The PopCult Bookshelf
Today we’re going to look at two recent high-quality collections of great work by the legendary Steve Ditko, but first I’ve got to let my readers know that this man, who created or co-created Spider-man, Dr. Strange, The Creeper, The Question, Hawk and Dove, Mr. A and other classic comic book characters is still producing quality work well into his eighties.
I’ve got a few of his self-published works, but I need to catch up with his most recent releases, which include essays by Ditko about his philosophies on creating and credit. Ditko is notoriously reluctant to do interviews, so this is the best way to get his take on things undiluted by the opinions and agendas of others. It’s also a way of making sure that the artist gets paid. Some collections of his work use his name to sell books, but don’t pay Ditko a dime.
His most recently-release self-published work is a new edition of “Laszlo’s Hammer.” Here’s what the Steve Ditko Comics Weblog has to say about it…
“The title feature of course is the 27-page comic format essay from 1992 (as revised in 2002, to correct the spelling of “Laszlo” from “Lazlo”) on the opposing topics of creation and destruction, starting with the example of Laszlo Toth’s 1972 damage to Michelangelo’s The Pieta using the same type of tool Michelangelo used to create the sculpture. Ditko explores the issue in a variety of ways, from the allegorical to the abstract to the concrete (including some amusing scenes on the creation and “editing” of comic books). It’s one of the crucial texts in Ditko’s independent work.”
Before we jump into our reviews of his old works, you need to know that you can order more recent and brand-new work by Steve Ditko, and with these books being self-published, all the profits go to Ditko and he retains the rights to his work. You can keep up with what he’s doing at this blog, and order books right here.
Now, onto the books…
This hefty hardound volume is a companion to Ditko Monsters GORGO!, which I reviewed in March, and it’s also quite an additon to the Ditko Monsters Library. While KONGA is based on a movie that I never found even remotely watchable, the comic book is quite a lot of fun. At times in the early stories, it almost has an Incredible Hulk as a monkey vibe to it.
Yoe’s introduction gives plenty of background on how the movie came to be. It was a licensed updating of King Kong with lots of fifties-era sci-fi elements thrown in to make it more appealing to “the teens.” The comic book was designed as part of the marketing campaign, but outlived the run of the movie in theaters.
The comics are gorgeous. It’s Ditko near his prime, with some of these stories drawn around the same time as the earliest Spider-man stories. The storytelling is top-flight and Ditko’s style shines through.
The stories, by Joe Gill, put the giant ape (a super-evolved chimp, actually) up against Nazis, aliens, poachers and dinosaurs, among other adversaries, and they also have elements of romance and comic relief. They are certainly charming.
The book itself is an impressive package, with over 300 pages devoted to Ditko’s dance with the big ape. Yoe has produced his usual excellent and well-research introduction. The paper is bright, matte white and, like the GORGO collection, this book has a clever UPC code.
Ditko Monsters KONGA! is a great addition to the library of any Ditko fan, and is also great for fans of adventure or “monster” movies or comics.
If you are a fan of Steve Ditko, this book is a must-have. Creepy Presents Steve Ditko collects all of Ditko’s work for Warren Publishing. When Ditko walked away from Marvel Comics, his first stop was Warren, where, for Creepy and Eerie, he produced some of the finest art of his career.
Excited to be working with Archie Goodwin, one of the best writer/editors in the history of comics, and eager to experiment with new art techniques and styles while working in black and white for the first time, Ditko produced a striking and diverse collection of beatifully-illustrated stories in a very short time.
While working at Warren, Ditko used different methods of producing his art. much of it was done with a grayscale “wash,” while other stories use markers, zip-a-tone, conte crayon or elaborate cross-hatching that, according to Mark Evanier’s introduction, Ditko referred to as “tickling the boards.”
An example of this is the story “Collector’s Edition,” which is just stunning to look at. Ditko’s art takes on an almost engraved look in this tale of an obsessed book collector in search of an occult tome.
Ditko’s “wash” work is the stuff of legend. He employs it on several Sword and Sorcery tales in this collection. This is all work done years before the comic book revival of Robert E. Howard’s Conan.
The stories, all but one written by Goodwin, are high-quality horror or fantasy shorts, in the vein of the classic EC horror stories, but a tad more sophisticated. Goodwin and Ditko pack more story into seven or eight pages than most of today’s comic books have in a two-year arc.
There’s only 120 or so pages of comics here, but it’s all of such high quality that nobody should mind. This is the pinnacle of Ditko’s most experimental art. My take is that he was freed from what he felt was an exploitive working relationship with Stan Lee and was clearly enjoying his collaboration with a writer/editor for whom he had a great deal of respect in Goodwin.
Creepy Presents Steve Ditko is a pretty indespensible collection for any fan of Ditko or comic art in general.