Wednesday, October 27, 2021

"Will Eisner's Spirit Casebook Of True Haunted Houses And Ghosts"

We had a different edition of this spooktacular ghost book by Will Eisner around the house when I was growing up. It was the one with the creepy one-eyed pirate on the cover. It disappeared during one of our many moves. Then I rediscovered it in a dusty box in the cellar while cleaning out the Wallingford house in the early 2010s. It had been victimized by mildew and mice and wasn't salvageable, but its rediscovery reminded me of the chills it had given me when I was kid, so I eventually tracked down another copy...

  • Title: It's complicated. This copy states "Will Eisner's Spirit Casebook 1" and "True Haunted Houses & Ghosts" on the cover. On the title page, we get "The Spirit's Casebook of True Haunted Houses & Ghosts," with an ampersand. On the spine, it's "The Spirit's Casebook of True Haunted Houses and Ghosts," without the ampersand. I am gritting my teeth a little bit.
  • Additional cover text: "Documented case histories assembled for your fright and enjoyment by the great crimefighter."
  • Author & illustrator: The great Will Eisner (1917-2005)
  • Cover illustrator: It states "Will Eisner 76" in the corner.
  • Publisher: Tempo Books, a division of Grosset & Dunlap. Further, the copyright page states that it was produced by Poor House Press of White Plains, New York. That was Eisner's personal company, according to one of the prefaces in the 2017 W.W. Norton & Company edition of Eisner's A Contract with God: And Other Tenement Stories.
  • Year: 1976
  • Pages: 160
  • Format: Paperback
  • Cover price: $1.25
  • Content: 22 short, heavily-illustrated stories. Chapter titles include Good Ghost of Llanwellyn, Visitor at Lawford's Gate, The Ghost of Inmate 23, Admiral Tryon's Ghost, The Barbados Ghost, Ghost Cavalry of La Bassee, The Ghost of Johnny Daniel, The Curse of Cornstalk, The Ghost at 226 5th Ave., The Handless Ghost and The Trip of Mrs. Wilmot.
  • Introduction (written by The Spirit): "For a long time I have collected a file of occult and unexplained events. In this book I have assembled the most interesting of the cases in which ghostly visitations and hauntings have been documented by some respected source. Occult happenings thrive on the outer perimeters of science so in the final analysis, the truth lies in your acceptance of the evidence..."
  • Goodreads rating: 4.29 stars (out of 5)
  • Amazon rating: 4.8 stars (out of 5)
  • Eisner's own assessment: According to a quote I cannot confirm elsewhere from Wildwood Cemetery: The Spirit Database, Eisner described the book as: "an attempt to treat The Spirit in a more conventional format and an effort to find a place for a 'comics' character in the paperback medium. It was a failed effort."
  • Final notes: Despite Eisner's fame, this book remains a little-discussed oddity and rarity. There's a thread on the "Vault Of Evil: Brit Horror Pulp Plus!" message board, but little other online discussion that I could find. ... There's a 2017 tweet from a Will Eisner exhibit that featured pages from the book. ... And in a tweet last month, artist @empire_of_dust_ noted that this book "was published by Tempo Books two years BEFORE 'A Contract With God'. I believe it could be added to the list of books that helped shape the 'graphic novel' format before use of the term blew up in the 1980s." ... For me, the book definitely made an impact when I first came across it in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Eisner didn't soften the scares, and some of his horrifying illustrations burned themselves into my brain, likely remaining there as nightmare fuel during the many years before my rediscovery of the book. Here are some of those illustrations... 

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