Eisner/Miller: The Lost Pages, or, Why I Never Saw The Spirit Movie

MILLER: You know, Will, I have a confession to make: I just wrote & drew a Spirit story.

EISNER: Oh, really?

MILLER: Yes. I’ve felt for a long time that I’m the only one who could possibly do it right. Would you like to see the pages?

EISNER: Sure.

[Eisner inspects the pages for a few moments in silence.]

EISNER: Umm… Why is he bouncing up and down on telephone wires like Daredevil?

MILLER: What… the Spirit never did that?

EISNER: No.

MILLER: Well, he should have.

EISNER: And is he wearing Chuck Taylors?

MILLER: Yeah.  They’re badass. Dwight from Sin City wears them. They’re much more practical for telephone wire-jumping.

EISNER: Which the Spirit doesn’t do.

MILLER: Right.

EISNER: [Sighing, continuing to read] …“My city screams”?

the-spirit-poster

MILLER: Good title, huh?

EISNER: Um… yeah, it’s… okay.  Wait… “This city is my mother.  She is my lover”? What does that even MEAN?

MILLER: Well, he comes from the city. He cares about it.

EISNER: Okay. So you DON’T actually mean that he’s having an incestuous relationship with Central City? ‘Cause that’s what it sounds like.

MILLER: No no no. He belongs to the city. He belongs to the night.

EISNER: Isn’t that a Glenn Frey song?

MILLER: No, that bastard stole it from me.

EISNER: [Turning to the next page] So what’s going on here?

MILLER: The Spirit is having a big confrontation with his archenemy, the Octopus.

EISNER: Which one of these characters is the Octopus?

MILLER: That one there, in the Nazi uniform.

slj_octopus

EISNER: [Deep breath, almost afraid to ask] …And why is he dressed as a Nazi?

MILLER: I don’t understand the question.

EISNER: I mean, what is the REASON he’s dressed like a Nazi? How does it relate to the story?

MILLER: Oh, no reason. I just like drawin’ em. Remember the swastika-shaped throwing stars I gave Miho in Sin City? Or the gay Nazis I used in Give Me Liberty? Or the villainess in Dark Knight with swastikas on her tits and ass?

EISNER: Yes, I particularly liked the panel where you misdrew the swastika and your wife had to correct it in the coloring.

MILLER: Thanks.

EISNER: Um, Frank, I can’t help but notice that in addition to dressing him in a Nazi uniform, you’ve drawn the Octopus to look just like Samuel L. Jackson.

MILLER: Yep! That’s what he looks like.

EISNER: Actually no, that’s not what he looks like. Nobody knows what the Octopus looks like. That’s the basic schtick I used with the character. Every once in a while you’d see one character or another as the Octopus, but he’d always leave a mask behind, so you never knew what his face REALLY looked like.

eisner_octopus

MILLER: Oh, well, that’s YOUR interpretation. This is my interpretation of your characters. In my version, the Octopus looks just like Samuel L. Jackson.

EISNER: I see. And when you change my characters around this radically, what exactly about it is mine?

MILLER: The names. I didn’t change those.

EISNER: I’m starting to wish you did.

MILLER: Of course, I had to do a lot of work on Ellen.

EISNER: What do you mean by that?

MILLER: Well, Will, with all due respect, Ellen Dolan is a pretty lousy character. She’s so mousy, she’s the boss’s daughter, and she worries about the Spirit all the time. She makes Donna Reed look like Angelina Jolie.

ellen_mayor

EISNER: Well, if by “lousy” you mean she’s not a ninja hooker assassin, I guess I see your point.

MILLER: Thanks. Anyway, that’s why I made her a surgeon.

EISNER: Excuse me, what?

MILLER: A surgeon. You see, now she knows more about Denny Colt’s unusual powers of recuperation than any other doctor on Earth.

EISNER: His unusual powers of recuperation?

MILLER: Well, the Spirit gets into lots of fights, right? And in his origin story he comes back from the dead. So I figure he has to have some sort of healing factor, like Wolverine.

EISNER: Riiiiiiight. Look, kid, I just had him coming back from the dead as a way to get the series started. I never meant to imply that he had some sort of superhuman powers. I hate that stuff.

MILLER: But he gets into all these fights and he’s always better by the next story!

EISNER: Bruises can heal in a week, you know. The whole point is that the Spirit is a vulnerable human being, not that he’s super-powered.

MILLER: Well, anyway, it made sense to me that he’d need a doctor to patch him up.

EISNER: Uh-huh. And exactly what, if anything, makes you think that Ellen Dolan is a surgeon?

