NYCC, Xtra: "Will Eisner's The Spirit" Panel

Sun, February 25th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

TV/Film
Justin Jordan, Guest Contributor

It's often the unexpected moments that really make a panel worthwhile.

The best moment at the "Will Eisner's The Spirit" panel at the New York City Comic Con, which was about Frank Miller's upcoming movie version, certainly wasn't on the agenda, but it drove him the influence.

During the question and answer section of the panel, a tall elderly man stepped up to the mike.

"I don't know if I should be here," he said, "I probably shouldn't".

He was here with his grandson, who wants to be a comic book artist, but he was drawn to the Spirit panel because of Will Eisner.

"When I was a kid, Will Eisner was a hero to me. He was a hero because my brother, who wanted to be a cartoonist, said he was best cartoonist around," he said.

His brother died just the other week, but he did become a cartoonist. He was Joe Edwards, long time Archie comic artist and artist on Lil' Jinx. The old man just wanted to thank the late Eisner for being such as inspiration to his brother and so many others.

It's that kind of influence and appeal that has led to the production of the Spirit movie. Frank Miller, who will write and direct the film, was slated to be at the panel, but health problems prevented him from doing, as Miller is still recovering from surgeries to repair a hip he broke a few weeks ago after slipping on a patch of ice.

Producers Michael Uslan and F.J. DeSantos were in attendance, and they were joined by the late Eisner's friend and confidant, Denis Kitchen. Uslan read from an email that Miller had sent him for the audience.

"Sometimes, life just sucks" the email began, explaining why Miller couldn't make it and how he planned to approach the project, focusing more on the grittier noir type of stories rather than the more light hearted ones.

"Get ready," Miller concluded, "we're on our way to some dark places."

Uslan opened by asking how many people attending the panel were New Yorkers, which got a show of hands indicating that virtually everyone in the audience was. Uslan told the crowd that the Spirit production was a very New York centric affair; something they think will lead to authenticity to the movie.

Uslan has happy to be at the con, since he'd been at the first New York City Comic Con. Not the one held last year, the one held in 1964 that was the first comic convention ever held. It was not quite the swanky affair that the current NYCC is, being held in what could charitably be called a dirt bag hotel, which collapsed under it's own a few years after.

"I remember having to step over drunk people laying in the hall," Uslan said.

Uslan has a long history with trying to bring "The Spirit" to the big screen, first obtaining the rights more than fifteen years ago. He made a promise to Eisner at the outset, that he wouldn't let anyone work on the project that didn't get it.

There were a lot of people who didn't get it along the way, wanting to put the Spirit in a costume or have him really be a resurrected dead man with superpowers. It was that kind of thinking that kept the Spirit away from the screen for such a long time.

Art from the new DC Comics "The Spirit" series by Darwyn Cooke

Uslan ran into Miller at a memorial for Eisner, where they talked about the Spirit, spurring Miller to start talking about the kinds of scenes and themes that would need to go into a movie to get it right.

Miller didn't think he could do it, but ultimately he knew that he couldn't let anyone else do it. Miller has had a recent run of good fortune with making movies, and this would be a chance to do write and direct solo for the first time.

Eisner himself had no real interest in bringing his work to the screen, believing that comic books were an art form unto themselves and taking umbrage at movies' supposed artistic and cultural superiority.

Eisner would end up being far more involved, posthumously, than simply creating the characters and world the movie is based on. Miller's technique for storyboarding the movie has been to photocopy various pages of the Spirit and then cut them up, cobbling together certain scenes and panels to create a new story.

The movie will replicate Eisner's unique style, reflecting the world created within the books using a combination of various CGI technologies in much the same ways as "Sin City" and the upcoming "300" were created.

The story will feature a number of classic villains and femme fatales in ways that will, according to Uslan, "delight and surprise you". The movie will be neither an origin story nor a period piece.

Eisner always tried to draw the Spirit as within anytime that he drew him in the time in which he was drawing him. The Spirit was never about nostalgia, and Eisner kept the stories relevant to the time at hand.

One particularly ugly part of the Spirit history, the character Ebony, a grotesque caricature of African American stereotypes, will not be appearing in the movie. This a decision from Miller himself, and one based less on the controversy of the character than the fact that he simply doesn't fit well into the kind of story Miller will be telling with this movie.

The filming of "Sin City Two" shouldn't affect the shooting of "The Spirit" movie too much, and Robert Rodriguez, Miller's co director on Sin City, will not be involved with the Spirit movie, It also looked like that at the current time, The Spirit would probably be the first one start filming.

During the question and answer, one fan asked whether or not there was any chance of Miller eventually doing a movie version of the legendary "Dark Knight Returns" story.

"The sky's the limit in terms of Frank's talent," said Uslan.

Uslan wrapped with a plug for the display of comic book art out in the Montclair Museum in Montclair New Jersey, which is display a large array of rare original comic book art.

 
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