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

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

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:

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!