Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Number 1809: Ditko mood, 1957

A story I read about Steve Ditko is that no matter how much he was paid for a job, he always did his best. That is pretty well proven by the kinds of art jobs he did for Charlton, notoriously one of the lowest paying publishers. These two tales, from Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #4 (1957), are good examples.

Unlike the horror comics of just a couple of years earlier, these stories depend on mood rather than violence. Ditko’s ability to draw exotic settings helps considerably in conveying that mood of mystery.

The art is better than the stories. At the time I bought Charlton Comics for stories like these, and more-or-less passed over other titles in their line. Ditko’s work was what I wanted. I was well prepared for Ditko when he brought Spider-Man to life. I had followed him at Charlton during his time drawing Captain Atom and Gorgo, along with the sheer volume of his mystery comics work for both Charlton and Stan Lee.


J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

I like Ditko, a very peculiar artist.
I was never a fan of Spiderman (any Spiderman), but I loved Doctor Strange and Ditko's "visionary" mood.
Nevertheless, I have a feeling that his art in the 60's was somehow, sometimes, less accurate than in these earlier works, a little bashed out, so to speak. Just a little. Here the details are nice and neat, very clearly defined, and he did the inks, too.

Daniel [] said...

Ouch! Indeed, the writing is very weak on these stories.

I found Ditko's Doctor Strange to be extremely effective. But I was somewhere in the range of seven to ten years old when I read those very bleak stories, and came away from each unhappy. So I wouldn't join J.D. by saying that I loved the work. (I don't think that the visuals were well handled after Ditko left Strange, until Brunner started drawing it. Some have insisted to me that Brunner merely aped Ditko well.) I'm a bit baffled that an artist who so whole-hearted took to Randian Objectivism could-and-would repeatedly illustrate stores with a metaphysics so at odds with that philosophy.

I'm not sure what to make of the variability in Ditko's precision. For example, the work on Mr A seems cruder to me than the rest, and yet I would presume that Mr A were nearest to Ditko's heart.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure I've ever had to contradict one of your statements before, Pappy, and I hate to do it now. But there is ample evidence that Ditko did not always do his best on a comics art job. I have the book Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko by Blake Bell, and it includes a few pages about SD's mainstream comics work during the 80s, when (according to Bell) he was "working at the lowest possible level to make ends meet, in order to subsidize the creation of his serious personal work." Ditko's habit on titles like Rom, Spaceknight was to do light pencil work, sometimes only breakdowns that left his pages looking like coloring books or the thin, shadeless linework of a bargain-basement independent comic. A number of well-regarded inkers turned down the opportunity to work over him because it was just too much of a chore to finish his stuff. Al Williamson actually froze at the prospect until his officemate, Mike Manley, fleshed out Ditko's pencils and helped Williamson do the inking. But then you look at SD's own right-wing, Objectivist stuff from the same period, which he inked himself, and it's as good as anything else he ever did, despite the fact that it wasn't very commercial.

The two pieces in today's post are really good, especially the first one. The dark, moody stuff was always Ditko's forte, and it gave him ample opportunity to play with composition. I actually much prefer his Dr. Strange to his Spider-Man because the former fits his style better than any of the regular superhero material. But, of course, these two stories are superior work because Ditko was still young and not nearly as cynical as he would become in the next decade.

Pappy said...

Ryan, I haven't read Bell's book, but I trust you are reporting accurately. Blake Bell is someone whose opinion I trust. In retrospect I should I have qualified my statement by saying I remembered reading someone else's opinion that Ditko "never did less than his best." That is a pretty far-reaching claim, and excludes times when he might have had financial problems or been ill, or any other number of reasons. It is the type of hyperbole I try to beware of, but in this case it sounded correct, and formed my opinion of Ditko's attitude toward his craft.

I was not a fan of Ditko after the sixties, although I didn't dislike his later work. I just thought he had peaked sometime in that decade.

Pappy said...

Daniel, I know little to nothing about Ayn Rand, so I can't judge Ditko's work by him adopting her philosophy. (I also don't understand why people find things to believe in certain religions, which I owe to my skeptical nature.)

I was not interested in Mr. A. The character first appeared in the sixties, and I didn't like him. As I told Ryan I believe Ditko peaked in the sixties, and the original stories of Mr. A I have in fanzines like Wallace Wood's Witzend look like his other work of that decade.

As for why he would illustrate stories that went against his philosophy, the answer is a paycheck.

Daniel [] said...

I'm not a fan of Mr A (nor, really, of Ditko's work more generally), but I find those stories and the others written by Ditko to express his philosophy interesting none-the-less. (One has to conceptualize one-dimensionally, like a Christian who sees all others as Satantists, to see Ditko as right-wing!)

And pay-checks certainly motivated Ditko, but it's implicit in Randian Objectivism that art is not to be prostituted. (That is a major theme of The Fountainhead, the novel through which Rand first became culturally significant).