The Spirit was released on DVD by Lionsgate Home Entertainment on April 14 after an inauspicious theatrical run. Frank Miller’s (Sin City, 300) film adaptation of the late Will Eisner’s comic strip character debuted in North American cinemas on Christmas Day but barely made a mark alongside the likes of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon and Marley and Me. That was unfortunate because Miller intended the film as a tribute to Eisner, whom the filmmaker and fellow comic book writer greatly admired. It would also be a shame if it reflects poorly on two entertaining books that were published to capitalise on interest in the film: The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion and The Spirit: A Pop-Up Graphic Novel.

The Spirit is regarded as one of the most important creations in the history of American comics. Not only was was the protagonist one of the the first heroic characters to appear in that medium (he debuted in a newspaper insert on 2 June, 1940), the strip itself also set new standards for comic art thanks to Eisner’s striking, cinematic approach. The Movie Visual Companion includes a quote from Eisner in which he says of drawing The Spirit, “Pretty soon, it became to me film on paper…”

In addition to being a pioneer, The Spirit was also an atypical superhero because he wasn’t super in the sense that Superman is. The character had no super powers and Eisner was reluctant to dress him in the kind of costumery that has become commonplace among superheros. Hence, The Spirit often engaged bad guys with fisticuffs and concealed his true identity (resurrected Central City cop Denny Colt) using the smallest of masks. That and a dark trench coat, fedora, gloves and a distinctive red tie were The Spirit’s trademarks and symbolised the noirish realm in which he existed. That mood was another unusual feature of the Spirit comics, which owed as much to the novels of Raymond Chandler as to the superhero genre.

The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion, by Mark Cotta Vaz, is a 256-page glossy hardback book that is sumptuously illustrated with behind-the-scenes photographs and storyboard images from Miller’s film adapation, as well as examples of the original art work by Will Eisner from which Miller drew his inspiration. It is more than just a picture book, though. The eight chapters include a brief history of the life of Eisner and the creation and publication of The Spirit, along with accounts of the various attempts to bring the comic book to the screen and the production of Miller’s movie.

Whatever one may think of Miller’s film, the material thatVaz has included in the Visual Companion is absorbing, especially for anyone unfamiliar with the hero that Eisner created. Considering the title of the book,Vaz’s text contains a surprising amount of detail and the writer has a light, easy style that never reads like glorified publicity material (Vaz’s previous credits include an excellent biography of King Kong co-director Merican C. Cooper called Living Dangerously). I’m not a fan of Frank Miller and haven’t read The Spirit or seen Miller’s movie. Nonetheless, I found The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion to be an enjoyable read. It is published by Titan Books.

The Spirit: A Pop-Up Graphic Novel is a 16-page hardcover book (with cardboard pages) that was published by Insight Editions last year. As is obvious from the title, it is not a conventional comic book and for fans of The Spirit it may be little more than a novelty item. It is essentially a reworking of an Eisner story (and his accompanying artwork) to fit a pop-up book’s 3D format. Given that some pages have to be manipulated to get access to the frames of the strip, the reading experience doesn’t flow as well as a regular comic. Eisner fan’s may have this material already, while anyone looking for an introduction to The Spirit would probably be better off looking for the original comic strips in some form.. That said, this could be nostalgic fun for anyone who remembers pop-up books from their childhood and may please younger readers today. Also, kudos go to Bruce Foster for some clever pop-up recreations of Eisner’s work.

ISBN Numbers:
The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion – 978-1-845768-32-4
The Spirit: A Pop-Up Graphic Novel – 978-1-933784-46-5

Michael Simpson is the Associate Editor of the Vancouver-based film and TV website CinemaSpy and a freelance writer on a wide range of topics (CinemaSpy; Home).

Be Sociable, Share!