MILLER: Umm… I think you drew her putting a bandage on the Spirit’s arm once.

EISNER: Of course.  I can’t argue with that kind of deductive reasoning. I hesitate to even ask this, but… what did you do with Ebony?

MILLER: Ebony’s not in the story.

EISNER: Wait a minute… you didn’t use Ebony? You’ve got to; he’s a vital element of the strip.

MILLER: But… but you’ve said yourself that Ebony was a racist caricature that wouldn’t work in today’s world.

spirit_ebony

EISNER: That doesn’t mean I think the character should be eliminated completely, you fucknut. He’s the hero’s sidekick, best friend and one of strip’s major sources of comic relief. All you have to do is just present him in a way that’s appropriate to today’s audiences. Hell, it’s mostly just in the way you draw him and write his dialogue. He just has to look like a real kid instead of Steppin’ Fetchit. Besides, if Ebony isn’t there, who is the Spirit going to talk to?

MILLER: See these captions? I thought I’d just give the Spirit some hard-boiled first person narration, like in a Mike Hammer story.

EISNER: Uh-huh. And were you inspired to do this by all the hundreds of stories I did where I didn’t have the Spirit narrate?

MILLER: Well, you obviously meant to. I thought it’d make a nice juxtaposition where I drew the Spirit bounding across the rooftops in that trademark black suit of his.

EISNER: Hang on. The Spirit’s suit is blue.

MILLER: No, I don’t think so. It’s all black, including the shirt. Sometimes with the sleeves rolled up.

miller_spirit_poster

EISNER: No, it’s blue. He’s supposed to look like a normal guy with a mask, not like a gay gaucho or something.

MILLER: I defy you to show me anything that proves he wears a blue suit instead of a black one.

EISNER: I don’t know… how about the TWELVE YEARS OF STORIES I did where the suit is colored blue?

MILLER: That’s just the limitation of 1940s pre-digital printing. They used blue to indicate black, like with Superman’s blue hair. You didn’t have the sophisticated coloring and printing technologies of today. I’m just showing it how you really meant it to look.

EISNER: What are you, dense? Are you retarded or something? It’s a goddamn blue suit. It’s always been a blue suit. If I wanted it to be a BLACK suit, I would have made it a black suit.  We had India Ink in 1940, you know.

MILLER: Look old man, don’t get in my face about this. I’m badass. I grew up on the mean streets of Vermont. I’m the Goddamn Frank Miller. I don’t have to take this guff from you. Don’t think that just because you’re old I won’t lay you out.

EISNER: Any time you think you’re man enough, just go ahead. Give me your best shot.

MILLER: I’m going to kill you like Bullseye killed Elektra.

EISNER: Oh, great. Guess that means I’ll get resurrected by ninja magic ten issues later. Bring it on, punk.

[Miller lunges at Eisner like Marv from Sin City. Unfortunately, since Miller is not actually IN Sin City, he’s subject to the laws of physics and folds like a cheap lawn chair when Eisner slugs him in the kisser.]

EISNER: Word of advice, Frank. If you want to do a Sin City story, just DO a Sin City story. Don’t bastardize someone else’s characters to do it.

MILLER: [Crawling away, clutching his crumpled Spirit pages in one hand and his bleeding nose with the other] You’ll see. Someday, somehow, I’ll get to do MY Spirit story. And then you’ll see how it REALLY should’ve been done.

EISNER: Ha! Over my dead body…

15 Comments

  1. M-Wolverine

    I mean, if he doesn’t look or talk like Ebony, and you certainly couldn’t name the character “Ebony,” is it even the same character? You certainly could have developed a completely original plucky Black sidekick, but I’m not sure that’s the character I’d use to defend Eisner’s interpretation of things. Though certainly everything else Miller did was, at best, eye rolling.

    I did literally LOL at “Isn’t that a Glen Fry song?” And I never knew about Varley’s swastika corrections. That’s pretty amusing.

    1. John Trumbull

      I don’t personally find the name “Ebony White” offensive, as Eisner used a LOT of punny names in the Spirit, but you’re right, perhaps people would object. In the 1987 TV pilot with Sam Jones, Ebony was called “Eubie,” I imagine for politically correct reasons.

      I did meet an African-American comic book fan years ago who told me that he could never get into the Spirit strip precisely because of Ebony, which I certainly understand. He said this a bit wistfully, as I recall, as he knew it was a great piece of work in every other respect, and I got the feeling that he WISHED he could read it… But yeah, I doubt that I could if I were in his shoes.

