Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ditkoblogging: Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives, Vol. 1

This handsome book collects over 230 pages of early work by the great Steve Ditko, specifically the comics he produced for Charlton in 1953-54. Compiled and edited by Blake Bell, who also provides an introduction, the book can be seen as a kind of companion to Bell's Ditko biography, Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko.

The stories reproduced here, originally drawn for such Charlton titles as The Thing, This Magazine is Haunted, Space Adventures, and Strange Suspense Stories, represent many different genres popular in comics at the time, including science fiction, western, and romance. Most of the stories, though, are short horror tales in the Pre-Code, EC Comics tradition. In truth, the stories themselves aren't much fun to read. Most are formulaic plots with requisite twist endings, a style of comics storytelling that has not aged well. What makes these comics great, though, is of course Steve Ditko's dynamic artwork. While he is years away at this point from developing his signature style, the dynamic figure work, thoughtful panel composition, and the frenzied, kinetic energy are all here, in service to the types of stories I have to believe Ditko would have found offensive as he developed his unique philosophical outlook later in life.

He holds nothing back here, though. While Charlton as a publisher had notoriously low standards for what they would print in their magazines, Ditko seems to be putting forth his best effort in his meticulously rendered comics, apparently doing his best to carry on the EC Comics tradition of high quality craftsmanship. While I can't say it's always a lot of fun to read a bunch of these comics in one sitting, this book is unquestionably a valuable resource for those interested in Steve Ditko's career. A second volume is forthcoming.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Nobody Does It Better

I have zero interest in reading Marvel's new Avengers comics, but I sure loved reading Brian Chippendale's review of them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


The movie to see in theaters right now is Splice, a good film utterly committed to following it's creepy premise through to it's logical conclusion and beyond. I admired the bizarre and sometimes shocking plot turns, and was delighted the story never devolved into a series of horror movie cliches. It's much better, and weirder, than the trailers would have you believe. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ditkoblogging: Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko

I'm not sure I have a whole lot to say about Blake Bell's wonderful biography Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, but I promised more Ditkoblogging, so more Ditkoblogging is what y'all are gonna get. This lovely, over sized hardcover is equal parts art book and biography, showcasing many examples of Ditko's work from various points in his career, including images both famous and obscure. Bell provides what may be the most comprehensive biography of the artist we are ever likely to get. He does a fine job explaining the pervasive influence of Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy on Ditko's life and work, and one can see how Ditko's adherence to a strict moral code makes him both one of the most fascinating artists ever to have worked in comics, and also one of the most frustrating, as he routinely refuses interview requests and has in effect alienated himself from most of the comics industry. Bell also does a great job taking a close look at Ditko's artwork and storytelling, breaking down what makes Ditko's art work so well with clear, passionate writing.

I don't know that it would be possible to get a better understanding of Ditko's work from a single volume, but, frustratingly, the man himself remains elusive. There is precious little personal information provided in this biography. No fault of Bell's, of course, due to Ditko's notorious reclusiveness. Still, one can't help but wonder after such information, particularly when, after having finished the book, the question of "Who is Steve Ditko?" remains largely unanswered. While we may come to understand how Objectivism shaped Ditko's work and professional relationships, we have little clue as to WHY Ditko was so susceptible to this philosophy taking over his life so completely. Certainly, many people have read and continue to read Ayn Rand and even find tremendous value in her ideas, without alienating themselves to the extent Ditko seems to have done. What about Ditko's personal life, almost a complete blank here? I assume he did not marry or have children. Does he have many friends? What about his relationships with his family?

Again, I want to reiterate that the absence of such information is no fault of Bell's. Indeed, it is to his credit that the compelling portrait of the artist provided here makes one so hungry to learn more about the man. As I said, though, this is likely as close to a definitive Ditko biography as we're going to get. If we cannot know Ditko himself, at least we can know his work, which is beautifully presented here. Bell obviously has a great deal of affection and admiration for his subject, as well as the skills to put together such an important book about the life and legacy of one of comics' true masters. I would think this book is a "must" for the library of any serious student of comics.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Consider this post a sort of "placeholder" to let you all know I haven't forgotten about those promised Ditko posts. I'll be out of town and away from the Internet for at least a few days, but I'll be back soon with a review of Blake Bell's Ditko biography, Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko. Until then, check out these great Ditko stories presented by my blogging betters:

Machine Man #10

"The Hammer of Thor"

(Both links via The Comics Reporter)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ditkoblogging: In Search of Steve Ditko

I'm really into Steve Ditko right now, thanks in no small part to the wonderful Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus. I'm going to be purchasing some of the other Ditko collections that have been put out recently, and hopefully blogging about them here soon. As a sort of prelude to those posts, here's a link to the first part of a very good BBC documentary, In Search of Steve Ditko, posted on YouTube. You should be able to find and watch the following six parts easily. I know it's been online for a while now, but I had forgotten about it and only just recently got around to watching it, so I thought some of you may appreciate the reminder that it's out there. Check it out, and then check back here for more "Ditkoblogging!"