Comic Art Friday: (Silk) Satin doll

Last week on Comic Art Friday, we debuted the first of artist Darryl Banks’s four Bombshells! pinups featuring the women of The Spirit, Will Eisner’s groundbreaking comic series from the 1940s and ’50s.

Here’s the second of The Spirit’s Bombshells, Sylvia “Silk” Satin.

Silk Satin, pencils and inks by comics artist Darryl Banks

Before we get to Satin’s story, though, let’s talk a little about why Eisner is such an important figure in the history of comic art. So important, in fact, that the comics industry’s annual awards — as well as its Hall of Fame — are named for him.

Eisner brought a new aesthetic to comic art: the cinematic. He was one of the earliest artists — if not indeed the very first — to see the comic panel in the same way that a film director or cinematographer looks through the movie camera’s viewfinder. In The Spirit, Eisner created a visual language for comics that launched the medium into a brave new world of crazy angles, dramatic interplay of light and shadow, and powerful closeups. The Spirit’s universe bore a striking resemblance to frames clipped from a ’40s noir detective film.

Post-Spirit, Eisner pioneered another format that has become ubiquitous today — the graphic novel. His landmark 1978 work, A Contract with God, is widely recognized as the first published comic to be identified with that descriptive phrase (although it was not the first long-form comic).

Not content simply to create these innovations, late in his career Eisner took another giant step — he told the world how he did it. His books Comics and Sequential Art (1985) and Graphic Storytelling (1996), explained how comics work as both an art form and a narrative vehicle. These two texts are essential reads for those who want to create their own comics, and those who desire a more informed appreciation of the medium.

As for Silk Satin, she enters The Spirit’s storyline in the March 1941 tale, “Introducing Silk Satin.” She presents an imposing figure — a tall, statuesque woman who generally wears her black hair cropped short, and dresses in man-tailored suits as often as she wears evening gowns. A jewel thief when she first appears, Satin (the character is generally addressed by her surname) later changes her criminal ways. Over the next decade, she would spend time as a British secret agent, a United Nations operative, and eventually an insurance investigator. Sometimes she and The Spirit were friendly collaborators; on other occasions, they worked against one another.

The Silk Satin stories generated some of the most personal moments in The Spirit’s career. In a pair of 1946 stories (“Hildie and the Kid Gang” and “Hildie and Satin”), The Spirit would help reunite Satin with her lost-lost daughter, Hildie. There were frequent hints of possible romance between The Spirit and Satin, making her the “bad girl” counterpart to “good girl” Ellen Dolan.

Next week, we’ll look at the third of these Eisner-inspired Bombshells! drawings. I’ll talk then about how I came to discover Will Eisner’s work, and how The Spirit helped me mature as a connoisseur of comics. Drop back in seven for that conversation.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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