August 28, 2008

Sidebar Poll - Reprint Wishlist

For no particular reason, another poll over on the sidebar. Sure, you can get all of Ditko's 1960s Marvel super-hero stuff in multiple formats, and his Charlton Action Heroes stuff has been reprinted recently, and his 1950s stuff is well represented in various reprints from Marvel and other publishers for the public domain stuff, and quite a bit of his creator owned work is readily available.

No shortage of Ditko stuff in print, but that still leaves a lot of stuff eventually needing reprinting in a nice bookshelf friendly format. Eventually I'm sure we'll see them all, but which would you like to see sooner rather than later? Assume all collections will be complete (Shade including the unpublished #9, Creeper including the unpublished Showcase #106, Speedball including all the scattered short stories). If I somehow missed the one book you'd most like to see, yell at me in the comments.

August 22, 2008

A convention tale...

So, I'm at a comic convention, which is probably always a mistake, but anyway, I'm digging through some bargain bins, which is what I do (Ditko finds were minor, but included some of his 1980s Marvel work (some INDIANA JONES, a Speedball short), the last WORLD'S FINEST with a Creeper story I needed, a few Charltons. I was hoping for a lot more 1970s Charltons, after finding a stack of them for $1 each last year, but no dice).

Anyway, just as I find a few early issues of BADGER I need, a light shines in my face, and I glance around and see it's a TV crew. So I go back to checking which issues of BADGER I need. Well, what would you do? Then the TV guy for some unfathomable reason decides to interview me. And I'm not even dressed as a Jedi Knight! Seriously, bizarre, you few reading this who have met me know I'm sort of the exact opposite of telegenic. Anyway, I don't think I really did too well with the interview, was a bit distracted, and probably should have gone with my first instinct and just asked them to get that camera out of my face, so I doubt it'll make it to air. For the most part I rejected the premise of every question I was asked (comics as an investment, fantasy as the main appeal of comics, the Batman movie having anything to do with anything). They seemed kind of surprised by the fact that I had a list of every comic I own on an electronic device (which I geekily call Mother Box, though I didn't think to call it that on camera, which I regret), and that I have about 13,000 comics, all of which I've read or intend to read.

But the reason I'm posting this on the Ditko weblog? The reason I was distracted? Because I kept wishing I had a dog so I could re-enact this scene from the DITKO PUBLIC SERVICE PACKAGE...

I love that book, so, so much.

--Link-- A few pieces here and there

Blog Kobek sounds like a Ditko character, maybe one of the mob guys in The Mocker, but it's actually Jarett Kobek's blog, where he has some thoughts on Ditko well worth reading.

I mentioned it before, but I got a chance to sit down with the first four issues of the recently revived Ditkomania recently, and it's a really enjoyable old-school fanzine but with all the improvements that modern desktop publishing allows. The latest, #67, has some fascinating stuff on Shade that has me re-reading the series, a great article by Rodney Schroeter on fantasy and objectivism and some worthwhile contributions from Dave Sim, including a backcover of Spider-Ham (who kind of looks like Spider-Aardvark) and a very perceptive review of the new Bell/Fantagraphics book on Ditko. Go here for ordering info.

And I continue my look at some Ditko related minutiae and the conventional wisdom about it that gets under my skin over here. Second in a series, collect them all!

August 20, 2008

It Stalks the Public Domain - Range War

BLAZING WESTERN #1 [1954] was the first issue of a short-lived series from a publisher called Timor, which from some casual research seems to have some shared ownership with Gillmor and Stanmor (the company which published this and the one that appears to have bought and later sold this), Whatever the details, it has the 8-page story below, "Range War", that makes a trio of scattered early stories by Ditko in three genres, horror, romance and western. Before his first year in professional comics was up, he'd get some experience in science-fiction, crime, fantasy and even a touch of super-heroes (if you count inking backgrounds in CAPTAIN 3-D). Looks like it would take him a while to hit war comics, but he'd get there, along with some humour work. Funny animals would take a bit longer.

Anyway, westerns are another genre that Ditko isn't really associated with, although he did quite a few more of them than he did romance, mostly for Charlton, some for Marvel. As I've said before, I think it's a shame, as he does some really nice work in the genre, and a lot of the morality of his independent work would fit nicely in the traditional setting (see the end of this story).

