark Knight the quintessential comic book movie."
San Francisco Chronicle, Peter Hartlaub "Miller's distinction as one of the all-time best comic book writers is strong enough to withstand his role in making one of the worst comic book movies ever."
Boston Herald, Stephen Schaefer "...nothing meshes, much less enthralls..."
Newsday, Frank Lovece "Will Eisner's "The Spirit" was the "Citizen Kane" of comics, pushing the limits of the medium and expanding its visual vocabulary. Appearing in a Sunday-paper comic-book supplement from 1940 to 1952, it starred an average-Joe masked crime-fighter in a rumpled suit - a vulnerable but insouciant Everyman in humanist fables.
"Little of that makes it on-screen in this adaptation by writer-artist turned filmmaker Frank Miller. The auteur of comics "Sin City," "300" and " Batman: The Dark Knight Returns," Miller retained only Eisner's film noir surface, jettisoning characterization, soul and anything remotely human."
Vancouver Sun, Katherine Monk "The Spirit is an ambitious mess with no life"
Toronto Star, Jason Anderson "At which exact point The Spirit hits rock bottom is a matter of debate. Maybe it's when we first see our eponymous hero scampering across rooftops in a fashion less appropriate to a movie superhero than to a cast member of Guys and Dolls.
"Or maybe it comes during the first fight sequence, when he's clobbered over the head with a bathroom fixture by a supervillain who then howls, "C'mon, toilets are always funny!" He is not correct"
"Unfortunately, Miller's first solo effort is a cinematic non-starter, with a cluttered story, paper-thin characters who seem to speak in self-mocking clichés, a bland hero, a hysterical villain and a surfeit of pouting vamps. Miller's visual technique, which was astonishing in Sin City, now feels familiar - and with a more careful PG-13 rating in the U.S., the film feels like a paler imitation of its predecessor."
"If you're expecting the dark, wicked humor and dazzlingly gruesome violence of Sin City, you'll be sorely disappointed."
New York Press, Simon Abrams "Miller is more than eager to argue for the legitimacy of comics’ pulpy roots. But he’s not doing it in the right way." Vue Weekly, Josef Braun "There are flourishes of visual expressionism, but all the eye candy, from the misty skies of fluttering snow to Eva Mendes’ immaculate ass, begins to wear as the story proves itself bereft of feeling. The characters are stereotypes. Their stories get very boring."
Now Toronto, Norman Wilner "Spiritless: Frank Miller doesn’t have the slightest clue how to put a movie together"
Examiner.com, Matthew Razak "I don't believe I have ever walked out of a theater more torn about a movie than when leaving the theater after seeing The Spirit. My movie critic selves were in complete and total conflict with each other. The camp loving, B-grade movie addict in me was saying, "You wait and see, ten years from now this is going to be one of those crazy cult classics." The professional critic in me was shouting over that about how the film is a jarring mish-mash of comic book camp, pulp fiction writing and themes that are far too dark for either. I was seriously just plain confused."
Will Eisner’s classic comics character makes the leap to the screen in this spectacular new live-action movie written and directed by Frank Miller (Sin City, 300), and starring Gabriel Macht as The Spirit, Samuel L. Jackson as his psychotic arch-nemesis The Octopus, and Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson as alluring femmes fatales.
In Central City, one man fights crime using nothing but his wits and his fists. He wears a mask, a suit and a fedora, and he is known only as The Spirit...
This stunning volume contains interviews with the cast and the crew, color photos & production art, and Frank Miller sketches and storyboards.
Introduction by Frank Miller
Chapter One - The Shadow of The Spirit Chapter Two - The Comic Book Movie Chapter Three - Never World Chapter Four - Cast of Characters Chapter Five - The Green World and Black World Chapter Six - The Bunker Chapter Seven - The Death of The Spirit Chapter Eight - The Spirit Lives
Will Eisner is particularly well known today for creating “The Spirit,” his blue-clad superhero that’s currently receiving the Hollywood treatment at the hands of Frank Miller. But lesser known is that Eisner was a veteran of no less than three major wars: World War II (where he was an enlisted man) and Korea and Vietnam, where he was a civilian contracter eventually obtaining the rank equivalent to a brigadier general. I was fortunate enough to know Will, and four years before his death in 2005, we chatted at length about his military service, how it related to “The Spirit,” and his views on the extreme stresses of war. In honor of both Veterans Day and Will Eisner, enjoy this rare look inside the mind of the revered comics legend on this most serious of topics.
