With IDW Publishing's line of Artist's Edition books celebrating the work of comics' greatest artists by reproducing their work at full, unaltered size, it is only appropriate that the man whose name is on the industry's top award should receive this premiere treatment.
Friday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, IDW announced "Will Eisner's The Spirit: Artist's Edition," to be published in 2012. This marked the third new Artist's Edition volume announced at the show, with an October-shipping book devoted to Wally Wood revealed on Wednesday and "John Romita, Sr.'s Amazing Spider-Man" on Thursday. Scott Dunbier, the IDW editor behind the Artist's Edition line, spoke exclusively with Comic Book Resources about the project.
As with "John Romita, Sr.'s Amazing Spider-Man: Artist's Edition," the selection of Spirit stories for the Eisner edition has not yet been finalized. "Denis Kitchen, who is the agent for the estate, and I are going through the 'Spirit' books and picking out which stories we would like to see included," Dunbier said. Kitchen, an artist and former publisher, was a friend of Eisner's and has preserved much of the artist's work in addition to representing his estate. This helped ensure that an Artist's Edition would be possible, as Dunbier has noted that access to original artwork is a key requirement for producing the books.
Dunbier also described Kitchen as "the keeper of the flame." "He's the one who watches out and makes sure the Spirit is handled correctly," Dunbier said. "It was very gratifying that he felt IDW was up to this task. Denis brings many years of experience; his knowledge of Will Eisner and the Spirit is second to none."
As to which of Eisner's "Spirit" stories might finally make it into the Artist's Edition, Dunbier said there is an era in Eisner's career that particularly stands out. "We're concentrating on post-World War II stories," the editor said of his and Kitchen's selection process. "When Eisner came back from World War II, his work was different from his earlier stories. He had matured as an artist. When he came back to the strip in 1946, he became, I think, one of the foremost comic artists ever. His storytelling reached such heights, he really produced a nearly unparalleled body of work during this period."
Much as Marvel granted IDW the use of their characters to create the prestige Artist's Edition books, a deal was also arranged with DC Comics for "The Spirit." "DC has the license for the Spirit, and they were gracious enough to grant us a sub-license, I think in large part because Denis really wanted to see a book like this done, and done at IDW," Dunbier said. "Our friends at DC were a great help in putting it together."
"Will Eisner's The Spirit: Artist's Edition" will, like the Wally Wood book, reproduce Golden Age-sized artwork, making it a larger volume than the already hefty modern-sized Artist's Editions. "People have told me on occasion that they don't have bookcases big enough for the Artist's Editions," Dunbier laughed. "To which I say: 'Sorry, not my problem.' Me, I lay them flat on top of my bookcases."
Speaking about the Artist's Edition line, Dunbier noted the fantastic opportunity for students of art to view near-perfect reproductions from comics' most iconic illustrators. "Looking at the art in this way, it really is almost a tutorial for cartoonists, to be able to see for the first time the work in a way that allows you to see the brushstrokes that are laid down, corrections that were made, all the subtleties that you don't see in the published work," he said. "It's a wonderful thing to be able to look at the originals, but this truly is the next best thing."
With "The Spirit" rounding out IDW's three Comic-Con announcements of new Artist's Editions, Dunbier said that, following the October release of the Wally Wood edition, Romita's "Amazing Spider-Man" will debut in early 2012, with the Eisner book following "sometime later in 2012."
"They're difficult books to cull together and do properly," Dunbier said. "You're not going to see an Artist's Edition coming out monthly; it's just never going to happen. It's not possible to maintain the quality level if you rush them out. But they're good books, and they're a hell of a lot of fun to put together. Really, I can't imagine having a better job."