February 27, 2019

Residents: WILL EISNER

This edition of notable Tudor City residents spotlights Will Eisner, the cartoonist behind The Spirit, the influential cult strip that the New York Times later called "the Citizen Kane of comics."
Eisner in his Tudor City studio, 1941

Here is Eisner's life, in bullet points.

⬥ Born 1917 in Brooklyn. Displays a talent for cartooning in high school, starts his career by doing pickup work for titles like Wonder Comics and Wow Magazine. At the time, comic books are a burgeoning industry.

⬥ In 1939, Eisner strikes a deal with Quality Comics to produce a Sunday comic book supplement for a newspaper syndicate. The schedule is rigorous ‒ a new seven-page episode every week. The strip is to introduce a new character called The Spirit whom Eisner has been developing.

⬥ Rents a fifth-floor one-bedroom apartment in Windsor Tower to be used as his studio/office. Four other artists are hired to work in the cramped space, later described by Eisner biographer, Bob Andelman:
The Eisner studio at 5 Tudor City Place consisted of one large room, a bedroom, and a small kitchen that was nothing more than a wall. Eisner used the bedroom as his private office. Staffers frequently borrowed the key on weekends as a place to bring their dates. There was no bed, but the couch was extremely popular.


⬥ It was in this studio that The Spirit was born. Lookswise, the character is modeled on Cary Grant, but otherwise he's decidedly different from his peers. Instead of a costume, he wears a baggy blue suit, wide-brimmed hat and a blue mask that appears to be tattooed on. The Spirit has no powers. He can't fly, see through walls, or lift up cars, he's just a working class detective ‒ who's come back from the dead to fight crime.



⬥  The Spirit debuts on June 2, 1940. [One of its signature touches ‒ never repeating the design of the title logo ‒ is illustrated above.] At its height, the strip is syndicated in 20 newspapers with a readership of 5 million, but stays under the radar since it never runs in New York. The strip folds in 1952, and Eisner turns to a lucrative career in educational comics. 

⬥ In 1965, cartoonist Jules Feiffer publishes the first serious study of the comics, The Great Comic Book Heroes, which concludes with an episode of The Spirit. Overnight, the strip is rediscovered and becomes a cult sensation, credited with influencing generations of cartoonists to this day.

Eisner and associates working on The Spirit in Tudor City, 1941

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