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Year of the Artist, Day 7: Steve Ditko, Part 2 – Strange Suspense Stories #32

10-12-2013 04;59;48PM (2)

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Ditko, and the story is “A World of His Own” from Strange Suspense Stories #32, which was published by Charlton and has a cover date of May 1957. These scans are from Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archives volume 2, my copy of which was published in 2010 by Fantagraphics. Enjoy!

“A World of His Own” is pretty typical of a lot of these Ditko stories from the 1950s – short, punchy, with a Twilight Zone twist at the end. This was probably written by Joe Gill, so it’s his deal, but in this story, a girl stumbles into a different dimension through a painting and brings back a huge diamond, and her father discovers that she’s actually telling the truth. His greedy chauffeur goes into the painting to get his own jewels, but the father decides to cover the painting with a layer of black paint, sealing the chauffeur inside. Plus, the jewels turn to dust in our dimension after a few days. D’OH!

I want to show just two pages from this story (it’s only six pages long), but they’re the ones on which Hendrix, the chauffeur, heads into the other dimension. Ditko, of course, would become famous for drawing weird alternate dimensions when he worked on Doctor Strange, and we see some of that nascent experimentation on these pages. Here they are:

10-12-2013 04;59;48PM

10-12-2013 05;01;14PM

These are two good-looking pages. In the other dimension, Ditko inks a bit more heavily so that when he erases the holding lines, the characters still look tangible but altered, and it works very well. In Panel 6 on Page 1, Hendrix is lit so that he looks far more sinister than he really is – he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, just go get some jewels, but the lighting makes him look totally evil. His yellow eyes match the yellow of the other dimension, implying he’s already left this world and its silly laws behind. When the father (Mark Harris) is in the other world, it stays colored yellow, but once Hendrix enters, it becomes gray and drab, which both shows that Hendrix’s lack of imagination – all he wants is to steal things – is infecting the place and that Mark Harris is blacking out the entrance, as we see in Panel 7 of Page 2. This also allows Hendrix’s yellow eyes to be highlighted as he moves in the dimension. Notice, too, how maniacal Hendrix is in Panel 3 of Page 2, as he clutches the jewels and thinks about his new wealth. The heavy inking of his eyebrows and his thick mustache really helps the look, because without that his face would lack definition. The inks make him look far more sinister. Ditko adds some odd baubles to the other dimension, culminating in the Moebius strip oval in the final panel, which seems to cut through Hendrix as he realizes the door is gone.

This is a very cool two-page sequence, as Ditko quickly shows a man turning from amazement – note Hendrix’s face in Panel 2 of Page 1, as he sees Mark Harris enter the painting – to plotting to base greed. Obviously, we know it’s happening because the script tells us, but Ditko’s artwork sells it. It’s also some nice experimentation with his artwork, which Ditko was always doing. He’d get even better as he moved forward.

Next: Some more experimentation in Ditko’s 1950s comics! So much fun! And, of course, there are the archives!

12 Comments

Glomming over those two pages made me wonder if Grant Morrison took some inspiration from them for his “Painting that Ate Paris” storyline in the Doom Patrol. Phil Hendrix looks like he could be the twin brother of Morden, the former member of the Brotherhood of Evil before his tranformation into Mr. Nobody.

James Elliot Singer

January 7, 2014 at 6:22 pm

More proof that Ditko was the right guy for Doctor Strange.

From what i’ve read about charlton,their rates were the lowest in the industry,but,they acepted the vast majority of work handed in to them,with very little alteration.Something that was worth more to Ditko then the page rates

Ditko is the best

Ditto is pretty awesome. Nobody does weird and unsettling like him.

I wonder how Fanta does the color reconstruction for these. They’re about a million times better than the Masterworks (this panel is BLUE!!! now this one is RED!!!!!). It’ll never happen, but I’d love it if Fanta could get their hands on Doctor Strange and Spider-Man.

Cass: Yeah, it would be nice if Marvel did the same good job as Fantagraphics does. I think the paper has something to do with it, too – Marvel uses the glossy paper, while Fantagraphics uses thicker, hardier stock.

These are some cool pages Greg, thanks for sharing.

tom fitzpatrick

January 8, 2014 at 7:21 pm

I always had a soft spot for Ditko’s SHADE the CHANGING MAN, and The STALKER.

god, I’m SOOOOO old!!!! and SOOOOO depressed! ;-)

Daniel: No problem, sir. They are pretty cool, aren’t they?

tom: Well, wait a few months, and both will probably show up!

Those are excellent pages. And again, such a surprise to me – I never knew there was stuff this good out in the 1950s. I must’ve really bought into the myth of the Silver Age being when comics really developed and got good.

I absolutely love the effect of the world beyond the painting. The use of the tools of the medium is great.

Hi Greg,
Today I was searching the ‘net for a horror anthology comic story that had something to do with the final scene being these men, possibly soldiers, in their tents at night, sleeping while giant mosquitos were sucking their blood through their necks and keeping the men asleep by fanning their wings. I first came across this story around 1980, but it had to have been either a reprint of 50’s horror, or maybe something from the 70’s. At any rate, I couldn’t find it after searching long and hard.

However, I did come across another horror story that I remember reading somewhere – also around the same time (it was my mom’s boyfriend’s 16 year old son that had these comics, with me being age 10). This one had to do with ants: http://thenostalgialeague.com/cr/von-mohl-vs-the-ants.html

Imagine my surprise to find out that it was illustrated by Steve Ditko! I was so surprised I had to come back to this early section on Ditko and post it here for you. Gives me the willies still to this day! Yes, I must be a pushover, since I thought that was a horror story but clearly it is a strange suspense story instead. :-)

And, I guess I had more Steve Ditko exposure than I first thought, though I wouldn’t have appreciated it at the time!

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