Posts Tagged ‘Steve Ditko’
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
“Hello, this is Chris Ware, listen, I’m stuck in a Charlton comic… no, LISTEN, I am trapped inside a late 1960s Charlton comic book, ’67, ’68… the same way it happens every time! Every fucking time! It is absolute hell in here, the paper quality is garbage, the coloring is off-register… no, no I’m subsisting on onion gum and trick black soap. Yes, I’ve built mighty astronaut muscles in double quick time, can we just… Steve Ditko. D-I-T-K-O, I think it’s a superhero thing, everybody’s talking about ethics. Look, you’ve gotta hurry, I – I think I’m a self-portrait. Wha- yes, I’ll hold, thank you.” (more…)
Labels: Chris Ware, Steve Ditko, This Week in Comics
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Here we see Steve Ditko in as close to a conciliatory mood as his solo work tends to get. It’s part of a Heads strip from the 1985 comic Charlton Action: Featuring Static #11, an all-Ditko special facilitated in the twilight of the Charlton press with editor Robin Snyder. As part of its introduction to the Ditko Series, “a view of art, man, and life, a look at values, conflicts, right and wrong, and justice,” the artist’s Heads — at least as prominent to me as his hands, because what is the Avenging World if not wrinkled with the sweat and agony of compromised individual principles? — seems content at the moment to merely suggest possibilities, with the idealistic middle head, though closest to Ditko’s own disposition, given a kind of daffy eyes-to-heaven grin. Nonetheless, the rest of the issue proves an adequate guide to the artist’s preferences. (more…)
Labels: Robin Snyder, Steve Ditko, This Week in Comics
by Jeet Heer
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Over the last few years, there’s been a tremendous upsurge of interest in Steve Ditko’s legacy, thanks in no small part to the various books written and/or edited by Blake Bell and Craig Yoe. This is all to the good: Ditko is, to my mind at least, one of the four or five most imaginative and path breaking visual artists ever to work in the commercial comic book field (the others, for what it’s worth, are Kirby, Kurtzman, and Toth). What tends to get forgotten, though, is the fact that Ditko, unlike the other masters, is still alive and in fact very busy.
Steve Ditko is 83 years old. In the last year he’s produced at least 150 pages of new comics (published by Robin Synder in the series A Ditko Act). By any reasonable measure, this venerable cartoonist much more prolific than many artists 60 years his junior. It’s unfortunate that late-period Ditko tends to be ignored by all but the most hard-core fans. Of course, Ditko himself is partially to blame, since these latest stories follow in the trajectory of his Mr. A work in being both forbiddingly didactic and shorn of any reader-friendly cordiality. As befits a man of his ideological purity, Ditko demands to be taken on his own terms. And increasingly, Ditko’s visual vocabulary has an abstract and hermetic quality that makes it look like an alien script, one without a Rosetta Stone to help us decipher it. Ditko’s dialogue is also unique: more and more it has a telegraphic quality whereby information is conveyed in short phrasal bursts that don’t resemble anything close to human speech.
The most interesting thing about late-period Ditko how relentlessly stylized it is, achieving a level of cartooning abstraction almost worthy of Sterrett or Rege. To be sure, Ditko has long had a covert passion for abstraction — think of the weird backgrounds in his Doctor Strange stories. But late-period Ditko takes this tendency to a radical extreme. Artists late in life, Irving Howe once suggested, have a tendency to give up all that they no longer need, to offer up art that is unshorn and pure and blunt. I’m not sure if that is generally true but Ditko would make a good case study.
I’m not the writer to do justice to late-period Ditko — it requires someone more steeped in his career and the history of mainstream comics than I am. But I will say that I hope some smart critic – Matt Seneca comes to mind, or my formidable blog-mate Jog – will look at this stuff and try to explain it. It’s too interesting to remain the terra incognito of comics. I have a hunch at in the future there will be a general rediscovery of late-period Ditko, just as there has been an upward reappraisal of late-period Kirby.
Labels: Pay Attention, Steve Ditko
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Evan Dorkin made an interesting comment about how when the Love and Rockets Sketchbook came out in the late ‘80s it was a minor bombshell. And it was. He also goes on to talk about major releases by some big name cartoonists which were basically noticed in passing by folks within comics. He said that he feels as if Wilson and The Book of Genesis garnered more mainstream press than discussion within comics circles. Let’s go to the videotape! (more…)
Saturday, October 23, 2010
IF 6 WAS 9Let’s look at 9-panel grids in North American comics. When I think of the 9-panel grid I invariably see Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man page layouts in my mind. Then I see Watchmen. Both stuck to 9-panel grids for the most part. And I think the center panel – the panel that doesn’t exist in a 6-panel grid – is where some of the power comes from in these works.
