Move over, Spiderman... The Spirit is coming to town

Will Eisner Comic Fest is Saturday, March 2, at the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art.


“Masked criminologist, and presumably dead, Denny Colt secretly fights crime as ‘The Spirit.’ From his home under Wildwood Cemetery in Central City to the far-flung corners of the world and beyond, “The Spirit’ attracts the most seductive and dangerous women and wages a never-ending war against streetwise crooks, criminal master-minds and otherworldly beings… with only quick wits, sharp humor and his two gloved fists.”

It almost reads like a character in a 1930s noir novel, or someone from on a spooky radio show of the same era. But its actually Mickel Yantz, a fan of “The Spirit,” and curator of the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, describing a comics character, who wore a blue business suit, domino mask and fedora hat, drawn by cartoonist and graphic novelist artist Will Eisner, which made its debut in 1940.

Sherwin Miller Museum is hosting its third “Will Eisner Comic Fest” a Tulsa com-con festival, Saturday afternoon, March 2, from noon to 5 p.m., celebrating the late artist’s 102nd birthday. (Eisner was born in 1917 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and died in 2005.) Tulsa joins the ranks of New York, Austin, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Maryland; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Gainesville, Florida; and Portland Oregon; as well as London; Glasgow, Scotland; Angouleme, France, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, internationally.   

“The Tulsa museum was contacted three years ago from the Will Eisner Studio looking to find a partner in the Midwest to create a program in participation with the Will Eisner Week. Since then, the museum has hosted a comic festival in his name that is free to the public and showcases artists, cosplayers and groups in the Tulsa area that exemplify the spirit of pop culture and enjoy sharing it with Tulsa,” he says.

Yantz is expecting another crowd this year, and weather permitting the event, will again be partially held outdoors. “Our attendance has grown each year with the festival. This year we have other 25 vendors and a cosplay contest hosted by Nerd Alert Customs,” he says, tripling in size from the first year. “We completely take over the parking lot with movie cars and the inside of our auditorium with vendors and displays. 

“What makes this unique from other comic events is the free admission for our guests and our focus on local vendors and groups.” 

The Spirit continued from 1940-1952 for 12 years, creating original adventures of masked crime fighter Denny Colt appearing in newspapers and comic books across the United States, Yantz explains. “By the time of his death, (Eisner) was recognized internationally as one of the giants in the field of sequential art, a term he coined,” says Yantz. “In a career that spanned nearly 70 years and eight decades, from the dawn of the comic book to the advent of digital comics, he truly was the ‘Orson Welles of comics’ and the ‘father of the Graphic Novel.’ He broke new ground in the development of visual narrative and the language of comics.

“Eisner’s influence in the way he produced artwork in comic strips and how it advanced into comics is still seen today,” Yantz continues. “Although there were other fedora-wearing detectives like ‘Dick Tracy’ and ‘The Spirit,’ before ‘The Shadow,’ many artists worked for Eisner in his studio, including his high school friend and ‘Batman’ co-creator Bob Kane,’’ says Yantz.” While it is almost impossible to identify any one text as the original graphic novel, many hold Eisner’s “A Contract with God,” and “Other Tenement Stories” (1978) to be the most important early examples of the graphic novel in the United States.”

Both books “made clear the demand for more sophisticated comics, and the result was something of a boom in so-called adult comics in the mid to late 1980s, which was centered around three works: Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” (1986), Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” (1986–87), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus” (1980–86) by Art Spiegelman,” Yantz explains.

Whether they are named Spiderman, Batman or “The Spirit,” Yantz believes comics are here to stay. “Being someone who grew up reading comics, I certainly feel that comics will always be around in one form or another,” says Yantz. “Some prefer reading comic paperbacks while others are getting more into the digital comics. The characters and heroes that were established in comics have spurred so many other forms of media like movies, cartoons, toys and fan fiction that I feel we all can find a one that is our favorite and fans will keep these heroes going for a very long time.”


March 2 — Will Eisner Comic Fest

Noon-5 p.m. The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, 2021 E 71st St. Free.


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