Anyway, again a very over-written story. It features the Utah Kid and his sidekick Golden Eagle, although it's pretty clear from the lettering that it wasn't "Utah" originally. Don't know what it was, something five or six letters, from the looks of it. Don't know if this was a pre-existing character. Looks like the he continued in later issues, though not by Ditko. Anyone with an encyclopedic knowledge of third-tier comic book gunfighters out there?

And oddly, while they changed the name of the lead, they didn't change the character "Ed Begley" (and I just checked he was a pretty well established actor by then). Anyway, the story has the Kid and Eagle coming across a poisoned watering hole and getting in the middle of a conflict between cattlemen, led by Silas Black, and the sheepherders led by Ed Begley, and figuring out that there's something else under the surface driving the conflict.

A pretty good little story, Ditko's art has some really good moments, though a few other bits are overdone, and some of the staging doesn't quite work (but that might be a problem in the script, like how the jailbreak works). Printing seems pretty awful, unfortunately.

Scans adapted to my personal tastes from those found, and available for free download with registration, at the Golden Age Comics Download site. To buy Ditko comics and things on paper, go over here for ordering info on some amazing creator-owned works and over here for info on recent and upcoming releases from all publishers, good and bad.

Click to enable the embiggening.

August 17, 2008

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #13 [1986]

The last of seven issues of Marvel's Handbook series to feature a Ditko illustrated entry, this one seems be to picked at random. Toad is, of course, a very early villain of the X-Men as an underling of Magneto from the Jack Kirby comics of the 1960s. If Ditko had ever drawn him prior to this, it manages to elude me, as I don't even think he appears in the AVENGERS ANNUAL Ditko drew around that time with the rest of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Help me out here people, am I missing some major Ditko Toad action? Oh well, it's not a bad illustration, with a nice sneering face and some great Ditko hands.

The ever-versatile Josef Rubinstein handles the inking chores on this and the rest of the book.

And because this weblog prides itself on absurd completeness, you can pick up reprints of this edition of Marvel's handbook, with the Ditko artwork (maybe not with the ROM page, for rights issues. Anyone know?) in this book and this book.

Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #15 [1985]

Original material from Steve Ditko appeared in Charlton comics until 1978, and from then on it was a steady stream of reprints, usually two or more a month, for as long as Charlton was a going concern.

Then, late in the company's run, there was some new Ditko stuff printed in their pages again in 1985, only this time it was material owned by Ditko.  Two issues of CHARLTON ACTION FEATURING STATIC presented revised versions the first two chapters of Static previously published by Eclipse, along with some other new and revised Ditko stories, and after reviving the 1950s series TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER with an all reprint #14 they included a new Ditko story among the reprints in #15, which turned out to be the final issue.

The issue opens up with a reprint of the 5-page "The Desert" from TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER #4 [1957] (though with the first page edited to remove the title to make room for the indicia). A decent little story about two men trapped for months in an remote Arctic outpost until the younger man gets cabin fever and decides to brave the elements.  Nothing too special, but the giant floating head of the Traveler watching the proceedings is always interesting.

The new story follows, "Deadly Shadow", an 8-page story written and drawn by Ditko. The Traveler only appears at the beginning and end.  Clever little morality play about a down-and-out inventor who comes up with a device that turns him into a living shadow, and uses it for criminal purposes.  A series of double crosses and betrayals and hasty actions leaves him with a serious dilemma in the end.  A solid example of Ditko's work of the era, finding different ways of exploring a theme to keep it visually interesting for the length of the story.

"Mister Evriman" from TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER #4 [1957] has always been one of my favourite of these 1950s Charlton shorts.  The 6-page suspense story starts with the Traveler musing about that impact of this new-fangled "television" thing on American society, with a nice symbolic urban background dominated by antennas on every building.  A pollster doing some research finds some disturbing correlations about the negative impact of game shows, and how they're setting the world up for tyranny and destruction, until a game-show contestant named Homer Evriman shows up, who everyone sees as a reflection of themselves, setting the cosmic balance straight. Sure, it makes little sense, but it's a tale well told.

