Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mad spirit


I've also been reading The Best of the Spirit by Will Eisner. Another excellent example of very tight storytelling, and perhaps an arguablely more adult example than the ones I've given in recent days.

Like many, I've struggled with The Spirit Archives to find where the sweet spot to begin is. For the record, I believe the official answer is start at one and then move right along to twelve or thirteen, returning to the books collecting the cartoons from the time of Eisner's service in World War II when and if you get through the rest and find yourself still hungering. Myself, I'm currently inclined toward the thought that skipping right ahead to thirteen or so is probably a good idea, although I'd definitely suggest the "Best of" collection for anyone deciding if they're interested.

One thing, that didn't involve the tight, clever storytelling, struck me.

The classic, much vaunted early Harvey Kurtzman, comic book version of MAD Magazine owes no small debt to the Eisner Spirit style.

I don't mean to cut those comics down. I grew up with the paperback book collections of those with their wonderfully wacky Jack Davis and Wally Wood drawings and far-out concepts, etc. I'm certainly the last guy to rain on the parade of that stuff.

But there's always been an extent to which it's overpraised as the MAD Magazine by a faction, when it didn't reach anything like the status it's achieved, nor did it warp the minds of a generation on anything like the scale of what was to come.

There's a moment in the Eisner/Miller, in which Frank Miller praises the genius of William Gaines in conjunction with the artistic success of E.C. Comics. Eisner, in what seemed to my reading, a rather sharp rebuttal, takes issue with that and attempts to give more than the lion's share of the credit to Kurtzman, who, I believe was also a friend.

Frankly, it seemed to strangely miss the name Al Feldstein.

If Gaines had a talent it was for finding guys like Feldstein and Kurtzman and giving them comic magazines to edit, so Eisner's got a point, however missing Feldstein, the guy responsible for editing and the majority of the writing the comics most of us associate with E.C., the horror, thriller, sci-fi and fantasy titles, is missing exactly what it was Miller was praising.

But somehow the great disappointment came looking at these Spirit comics and seeing the same look, feel and bits of comedy and realizing that in some strange way, Eisner wasn't even missing the visionary referred to, in favor of a friend and an incredibly popular name in comic circles, but was ultimately praising his biggest, and most obvious, imitator over someone who, like himself, may have actually changed the world of cartooning completely.


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