The Art of Ditko (Anglais) Relié – 22 décembre 2009
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On aura tout intérêt à compléter le menu par Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives 1, où Blake Bell compile les débuts de l'artiste, dans un autre épais volume d'histoires d'horreur pré-censure, d'un esprit et d'un dessin souvent très noirs.
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Editor/writer Yoe, himself a celebrated graphic designer and art director, has compiled some thirty comic-book stories drawn by Steve Ditko, best known as the cartoonist who co-created Spider-Man with Stan Lee. Yoe has selected the most colorful and imaginative stories from Ditko's runs at Charlton Comics and Atlas comics during the late 1950's and early 60's, and presented them with a great deal of care and impeccable production values.
These are short, suspenseful fantasy stories from comics like "Tales of the Mysterious Traveler," "Strange Suspense Stories," and "Unusual Tales." Wild and brilliantly drawn, many of these stories have a light-hearted touch that makes them all the more fun. Individual pages of important work done for other publishers are included, such as a sumptuous ink-and-wash sequence he did for Warren Publishing's Eerie Comics, and the first page from the first Spider-Man adventure. Ditko's art has never looked better.
I also don't see any problem with the quality of the reproductions and color here -- this is a familiar concern with comics reprints: do you maintain the look of the original comics or re-do the color to match contemporary standards? I'm for the former in most cases. I have some of the original comics these stories come from, and believe me, these look both accurate and even clearer and brighter next to the originals. And as I've said, for these cases, the larger size really helps to reveal their strong points. The reviewer who says the original colors pop doesn't have the cheaply produced Charlton comics I have, apparently!
Ignore the petty complaints! This is clearly a labor of love (there's a nice intro by Craig Yoe that confirms this). Any serious comics fan and/or historian must have this volume -- it fills a gap in readily available Ditko material, and is a joy to hold and look at.
Despite that little labeling gaffe, the book does present us with nearly 200 pages of rare Ditko short stories culled from the pages of various Charlton Comics titles from the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Charlton was a low-paying publisher whose books were notoriously poorly printed, but they gave Ditko and some of their other creators great artistic freedom, and the results, collected here, can be pretty astounding.
A word of warning: As I said, Charlton comics were not well-printed, and the stories in this book are scanned directly from the published comic books, not the original artwork. As a result, the lines break down, the colors bleed, and the text is often muddy. But the stories are more than readable, and the scans capture the physical product of the comics of the day nicely. Just don't expect crisp and clear reproduction or modern coloring.
Almost all of the stories here (few of which are credited to the original authors) fall into the 4-8 page "twist ending" horror/SF genre that was so popular back then. Unfortunately, the stories themselves rarely live up to the artwork and just as rarely give Ditko the chance to shine through the entire tale. Most of these "surprises" can be seen coming from the very first panel, but they do have their charm and style, if few actual teeth. (Remember that these were published at a time when most comics were neutered by the Comics Code Authority, which forbid stories to feature sex, violence, crime, or anything of substance.)
Let's take the first story in The Art of Ditko as an example. "A World of His Own" was first published in Strange Suspense Stories #32 in 1957. The story features an old man who buys a fascinating painting only to find that it opens to another world full of bizarre imagery and potential wealth. Ditko's artwork for the first three pages of this story don't accomplish much; in fact, it's fairly pedestrian. But the fourth and fifth pages, set behind the doorway of the magic painting, show Ditko at his amazing best: bizarre angles, surreal landscapes, imaginative use of lines and shadows, and abstract faces full of emotion. It's an astonishing sequence, weakened only by the illogical "twist" ending on page six.
"Who's There?", a story from The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #38 (1967) is another beast entirely. The twist only occurs in the last panel, and it's a gentle one. The point of the story is the intense personal trauma undergone by the main character, and Ditko crams the pages with emotional shots of a man falling apart from fear and nightmares. Joe Gill is credited as the writer, and he gave Ditko a story that played to his strengths at every level.
The next two stories--"Impossible, But..." from This Magazine Is Haunted #16 (1958) and "The Heart of Jeremy Mith" from Doctor Graves #31 (1972)--show off Ditko's incredible layouts. Eschewing the regular six-panel grid used by so many comics of the day, Ditko mixes things up. "Impossible" features panels of multiple sizes, presenting the story from the point of view of the protagonist, the antagonist (a TV set), and the ghostly character that hosted the magazine. "Heart" is subtly weirder. The tale is presented as "from the files of Doctor Graves" (again, the host of the magazine), and every panel is shaped like a tabbed manila folder that came from a filing cabinet. Ditko really lets loose on the final two pages as the story gets more and more emotional, piling panel on top of panel to illustrate the chaos of the situation. (It's too bad the writing in neither of these stories lives up to the artwork.)