MTV: Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
WE: I was sitting in my studio eating a roast beef sandwich which my mother prepared for me [laughs]. I was working on “The Spirit.” I was really shook up listening to it. I was listening to the opera at the time…it was a Carnegie Hall concert. I remember the thing was cut off and they announced the attack on Pearl Harbor. And I was really shook up because I realized that this was gonna be it. I’d be drafted.
MTV: And in 1942, you were drafted into the Army.
WE: Early ’42. The Army gave me a six-month delay because I was working on a newspaper feature.
MTV: What were you feeling when you received your draft notice?
WE: Well, I was ambivalent. Remember, unlike the Vietnam War, everybody was very in favor of the war, particularly because of the Nazis and because of the fact that the country seemed to be in danger. So I was kind of eager to be part of it. I felt that I’d want to be part of the war effort. On the other hand, this was a year after I had started “The Spirit,” which represented a whole new career for me. And I knew that if I went into the Army this whole thing would kind of fall apart on me. So I was torn between the two feelings. One was the eagerness to go and sign up, [but] on the other hand, the loss of a possible career. So that was my feeling.
Prediction #1: "The Spirit" (Frank Miller) (I Dream in Indigo)
I'm going to start doing a "Prediction" column where I predict what will be the next good movie, "big thing", trend, hot song, etc..
The Spirit! "Directed by Frank Miller, written by Frank Miller and Will Eisner, and from the creators of 'Sin City' and '300', comes 'The Spirit"...
This movie looks like it might be the best movie all year! I'm sold on the mere fact that it's directed and written by Frank Miller, (the same director as "Sin City") and has a wicked trailer. The cinematography, the color scheme , and the effects are all dope. Plus, I just saw Samuel Jackson in "Soul Men" and his performance was great in that, so I'm excited to see him in another movie. Cast members Eva Mendes and Scarlette Johansson make "The Spirit" even more promising...
WEST KINGSTON - Two brothers who grew up as comic book fans in Wakefield teamed up to make a documentary on one of the iconic figures of the industry. Their film, "Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist," will be screened at the Courthouse Center for the Arts Wednesday at 7 p.m. as part of a homecoming celebration for family and friends.
"The comics were really great to us," said Jon B. Cooke of West Kingston, the writer and co-producer of the film he made with his brother, director and co-producer Andrew D. Cooke, who lives and works in the film industry in New York. "This homecoming screening, it's really to celebrate the achievements of my brother, and it's also for our mom, who always supported our interest in the arts. She bought the comics."
The film illuminates the life and career of Eisner, creator of "The Spirit," who coined the terms "graphic novel" and "sequential art" and became one of the most influential and visionary comic book artists of all time. Click HERE to Keep Reading!
The L.A.-born, Cuban-American actress and model Eva Mendes ("We Own the Night") is very nice on the eyes, and a very interesting read, too. The alluring celeb -- who plays Sand Saref, the childhood sweetheart of hero Denny Colt in "The Spirit," an adaptation of Will Eisner's 1940s comic book series -- talks about her stint this year in rehab, movies and life as a celeb in the Dec./Jan. issue of Latina, which hits newsstands Tuesday.
• On fame: "I admire any woman who has made it in this business and hasn't lost her marbles. It's really difficult to be successful and have longevity. And I don't mean box office hits; I mean truly being a working actress and keeping your personal life intact."
• On rehab: "It's a part of my life that I don't feel like I need to explain. There's just a lot of things that were out there that are 2% true, but I don't wish to give it attention. It's as basic as this -- as long as my mom still looks at me with that little sparkle, I'm fine."
VIDEO: Stunning Scarlett and Eva, Trailer Horrific (Javno.com)
From JAVNO.com: "The film adaptation of the comic strip “The Spirit” by Will Eisner is Frank Miller’s (Sin City) second directing project, but the first project he directed on his own. The film is expected to premiere on Christmas and the movie’s trailers have already been put up on YouTube. The imagination of viewers has been additionally tickled by the stunning actresses in the film, Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson.
