Many people in the comics industry have the word ‘legend’ attached to their names, but very few actually deserve it. Steve Ditko is certainly one of the names that DOES deserve it! He had an innovative drawing style that cemented the look for popular comic character like Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and gave us some wacky DC characters like Hawk and Dove, Shade the Changing Man and that’s not to mention his Charlton Comics output such as Captain Atom and The Question, of which the super heroic archetypes were used by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons when creation the groundbreaking Watchmen maxi series.
Ditko’s style though was really in tune with the macabre and the weird, so in the late sixties, after leaving Marvel Comics due to creative differences with Spider-man scripter Stan Lee, Ditko teamed up with Archie Goodwin at Warren Publishing, where he illustrated 16 tales for the horror comic magazines Creepy and Eerie. Even though the mighty Warren no longer exists, Dark Horse comics have managed to collect an amazing hardcover book with all these stories bound within.
And they are spectacular!
Whereas his previous comic work was strictly pencils and inks, the black and white magazine format really gave him an opportunity to expand his artwork in different ways, and a lot of this work is done in delicate ink washes which give his images a sense of depth not really seen previously.
The stories appeared in Creepy from issues 9 to 16 (the last one being the only story not written by Goodwin and instead penned by Clark Dimond and Terry Bisson) and Eerie issues 3 to 10, and mainly consist of horror stories of the Twilight Zone type, with a twist ‘shock’ ending. Those that weren’t horror though were fantasy tales in the form of Conan type warriors fighting magicians and the monsters held in their thrall.
The book itself opens with a foreword by Mark Evanier, writer of the book Kirby: King of Comics, who expands on what I stated about Ditko above, but really breaks down what made his art so special and unique. Men like Ditko and Jim Steranko and the mighty Jack Kirby weren’t forced to draw in a ‘company manner’ like those of today ( look at DC’s New 52: everyone is trying to draw like Jim Lee!) and individual styles were really embraced by the comics community.
Dark Horse has REaLLY outdone themselves with the book’s presentation as well. It’s an extraordinarily classy black square-bound book with a coloured piece of Ditko’s interior art, from the story Second Chance, which shows a typical Ditko character ‘trapped in an alternate universe being threatened by hordes of demons in a forest of human flesh and webbing’. Otherwise known as your average run-of-The-mill limbo stuff.
What particularly impressed me though in the presentation was the design of Dark Horse’s masthead for the book. You would assume that a book with this title would have the word ‘Creepy’ prominent, but instead it’s the artist name made to stand out!
Horror comics fans NEED this in their collection! It’s such a wonderful example of the work Ditko would do when he was really allowed to be let loose, and Creepy, being a magazine, wasn’t held down by the Comics Code Authority! It’s also a great time capsule of the type of horror comics we’re doing at the time, and of Archie Godwin’s skill in weaving masterful tales of the macabre.