THIS MAGAZINE IS HAUNTED #16 [1958] is the source for the 4-page "The Night Was Strange", a science fiction drama narrated by Dr. Haunt, who we're supposed to believe is someone other than the Mysterious Traveler. Actually, he's slightly re-drawn and coloured here to make him seem even more like the Traveler, not that it takes a lot. This science fiction story has an astronaut returning from a two year mission on an experimental rocket, only to find himself in some totalitarian future. A nice little twist at the end improves the story somewhat, and as usual Ditko does a better job with the storytelling than the story needed.

While all-Ditko in the middle, the story opens and closes with some non-Ditko, a very strange Alex Nino cover and a Henry Boltinoff gag page that could have come right out of a 1950s DC comics.

August 14, 2008

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #11 [1986]

Ditko's lengthy run on ROM, wrapping up the series with writer Bill Mantlo and a variety of inkers, had concluded a few months before this issue of Marvel's Handbook series came out, so he appears here with the primary illustration in the space hippie form that he ended the book with (um, spoiler alert). Of course, no one would recognize that, so a proper ROM figure appears behind.

Joe Rubinstein provides the embellishing. Man, he must have been getting sick of this series by this point...

--Link-- Bissette on Ditko topics

You should be reading Steve Bissette's blog in general, especially with lots of posts about Charlton movie monster comics of the 1960s (Ditko and otherwise) in recent weeks, but in particular some recent posts are of interest.

New Ditko - Ditkomania continues

The revival of the fanzine DITKOMANIA under publisher Rob Imes continues with its fourth issue, #67, shipping this week, beating its official "quarterly" schedule by a good margin.

Larger cover preview and subscription information available here.

August 10, 2008

--Link-- The Curious Incident of the Cut Artwork

There's a very nice 1958 Ditko image of a diver in the middle of this cautionary fable I wrote that has more to do with fandom than it does with Ditko. Comments welcome.

August 9, 2008

It Stalks the Public Domain - Paper Romance

Some more lapsed copyright early Ditko.

"Paper Romance" appeared in DARING LOVE #1 [1953]. More specifically, the indicia lists September-October 1953, which makes it the earliest cover date for a comic book known to have Ditko artwork. As previously discussed, the relationship of cover dates with on-sale dates is fluid, both then and now, so I doubt it will ever be proven if this came out before BLACK MAGIC #27 [v4n3] [November-December 1953] or some other early Ditko, but for now that's what we have. And of course, who knows what order those early stories were drawn in. What little evidence there is supports the notion that this wasn't the first drawn, even if it was the first published.

I think people like me spend too much time thinking about this kind of stuff. Let's actually read the comic book story, shall we?

No wait, first let's talk about the publisher. It's listed as Gillmor Magazines (not "Gilmore" or "Gilmor" or "Gilmour", as it is sometimes cited). On the research I can do without leaving my comfortable chair, this is one of several names used by the publisher which can collectively be called either Stanmor or Key Publications. Owned by Stanley Morse, anyway, and effectively the same company which first had the Hamilton/Ditko "Stretching Things" and sold it to Farrell (and it looks like it shares some ownership with Timor, which we'll get to in a few weeks). This is the only issue of the series, the numbering (as fluid as cover dates and publisher names in that era) seems to continue with RADIANT LOVE, but there's no Ditko in there, so who cares?

Okay, the comic! While I don't know much about Gillmor, I'm going to venture a guess that they paid their writers by the word (unlike this weblog). My god is this a verbose comic. Just too much. As you'll see, it's about a small town girl who is dissatisfied with her small town boyfriend, and engages (with the boyfriend's knowledge) in a pen-pal relationship with big city boy. Not awful, as such things go, but I really wish it had either twice the pages or half the words. The artwork obviously the big reason to care, and it's not quite as distinctively Ditko as some of his other early efforts (although I'm pretty sure it's Ditko solo, as a lot of the atypical elements also appear in lesser amounts in some other early work). A few panels stand out, especially those with some silhouette effect, like the last panel of page three and the last of the story. A lot of the clothing is actually more interesting than the faces.

And interestingly, this is the cover story for the issue. Cover not by Ditko, but it is fairly well drawn, which can't be said about the other stories in this comic (and is the male face on the cover a swipe from some S&K comic? Could be).

