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 “Beast Man!” from Creepy #11, which was published by Warren and has a cover date of October 1966. These scans are from Creepy Presents Steve Ditko, my copy of which was published in 2013 by Dark Horse. Enjoy!
When he left Marvel in the mid-1960s (either November 1965 or February 1966, depending, I guess, on who you ask), Ditko moved over to Warren, which was producing comics with some stellar talent. This issue of Creepy alone has a Frank Frazetta cover and stories by Goodwin, with art by John Severin, Reed Crandall, Joe Orlando, Ditko, and Angelo Torres. The comic from tomorrow (issue #14) has a cover by Gray Morrow and a story by Neal Adams. Warren got some good talent to work for them, boy howdy! These stories are stunning, art-wise (Goodwin’s scripts are pretty good, but it’s the art that makes them great), as Ditko was able to do some things with his art that the pace at Marvel didn’t allow him to do. Working in black and white was a bonus, too, as he could apply washes with a brush, which gave the pencil work much more subtlety and mood. So let’s look at some of that art, shall we?
“Beast Man!” begins with a stunning two-page sequence. I’m not going to show the page with the gloves, because Ditko uses some of the same tricks on that page that he uses on this first page, and this is a cooler page anyway. Here’s the two-page sequence:
The first page is from the Beast Man’s point of view (I guess we should call him Ames, as that is his name), and we learn on Page 3 that he’s dreaming. It’s an amazing page, though – Ditko uses somewhat jagged panel borders to heighten the tension and pacing of the page – it allows him to get more panels on the page, but it also makes us uncomfortable while we’re reading it. Ditko establishes the scene very well – in Panel 1, we just see the trees, and in Panel 2, the hands break through, and we already see, even in shadow, that they’re inhuman – the hair and nails give that away. In Panel 3, the hands recede, but Ditko shows the girl. Before this, we don’t know that it’s windy, but the way Ditko draws the girl shows us that it is. This becomes more pronounced in the middle row, as Goodwin’s script tells us that the wind is blowing and Ditko shows it very well. Notice how the wind blows from left to right throughout the row, moving our eyes the way we’re supposed to go, and the girl looks that way in the first two panels before Ditko begins to twist her around in Panels 3-5. Ditko does nice work making us dizzy, and the fact that he moves in and out between frames also heightens the tension. We know that we’re “viewing” this scene through the eyes of the “beast man,” so the fact that she’s closer to the “camera” in some panels and farther away in others creates the feeling that he’s getting closer and then moving away. It’s well done. In the bottom row, we move up above the scene, and Ditko does a nice job showing the “beast man’s” shadow on the ground. This leads to the final panel, as Ames drops down on the girl from above, and it leads to the second page really well, as we get the superb splash page of Ames leaping down on the girl. Either Ditko or Travis Pelkie’s favorite letterer, Ben Oda, does a nice job with the girl’s scream leading us down from the text at the top to the girl’s mouth, framing Ames quite nicely and making sure we take in the entire page. It’s well done.
Check out how Ditko draws this, though. As I noted, for these stories he often uses a brush, and it gives the drawings some very nice effects. The girl’s face looks softer, and the fabric of her outfit looks like actual fabric. The leaves in the background are almost impressionistic, adding to the windy effect and simply creating more of a chaotic scene around her. The shadow in Panel 9 is not heavily inked, so we just get a nice impression of the “beast man,” and the dappled effect on the girl’s face in the final panel is well done. Because he’s using a brush, he can contrast the two characters on Page 2. The hair on Ames’s body is rough, and the delicate tones on the girl are contrasted very well with that. We get a wonderful sense of the different kinds of characters and the terror of this “rough beast” attacking a softer young girl. This kind of contrast isn’t always possible on a more assembly-line kind of comic.
We’ll see more of this kind of work from Ditko tomorrow. We’ll also see a genre that Ditko, apparently, really liked. Come back and see what’s what! Or check out the archives. It’s really your choice!