What’s New? + Steve Ditko Thoughts

I haven’t drawn much lately. The most regular drawing I’ve done is on my son’s lunch bags. I did do a couple requests for family that probably won’t make sense here out of context.

retirement comic
first meeting

What I have done lately is re-read a lot of comics in my collection. Some of these were my own comics, many which I had never really sat down to read with my son. He enjoyed them. It was interesting to get his perspective on them. In particular he seemed to like Day Camp.

Day Camp

It had been a while since I read a lot of these, so it was nice to see them in a more fresh way. Of course I thought some of it didn’t look too great, but I was surprised to see how much of it worked.

I’ve also been going through some of my comic collection and reading some of my favorites that inspired me to start drawing in the first place.  Before I get into those I just wanted to mention how sad I was to find out about the passing of Steve Ditko.

Spider-Man Steve Ditko Art

Some of my longtime followers will know that he was an inspiration of mine.  Spider-man was one of the few comic books I was drawn to as a kid, and the early Ditko era books always stood out to me. Later I would go on to appreciate his more out there art with Dr. Strange. I plan on cracking open my Marvel Visionaries Ditko collection later and enjoying some of his stuff.

Steve Ditko

There were a couple things that drew me to Ditko when I was in high school and starting to get more into comics before I started drawing my own. First and foremost was learning the sordid history of Stan Lee and his credit hogging. You could make a great movie about Stan Lee holding artist down and becoming a villain while developing his beloved persona that was presented to the fans. (Side note, I recently watched the Bill Finger documentary Batman & Bill on Hulu and thought it was fascinating.) The more I learned the more intrigued I was, and Steve Ditko, along with Jack Kirby, were two of Stan’s biggest victims. I’ve written about this several times before, so you can search the blog archives if you are interested. Or if you really want to hear more leave a comment and I can write about it at length.

Marvel Comics, "Amazing Spider-Man" issue 161

Beyond the drama of rooting for this underdog artist against the oppressive Marvel editor is the great work he actually did. It is unique and bizarre stuff. He has a very distinct style that is pretty easy to recognize. I’ve seen him described as an “imperfect” artist, which basically meant he had a pretty rough style that wasn’t overly polished. It’s kind of a wild style, sometimes bordering on messy, but always very exciting. Things weren’t rigid, they were very fluid. It’s not your traditional super hero stuff, the people look more average and don’t stand around in your typical heroic poses. Often times the people looked slightly off and unnatural.

Ditko Dr. Strange

Ditko always had a very strong vision and didn’t like to compromise, and his work was the better for it. I admire that and the way he took the comic book in a new direction. I’ve always taken inspiration in his “imperfect” approach and tried to apply it to my own art. It’s debatable how successful I’ve been, but that’s part of my method behind it.

Steve Ditko Spider-man

It was kind of heartwarming seeing all the great of the comic book industry come forward to say really kind things about Ditko and the legend he was. Neil Gaiman in particular had a lot of nice praise.

watchmen moving camera

Speaking of inspiration, I’ve been really enjoying re-reading some of my collection and it has given me a ton of ideas for things I want to try in the future. First, I very slowly went through my copy of Absolute Watchmen (which I got signed by Dave Gibbons when we both worked a convention…not to brag). I vividly remember the first time I read Watchmen and how it blew me away. Real mind blowing stuff. Like I was having weird dreams from it and sort of tripping out as I read it. The way he “camera” moves almost felt like I was actually watching something with movement instead of reading static images. The mixing of scenes, the incredibly clever juxtaposition of word and image. There is just so much there to appreciate. Reading it again I was really struck by the the way scenes flow, and it gave me a ton of ideas.

watchmen world building

Beyond the technicality of the art there is also the amazing world building. It feels like a real world with real history. The supplemental material really reinforces this, but it drips through on every panel. The way Veidt products are always shown, how things like cars have evolved because of the technology created by Dr. Manhattan, how unmasked Rorschach shows up in the backgrounds of panels, it all adds up to making the world feel real. Not to mention the use of motifs like something as simple as a circle repeating through the Comedian’s badge, Dr. Manhattan’s hydrogen symbol, the dooms day clock, the bottle of cologne, etc…There is just so much to unpack. And I love it all.

Funny short story for you. I heard an artist say he apologized to Dave Gibbons when he met him for stealing his 9 grid page format that he uses throughout Watchman. Dave Gibbons replied “That’s fine, I stole it from Steve Ditko!” So everybody borrows from everybody.