And of course, romance stories are unusual for Ditko. This appears to be the only one he did in the 1950s, and he only did a handful for Charlton in the 1968-1978 period (five I think, and even some of those were fantasy stories with a romance element in HAUNTED LOVE). Some of those weren't discovered as Ditko until just a few years ago, and this story wasn't discovered until the 1980s, leading Ditko fans to hope that a comprehensive search of obscure romance comics will yield the ever-elusive cry of "New Ditko Find".

Scans adapted to my personal tastes from those found, and available for free download with registration, at the Golden Age Comics Download site. To buy Ditko comics and things on paper, go over here for ordering info on his exciting and essential creator-owned works and over here for info on recent and upcoming releases from all publishers.

Click and ye shall embiggen.

Sidebar poll

For a lark, and because I might want to use it for something later, poll over in the sidebar on favourite Ditko heroes. I actually messed up, and should have made it plural in the title, since you can vote for more than one, so feel free to pick a few. You can even pick them all, but that's kind of self-defeating...

The results of this poll will prove absolutely nothing. Unless Killjoy wins, in which case it will prove for all time that Killjoy is the greatest hero of them all!!!

Unrelated, except that details on how to buy comics with Killjoy are on the page, but the page on the Snyder-Ditko books in print has been updated with Robin Snyder's e-mail address, for those who had enquiries on international postage and bulk orders.

August 7, 2008

Fantasy Masterpieces #2 [1966]

This issue reprints "Those Who Lurk Below", a 6-page Ditko story from TALES OF SUSPENSE #12 [1960]. At a 19th century penal colony, one prisoner, Pierre, is singled out for especially cruel treatment by the guard Kragok. Assigned to clean up some ancient ruins in a tunnel, he finds an old book called "The Legend of the Earth Dwellers". From this book Equality learns of the Unspeakable Word. Sorry, that's not right. He finds out about an ancient race which was unable to live on the surface so retreated underground using powerful brain-operated digging chairs. Bolstered by this new hope, he keeps working, and finally finds a digger, not realizing that Kragok has planted both it and the book to give Pierre false hope that he could then crush. Imagine his surprise when the chair works, Pierre escapes to an underground utopia that Kragok is doomed to spend the rest of his life searching for.

This story, especially the page shown, is a great little showcase for the expressiveness of Ditko's faces. The feelings of hate and fear and anger and hope and surprise all come through loud and clear on all the characters. And interesting to note that his visual concept of a utopian city remains consistent through the years, as that last panel is pretty much a different angle view of the city on the cover of AVENGING WORLD [1973] (and reprinted as the cover of AVENGING WORLD [2002]).

Part of a Ditko panel from page 6 is used on the cover of this issue, and the three artists reprinted in here (Kirby, Ditko and Heck) actually all get billing on the cover with their story titles, something not too common at the time.

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #7 [1986]

Not surprisingly, having drawn ten issues of this Jack Kirby creation's solo series, Ditko was called upon to provide the illustration for Machine Man's handbook entry, with the usual Joe Rubinstein inks. Good solid illustration, although I always preferred the more freaky giant bug-eyes that Kirby designed the character with than those smaller ones in the Ditko re-design.

August 6, 2008

--Link-- Ditko's 1998 visit to DC

It doesn't fit within the maddeningly narrow unwritten parameters of this weblog, so I posted it over here, but go check out an account of Ditko visiting the DC offices in 1998.

August 5, 2008

Monsters Attack #1 [1989]

MONSTERS ATTACK was a black and white anthology comic book edited by Mort Todd and published by Globe Communications, the company that put out CRACKED. It lasted five issues and featured lots of comics by the likes of John Severin, Pat Boyette and Gray Morrow, plus some illustrated prose and articles on horror/monster movies (Romero's "Living Dead" trilogy (as it was then) in this first issue).

And of course Steve Ditko, who had a short story in every issue. This debut issue has the 6-page science fiction story "In Solid", very much a morality play in the vein of the old Marvel/Charlton work (in fact, it even has thematic echoes with the old Hamilton/Ditko "Stretching Things"). A criminal breaks into a science lab hoping to steal some notes, and ends up turning an experimental device on the scientist. This somehow makes the scientist's body absorb into the very fabric of the building, able to bring the walls or floors or machines to life. And of course, he's out for revenge.

