Letters : Staff : 2011 : To the Staff 02/10/2011

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Date: Oct 2, 2011
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From Chris

[To Al Sjoerdsma]

Ive been reading Spiderfan org for years now,and this is the first time I have been compelled to shoot off an email

First off, the obligatory jealous mention. that you were there at the start and have all the original issues, which us younger readers just cant compete with.

Okay, now thats done.

I am not really a huge fan of the Stan and Steve Spider-man issues. ( Oooh, bet that immediately put you against me ;)

I never liked his art, which for lack of a better word is ...quirky.

But recently I ran in to some Spider-man classics from the 90's.

You know the reprints of the originals with different covers.

These books are already 17 years old as well and they cost next to nothing, just the cover price, bargain.

Despite having them already in essentials, ( I love the essentials line, reprints of 25 comics for a reasonable price, even if they are black and white ) I bought them.

And there is something else to these issues.I dont know why maybe its the color or the fact they are stand alones instead of inside a huge book, but I think its the color.

But these comics are thrilling, alive, vibrant.

A joy to read.

Its a shame the classics line was so short, it could have been great.

The original comics, for a very reasonable price.

But I digress.

I have a few questions about Spider-man Classics 1, the reprint of Amazing Fantasy 15 ( naturally ) and Strange Tales 115. ( not so naturally )

The first question is,

At the end of the comic there is as mall caption on page 11 that says, 'By the way true believer, all the captivating coloring this issue was done by our ever loving Andy Yanchus.'

My question is (and I am assuming you have this comic ) does the coloring correspond to the real Amazing Fantasy 15 ?

The second question pertains the cover of Amazing Fantasy 15.

There is a bonus feature in Classics 1, the unused cover of Amazing fantasy 15, by Ditko.

Which I like better then the iconic real one.

The camera angle is totally different, and it has the quirky dynamicism that's Ditko.

Do you have any information or the story behind this cover or why it wasnt used ?

And yes that was pretty much it.

And you thought you were verbose ;)

Well, Chris, look at it this way... in order to have the original issues you probably have to be at least in your mid-50s. Is that a trade-off you'd be willing to make?

On the Stan and Steve thing... naw, it doesn't put me against you. It's all about changing styles, trends, technologies, social mores and how we relate to those of the past. We all laugh at 8-track audio players now but at the time they were used, no one was laughing at them. They were cutting edge technology. There's stuff out there now that seem fine... now. But we'll be laughing at Kindles in five years. So part of it is appreciating the process. Another part of it is getting past the surface techniques. Look at 1960s TV shows. A bunch of them are in black and white, the special effects are silly, the pace and editing are slow and clunky compared to today. Look at Kirk and Spock's communicators! They're bigger than most cell phones. Look at comics using completely different higher-grade paper stocks than the stuff that was used in the past. Look at 1970s films. The color process of the time was such that they look washed and faded today. Some people allow themselves to be influenced by such things and never delve down to the creativity. I once knew someone who refused to watch anything in black and white. He couldn't have been the only one since Turner worked so hard to try to colorize all those movies for awhile. You can decide to skip black and white things but then you miss Citizen Kane, Psycho, It Happened One Night, the Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and so on. It's easy for me to say all this since I grew up when many of these works were the latest thing. How do you put yourself back in that if you weren't there? How do you appreciate Ditko when fifty years of comic art since has altered the view of what is good comic art? Well, first you have to be exposed to it. Only then can you get past today's conventions and appreciate the conventions of the past. That's why I'm in favor of any projects like the Essentials series. Granted, seeing it in black and white doesn't do it justice but it gets it out there. But, you're right, something like Spider-Man Classic, in color, is really the way to go. The thing is, though, Ditko was not the colorist so you don't really need the color to appreciate Ditko's work. But it does give you a better chance of seeing the work as the original readers saw the work.

About Ditko: you're right that he's quirky. Even at the time he was drawing Spider-Man, he was considered to be quirky. His women were considered unattractive. He had some regular character types that showed up over and over. And even Ditko admitted he had trouble drawing feet. Plus, Ditko is not easy to like as an individual. He is reclusive and surly, by all accounts and very much dedicated to Randian theory. But, just as you can get past the clunky communicators and see how great the original Star Trek is, you can get past Ditko's quirkiness and see what a masterful storyteller he is. His artwork is always clear and always shows you, panel by panel, exactly what you need to see. He takes advantage of the quirkiness of Spidey himself to present us with odd camera angles, multiple figure moves in single panels and such great touches as the split Spidey/Peter faces. If you look for them, there are all sorts of expressionistic flourishes (such as the ghostly Spidey pushing Peter and Betty apart in...I think... ASM #34?) but they never seem to intrude on the reality of the story. In fact, for all the quirkiness and strangeness of his situations, villains, etc, Ditko's work feels very real, making us buy into Spidey's world completely. Take a moment to think of the oddness of Doc Ock, the Sandman, the Lizard, Mysterio, the Green Goblin. All ridiculous, right? Ditko makes them work. His characters' expressions convey exactly the emotion he wants them to convey. You can feel them in your gut. There is nothing like the images of Peter sweating out some crisis or Betty Brant's jealousy or JJJ gloating over a perceived success so strongly you feel like choking him. The next time Ditko feels passe and quirky, start looking at modern artists and see if you can find Ditko influences. There are alot of them. Without Ditko, comics wouldn't be the same. Spidey certainly wouldn't.

Now, your questions. The reason why Andy Yanchus is credited with the coloring is that he did that coloring for those books in the 90s. I haven't compared the coloring of that reprint with the original but I can guarantee you they're different. Some comics have been recolored because the companies feel that the old flat colors don't look very good on the nicer paper stocks but, in the case of old stuff like the early Spideys, they don't have the old color plots at all and photographing directly from the published pages never looks right. If you look back at the early Marvel Tales Spidey reprints, you'll see different color on those as well, even though it's the same cheap paper as the original. The colorist just wasn't valued as a significant creative contributor back then. (Hell, sometimes the artists weren't valued either!) I've made comparisons of some of these differences in coloring in the past. You can prefer one over the other but, for the most part, they each enhance Ditko's work in their own way. If you're a purist, you'd rather see the stories with the original colors but I don't think the recolors do anything bad to the stories. As long as they use a good colorist.

As for the rejection of Ditko's AF #15 cover, I don't recall the details of that but I think it's as simple as Stan, as editor, thinking that Ditko's cover wasn't dynamic enough. And whenever he wanted dynamic, he turned to Jack Kirby. Remember, these guys weren't aware that they were creating a classic. They were making a living doing comics and the more copies they sold, the better off they were. Also, remember that, at that time, kids bought their comics off spinning racks. There was tons of competition with most kids buying whatever caught their eye, not necessarily looking for their favorite characters. You had to make your cover stand out. Stan thought Kirby did a better job of that than Ditko in this case. I like Ditko's cover, too, but I think Stan may have been right here. Remember, too, this is the first time anyone would ever see Spider-Man. Ditko's cover is cool but Kirby's draws the eye in a way that makes that cover really stand out. You see that on the rack and there's a good chance you're going to buy it.

Thanks for writing, Chris.