Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: Unexplored Worlds- The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 2


UNEXPLORED WORLDS: THE STEVE DITKO ARCHIVES VOL. 2: (Fantagraphics, 2010; Hardcover)
Collects selections from Fightin' Army No. 20, From Here To Insanity (Vol. 3) No. 1, Journey Into Mystery Nos. 33, 38, Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds Nos. 3-5, 7, 8, Out of This World Nos. 3-5, 8, Outer Space No. 18, Strange Suspense Stories Nos. 31-33, 36, Tales of the Mysterious Traveler Nos. 2-4, Texas Rangers In Action No. 8 and Unusual Tales Nos. 6, 7 (cover dates April, 1956- August, 1958).
Writers: Various/Unknown
Artist: Steve Ditko
This volume shows Ditko honing his chops while jumping from genre to genre. The comics in this book were originally published by Charlton and Atlas (two stories). I was shocked that Marvel let Fantagraphics use their '50s stuff. Is this stuff public domain? I have no idea and am too lazy to look. Some of the writing is banal, especially the science fiction stuff. Ditko is solid and his artwork gets better as the book goes along. 
Mysterious Traveler is an interesting character, sort of like the early Phantom Stranger in appearance. He narrates but does not get directly involved with the characters in the story, unlike the Stranger. I did a quick check online, and I guess that the Mysterious Traveler was a radio show back then. Mysterious Traveler is the title of Vol. 3 in this series of books (due out any time now), so I suspect that we will be seeing a lot more of him.
Blake Bell does the world a great service hunting down and compiling these issues in a high quality, affordable format. You could spend years and thousands of dollars hunting these issues down, and still come up empty handed. Books like these are often a collaborative effort with the fan community, as Bell often solicits comics fandom for scans of these issues. I'm glad that there are a few people like Bell, Craig Yoe and others who are busy preserving the heritage of the art form before these old books moulder away.
The OCD zone- High resolution scans, filtered with the yellowing removed. This warts and all approach is great because it preserves the authenticity of the original comic books. There is a sinister undercurrent to this method as opposed to full blown restoration like Marvel and DC do, though. Old printing presses were inaccurate. That's why comic books had those huge white borders on the top and bottom of the page back then. The four color plates are, at times, off register here, making this too authentic. The off resgister printing was not an artistic choice but a manufactuing error, and often did not affect the entire run. I am all for historical accuracy, but this is one instance where modern restoration methods can truly right a wrong.
The paper is wonderful, pleasing to the touch and smells great. That sweatshop printing that our friends overseas do just can't be beat. The combination of lead paint chips, mercury from recalled thermometers, and asbestos tiles, when combined with the blood, sweat and tears of the children working the printing presses, makes for an intoxicating aroma. Like all Fantagraphics books, this is a high quality affair with sewn binding.

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1 comment:

  1. It's books like these that make it ok for me to pass on the DC Ditko vol. 2. I haven't purchased it yet, and I'm not sure I will after looking at it.

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