Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 21: Out Of This World #4
Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is a story from Out Of This World #4, which was published by Charlton and is cover dated June 1957. This is a Steve Ditko story collected in Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archives volume 2, which was published by Fantagraphics. Enjoy!
The comics from the 1950s are often hard to peg down, credit-wise, especially because some artists used aliases. This comic may have been written by Ditko, but I can’t confirm that. Let’s just say “the writer” and leave it at that.
As usual, we see the big difference between older comics and modern comics – verbiage. This story is only six pages long, and the writer has to introduce a lot of stuff, so there’s no time to waste! The silent third panel is almost ridiculously indulgent by the standards of the time, in fact. And, of course, we get a lot! of! exclamation! points!
Ditko used this page layout a lot at this time – the book is full of first pages that are laid out this way. The big first panel stretching across the entire page, then the two smaller panels, pyramid-like, underneath it. It’s an easy way to show a mini-splash of something impressive and then quickly get the reader into the story – the giant spaceship in the first panel shows that the aliens are indomitable, and then Ditko flashes back to when it was first observed. This was a common layout for the simple reason that it works.
You’ll note a couple of things on this page. The spaceship is freakishly insectoid, subtly scaring the crap out of the reader because of almost every land creature on this planet, insects inspire the most dread. Based on when the comic was drawn, perhaps there’s a hint of racism in the ship, as it appears vaguely Asian, playing on Americans’ fear of the Chinese? I’m not willing to go quite that far – the insect imagery seems much more plausible – but I certainly wouldn’t put it past Ditko. Meanwhile, the panel is nice and balanced, with lasers from both sides of the ship and lasers from both sides of the smaller craft that has emerged from its belly. Plus, that foremost ship is tilted the opposite way than the mothership is, balancing things even more. In the second panel, Ditko aims Douglas’s telescope toward the third panel, leading us right there, and in the third panel, the small ship that leaves the mothership heads toward the edge of the page, encouraging us to turn it. It’s an easy thing to do, but it’s certainly nice that artists are aware of it.
The people in the second panel are standard 1950s science fiction people – basically, white Americans with fancy clothes on. I love the dude in the background with the wraparound shades – this story must take place in the 1980s! – and Douglas’s headgear makes us realize that the Image guys in the 1990s were not responsible for everything wrong today with superhero costume designs, as that headgear looks positively Liefeldian. Damn you, Ditko!!!!!
So that’s a 1950s page by one of the greatest comic book artists ever to put pen to paper. Will we see more 1950s comics? Who knows!
Next: About as far away from this comic as you can get, time-wise and even style-wise. We’ll see it soon! In the meantime, here are the archives if you want to waste some precious minutes!