With Further Ado #042: The Spirit …of Creativity and Entrepreneurialism

Will Eisner was an astonishingly creative guy who was also quite the entrepreneur. All these years later, another very creative person with a strong entrepreneurial streak is combining these two strengths, with a dash of Einser thrown in. I was very excited to catch up with Chris Irving on his latest project:

Ed Catto: This new Spirit project sounds fascinating. Can you tell me about it?

Christopher Irving: Denis Kitchen and I have been talking about comics, comics history, and trading cards for a while, and it just seemed natural for me to create a set of cards on Will Eisner’s classic The Spirit. Truthfully: I’ve been jonesing to do a set on Denny Colt and company for a while, and am grateful to Carl and Nancy Gropper of the Eisner Estate, as well as Denis, for giving me this chance.

Also, this is a chance to work with Denis, who has long been one of my heroes as a publisher, creator, and advocate for comics. Funny thing is I was once going to intern for Kitchen Sink Press, but they then closed shop. In a way, this is my chance at finally getting to that internship.

The card set is fully funded, so far, for 50 cards and a tuck box; the stretch goals we’ve met include putting the character cards on old school vintage chipback (like the trading cards of yore!) and, hopefully by the time this sees print, a high quality thick card stock for the splash page cards. I think the real kicker with this set, and the reason I really want fans of Will’s work to know about the campaign, is there will be no backstock. 

In short: I won’t have packs for sale after the campaign and the only chance to get them is to pledge by May 17th.

[check it out here RIGHT NOW!  -Adriane

EC: Have you always been a Spirit and/or a Will Eisner Fan?

CI: I loved “The Spirit in Damascus” in the copy of The Great Comic Book Heroes my father gave me when I was a kid (that book’s the reason I got into comics history), but truly fell in love with Denny Colt through black and white Kitchen Sink reprints picked up in college. I got the chance to talk to Will Eisner when I was starting out as a journalist/historian and he was a true gem. I was also very lucky to get to know him a bit at a time through other interviews or bumping into him and Anne at conventions.

Will was always available, and generous with his time and wisdom–Let’s say I became an enormous fan of Will Eisner personally when I was starting out and, after reading more and more of his work, am a ginormous fan of his comics. Where The Spirit is cinema in comics, many of his graphic novels read like theater. Needless to say, all eras of his work gets taught in my classes.

EC: Was it hard to pick your favorite images for this set?

CI: To say the least: YES! Not only did I have difficulty pinning down the characters I wanted to spotlight, but also the stories. Then, Stacey Kitchen would send me these breathtaking images of rare and original Will work that I couldn’t turn down. It became really, really difficult to pin down 50 images, and I could easily do another set or two after this one.

EC: What is your favorite Spirit Splash Page? 

CI: Geez, you’re really asking the tough ones, Ed. The truth is: I can’t decide. I love “Fox at Bay”, but the noir aspect of the first Sand Saref is probably my favorite.

You know, “School for Girls” has to be one of my absolute favorite splash/comic images of all time: the way Will used the cutaway of the house to frame the action, while also revealing the character’s motives, was genius. That’s another that gets taught in my classes regularly.

EC: Who is your favorite Spirit Femme Fatale?

CI: P’Gell has my heart. Completely. I’d have to say Silk Satin is a very close second, maybe even neck-in-neck.

But what I love about P’Gell is the relationship she and The Spirit have, where there’s no sense of unrequited love (like with Silk or Sand), but an absolute cock-eyed respect for one another.

EC: Crowdfunding seems tough these days. Is that your experience? What are some of the challenges a project like this faces, Chris?  

CI: I haven’t had very many problems in the 28 campaigns I’ve run. I’ve also been really lucky that I’ve gotten the chance to work on properties like Madman, Incredible Change-Bots, Amazing Heroes, Captain Action, and Eagle Force that have a dedicated fanbase–some larger than others, but backers who keep coming back for more. Doing a recurring series (like my Four Color comic book history cards) usually brings a consistent number of backers. I also have a very dedicated group of Eagle Force fans who have stuck with me through six pulp novellas featuring my character Lee Fine. So, I guess the things I learned are:

-Set your goals reasonably low with a base level, and build it from there. It also increases backer involvement.

-Create projects that build off one another. I usually see a decrease in backers when I try something totally different (though my illustrated Dracula with Bizhan Khodabandeh was a runaway first book success)

-Create a cushion in your funding, because you will always need a few extra bucks for supplies or to ship

-Make consistently good stuff and people will remember that. Also, appreciate and embrace your relationship with backers.

As for challenges, much of it has been getting the word out. I cut myself from Facebook for the past year for mental health reasons, as well as Twitter. I’ve jumped back on for this campaign and it has helped greatly. Getting heard in the buzz and noise created by all of these other cool projects can be tough, so leaning on any opportunity to get the word out is key.

EC: I understand you are teaching too? What are your subjects?

CI:  Yes! I teach media and comic book history at my alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, in the Communication Arts department. I work with an accomplished faculty, amazing students, and am part of an evolving and groundbreaking art program.

Last semester, I taught Star Wars Decoded, where we experienced the film and media that led to and inspired Star Wars: A New Hope. It was really a class on George Lucas as a director and artist, ultimately. That was a blast, especially since I got to pick the brain of my department chair, TyRuben Ellingson, who worked at LucasFilm before going to contribute to designs on Hellboy (he designed the Samaritan gun, amongst other things), to Pacific Rim, and also working with James Cameron on Avatar.

I’m teaching Comic Book History for the third time next Fall, Vampires in Film this summer as an online class for the Art History department, and just wrapped teaching a class on Superman and Batman in film and media. Oh, and I also took over the requisite History of Visual Communication course from an amazing colleague: I have 125 students and they all teach me something each class.

Great Eisner aside from Vis Comm: I teach storytelling with “Gerhard Schnobble” and “Master Race,” which entails me reading the stories to them while projected. When I came to the end of Gerhard, the entire class gasped at (SPOILER), Gerhard falling to his death and were stunned that this 70 year old story could have THAT effect.

EC:  Wow – that’s great, Professor. What is on the horizon next for you?

CI:  Conversations: Larry Hama is coming out any day now from University of Mississippi, I continue to raise my son Grayson (now almost two!) to be the best Boy Wonder possible, gearing up for the fall semester…

There are plans for me to do a card set based off an indy toy line (more on that soon), but overall, I’m trying to catch my breath this semester and focus on being a professor. It has been a long time since I had a big comics history book project, and I’m still trying to figure out what that one should be.

Oh, and I really want to create a toyline/media project by the time my son is old enough to really play with action figures.

EC: And…do you have an opinion on the Avengers movie?

CI: Why, yes, I loved Endgame very much!

EC: Thanks so much, old buddy!