Sunday, December 1, 2013

Wally Wood, Jules Feiffer, and Will Eisner - "The Outer Space Spirit" (1952)

"The Outer Space Spirit" is a historic collaboration with three of the 20th century's most important cartoonists and sequential storytellers:  Wally Wood (1927-1981), Will Eisner (1917-2005), and Jules Feiffer (1929 - ).  The Spirit was a hugely successful newspaper comic strip that Eisner created in 1940, but readership by late 1952 had dramatically dropped off.  In order to avoid the strip's imminent cancellation, Eisner chose to drastically change the Spirit's film noir-ish detective storyline and tone and morph the strip into something more in line with the tastes of the day... a science fiction epic.  It was a desperate move, but Eisner enlisted some top talent to take the story on.  Jules Feiffer was in charge of scripting, page layouts and panel compositions, and Wally Wood, who had recently been making his name as thee sci-fi illustrator in the business over at EC Comics, was brought in as penciller and inker.  The work was obviously outstanding, and much of it still stands as some of Wood's most exceptional art, but the Outer Space Spirit storyline was a commercial failure.  The series, once a staple of every major newspaper in America in the 1940s, was now only carried by a small handful of newspapers, many of which were unhappy with the new direction of the strip.  Some newspaper publishers quit carrying the Spirit mid-story.  Production problems plagued the storyline from the outset as well.  Wally Wood was attempting to draw 7 pages of The Outer Space Spirit each week while continuing his work over at EC and deadlines soon became a problem.  Eisner himself had to step in and help out, until eventually he was drawing a large percentage of the pages with Wood relegated to drawing the backgrounds.  To make matters worse, several pages were run out of sequence, thoroughly confusing any readers that were left.  In October of 1952,  the Outer Space Spirit storyline came to an anticlimactic end.  the story was never  resolved and The Spirit was cancelled very soon after.

"The Outer Space Spirit" was collected in 1989 by Kitchen Sink Press, and has long since gone out of print.  Sadly, it is only available as a high priced collectable.  "The Outer Space Spirit" is too monumental to be left unseen, so the Museum of International Comic Art includes these pages for important scholarly review.  these are high res scans, so you can really zoom in and check out all of that gorgeous Wood spaceship machinery in all of its glory.