ROM #64


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I can’t stop thinking about this comic book! I can’t sleep! It’s driving me crazy!

For starters it’s Ditko inked by P. Craig Russell and it’s Rom…! Ditko’s my guy. I think he’s up there with the greatest comic-book storytellers, right next to Carl Barks, Osamu Tezuka, Jack Kirby, and Gilbert Hernandez, and like those guys he has an idiosyncratic, functional line, especially when he ink’s himself. So it’s weird to have the fucking opera-comics-guy P. Craig Russell inking Ditko. Russell’s sharp, mechanical ink-work does very little for Ditko’s acting; the best faces are either at a remove and minimal, or just on the verge of Russell over powering Ditko’s worried, angry expressions. But! Russell’s precise draftsmanship does wonders for Ditko’s layouts! illuminating the “frozen music” of his single pages and spreads. I’ve been living with this page for days…

It’s ridiculous how intuitive the contour lines shape the reading composition of this page. And just about every page of this comic book is equally stunning with innovative and exciting techniques, all respectfully appropriate for the story, and virtually never to be seen again in what we’ve accepted as the American comic book. Blackest Night indeed. Rom #64 is the alternate path never taken: a wormhole to an alternative reality where a person doesn’t have to wade through shit and mire and deceit to find such pure light, a reality where shitty movies are adapted into awesome comic books and more people are occupied by Steve Ditko’s genius (I mean that!) and a quality color job (shout out to Petra Scotese!) rather than Tobey Maguire’s abs.


I’m compelled to assume that Ditko and co. weren’t aware what pages would be presented as spreads and what pages would be faced by ads, but because these are consecutive pages I’m equally compelled to assume they knew exactly what they’re doing. This spread in particular reminds me of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan.


ROM™ Vol. 1, No. 64, March, 1985
ROM™ copyright ©1984 Parker Brother
Story Title: Worldmerge!
Story: Bill Mantlo
Art: Steve Ditko & P. Craig Russell
Letters: Janice Chiang
Colors: Petra Scotese
Editor: Mike Carlin
Prime Dork: Jim Shooter

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18 Responses to “ROM #64”
  1. Andrei says:

    The entirety of Ditko's Rom run is actually amazing. My favorite issue is probably the first one he drew, #59 I think.

    Remember the couple of pages of Ditko I reproduced in the intro to Abstract Comics? This one could have been used to make the same point. He's really the point of contact between superhero comics and abstraction.

  2. ULAND says:

    How so, Andrei? I think those pages are great, but the particular claim you're making seems sort of unfalsifiable; we can see, with the help of Jasons' highlights, pleasing abstractions that seem composed , yet somehow intuitive. So, maybe they're redolent of certain kinds of stylized abstraction that we're familiar with, but couldn't we take a random mainstream comics page and give it similar treatment that would reveal a composition that is just as "abstract"?
    Couldn't it be argued that Ditko's (intuitive?) layouts in fact guide the readers eye in such a way as to better tell a narrative— to, in effect, make the experience more "real"? If so, I'd have a hard time associating such a thing with abstraction.

  3. Benjamin Marra says:

    Awesome post, Frank. To add to your observations, check out how the placement of the caption boxes and balloons of lettering on the page accent those contours lines you've pointed out, subtly suggesting the natural sequence the reader is meant to take them in. Well done, Janice Chiang.

  4. Frank Santoro says:

    Now, why would one assume that I wrote this post?
    I mean really….me?

    It's Jason's post.

  5. Benjamin Marra says:

    Hah! My apologies to Jason (and Frank)! My mistake.

    Great post, JASON.

  6. Jason T. Miles says:

    Definitely channeling my inner Frank.

    Chain of Influence for this post:

    1. Donald Ault's essay on Carl Barks from Comic Art #4
    2. Frank wrote a post awhile back that I can't find right now but it was about The Golden Ratio and I think Tom Kacynski's work and it led me to…
    3. Rhythmic Form in Art by Irma Richter
    4. Secret Knowledge by David Hockney
    5. Marvelous Coma

  7. Jason T. Miles says:

    ULAND wrote:

    "Couldn't it be argued that Ditko's (intuitive?) layouts in fact guide the readers eye in such a way as to better tell a narrative—"

    This was my intention.

