Thursday, 6 March 2014

Ditko Package #3

The Ditko Package #3
by Joe Gill & Steve Ditko
(Published by Robin Snyder & Steve Ditko, 1999)

(from The Blog & Mail, 2 March 2007)
Ditko Package 3 clocks in at 160 pages and reprints 20 different short stories from the old Charlton Horror line, most of the stories written by Joe Gill. I think it's worth quoting his and Steve Ditko's reciprocal introductions to the book (even though, not having asked permission to do so, I know is WRONG and I expect a visit from Mr. A in my dreams tonight):
I'm delighted to introduce a collection of Steve Ditko's wonderful stories. While Steve's art is always up to the Ditko standard of excellence, my scripts are not prize-winning material.

Steve and I and all the other great guys at Charlton during the years of glory (?), worked for extremely low rates. A few of us accommodated ourselves by working fast in order to make as much moolah as possible. This accounts for my enormous volume of pages. When I worked for other NY publishers I was paid much more; Steve, too, worked for more generous publishers.

But Steve's work was the same, no matter for whom he worked or how much he was paid. Steve denied he was driven to always do his best. He swore he was only in it for the money. I told him if he had no market, no pen or pencil or paper, he'd be creating masterpieces in bare dirt. I never knew my friend to deliberately do less than his best in order to grind out pages.

Many of us worked as fast as we could move. There was little criticism and that suited us just fine. Steve moved at his own pace, doing his brilliant best, and he made my work shine.

Steve's got a quiet sense of humor and he's more well-mannered than I but we got along very well and imbibed a few martinis together from time to time. After a day in `the shoe factory' we explored the delights of night life in Derby, CT.

Steve was always the best and he stayed that way come Hell of high water. I have fond memories of those Charlton years and now you will, too.
It's very true. One of the things Joe Gill doesn't mention is how atrocious the Charlton printing was. Anyone who goes back to those distant times knows what I'm talking about. If you bought your Marvel and DC comics and picked up a couple of Charlton's, back in the 60s and 70s there was no question that the printing standards dropped off precipitously. Which is very funny since, as Neal Adams pointed out, Marvel and DC were basically printing their books on toilet paper and had no production standards whatsoever. Still, their comic books looked like world class magazine slicks when placed alongside Charlton's books. And yet, flipping through this volume, you see absolutely no sign of Steve Ditko letting that affect his work even though he obviously knew what it was going to print like. That's an amazing level of integrity to exhibit over the course of 160 pages. None of it looks "hacked out".

And then it's Steve Ditko's turn to introduce Joe Gill:
Joe Gill is one comic book story/script writer who understands a comic panel. Most other writers believe a single panel is a long, continuing strip of a movie film containing numerous, changing, point-of-view frames.

I read the screenplay of Gorgo. From the first reading to this day, I marvel at how well Joe adapted the character to comic books. I didn't read the Konga screenplay but that comic script was a treat.

As for Captain Atom, Charlton (like many companies) gave up too soon on the new feature.

Joe may have been partly responsible for my long stay at Charlton. (Actually Charlton left us and the comic field.) I know Joe's scripts made my stay and the work enjoyable and worthwhile. Our efforts are worth saving and still enjoyable in reviewing with a long list of favourites.

The comic book story/script writer? It doesn't matter who follows the first. That first choice is Joe Gill.
Speaking from the experience of having broken into the comic-book field on the short horror story end of things, I'd have to say that Joe Gill is a little hard on himself. These eight-pagers are not the easiest things in the world to write basically because it's so hard to hide the twist ending when you have so few pages to work with. The veteran horror reader is finely attuned to any plot development or line of dialogue that just reeks of twist ending and if they've guessed what your twist ending is before they get there then you've basically failed as a horror writer. I must have several dozen plots for short horror stories in the Cerebus Archive that I submitted to Skywald and Warren, all of them rejected. I sold two: Cry Of The White Wolf to Skywald and Shadow Of The Axe to Warren. Some of the stories are pretty lame, but then the batting average in the Warren magazines wasn't anywhere close to 1.000, either. As I say, these things are tough to write and very easy to pick apart. One of the Gill stories is credited to Jack Daniels and another to Johnny Walker. They're still readable and, as Ditko says, he knows exactly how much you can get into one panel and how you move the reader through the story and exactly the right pace for an eight-pager so it doesn't feel rushed or padded.

Gene Day and I submitted a story to Charlton back in 1974, maybe '75, The Gravedigger's Banquet which I pencilled and wrote and Gene inked. You know, the most basic advice for the freelancer is to learn about the publications you're submitting to. "Gravedigger's" had been intended for some other venue and I basically just redrew it incorporating Baron Weirwulf, one of the Charlton horror hosts at the top of the first page. Never actually read a Charlton horror comic. Reading these, I noticed that they incorporated the horror hosts into the stories. They play bit roles and comment on the action as its unfolding. Which is actually pretty clever and sets Charlton apart from all the other horror titles with narrators that only appear in the first and last panel. I might have had a better shot at selling a story if I had known that. Stupid, arrogant, know-it-all eighteen-year-old.

Anyway, I was sorry when I came to the end of this volume. It's a steal at $13 US. 


Sandeep Atwal said...

If you haven't checked out Ditko's work yet, you're missing out. There are many, many collections available from Robin Snyder at very reasonable prices. A unique talent and a unique voice in the medium. Some absolutely fascinating work.

Tony Dunlop said...


I'm about as far from a Randian Libertarian as you can get, but I love all Ditko's post-corporate stuff, even the most polemical. Like Mozart, he seems to be able to directly stimulate the pleasure center in my brain.

Anonymous said...

I've got the Art of Ditko book from Yoe!, Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, and Dark Horse's collection of all his work for Creepy/Eerie. Next opportunity, I'm probably going to drop the better part of a C-note in Robin Snyder's Paypal account for some of these 'packages.'

His Creepy/Eerie stuff is just incredible. I really, really wish he had done a whole book in that black and white wash style- too bad graphic novels were a few years away from being more common. Steve Ditko doing his own Contract with God (Contract with Reason?)...

-Wesley Smith