Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ditko Draws the Planes

I know it's fashionable these days to express undying love for Jack Kirby and rightly so, as he was brilliant. But, to the extent that I have a favorite comic book illustrator from the Silver Age of Comics, I must throw my lot in with Steve Ditko, whose work on Dr. Strange -- one of the few comics I ever read when I was younger -- is nothing short of amazing, as this piece from Strange Tales #138 (November 1965) shows:

In thinking about new ways to conceive of the planes in D&D, I find myself ever more drawn to Ditko's illustrations of Dr. Strange's forays into mystical landscapes like this one. Given that it's already well established that early D&D illustrations were based on panels from comics featuring the Sorcerer Supreme, it somehow feels right to borrow ideas from Ditko in imagining otherworldly realms, at least to me. When the time comes for Brother Candor and the other Fortune's Fools to journey into the planes, I know what I'll be using as inspiration.


  1. I've had Dr. Strange on the brain myself the last few days...I've even used the term "Eye of Agamatto" in multiple separate conversations.

    Somewhere around here I have a copy of Dr. Strange #1 where the o-so-originally named "Silver Dagger" puts a knife in the good Doc's back. I'm pretty sure that one's a Ditko, but I honestly can't recall.

  2. I have to admit I was a fan of Dr Strange since his first appearance in Strange Tales until the mess they made of the eponymous comic after the Secret Wars when they tried to send it in new directions. It was also when I stopped collecting Marvel, not-so coincidentally. Compared to the other titles it had, up until that time, been pleasingly free of undue editorial influence. It was always pleasingly independent from the main hurly-burly of the Marvel Universe. If they needed Dr Strange to interface with the other superheroes it was generally done through his Defenders identity, rather than impinging on the core title.

    With regard to gaming I use the same sort of imagery for my astral planes (there are nine of them, one for each level of spell), and as you go to higher and higher astral planes they become more and more alien (which explains why most high level wizards in my game tend to be more than slightly bonkers).

  3. I have actually used these Marvel concepts a lot in D&D planer travel.

    Kirby made the universe full of stuff instead of empty. Ditko did the same for the inner/multiverse.

  4. Dr. Strange is one of my favorite Marvel characters.

    A reason Kirby gets so much credit is because of the artists he has influenced who then went on to be important in the comics industry. No doubt Ditko is legendary too, his stuff was great. When I go to Comic Con I have often see Ditko there, he is a neat guy always dressed sharp with a smile on his face.

  5. When I go to Comic Con I have often see Ditko there, he is a neat guy always dressed sharp with a smile on his face.

    Really? I'd read in a couple of places that he's a recluse who hasn't given an interview or made a public appearance in decades. There was even a BBC documentary that tried to track him down and get an interview on camera but to no avail.

  6. While Dr. Strange is a favorite character of mine know and I have grown to love Ditko's unique style, I was not enamoured with him as a young boy obsessed with comics.

    I think my favorite Ditko creation has to be The Creeper. That guy is just so out there.

  7. I'm more of a Dr. Orpheus fan, myself. :)

    It's really hard to love the psychedelic 60s Marvel. The only problem I can imagine would be describing it to your players. "Well, it kind of looks like..."

    I've never considered LSD as a potential gaming accessory before.

  8. Re: Recluse.

    AFAIK Ditko hasn't made public appearances since the late 1960s, but the BBC documentary over-romanticizes that fact. He prefers that his legacy be comprised solely of his work, and not any celebrity he might have amongst fans. Ayn Rand fan and all that.

    I've often thought that Ditko's anthropomorphized concept of Eternity deserved an entry in Deities & Demigods.

    There's been a recent flood of very nice books exploring Ditko's work outside of Marvel, such as his early work in horror comics. Strange Suspense, Vol. 1 is particularly great.

  9. Don't assume Ditko is a recluse. While he avoids interviews, that's because he is private and has personal beliefs that his work should speak for itself. He is not a hermit though and lives a normal life.