If I flip randomly to a page of Watchmen and let my eyes scan the page, usually I look straight at the center – and often that center panel is representative of the whole page. It’s like an anchor. Also, the artist (Dave Gibbons) never gives up the center of the page when he uses a different layout. Never! He never has a center tier that has a vertical gutter in the direct center of the page. I really think this is part of Watchmen‘s visual power. When I flip through the book, my eyes just go from center of page to center of page and I feel more enveloped by the story and by the world created. (more…)
Labels: Chester Brown, Dave Gibbons, David Mazzucchelli, layouts, Spider-Man, Steve Ditko, Watchmen
by Jeet Heer
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Autodidacts. I often think William Blake is the prototype for many modern cartoonists. Blake was a working class visionary who taught himself Greek and Hebrew, an autodidact who created his own cosmology which went against the grain of the dominant Newtonian/Lockean worldview of his epoch. The world of comics has had many such ad hoc theorists and degree-less philosophers: Burne Hogarth, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, Lynda Barry, Howard Chaykin, Chester Brown, Dave Sim, Alan Moore. These are all freelance scholars who are willing to challenge expert opinion with elaborately developed alternative ideas. The results of their theorizing are mixed. On the plus side: you can learn more about art history by listening to Gary Panter and Art Spiegelman talk than from reading a shelf-full of academic books; Robert Crumb’s Genesis deserves to be seen not just as an important work of art but also a significant commentary on the Bible; Lynda Barry’s ideas about creativity strike me as not just true but also profound and life-enhancing. On the negative side: Dave Sim’s forays into gender analysis have not, um, ah, been, um, very fruitful; and while Neal Adams drew a wicked cool Batman, I’m not willing to give credence to his theories of an expanding earth if it means rejecting the mainstream physics of the last few centuries. Sorry Neal!
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Nothing in this comics world is more compulsively readable than random Steve Ditko comics, and here’s a recent favorite: The Big Man, from the 1986 Renegade Press release Murder #1. Simplicity in action – an anxious toymaker gets back at his nasty business partners by building a super-costume that transforms him into an enormous guy at will. Then he crushes his enemies with enormity. “An envious mind, maybe a tiny mind with a big hate. A victimized mind seeking redress, etc. etc. etc.” muses a detective, whose function is mostly philosophical elaboration; the villain dies in a costume malfunction. So basically it’s The Incredibles, if The Incredibles was 115 minutes of Syndrome handing out critical beatings.
Murder was one of frequent Ditko cohort Robin Snyder’s anthology projects with Renegade, loosely arranged under the banner of Robin Snyder’s Revolver, as in ‘revolving’ artists and themes, although only the first six issues were numbered under the Revolver title – then came three issues of Ditko’s World: Static, an issue of Ernie Colon’s Manimal, three issues of Murder and a reprint-heavy Revolver Annual subtitled Frisky Frolics. Ditko showed up in almost every issue, as well as various artists and writers associated with the Warren magazines, which had folded a few years prior in 1983; indeed, some of the content is reprinted from Warren publications, while it’s possible the assorted Bill DuBay and Jim Stenstrum pieces (scripts?) were intended for Warren during their time with the publisher. To your left you’ll see Jim Stenstrum’s Tales of the Siberian Snowtroopers #1 (Revolver #6, reprinted in Annual #1), drawn by future Image co-founder Erik Larsen, who otherwise contributed a few illustrations to the extended Revolver project. If the story wasn’t intended for Warren, this would mark the only original, non-Warren comics work by Stenstrum, a specialist in keen violence and sarcastic heroism of the sort that would eventually spark a pre-Image comics revolution in America, the ’80s British Invasion fed by a growing 2000 AD and Warrior, as I’ve indicated in this space before. Here, it seems several time periods exist at once, although I wouldn’t call Stenstrum ‘ahead-of-his-time’ in the ’70s – internationally he was perfectly of his time, while many American genre comics hung a few steps back.
But now, onto the sequels, collections and follow-ups you dare not miss:
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I posted it on my back issue blog. Check it out!
Labels: Charlton Comics, Steve Ditko
by Jeet Heer
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Further to Dan’s excellent post on Wally Wood, one way to think about Wood’s career is to realize that he followed a pattern common to commercial comic book artists of his era. Think of Kirby, Ditko, Kane, and Eisner (and maybe also John Stanley). All these cartoonists started off as journeymen artists, had a mid-life crisis which made them try do more artistically ambitious work, but ended up being thwarted either by the limits of their talent or the constraints of marketplace.
Jack Kirby had his midlife crisis in the late 1960s. He already had a formidable body of work, arguably the best adventure cartooning ever done in the comic book form, running from the explosive patriotic bombast of the early Captain America to the mind-stretching cosmic adventures of the Fantastic Four and Thor. But by the late 1960s he was tired of playing second fiddle that blowhardy glory-hound Stan Lee. So Kirby made is big break for DC and became the auteur behind the hugely ambitious Fourth World series. I’m very fond of the Fourth World series, and even enjoy the aspect of them that is most often mocked, Kirby’s peculiar writing style, which to my ears at least has a kind of vatic poetry. Be that as it may, DC comics wasn’t willing to give the series the support they deserved and the books were canceled mid-storyline, leaving us with the fragments of a promising epic. Kirby would go on doing fascinating work, but he never really got over the sting of losing the Fourth World. None of his subsequent work had the same crazy ambition as the Fourth World.