02/28/23: STAN & STEVE (Pt 2)
The Strange Tale of Ditko and Lee
Today is the second part of my look at the work of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. While last post focused on their mutual success with SPIDER-MAN, this episode takes a hard look at the odd psychedelia of Ditko’s DOCTOR STRANGE.
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Flipping Ditko’s SPIDER-MAN run while making Part 1 was inspiring and fun— but his STRANGE TALES work is revelatory.
Explaining why is a little harder than pointing to a drawing, or a sequence of storytelling. Yes, at a glance his draftsmanship can read as a little hasty or primitive. The continuity of his storytelling can be a little too malleable. Squishy even. But what makes Ditko at his best so good, is that his art was a visual language.
He seems not to be reacting to trends or mimicking his heroes. At times it’s hard to imagine he’s concerned about whether or not STRANGE TALES sells a single copy.
Line by line and page by page he was developing a form of communication
For all the glorious weirdness of its Point of View and tone and imagination, the backdrop of day-to-day realism in his Spidey is a world we have a shorthand for.
But DOCTOR STRANGE is Dikto untethered.
Perhaps even on his way toward unhinged…
THE STRANGE TALE of STEVE & STAN: 2: STRANGE PSYCHEDELIA?
Initially conceived of by Ditko as a 5 page solo story for the 1963 anthology, STRANGE TALES— The master of the mystic arts was no confused teen.
Robbed of his steady surgeon’s hands and influencer status by fate— Doctor Stephen Strange’s initial drive is not guilt, or vengeance, or altruism, but the desire to get back what’s his.
Only through the MASTERY of his craft is Strange finally set upon the path towards Marvel’s mandated heroism. As Sorcerer SUPREME, the gatekeeper of the occult who relieves us of the burden of discerning evil from good.
“( A hero is) not like everyone else. Not the average, common, or the ordinary man. He was the exceptional one. The uncommon one. The one doing what others were unwilling to do. Regardless of the opposition and consequences to himself…. “- Steve Ditko, (1987)
Garbing Dr. Strange in visuals that were vaguely Satanic and overtly mystical and dreamlike— Ditko’s art seemed to willfully defy Marvel’s “world outside your window” ethos for realities conjured only by the power of his pen. As a result, Dr. Strange struck a chord with college kids of the ’60s, who loooooved Ditko’s work so much they wanted to roll it up and smoke it.
But references in the psychedelic rock and literature of a dropped-out youth and drug culture must have been a bittersweet notoriety for Ditko. —Who despite being as straight as an arrow fired by Nancy Reagan—had somehow tapped into something cosmically warped and hallucinatory.
He must have wondered how?
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Maybe the gateway to psychedelia was a strange but organic cocktail of methodology, subject matter, and imagination.
In the 60’s world of binary ink-on-paper comics, the reduction and abstraction of reality into graphic shapes was the name of the game. With only 64 colors to choose from—photographic depictions were off-limits, and color was often ultra-abstracted into mood and feeling.
These “pop art” results are often innocuous or broadly appealing when applied to the “world outside your window”. But stories of cosmic and supernatural nature inherently require a vast distortion, if not abandonment, of reality altogether.
So when an extremely imaginative and talented artist like Ditko decides that his lines and shapes don’t represent reality at all?
Well, that’s when shit can get…
TO BE CONTINUED…
That’s all for now.
Part 3 and maybe even some new comics… soon.