    And Ditko was totally straight, no psychotropic drugs involved. Indeed, Roy Thomas used to get letters asking for "the stuff" Ditko was on when drawing Dr. Strange. :-)

    I find Ditko interesting for two reasons that might be of interest to Grognardia. The first is how unfortunately, except for Spider Man and Doctor Strange, how his creations get ursurped by others similar to what happened to REH's Conan. His creation The Question has been altered first to meet a writer's needs (Denny O'Neil changing Vic Sage from an Objectivist viewpoint to somebody who has a Zen belief system, then later interpretations [like on TV] to be more like Watchmen's Rosharch--in other words Moore's near-parody of the Question becomes the normal interpretation. I understand people not liking his slavish devotion to Ayn Rand, but can't people write a character without having to share their belief systems?!

    Even later came what Marvel did to Speedball a few years ago. It baffles me why writers who feel they need to tear down his creations, and I'd rather see them be truer to the spirit of the creation.

    The second point is while some like to think of Gygax and Arneson as akin to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, I see Arneson and the G/A relationship more akin to that of Ditko's. While Ditko was famous for his creations, he had far less of a creative output than Jack Kirby did. Similarly, once leaving D&D Arneson didn't create as much for gaming if you compared his output to Gygax's (both before and after EGG left TSR). I think they are also similar because Dave Arneson didn't spend a lot of time communicating with the fans (outside of some convention appearances), almost mirroring Steve Ditko's move towards privacy.

  10. Heh, can you imagine trying to describe to your players what they're seeing in that panel?

    "ok, you go through the door and see infinite psychedelic space. what's your marching order?"

  11. "I understand people not liking his slavish devotion to Ayn Rand, but can't people write a character without having to share their belief systems?!"

    I would agree with this. There's nothing wrong with a variation on a character that's meant to criticize or deconstruct that character (ala Rorschach). I support this sort of thing wholeheartedly.

    When it comes to the actual character, though, creator intent should be respected. If D.C. doesn't want to publish Objectivist superhero comics (and I, for one, don't blame them), they'd be better off shelving Question entirely. It's not like they don't own any other popular characters...

  12. Love Ditko for his work on Strange and for some of the most iconic images of my favorite Avenger--The Vision.

  13. I understand people not liking his slavish devotion to Ayn Rand, but can't people write a character without having to share their belief systems?!

    They can, but if you look at a lot of Ditko's self-written stuff, say Mr. A, or the early years of the Question, he... doesn't. There's a reason Moore wrote Rorschach the way he did.

    This is not to disparage Ditko, he helped to create three of my favorite heroes (Spider-Man, the aforementioned Question, and the Ted Kord incarnation of the Blue Beetle.)

  14. Hate to say it, people, but a great many comic book writers -- and some would include Stan Lee in this -- have had Stephen King's interpretation of writing for hire: "The mental equivalent of bucking cases of Coca-Cola on and off trucks for an hourly wage." In short, you're not going to see a lot of respect for other writers' characters.

    Kirby is venerated for his imagination and innovation. So is Ditko, in a different direction. Only real difference is that Kirby was voluble, accessible and dead, whereas Ditko speaks largely through his work, is less accessible, and not inclined towards interviews... well, that, and Kirby was, frankly, less preachy.

    But Ditko's early work speaks for itself.

  15. I gotta agree--love Ditko's dimension's, but, in the name of the All-Seeing Agamotto, how do you verbally describe THAT?

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  17. "Your party finds themselves standing upon a large floating sphere. The astral winds whip at your cloaks
    and robes, nearly chilling you to the bone.

    Several branches erupt from the strange stonelike surface of the sphere, spanning outward far in the distance. Some are only two to three feet wide. They stretch out towards the horizon intersecting each other and other spheres which in turn reach out to yet more.

    The sky above and below is a myriad display of light and darkness. Golden stars gleam to your left, as far as you can see, in a milky sky of pure white, while to your left, infinitely long columns of purple smoke stretch in wierd directions, unbound by any normal sense of gravity, above and below, against a field of orange and moving shadow.

    Isolated bridges of crystal, shining almost like diamonds, float amongst the discordant scenery..."

    something like that, maybe...


  18. "in the name of the All-Seeing Agamotto, how do you verbally describe THAT?"

    DM: "The landscape's gone all Ditko"

    Players: "Ok; got ya."