"But critics of the newest trailer are slashing. Film bloggers think that “The Spirit” is much too like “Sin City” and the dialogues we can hear in the trailer are horrific. See for yourself. We are hoping that the problem is that this excerpthas been taken out of context."
While I do wish the best to Frank Miller's movie version of THE SPIRIT, opening next month, I must say that the ads so far have not filled me with confidence. Yes, Miller was creator Will Eisner's friend, and his disciple, and much of Miller's comic book work has been, er, spiritually attuned to Eisner's. One of my favorite recollections of the Golden Apple Comics store in Hollywood is of the mid-1980's Saturday afternoon when I saw Miller -- who just weeks before had been feted at the same store for the release of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, with lines stretching out the door as fans waited hours for his autograph -- slipping into the store without fanfare, and buying the latest issue of Kitchen Sink Press's reprint of THE SPIRIT.
But those ads. The most recent features the Spirit's arch-foe, the Octopus. Eisner's Octopus was a criminal mastermind whose true face was never seen, who stood behind curtains or went about in disguise, his only distinguishing feature his gloves with three fat vertical lines on the back. In the latest ad, Samuel L. Jackson, as the Octopus, has the gloves; but he also has outrageous mascara, and platform boots, and, well, a pimp coat. Stuff like this makes me suspect that the SPIRIT movie might meet the same fate as SPEED RACER.
I just finished reading Will Eisner's graphic novel compilation, The Contract with God Trilogy. At the time of their publication, these stories were groundbreaking - among the first in their genre. They are still quintessential of the graphic novel movement. In them, Eisner attempts to tell stories about the human experience that are linked by their common setting: Dropsie Avenue in the Bronx, New York. While sometimes light-hearted, the tales are more frequently sober, even depressing in tone. The rare hopeful moments are the main things that kept me reading after a while.
The Spirit: My City Screams (And So Do Fans of the Comic Book) (Spout Blog)
Image via Wikipedia"We talked about Frank Miller’s highly anticipated film adaptation of Will Eisner’s long running comic bookThe Spirit back at Comic-Con when the scenes failed to impress us. In fact, they felt like they were straight out of Sin City Redux. It’s been a few months since we were underwhelmed; have the filmmakers changed anything? Not based on the clip we were sent this week. Despite being a self-proclaimed fan of Will Eisner, Frank Miller is managing to stomp the life out of every facet that made The Spirit a compelling comic. Check out the video and find out why we’re not happy."—Kevin Kelly
This list is about “must see” movies, not necessarily “sure to be great” movies. Sure, Frank Miller’s adaptation of the classic Will Eisner comic may have all the makings of a massive, bloody, CNN headline-grabbing train wreck — but like all great train wrecks and epic disasters in history, there is the distinct possibility that we won’t be able to look away. Click HERE to Keep Reading!
“['The Spirit'] is a comic book. You can call ‘The Dark Knight’ a comic book, but no, it’s a graphic novel. There’s a difference between a comic book and a graphic novel.
“‘The Spirit’ is funny. It’s tongue-in-cheek, wry humor. It’s sort of Wile E. Coyote with real people. We hit each other with big things [and] we’re both kind of indestructible, so it’s funny in that way. We get shot up, we get stabbed up, we just don’t die.” —Samuel L. Jackson, a lifelong comic book fan who, instead of reassuring fellow fans, wound up scaring them even more in an MTV Splash Page interview with Rick Marshall.
Michael Uslan (The Dark Knight, The Spirit, Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, Batman Begins, Catwoman, Constantine, National Treasure, Swamp Thing, Shazam!, The Shadow, Constantine)
Bob Andelman is the host and producer of the “Mr. Media Interviews” podcast. He is also the author or co-author of 9 books including: Will Eisner: A Spirited Life; Built From Scratch; Mean Business; The Profit Zone; The Corporate Athlete, Stadium For Rent and several others. Complete biography & book reviews here. Looking to hire a collaborator or writer for a book? Contact my agent, Michael Bourret. Magazine editors can contact me directly.