    1. John Trumbull

      I enjoyed the SIN CITY films for the most part. Yeah, they’re goofy and over-the-top, but they’re interesting in how remarkably faithful they are to the comics. I really feel like they missed their window to make the sequel, though. By the time A DAME TO KILL FOR came out, people had moved on.

  2. M-Wolverine

    I think the first Sin City good is a pretty great comic book adaptation. If you like the comic (which is a pulpy acquired taste) I think you’ll like the movie. The second one not so much, because it features Miller’s weaker, or completely new and not as good stories, and a ridiculous bit of make up because they somehow couldn’t get some of the same people for the sequel.

    However the Spirit is like none of that, So the Spirit being Sin City 1.5 made no sense at all. And it wasn’t even a good attempt at the genre.

  3. fit2print

    This is just… gold! The ideal antidote to a grim and snowy Monday morning.

    Miller’s a mad genius and, at least on certain days, my all-time favourite comic creator. But, yes, as “Will” so astutely (and hilariously) observes, he’s also a “fucknut.”So much so that I can almost imagine this conversation actually taking place.

    If I needed another reason to be grateful for having skipped Miller’s directorial debut, I’ve got it now.

    This is why I keep coming back to this site… Stellar piece, Mr Trumbull.

    1. John Trumbull

      Well, thanks. Glad you liked it. I actually wrote this piece eight years ago when the SPIRIT movie was topical. I ended up subbing it in last minute when the piece I was originally writing wasn’t coming together.

      A lot of the Miller dialogue I used are things he actually said or wrote around the time of the movie’s release. If I can still find the quotes online, maybe I’ll add in some links.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    I saw Sin City, hated it. Was lukewarm to the early comics, hated them more and more with each new story and stopped reading after Yellow Bastard. Miller’s idea of crime stories is a pretty sick place. Chaykin understands them a hell of a lot better. Eisner understood where they came from.

    That was hilarious and I have to believe that Eisner could have taken out Miller at any time. Or else let Kirby do it.

    Saw Miller on TCM, as the guest host, before that abomination of a movie came out. Robert Osborne knew nothing about him and seemed uncomfortable with him. Osborne is in a suit and tie, Miller in jeans, t-shirt, a sportcoat, and a trilby hat. Real class.

    The man is not a film director.

    Oh, and I liked Elektra better when she was Sand Saref.

  5. Jeff Nettleton

    ps I didn’t see the movie because of Sin City. No way i was going to spend money to see Miller turn the Spirit into that. The trailer made me want to drag Miller to Eisner’s grave and make him spend the rest of his life apologizing.

    The tv pilot, with Sam Jones was lightyears better than that.

    1. John Trumbull

      The last time I rewatched the Sam Jones pilot, I was surprised by how much better it was than I remembered. I had been recalling it as a campy thing that missed the essence of the strip, but there are a few places where it really did capture the right sort of tongue-in-cheek tone. I think the main handicaps were the low TV budget and the fact that it didn’t take place in the 40s.

      If I can find the thing on YouTube, maybe I’ll watch it again and review it here.

  6. Edo Bosnar

    Not like I need any extra reasons not to see the Spirit movie (as soon as I learned that Miller was involved, as write *and* director, I lost interest immediately), but this was fun to read.
    I saw Sin City on TV a few years ago. I found it …erm, watchable, just barely, but mostly unsatisfying even as throw-away entertainment. It certainly ensured that I’ll never read the comics.

  7. Jeff Nettleton

    One of the things about the Sin City movie, for me, was how ridiculous the dialogue was, when spoken out loud. It worked better when it came out of authentic mouths, like Bogey and Cagney. Bruce Willis sounded the least silly, though not by much.

    1. John Trumbull

      Yeah, I know what you mean. Miller’s dialogue often reads better than it sounds.

      There’s also something weird about seeing things in live-action rather than drawn in a comic book sometimes. In the SIN CITY comic, I didn’t question stuff like Dwight leaping off a building ledge to get to the street level, probably because stuff like that happens in comic books all the time. In the movie, I saw Dwight do the same thing and immediately thought, “…Why didn’t he just take the stairs?”

  8. Great stuff, John!

    I watched part of the Spirit movie on IFC on demand, and fast forwarded through a lot of it. It was…

    Yeah. Can’t even come up with something.

    I did see the first Sin City in a movie theater. Actually it was the last movie I saw in a movie theater (no connection, really). My then-gf had probably the best review of a movie ever: when she was asked what the movie was about, she replied, “violence”.

    HA!

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