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Year of the Artist, Day 191: Steve Ditko, Part 10 – Marvel Comics Presents #83

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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 “The Matchstick and the Moth” in Marvel Comics Presents #83, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated August 1991. Enjoy!

In 1991, Ditko drew a few stories in Marvel Comics Presents, and I happen to own them because some dude named Barry was writing and drawing a Wolverine story as the main feature. I don’t know whatever happened to that guy or that story …

The two earlier Ditko stories were inked by Terry Austin, which was a decent fit, but this story, which features the Human Torch going up against a few low-rent criminals and a supervillain called the Moth, who can somehow put his flame out. It’s inked by … well, I’ll just let you guess, shall I?

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I’m not sure if this is a good enough page to clue you in, but Erik Larsen inked this (he also scripted it over Ditko’s plot). Ditko and Larsen – who was born about six months after Spider-Man debuted in Amazing Fantasy – make a good team – Larsen’s exaggerated cartooning smooths out Ditko’s hard edges quite well, but it doesn’t overwhelm the Ditkovian design of the characters, as the Moth is clearly a Ditko female in the grand tradition of Ditko females. She has a tapering chin from slightly wider cheeks, a large mouth, thin eyes, and arched eye brows. She’s a fairly standard Ditko woman, but Larsen softens her just a little, rounding off her chin just a bit, giving her some lustrous hair, and giving her clothing a somewhat rougher, more lived-in feeling to make her a bit more approachable. Johnny’s face, too, is a bit more rounded and cartoony, which paradoxically doesn’t make him less realistic, but gives him a bit more humanity. Santiago Oliveras, who colored this story, does a really nice job with the shading, which also helps soften the Moth a bit.

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The criminals, of course, are going to betray the Moth, and Johnny overhears them. Once again, Larsen does a nice job blending his style with Ditko’s, as we see the Moth in Panel 2 and the criminals in Panel 3 are pretty well defined “Ditko” characters, while Johnny in Panel 6, despite his Ditko-esque attributes, is a bit more of a Larsen character. Larsen’s hatching along the cheekbone, and especially on Johnny’s nose “modernizes” him a bit (that kind of nose-hatching was very popular among the Image founders and other artists like them). We still get the angular Ditko touches, like Johnny in Panels 4 and 5, but it’s interesting to see the way Larsen tweaks the art.

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Johnny tries to stop the bad guys before the Moth gets back, but when that doesn’t work, he tells her what’s what and she, of course, doesn’t believe him. Once again, we see both the influence of Ditko and Larsen, and it makes a nice brew. Ditko’s stiff figures in Panel 1 come with the territory, but we get his nice, menacing bad guys in Panel 3, and Ditko is really good at drawing menacing bad guys. The Moth in Panel 4 is pure eeeeeevil, and it’s probably the most “Larsen” panel in the book, as the hatching around the eyes, nose, and lips really screams Erik Larsen. But the Moth’s basic shape in that panel is still Ditko, so it once again makes a strange but enticing blend. Oliveras, once again, does a good job with the shading, coloring the Moth yellow, which could be from the Torch illuminating her a bit (so it’s not too “unrealistic”) but also makes her look terrifying. It’s a well done panel.

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The Moth, of course, discovers that the other two were betraying her, so she turns against them and gets a gutful of lead for her trouble, but she also helps save Johnny when the bad guys get the drop on him, so she can go out like a hero. We get a nice little fight, with Oliveras once again providing nice, bright colors as the Torch dispenses swift justice, then the tragic fate of the Moth. Larsen’s inking is once again fairly evident, as we once again get the smudge on the nose as the Moth drifts away, while we get good shading as she sinks downward. Johnny’s flames, which hang like diamonds around his face in Panel 5, seem like a very Ditkovian touch, a relic from a bygone era when comics weren’t subtle, even though by this time, a colorist could have just added some smudges of orange and gotten the same effect. The thick blacks in Panel 6 are nice, as the panel contrasts from the bright palette and even tone of the rest of the story. Goodbye, Moth – your mysterious power will never be explained!

Ditko continues to work, but I don’t own anything he’s done recently, as he’s gone way beyond the mainstream and I wouldn’t even know how to buy his comics. I will never like Ditko as much as I’ve come to like Kirby, but there’s no denying his influence on comics history, and it’s cool that he’s still out there, plugging away.