  8. Rob Clough says:

    I still have all my Ditko/Russell Rom issues. Jason is right-on that Russell's inks give the pages a precision that was missing from whatever hack would spill ink over Ditko's pages otherwise. Russell specifically asked for this assignment because he knew it would be his one chance to work with Ditko.

    As for the stories in the Ditko end run, there's an over-the-top nature to them that one normally didn't see in a superhero story. Bill Mantlo was the king of over-writing and melodrama, but he really went so far over the edge in this series as to create something not normally seen in mainstream comics.

  9. Alan says:

    How's Ditko's micronauts stuff? I remember thinking they were pretty good when I was a kid (but didn't realize it was Ditko or even know who he was)

  10. James Langdell says:

    That final year or two of ROM was a memorable batch of comics. Aside from the virtues of the artwork, the storytelling was able to reach an ending to the main conflict driving the series — and then have several more issues of resolution you didn't expect to be there to care about. I recall there being other inkers who rose effectively to the chance to work with Ditko's ROM pages, but Russell's collaboration was excellent.

  11. Tom Scioli says:

    Great post. Having just discovered Micronauts this year, the Ditko Annual was the first thing I tried, and it made me want to check out the rest of the series. I quickly became a Micronauts fan for life. Ditko only did the two annuals, the first one is probably Ditko's best sci-fi anthology, which is saying a lot. The second annual is a good example of a classic Marvel-style story…lots of fun.

    I'd read a couple of Ditko's ROM issues before, but Micronauts made me go get more of them. They're great. They're a lot more interesting than the Buscema issues. The story up to this point was an ongoing cosmic war epic. But the story of the aftermath, cleaning up the pieces, going home, is so much more interesting. It's a long denouement. It shouldn't be good, but it is. What do you do when your life's big adventure is over?

  12. Rob Clough says:

    Rom was indeed the rare series that ended but had a real ending. And it dealt directly with the idea of you can't go home again (again, in a really melodramatic way), but the denoument of the series was remarkably downbeat for a Marvel comic.

    The Ditko Micronauts annuals didn't look as good, but they had their moments. The first 12 issues of Micronauts were drawn by Michael Golden and they remain some of the best-looking mainstream comics I've ever seen.

    Howard Chaykin (!) took over for Golden, but those comics looked pretty hacked-out to my eyes.

    Mantlo was writing everything for Marvel in those days. He had the long Micronauts and Rom runs, a long Iron Man run, a very long Hulk run, a few issues of the Avengers, an ill-advised run on Howard the Duck (back when it was turned into a B&W magazine), Spectacular Spider-Man (I think), etc.

  13. John Platt says:

    Ditko really just did breakdowns on these issues, not fully pencils. PCR talks about it in the new "Art of Ditko" book. The breakdowns were just squares and circles and triangles — Russell executed the finished art based on those very rough guidelines. Which makes the final product even more interesting, in my mind.

  14. Jason T. Miles says:

    That's interesting to hear John, and would explain the the razor sharp contour lines and detailed foliage. Thanks!

  15. Andrei says:

    PCR is seriously exaggerating, or misremembering. Blake Bell's Ditko bio reproduced on pp. 150 and 151 two examples of Ditko's pencils on ROM, versus the final inked versions. One of them is from ROM 69, inked by PCR. You can see there that, though there is no shading, the linework is detailed and finished, quite close to the final inked page.

  16. Chris K says:

    Russell mentions in his Comics Journal interview how the face of a background character in ROM was barely sketched in by Ditko, and how he went and swiped an actual Ditko face circa 1966 to fill it in, so that it would look consistent. I've always wanted to dig out the comic and try to find it; now I think I will!
    –Chris K

  17. Chris K says:

    Re: Chaykin's Micronauts, that 1979-or so period was odd for Chaykin; at that point he was putting most of his labor into the various Byron Preiss graphic novels, but still needed to freelance to make ends meet. By his own admission, I think, he hacked most of the Marvel/ DC stuff out at that time. It seems like he only did basic layouts, while the inkers did the heavy lifting; the Micronauts stuff just looks like Al Milgrom; the World of Krypton miniseries just looks like Murphy Anderson…

  18. Frank Santoro says:

    Everyone should go check out the abstract comics blog for more on this post.

    Good comments like: "…criticism of your criticism much like you provided criticism of Jason Miles criticism."

    I'm being totally sincere. I liked this post a lot from Jason and find it interesting that certain topics get the conversations going – however strange they become.

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