Artist-Director Seeks the Spirit of 'The Spirit'

THIS weekend in San Diego at Comic-Con International, the nation's biggest comic convention, the industry grants its highest achievers Eisner Awards, the Oscars of the field. Yet few outside fandom have any idea who the honor is named after. The task of enlightening them has fallen to Frank Miller, a superstar comic writer-artist now making a film adaptation of the Spirit, the best-known creation of the cartoonist Will Eisner.



It's a fitting match. Mr. Miller, 51, viewed Eisner as a mentor in the many years they knew each other (Eisner died in 2005 at 87), though their long relationship was certainly fraught with arguments across aesthetic and generational lines.


The film -- starring Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and an unknown, Gabriel Macht, in the title role -- follows the Spirit, a droll, dashing, graveyard-dwelling ex-cop who fights evildoers. It embodies the comic's urban, shadow-drenched aesthetic, which deeply influenced Mr. Miller's visual sensibility.


He and Eisner shared a pronounced independent streak as well. Eisner "would never countenance self-pity in anyone, including himself," Mr. Miller said. Nor does Mr. Miller, despite the pressures he is facing. For his first time alone behind the cameras he is commanding a budget in the $50 million range and a feature aimed at a Christmas opening. And while his hero occupies a hallowed place in comics history, he is far from a household name.


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