Classic funnybook artist Steve Ditko is best-known as the co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange among a host of other memorable super hero characters. But around Halloween time, I like to remind people that he was also one hell of a horror artist.
Ditko broke into the industry in the early 1950s, when horror comics reigned supreme, and his gifts for mood, shadow, and bizarre monsters served the young artist in good stead. I’m particularly fond of his cover work from this period, especially for a comic with the evocative title of THE THING!
Lots to love, there. Drooling worm monster! Leering vampire witches! Weird mohawked demon thing! Scary sorcery lab! Hell, one of the logos is even packed full of creepy stuff! But even better:
This Magazine is Haunted has got to be the best title for a horror comic EVER. Gotta love the direct approach. I also love that cover. The shrunken heads in the background are a nice touch, but it’s the weird yellow-skinned voodoo man that really blows me away. He’s bizarre, sure, but what really strikes me about him is the level of detail Ditko put into his body. That’s not something you’d see from him later in his career, but here he’s rendered every flabby wrinkle of this guy’s abdomen for our horrified pleasure.
Of course, the bottom fell out of horror comics after the establishment of the Comics Code Authority (boo!), but Ditko moved on to the more science fiction oriented monster comics, for which he was sometimes able to produce stunning scary work like this:
Even Ditko’s super hero work tends toward horror, though. The early Spider-Man villains are all pretty creepy, and his moody work on Dr. Strange is arguably the most visually-compelling stuff to come out of the 1960s. And even after his much-discussed conversion to Objectivist thought drove him toward realism and away from the dark, spidery corners, he kept working on horror comics. He was never far from his original home at bargain-basement Charlton Comics, for instance, and in his time at DC Comics he even delivered a Daliesque landscape for Destiny (the most unlikely of horror hosts) to walk through:
Not the most horrific image I could have found, I suppose, but… holy crap LOOK at that! Drippy eyeball, winding infinity staircase, and… microscope view of red blood cells? Ye gods!
One company I never knew Ditko had done work for until tonight, though, was Warren. The publisher of Creepy and Eerie, Warren comics were released in a black and white magazine-size format to escape the restrictions of the Comics Code, and at one time employed many of the top names in the business. Names that included, I now know, Steve Ditko.
Heh. Love that piece. Ditko at his most demented. And the color job’s nice, too. The real revelation for me on the Ditko Warren stuff, though, is seeing his artwork in Warren’s trademark inkwash look:
Those gray tones add a texture that’s sorely lacking in much of Ditko’s color work, especially the stuff he did in the Seventies. I’ve only just started looking at these pages tonight, but I already wish he’d done more in this style. It’s not often I get this kind of surprise about an artist I’ve loved as long as Ditko, but this Warren stuff is a revelation.
Which… isn’t very Halloweeny, I guess, but whatcha gonna do?