Poster Posting: The Spirit
On a lengthy walk through Chelsea and Tribeca to get to the second part of a strong double feature (Son of Rambow=good, Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg=even better) a strange triple poster array plastered to the side of a construction site caught my eye. I didn't have my camera on me at the time, but here's a digital file:
If it looks like something straight out of Sin City that's because it's designed to look that way; it's an ad for longtime cartoonist (and nascent film director) Frank Miller's cinematic adapatation of Will Eisner's The Spirit. I'm quite sure the rather obvious similarities — the black, white & red color palette, the inky blacks flecked with incandescent white to create the illusion of space and the street poetry turned taglines ("My city screams...she is my lover...and I am her Spirit") were all done intentionally to try to drive Sin City fans (and, hey, I'm one of them) to the theater.
A little background on The Spirit for people who aren't familiar with it. Rather than being an actual comic book sold on a spinner rack, it was a 16-page pamphlet that was distributed inside Sunday newspapers across the country from 1940 through 1952. It was effectively about a cop named Denny Colt who gets splashed by a mysterious chemical during a raid on a criminal's hideout, passes out, and is mistakenly declared dead. When he comes to in his own coffin, he doesn't even bother freaking out about the fact that he just got buried alive; instead, he decides to let the world believe he's kicked the bucket in order to fight crime outside the confines of the law as The Spirit. Eventually, though, The Spirit started to become a supporting character in his own magazine, and Eisner used his world to tell stories well outside the confines of the super-hero genre.
Eisner created the strip and wrote and drew it (with uncredited assistance from his studio) until he left to serve in World War II. When Eisner returned to the strip in 1946, he grew more experimental and The Spirit flourished under his stewardship. Today the series is remembered largely for this period: when Eisner helped push the boundaries of what people thought comics were. He had a great eye for panel layout and a knack for creative design (famously, The Spirit's logo never appeared in the strip the same way twice, and it was always cleverly integrated into the first page of artwork, a technique that both saved space and helped establish mood). (For a very affordable taste of the series, I strongly recommend DC Comics' The Best of the Spirit trade paperback)
Miller is an on-the-record fan of Eisner; the two even collaborated on a very readable booklength conversation about their careers. And as Eisner showed time and time again in the series, The Spirit is a malleable property that can accommodate almost any kind of narrative. But this poster makes me a little uneasy.
The Spirit is not going to be easy to adapt to movies because it's basically pure comics. Eisner had very strong ideas about what comics were and what they could do, and he basically used The Spirit as his own mad scientist's laboratory in which he proved it. Because it's style and technique are so rooted in comics, the only thing you could translate to movies to get a truly faithful adaptation would be to make something just as inventive but very movie-specific a Spirit movie that could never flow back into comics. What we don't need is a Sin City rehash. This poster suggest that might be what we're going to get. I hope not!