The Friday Comics Review

Welcome again to this blog's new feature, where I take a look at the best of the latest comics fare, books that are so good you don't have to be a comics fan to enjoy them. While the focus is primarily on graphic novels (like last week's review, Nat Turner by Kyle Baker), this week we'll make an exception for a gorgeous new biography of one of comics' all-time greats.

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The World of Steve Ditko, written by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics, $39.95). Even people who've never read a comic book in their lives know who Stan Lee is-- he's the guy who created all the Marvel comic book characters that are currently keeping Hollywood afloat. The only trouble is, Stan didn't create them all, including the greatest Marvel hero of them all, Spider-Man. That distinction goes to Steve Ditko, comics' true mystery man (he avoids the press and his last known photo is over 40 years old) and one of the most original artists of the 20th century.

Blake Bell's new book, The World of Steve Ditko, is part biography, part critical assessment, and-- as befits a deluxe volume like this-- part art collection, with beautiful, full-page reproductions of Ditko's best work. If the bio part sometime recedes into the background, it's only because Ditko is almost invisible as a subject, with very few printed interviews over a career that spans half-a-century, and no desire to give any new ones. Bell incorporates everything that's already known with personal recollections of the (relatively few) people who have worked with him enough to know him at all.

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Since he was known to quit a book because he didn't like the color of the first issue's cover, much of The World of Steve Ditko is basically the story of an inflexible genius and his life working in the scruples-free ghetto of comic books. When Spider-Man became a hit, he walked away from it for both artistic and monetary reasons, doing irreparable damage to his career. Even before that severe move, there are many examples in the Marvel chapters of how much at odds Ditko was with not only his peers but his fans. For a funny example, not only did he slip in the fan's most loathed character, J. Jonah Jameson, as much as he could, Ditko even wrote a letter to the editor under an alias defending JJJ's capitalist-pig ways.


(It was during the Marvel golden years that Ditko first fell under the spell of Ayn Rand, and Bell's analysis of how her philosophy permeated even his '60s work is one of the best things in the book. )

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Bell has inpeccable taste when it comes to his assessment of the high points in Ditko's art and career. Besides some very choice Spider-Man and Dr. Strange art (not to mention the wonderful monster stories he did in Marvel's pre-hero days), he devotes a chapter to the post-Marvel work of Ditko's that many believe to be his best: the horror stories he did for Creepy and Eerie. Plus, bless his heart, he even includes a couple of pages of one of Steve's lesser-known gems, Konga.

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Steve Ditko at his best is magic, and The World of Steve Ditko is filled with Ditko at his best. The cover gallery and full-page B&W panel blowups alone make the book a must for the old grouch's many fans, and should convert some new ones, too. Recommended and then some.

(Don't have the book and want to know just how good a comic cover can be? Here's a link to Ditko covers from Blake Bell's own website. And here's Blake's home page-- it's packed with info and artwork. If you're already a Ditko-ite, don't miss this webpage about Steve's bondage work!)

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All artwork by Steve Ditko-- duh!-- and from Blake Bell's The World of Steve Ditko.

Send Steve-- Monaco, that is-- an email at couchpundit@yahoo.com


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