This is a very strong story from Ditko, taking a clever visual idea and really running with it in the few pages he has. In fact, since Ditko in 3-D has been on my mind lately, I was briefly thinking how perfect this would have been as a back-up in SUBSTANCE a few years later, and then I realized that Ditko captured the 3-D look here without any need for special effects and glasses.

The scripting is also really good, capturing in very few words both the fear and confusion of the criminal and the anger and thirst for revenge of the scientist. If this had been in those old Marvel or Charlton comics of the 1950s, I think it would be considered one of the highlights of that era.

I hope at some point we see a collection of the various short pieces like this that Ditko owns the rights to (along with a collection of Mr. A). There's some good stuff in there that hasn't been widely seen.

August 3, 2008

It Stalks the Public Domain - Stretching Things

I was tempted to call this feature Ditko Public Domain Package, modified logo and all but that felt wrong somehow...

And apologies to Batton Lash, from whom I just realized I stole the name I did use.

Anyway, since a few dozen publishers are getting in on the act, I figured this site might as well feature some lapsed copyright classics.

"Stretching Things" was written by Bruce Hamilton and drawn by Steve Ditko and first appeared in FANTASTIC FEARS #5 [1954], published by Four Star Publications (comic book company names being fluid back then, this was one of the names to appear in the indicia of publisher Robert Farrell's comics, which are commonly referred to as Ajax-Farrell). Bruce Hamilton later explained that he had sold the script to a company called Stanmor in 1953, which was in the habit of reselling the better stories in their inventory. As far as can be determined, this is the first story Ditko drew bought by a publisher, although a few others were published prior to it (comic book cover dates in the era being as fluid as publisher names, even that can't be determined with any certainty).

It's a wonderful little story by Hamilton, with some nice twists in its quick five pages, and Ditko does an excellent job bringing it to life. Page three in particular shows a lot of the storytelling that became Ditko staples in the fantasy stories for Charlton and Marvel in the years ahead, with the contrast with the shadows and the way the litter in the wind adds a sense of movement and depth. The printing is pretty horrid, proving Charlton was hardly the bottom-of-the-barrel in those days, but the work transcends those mundane limits.

Scans adapted to my personal tastes from those found, and available for free download with registration, at the Golden Age Comics Download site. To buy Ditko comics and things on paper, go over here for ordering info on his creator-owned works and over here for info on recent and upcoming releases from all publishers.

Let me know if you like this and would like to see more of these. I've got access to at least a dozen such stories, so one every few weeks should be good if there's interest.

As the prophets said, click to embiggen.

August 2, 2008

Marvel Tales #151 [1983]

The chronological reprints of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN continue this issue, following an odd aberration the previous month where the first Annual is reprinted out of order, before the first appearances of Kraven and the villain of this piece, Mysterio. Because you can't have a double-sized issue be anything but a multiple of 50, I guess.

Anyway, this issue reprints THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #13 [1964], both the cover and the 22-page story "The Menace of Mysterio", both by Steve Ditko. The cover has more than the usual tweaking, eliminating one of the two bottom panels, extending the other, and sundry other changes. The story opens with "Spider-Man" stealing some money in one of those conveniently labelled "$" bags.  This causes the public to turn on our hero, much to the delight of publisher J. Jonah Jameson, who feels vindicated.  Peter Parker, of course, is confused, and wonders if he's developing a split-personality, given all the pressure he's under, including financial, and even goes to a psychiatrist before realizing how bad an idea that is.  A new costumed figure, Mysterio shows up to challenge Spider-Man, with the backing of JJJ. Of course, you know how that turns out, Mysterio is revealed as the fake Spider-Man, Peter gets some photos of the action in their big battle, clearing the good name of his alter-ego, making a few bucks and tweaking old JJJ.

Great little issue, especially for those who like a solid dose of Parker in their Spider-Man comics, with some good scenes of his evolving interaction with his classmates, Betty Brant and JJJ. The psychiatrist scene is pretty funny and insightful as a quick innovative take on the whole super-hero alter-ego thing. And Mysterio is yet another in an incredible string of villains introduced to torment Spider-Man.


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