Tomorrow I’ll start a new artist, one who is really the only artist working today who can be called the true heir to both Kirby and Ditko. He’s just the bee’s knees, I tells ya! Some of you have been clamoring for him, but your wait is over! You won’t find him in the archives, but you can still head over there and spend some time!

18 Comments

The new Ditko stuff is self-pubbed and the one I have, at least, is on glorious newsprint. DCBS usually has them and you can get them directly here: http://ditko.blogspot.com/p/ditko-book-in-print.html

Bill: Ahhhh! Because that’s what I need, more comics!!!!! :)

tom fitzpatrick

July 10, 2014 at 2:33 pm

What an honor for Erik Larsen to be chosen to ink Ditko. Hope he had a blast!

Larsen inking Ditko here looks surprisingly like John Byrne inking Ditko back in an old Avengers Annual.

I really really really like Larsen’s inks on Ditko’s pencils. Whodathunkit!

Michael Bolton

July 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm

So ditko just like… made an under the radar return decades after all that Spider-Man stuff to draw a few totally random stories?

I initially thought Byrne as well. Of course, then I saw more and went, “Yep, Larson.”

Omar and P. Boz: Yeah, it definitely has a Byrne vibe to it, doesn’t it?

Rob: It’s a very neat combination!

Michael: Well, Ditko was working steadily into the 1980s. By this time, he wasn’t doing quite as much, and I have to think time was a factor – he turned 60 in 1987, so he probably wasn’t as fast as he once was! So he didn’t actually go anywhere, he just didn’t like working on the corporate superhero stuff anymore.

Oh man, Liefeld tomorrow! I can’t wait!

The second panel, in particular, has a dotted shadow technique that reminds me quite a lot of the Byrne pencils with Jerry Ordway inks that we had during the time of Secret Wars II.

I really enjoyed the art on this story. it was a very nice blending of Steve Ditko and Erik Larsen’s work. As a long-time fan of Savage Dragon, the stylistic flourishes of Larsen’s inks on this story are apparent to my eyes. Larsen very much put his own individual mark on the art with his inking, but without overwhelming Ditko. It’s a great example of an inker / embellisher putting his stamp on the final artwork without burying the penciler.

By the way, Ditko penciled several stories for Marvel Comics Presents between 1988 and 1991, starting with a Sub-Mariner story in issue #7. This Human Torch tale was actually his last contribution to the title. He also penciled a few eight page tales that ended up in the quarterly Marvel Super-Heroes around this same time. So, yeah, Ditko was still somewhat active at Marvel during this period.

It’s too bad that Greg does not have any of Ditko’s self-published work from the last decade or so. I’d certainly enjoy reading his analysis of it. Ditko has become much more minimalist and sketchy with his work, almost abstract. It’s very odd stuff at times!

I thought it was Byrne at first, too.

Ditko/Larson do make a good team.

As others have said, the Ditko-Larsen combo was surprisingly effective.

Count me in on the plus side as well. I was not a fan of Larsen’s pencils, but the combination here looks great!

Roman: Hey! No fair! :)

Luis: That’s a good point.

Ben: As I noted, I own a few of the Ditko stories from MCP, but that’s only because I was buying Windsor-Smith’s Wolverine story.

It took me years to appreciate Ditko, so I never really wanted to get his recent self-published stuff. I really should get some of it, though.

I’m a little sad that you didn’t include Ditkos work for Valentin Comics. Work like Doctor Solar no.10.

I had forgotten most of the comics you chose for Ditko… even though i own them … (the Heroes one is from the same time period, Ditko was at Atlas on ‘The destructor’ where Wally Wood inked him too)

During Ditko’s run on ‘ROM’, there were almost a ‘let’s test all the inkers we have’ (Layton, Palmer, Guice, Akin&Garvin, Breeding, Leialoha, De Mulder, Sinnott, Byrne and of course PC Russell) some are real good.

Adam Weissman

July 14, 2014 at 7:14 pm

You can totally tell it’s Larsen on the first page – look at the eyebrows, mouth, and hair in the second panel.

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