Comic Art Friday: Who ghosts there?

We begin today’s Comic Art Friday with a salute to my beloved Pirate Queen, who joined me on the marital path five years ago today. She is the superheroine in my everyday comic book story. May we continue to enjoy a long and memorable run.

The occasion seems the perfect opportunity to feature this lovely portrait from my Common Elements gallery. Superstar artist Ryan Sook created this masterpiece at this year’s Silicon Valley Comic Con, and a beauty it is indeed. Ryan can do more with a few well-placed lines than many of today’s artists can accomplish with fusillades of hyperbolic detail. He proves that here, showcasing a pair of favorites from the Golden Age — The Spirit and Phantom Lady, each of whom makes their second Common Elements appearance here.

Spirit_PhantomLady_Sook

At first blush, the common element between these characters seems obvious. Their code names each contain a word synonymous with “ghost.” The real “ghostly” connection, though, runs a layer deeper than that.

Both of these legendary heroes began in the studio of one of comicdom’s all-time greatest creators: Will Eisner. (So great, in fact, that the industry’s annual awards are named after him.) Eisner himself created The Spirit, whose stories originally appeared not in comic books, but in a full-color tabloid insert distributed with Sunday newspapers. During the 12 years that The Spirit Section ran (1940-1952), Eisner edited all of the stories featuring his two-fisted detective, and both wrote and drew the majority of them. Several of the strips, however, particularly during World War II (Eisner served in the U.S. Army from 1942 through ’45), were ghosted — created anonymously under Eisner’s byline — by other writers and artists.

Eisner’s primary ghostwriter was Jules Feiffer, who would eventually become one of America’s most renowned cartoonists — creator of an eponymous newspaper strip, as well as author of hundreds of editorial and panel cartoons for many of the country’s leading publications. Feiffer also wrote plays and film scripts (including Robert Altman’s live-action Popeye, starring Robin Williams) plus numerous books, including the classic The Great Comic Book Heroes — a copy of which is within arm’s reach even as I type. Other scribes who ghosted Spirit stories include comics industry veteran William Woolfolk, and fantasy author Manly Wade Wellman.

Among the artists whose uncredited work graced The Spirit were such notables as Jack Cole (best known as the creator of Plastic Man), Lou Fine (one of the great illustrators of the Golden Age, he drew most of the more familiar Quality Comics heroes — Doll Man, Black Condor, and The Ray, among many others), and a young Wally Wood, who would rise to stardom at EC Comics in the 1950s.

As for Phantom Lady, the details of her creation are sketchy… no pun intended. She was among several characters developed for various comics companies by the Eisner & Iger Studio, which Will Eisner co-founded prior to marketing The Spirit to newspapers.

Arthur Peddy was the first artist to draw the comely Sandra Knight for publication, but her original adventures were penned by a ghostwriter whose identity has not been firmly established. It’s a situation quite common when we look back at the early years of comics, when creator credits were rare and often pseudonymous when they did appear. Whereas it’s generally possible to examine uncredited art and hazard at least an educated guess as to the hand that drew it, writers can be more challenging — if not impossible — to identify. Sadly, we may never know the scribe who first gave life and voice to Phantom Lady.

Having spent a number of years ghostwriting articles and speeches credited to others, I appreciate the efforts of creators who toil behind the scenes without acknowledgment. In the immortal words of John Milton, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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