thrift store finds: the spirit’s casebook of true haunted houses & ghosts

(Thrift Store Finds is a mostly-weekly “column” of sorts where I discuss some of the cool books I’ve happened upon in my neighborhood St. Vincent DePaul store. Please don’t mistake me for an expert on any of the books I am writing about… I’m just a fan of a bargain.)

With Halloween but two days away, I thought it would be a good time to look at a creepy paperback I came across recently.

The Spirit’s Casebook of True Haunted Houses & Ghosts by Will Eisner. Published by Tempo Books in1976. I picked this up for fifty cents.

A legend in comics, Eisner literally wrote the book on graphic and sequential art. He was an innovator of the highest degree; even the footnotes to his career, as this book surely is, display more care and craft than 90% of the comics published in the last fifty years. Eisner’s come up in Thrift Store Finds before, when I looked at Bringing Up Your Parents.

Eisner is known for many things, but chief among them is his noir/superhero creation The Spirit. A blue suited crimefighter, Eisner penned hundreds of Spirit stories over the course of his career in a unique arrangement wherein Eisner owned the rights to the character, rather than signing them over to a publishing company as the creators of Superman or Spider-Man had. The copyright info of this book proudly states Eisner owns the copyright to his own character and that the material was produced by his own Poor House Press.

The Spirit was barely a superhero and more a two-fisted detective who, in a nod to early editorial demands, wore a domino mask to better fit in with the spandex crowd. Eisner would produce Spirit stories his entire life, filled with danger and intrigue as Denny Colt (The Spirit’s alter ego) fights crime and pursues justice. The book we’re looking at today does not fit that mold.

In True Haunted Houses & Ghosts, The Spirit acts as a narrator instead of a participant in this collection of the macabre. I suppose it’s important to note that this is NOT a comic, but rather a collection of several short stories supported by illustrations. Eisner remains Eisner and the art is gorgeous. I’ve never been much of a student of Eisner, but of late I’ve come to appreciate his amazing commitment to expression. No two characters in his stories ever look alike. They all have distinct, personality-filled faces.

So yeah, the artwork in this book is more than up to the high standards I expect from Eisner. When I last encountered his work in mass market paperbacks, I was impressed at how most of Eisner’s artwork was clearly created for the format, taking advantage of the longer, thinner pages of a small paperback. That factor is clearly on display here- longer drawings like this would only have been created FOR this format, rather than crammed in some way.

As you can see above, Eisner doesn’t shy away from the grossness. I also love how gory Eisner gets in some of these stories. The level of gore might not be permissable if the stories included here were original creations… but seeing as Eisner is simply adapting already-exisiting tales, it’s interesting what he can get away with. Case in point, this image from the story The Handless Ghost of Castle Rait, used with minimal gore on the cover. The whiteness of her dress and the blackness of the inks REALLY bring out the grossness of the handless ghost in the interior:

While this paperback is far more sumptuously illustrated than the last Eisner book I reviewed a few months ago, I must mention a big problem I had while reading True Haunted Houses & Ghosts. As I said, this collection features a popular comic character, and he does speak in word balloons… but this is emphatically not a comic. It’s a prose book with illustrations. Unfortunately, the narrative captions on some of these stories are sometimes intrusive and unnecessary. Take a look at this page:

NONE of those captions need to be there. The page would work without them because the illustrations show us what is happening… and in fact, might have better served the horror of the tales. Over-explaining hurts the story. It’s almost as if some of these pieces WANT to be comics, but are contractually obligated to masquerade as prose pieces.

Despite that problem, this remains an interesting piece of Spirit arcana. From all I can gather, it is the ONLY “Spirit Casebook” paperback ever made.  Further, although most of the collections of Eisner’s Spirit work are crazily complete, the Casebook has not been reprinted with any of the newer Spirit Archives project DC Comics has been undergoing. This makes True Haunted Houses & Ghosts something of an oddity… but an oddity worth checking out.

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