Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why I Like Steve Ditko

It's only fitting that one of my first posts discusses Steve Ditko, whose work I've admired since I was a child. I was trying to recall my earliest memories of his art, and what made it connect with me on such a visceral level at a very young age. An image came to mind: a panel in Amazing Spider-Man focusing on a band of criminals fleeing. I observed how the folds of clothing on their pants moved in a realistic manner;there was a sense of bone and sinew beneath the clothing. This was not just simple lines on paper; there was an innate understanding that the person drawing these pictures invested in depicting life in a very real way, despite the fantastic elements.

Amazing Spider-Man # 19, Dec 1964
Ditko's work comes from a cartoonists background;much like many of the artists he admired (Will Eisner, Jerry Robinson, Mort Meskin) Ditko had the ability to delineate figures, forms, clothing, settings and people with a knowledge of the real world. Ditko studied how folds of clothing flowed, he understood the workings of the human hand, muscle structure and how the body moves. Like Alex Toth, Ditko was able to simplify. He knew what to include and what to eliminate. 

                                               Amazing Spider-Man # 15, August 1964. 

Ditko brought a sense of realism to characters by not turning them into superhuman powerhouses (not that there's anything wrong with that - but more on Jack Kirby in future posts). Another early memory is the cover to Amazing Spider-Man # 15, which draws the reader into the situation masterfully. Spider-Man is in the foreground, struggling to escape a net he is trapped in as Kraven the Hunter approaches. The park setting is established by trees and a city landscape peeks out in the background. Unlike DC characters, who often faced absurd situations or gimmicks on their covers, Ditko placed Spider-Man in a dangerous situation that was not too far out. You can easily place yourself in Spider-Man's predicament and wonder how you would escape.

Rarely did a hero get a beating like this. Spider-Man's rouges gallery of villains, including the Scorpion were dangerous; Ditko made this clear by Spider-Man's body language and with little touches such as the torn costume. It also pointed to something important - doing the right thing had consequences. Amazing Spider-Man # 20, January 1965.  

Ditko's heroes were flesh and blood. They could get bruised and beaten (but not bleed, due to the  confines of the Comics Code) and often had to use their mind to outwit opponents. Ditko thought out his plots and situations in ways that his peers didn't often do. This is one of the reasons you can go back to these stories and appreciate them over and over.

                                        Amazing Spider-Man # 17, October 1964

Another aspect of Ditko's art that immediately appealed to me was his use of humor. Through facial expressions and body language - in particular the use of hands as a tool to depict emotions - Ditko crafted personalities that many could relate to. Like the best storytellers in the field Ditko was a versatile artist who created a familiar world amidst fantasy trappings. Whether it was Peter Parker frantically attempting to avoid a blind date, or engulfed in troubles far beyond his years, Ditko added a dimension to his work that heightened the drama considerably.     

Ditko is an original. Unique, offbeat, compelling. Now in his 80s, he continues to draw comics. There are those who chose to denigrate the man on a personal level, criticizing his choices and wanting to invade his personal space. I've read too many articles, blogs and essays filled with distortions, inaccuracies and outright lies about the man which have nothing to do with constructive discussions about his work. I intend to pursue a more positive direction here.

Ditko's final panel to the Dr. Strange story in Strange Tales # 134, July 1965, is an excellent example of the artists skill at composition. The reader's eye is directed to the solitary figure of the hero walking the dark, stormy streets of Manhattan. As an individual, much like his characters, Ditko has always followed his own path.  

More on Ditko soon....

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Beginning!

I've finally decided to take the plunge and start a blog of my own. My initial idea, as some may have guessed from the title, is to discuss the world of comics, not only 1960s Marvel Comics (and other periods), but other companies and creators as well. I will look into the obscure, the forgotten, and the unusal. Since my interests are varied, I'm sure I'll diverge from time to time, and topics beyond comics, such as movies, books, Televsion, Animation, etc, will be shared. 

I'm currently working on an introduction to the Tales to Astonish Masterworks, which will include the contents of TTA #'s 31-34 and all the non-hero filler stories. I'm thriled to get this assignment, and have been holed up for the past week or so, researching, reading and revising. It's coming into shape after about 8 drafts, although I may feel differently after I look it over again.   
I suspect this blog will evolve over time as I feel my way around. I hope what I write will be of interest and provide some worthwhile discussion. I welcome comments and love hearing divergent opinions; it makes life interesting and I might even learn something.