"Routine," from Doctor Graves #7 (1968), shows off artwork that would have been at home in any issue of Doctor Strange from the same period. Ditko presents a hallucinatory world full of surreal transformations and unearthly landscapes. Sure, the story doesn't live up to it, but you can stare at these pages for hours.
One of Ditko's most famous panels shows up as the opening page of "The Time Machine," from Charlton Premier #4 (1968). The art depicts a time capsule catapulting through time, with at least eight different eras glimpsed through concentric circles along its path. It's an amazing drawing that sets off a story that, unfortunately, was already clichéd 10 years before it was published.
One of the most affecting stories is "Little Boy Blue" from Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #10 (1958). This tale of a jazz horn player whose music creates a magic moment is both subtle and haunting, proving that Ditko didn't need to dip into his surreal bag of tricks to tell a good story.
One story in this book is truly a revelation: "The 9th Life," from Ghostly Tales #85 (1971). In this story, obviously written by an uncredited Ditko, a man who is dissatisfied with the modern world travels back in time to what he thinks will be a simpler, kinder place. He finds the exact opposite, and further trips through time show him even worse. Every element of this story, from the situations to the dialogue to the picture of the scales of justice hidden between panels, shows this to be a true prototype of the underground work--especially the Randian "black is black" hero, Mr. A--which Ditko would begin to produce this same year.
The rest of the stories are a mixed bag, but there's at least something interesting in each of them.
Several pieces of Ditko's original art are scattered throughout this book, photographed in a loving way that shows off every bit of yellowed paper, crusty correction fluid, and stroke of the brush. There are also a number of essays by a few people who kind of-sort of knew or worked with Ditko, but they don't offer any real insight into the man or his work.
And I guess that is appropriate. Ditko doesn't talk about his work, doesn't grant interviews, and doesn't allow himself to be photographed. He prefers to let the work speak for itself, and that is what The Art of Ditko does. You can read these stories, revel at the artwork, and come to your own conclusions about the man who produced them and his place in comics history.
Maybe that was Yoe's intention. But I still think the book was misnamed.
-- John R. Platt
Ditko's art is surprisingly good here, especially considering how far below the radar these comics were. In some ways, this material is superior to Ditko's comics at Marvel. Given the lack of editorial oversight at Charlton, Ditko experiments with the form using wild page layouts and unrestricted imagination. His style shifts and evolves as he explores new ways to tell stories in the comics medium. No two are alike.
Although the book is mostly full-color reprints of the best of his Charlton output, the comic covers and original art reproductions add to the visual delights. I also enjoyed the essays by other comics professionals. It's particularly nice to read what Stan Lee has to say about Steve Ditko.
To anyone who says "print is dead" I offer this book as a rebuttal. Unlike digital books or recorded books, this book is a physical object that is a piece of art in itself. The handsome, sturdy binding, custom endpapers and gorgeous printing make it a prime example of the bookbinder's art. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a book like this selling for $60 or $75. With Amazon's 34% off, it's a steal. The cover alone is worth the price!
Before writing a review of Craig Yoe's upcoming volume, THE ART OF DITKO, I should--in the interest of full disclosure--remind one and all that I am a member of I.T.C.H., Yoe's International Team of Cartoon Historians and, in fact, in future volumes from IDW's YoeBooks imprint, I'm actually listed as a "Media Associate" to Yoe Studios. I did NOT, however, have anything to do with THE ART OF DITKO.
That said, it's good! A nicely designed hardcover book with an amazing and unique self-portrait of the rarely seen artist on its cover, THE ART OF DITKO intersperses high quality full color scans from Charlton Comics of the 1950's, '60's and '70's with single page covers and original artwork, Being from Charlton comics, these scans are naturally better quality printing (on MUCH better paper!) than any of the originals ever were!
Content-wise, it's Ditko. If you are a fan, here's some good and little seen art spanning more than two decades. While the stories themselves often fall short, there's no denying the power of most of the art here. Although not printed sequentially, it's interesting to note the artist's rapid development as he led up to his arguable peak on SPIDER-MAN in the early '60's. You see his stock bits like floating eyes, dripping water and the DR STRANGE-style other dimensions but in the early strips you can also see the strong influence of fellow artists such as Joe Kubert, Mort Meskin and Alex Toth.
Others contributing brief essays are John Romita, P. Craig Russell and Jerry Robinson, all of whom give a little more insight into the artist and his work. Perhaps the best insights, though, come from Yoe himself whose anecdotal reminiscences of actually meeting and hiring the man come off as both amusing and telling.
With Ditko and his famously hardcore Objectivist values becoming more prominent on the Internet in recent years in a series of essays and more and more books and websites celebrating more than five decades of work from this singular comics creator, it is a grand time for fans old and new. If you're NOT yet a fan, this book may not be the one that will convert you but if you ARE a fan, it will be a necessary and most enjoyable addition to your library.