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.


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