Comic Art Friday: Not for little boys

The Spirit, October 6, 1946, page 1, panel 1, art and script by Will Eisner

It’s one of the two most indelibly memorable introductory lines ever written for a woman in comics:

I am P’Gell… and this is NOT a story for little boys!

Over the past three Comic Art Fridays,we’ve met a collection of ladies I like to call The Spirit’s Bombshells! — the pivotal female characters from Will Eisner‘s legendary comic series of the 1940s and early 1950s, The Spirit. We’ve seen these women immortalized in pinups modeled after World War II-era bomber nose art, through the nonpareil talents of contemporary artist Darryl (Green Lantern) Banks.

Today’s spotlight falls on the fourth and final member of this unforgettable quartet, and she’s the baddest of the bunch.

P'Gell, pencils and inks by comics artist Darryl Banks

Debuting in the October 6, 1946 Spirit Sunday supplement, P’Gell represented Eisner’s take on the classic femme fatale. (We presume her to be French, as her name is a variation of Pigalle, the Parisian district notorious for its steamy nightlife.) In all of the Spirit stories in which she appears, P’Gell shows herself to be the proverbial black widow, marrying an endless string of wealthy, often powerful, usually older men, who share the knack for dying under peculiar — one might even say suspicious — circumstances. She repeatedly tries to get The Spirit in her clutches, but our stalwart hero’s heart proves to be as true-blue as his business suit.

P’Gell’s seductive persona was likely a compilation of influences. Her forebears included the Dragon Lady, the antiheroine of Milton Caniff’s popular newspaper strip Terry and the Pirates; cinematic vixens such as Mae West, Pola Negri, Greta Garbo, and Theda Bara; and the real-life courtesan turned spy, Mata Hari. P’Gell herself became an inspiration for dozens of characters — in comics and in other entertainment media — over the decades to come.

But her initial panel — languid, tantalizing, oozing with mystery, foreboding, and more than a soupçon of desire — still stands as a debut image rarely matched in the annals of comics. It wouldn’t be until 20 years later, when Mary Jane Watson burst onto the scene in Amazing Spider-Man #42 (November 1966) with a cheery “Face it, tiger… you just hit the jackpot,” that a female character would announce herself with such an iconic opening salvo.

Hey, I didn’t call P’Gell a bombshell for nothing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s review of The Spirit’s Bombshells! My thanks to Darryl Banks for contributing four sensational artworks to my theme gallery. And of course, a heartfelt salute to the legend himself, Will Eisner, for creating these four wonderful women.

Next weekend, WonderCon — the Bay Area’s annual extravaganza of comics and fantasy media of every imaginable stripe — explodes into San Francisco’s Moscone Center. I’ll preview the action with a look back at a couple of my favorite commission acquisitions from WonderCons past. See you here in seven.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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