AN EMPIRE OF ONE

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Will Eisner, The Spirit, and Me

The Spirit Archives

In 2008 Frank Miller appeared at the San Diego Comic-Con to promote his upcoming film version of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. One of the things he addressed was the need to cast someone like Samuel Jackson as The Octopus.

As he says in the clip above (at about the 26 seconds mark), Eisner depicted The Octopus, who is a recurring character in the Spirit, only as two purple gloved hands.

Miller said that while it was ok never to show more than this of The Octopus in a seven page Spirit story, it would not work for a feature film.

Many years before Miller solved the problem of how to depict The Octopus by dismissing Eisner’s solution, I had hoped to film The Spirit. I even wrote to Will Eisner. Here’s his response:

Of course, I was excited that he expressed interest, but after I sent him a copy of the “script,” this was his reply:

Of course, after getting the “script,” Mr. Eisner no doubt realized he was dealing with a kid who did not even know how to write a coherent script. I was disappointed, but I continued to work on the project.

Here’s how I represented the big fight sequence between The Spirit and The Octopus without showing The Octopus:

That is, my solution to the problem of how to show The Spirit fighting The Octopus was to represent the fight using stop-motion animated tops from the game called Battling Tops.

By the way, this was not the “script” that I sent to Eisner, but a psuedo-storyboard version which I did a few years later. This later version is a lot clearer and easier to follow than what I sent Mr. Eisner. Here’s a passage from an earlier version that is closer to the version that I sent to Eisner:

Confusing, eh? The passage that begins, “On floor of gym,” represents the smuggling operation of a gang of jewel thieves. I used my closet full of toys to create a Rube Goldberg inspired sequence. (I used the Rube Goldberg inspired Mousetrap game in another scene.) Here are some of the wannabe props from the scene:

It’s a sign of Mr. Eisner’s graciousness that even after seeing this script, which could not have been anything other than headache-inducing, he replied as courteously as he did.

For what it’s worth, this was the idea: The Spirit is a comic book character who wants to be real, Pinocchio-like. However, although The Spirit initially thinks he has become real, having “escaped” from the 2D world of the comic book page to the real 3D world, he slowly discovers that he is in a film, which, as Rudoph Arnheim said, is neither 2D nor 3D, but somewhere in-between. (I wanted to begin the film with this quote.)

Although I never made a film using Eisner’s characters, my idea eventually morphed into a film that I made in film school called “Shadows on the Wall.” Unfortunately, by the time the film was finished, The Last Action Hero had been made and my film was seen by some as being “inspired” by it. A few years later, while walking through the main hall of San Diego Comic-Con, I was startled to see Will Eisner at the Kitchen Sink Press booth signing books. I bought a second copy of one of his books, he signed it, and while shaking his hand all I could say was, “Thank you.”

Postscript

Shadows on the Wall did not include a Rube Goldberg-type sequence, but another project I worked on, The Tears of a Clown, did. Here is the scene from the script in which a book is printed by a group of clowns that operate a machine constructed using Rube Goldberg principles:

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Written by David Kilmer

February 4, 2010 at 5:44 pm