Steve Ditko 9 grid panel

There are so many things I’d love to incorporate into the next Black Snow book that I think we could do more successfully than we did with Two Drink Minimum. And while I’m on that subject, yes, we are getting ready to work on the next Black Snow book. I’ve been talking to Alex about it and we both want to move forward with it. You may recall that I already drew the first scene of Another Round quite some time ago, and it looks like we are probably going to redo that. We had a rough layout for the book, but we are basically going to be starting over with it. We’ll keep what we want rewrite the rest.

It’s been a long time since we worked on it, so it will be nice to come at it new. And I’m excited to test out some new ideas before I settle on the art style. We are still early on it, so I don’t have a ton to share with you. I can say that we don’t want this one to end on a cliff hanger, so it can be a satisfying ending in case we don’t get to a third book. I’ll have more on that as we keep working.

The Tick

But back to the comics I’ve been reading. The Tick has been a favorite since I saw the cartoon as a kid.  It and Spider-man were the first comics I collected. I’m a couple issues in re-reading the original Ben Edlund run. I love the surrealist nature of it all. The comedic take on the super hero has always appealed to me. In some ways The Tick is the opposite of The Watchmen, yet they do some of the same things. The Watchman gives us this gritty realistic take on what the world would be like if super heroes really existed, while The Tick provides an absurdist view on what that world would be like.

The Tick comic

There is a lot that I love about The Tick that I’ve incorporated into my comics over the years, most notably the over abundance of super heroes in our world and the absurd nature of the Lone Wolf. The Tick is so strange and always seems obliviously out of place, which makes him even funnier. This is a comic I read when I want to laugh, and it is funny on many levels. Some of it is stupid surface level humor, while some is actually sort of deeper than you wold expect. And you never know what is coming next. Hilarious visual gags, satires of all the comic book tropes, and the strangest cast of characters all work together to make it great fun.

I’ve always found it a little tricky to determine the tone of my comics, Black Snow in particular. I like the idea that it can be really lighthearted at one moment, then gravely serious the next. In in my comics that are decidedly more comedy based like Optimistically Cynical I like to use really dark humor and tone shifts.

Mike Mignola Hellboy comic

Lastly I’ve been reading a lot of Hellboy. This is my favorite comic book, and definitely the largest part of my collection. Between the main series and spin-offs like BPRD I have dozens of trade books. I love the world of Hellboy and all the crazy paranormal creatures and stories. Of course you can see this reflected in Paranormal Pinkerton, which I also plan to start working on soon. I imagine I’ll be able to finish the first issue while Alex works on writing Black Snow, as he notoriously likes to take his time. I have a lot of stuff planned for the series, so I should probably start making it!

But back to Hellboy. I really like the characters and the way they react to the insane world they live in, which is why I’m even drawn to all the spinoffs. I hope that this new Hellboy movie will be really successful and possibly lead to the larger Hellboy universe getting adapted into movies, TV shows or cartoons. It is a series that deserves more mainstream attention.

Hellboy

And while I enjoy the story aspects and other artists’ interpretations, it is really the Mike Mignola work that I love. He may be my favorite comic book artist. The shading alone is just insane. That is what I really want to figure out how to incorporate more into my own work. Between Hellboy and Sin City I’ve been searching for the right impactful shading for a long time. You can really see the Hellboy influence in the original Black Snow comic books, Issue #5’s extended fight in the gothic church and cemetery being a prime example.Hellboy corpse

It’s much more than just adding a lot of shadows on the characters. There are these amazing abstract backgrounds. There is a beautiful simplicity to it all, sometimes deceptively so. Some of it seems rooted in the work of Jack Kirby, while most of it strikes me as completely unique. Things are often boiled down to only the essential shapes and lines, limiting details to only what you need to recognize what you are seeing. It keeps each panel feeling very unique, there is little repetition. And the setting is often as fun to look at as the characters. That is something I want to work on. Reading a lot at once you can really start to pick up on what Mignola is doing and how he frames things to get the most out of his style.

Hellboy setting

I will admit that the overall mythology of the series can sometimes get a little convoluted. It reminds me of the X-Files in that I always greatly preferred the single self contained monster of the week stories to the more sprawling interconnected mythology episodes.

So that’s what I’m reading and what I plan on working on. I may go back and read my Scud: The Disposable Assassin collection next. It is like The Tick in tone. The thing that always struck me about it is the sense of movement contained in each panel. It reminds me a watching a Looney Tunes cartoon. The poses and fluid nature of it all is really remarkable. The comedy is pretty good too.

So stick around. Things will be happening, and I’ll have some cool stuff to show you soon.

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