Comic Art Friday: Sand storm

In our most recent Comic Art Friday editions, we’ve looked at two of the four pinups that artist Darryl (Green Lantern) Banks created for my Bombshells! commission series, spotlighting the memorable women of Will Eisner’s The Spirit.

Two weeks ago, we talked about the genesis of my Spirit’s Bombshells! project, and featured Darryl’s lovely rendition of The Spirit’s true love, Ellen Dolan. Last Friday, we considered Eisner’s importance within the comics medium, and admired Darryl’s portrait of The Spirit’s frequent rival, Silk Satin.

Today, while you’re checking out this sultry drawing of Sand Saref — about whom, more later — I’d like to talk a bit about how I first came to discover Will Eisner’s work in general, and The Spirit specifically.

Sand Saref, pencils and inks by comics artist Darryl Banks

I hope that most of you know that I wasn’t around during the period (1940-1952) when The Spirit‘s Sunday newspaper supplement was appearing weekly in newspapers. (Hey, I’m getting up there, but I’m not that old… yet.) My first experience with The Spirit came in 1974, when Warren Publishing began releasing reprints of the classic strips in a monthly magazine format.

At the time, my family was stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Warren magazines were a staple of the book rack at our base exchange. I was already an avid consumer of Warren’s movie fan publication Famous Monsters of Filmland, and of their line of EC Comics-inspired horror books — Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella (issues of which I had to smuggle into the house, lest my mother find them and toss them into the trash). When The Spirit first appeared on the rack alongside the other Warren series, I assumed that it, too, contained newly published material. To my surprise, there was an entire lost world of comic book goodness that had been around for more than 30 years, and I’d known nothing about it.

The Spirit quickly became one of my new favorite magazines. I fell in love with Eisner’s art, his narrative style, his quirky characters — even, to an ambivalent degree, The Spirit’s stereotypically portrayed African-American sidekick, Ebony White, the one jarringly anachronistic and unsettling element of the older Spirit tales — and especially, his wonderfully compelling stories. Reading The Spirit was not unlike reading the absolute best of the 1960s Marvel Comics I’d grown up with, albeit with an edgier, less juvenile tone and more consistent creativity.

Those Spirit reprints sent me scrambling to the library to devour such tomes as Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes, Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson’s All in Color for a Dime, and Jim Steranko’s two-volume Steranko History of Comics. It’s safe to say that reading The Spirit — and craving a deeper understanding of the era in which the series originated — drew me into the study of comic book history, an obsession that persists with me to this day.

Speaking of obsessions…

Sand Saref and Denny Colt — the boy who would grow up to become The Spirit — were childhood sweethearts. Sand’s father was a stalwart policeman, while Denny’s dad was a broken-down ex-prizefighter who hung out with underworld characters. After Officer Saref was killed by Mr. Colt’s associates during a robbery gone south, Sand became embittered and turned to crime herself, evolving into the classic “good girl gone bad.”

Sand guest-stars in a number of The Spirit’s adventures over the years, forever in the midst of malfeasance, with The Spirit compelled to end her nefarious plots. It’s clear that she still carries a torch for her old boyfriend, and to some extent, he for her. (Sand, unique among the women in The Spirit’s life, knows that The Spirit and the supposedly deceased Denny Colt are the same person.)

The Spirit’s heart now belongs to Ellen Dolan, though. (True to stereotype, you knew that Ellen was the good girl and Sand the bad because Ellen was blonde, and Sand brunette.) After all, Sand is a cold-hearted villainess. How could the straight-arrow Spirit get mixed up with a vixen like her?

How, indeed.

Next Friday, we’ll conclude this miniseries with our fourth and final Spirit’s Bombshell! Trust me… this will not be a story for little boys.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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