Hot Streak: Steve Ditko’s Ghostly Haunts

« There’s no room for professional jealousy around the graveyard, chums… life is too short, as they say… but what comes after that short life may stretch into all eternity! »

I could carry on endlessly (or so it would seem) on any number of obscure topics, but it’s healthy, every once in a while, to take a deep breath, empty one’s mind of its flotsam and jetsam, and reach for an old favourite.

I hadn’t yet written anything about Steve Ditko‘s passing, as I figured it would get lost in the mad shuffle of tributes. That base was well-covered. Still, while I’d known all along the day would come, it was hard to imagine a world without that reclusive genius, likely my very first artistic inspiration.

I didn’t see much of Ditko’s 60s Marvel work until the late 70s pocket book reprints (the period equivalent of watching a movie on one’s cellphone), but the Charlton ghost books grabbed me at a tender age. And so…

As my candidate for Steve Ditko’s finest cover run, at any company, I submit issues 22-27 and 29-30 (curse you for the interruption, Joe Staton!), from January 1972 to March 1973, final year of Ditko’s peak period, imho.

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Ghostly Haunts no. 22 (Jan. 1972), an excellently-balanced all-around winner, with the whimsical “Wh-Who’s in Th-There?” (w: Joe Gill p: Charles Nicholas i: Vince Alascia), “Witch’s Brew“, a taste of creepy suburbia with a whiff of Rosemary’s Baby brimstone (w: Joe Gill, p/i Pat Boyette) and our headliner, “The Night of the Lonely Man!” by Gill and Ditko. Read the whole pamphlet here, folks.
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Ghostly Haunts no. 23 (Mar. 1972), offers two Gill-Ditko stories: “Treasure of the Tomb” and the cover-featured “Return Visit!“… and I’d be hard-pressed to pick the superior entry. The reader wins. Ah, you cast the deciding vote: read them both here.
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Ghostly Tales no. 24 (Apr. 1972), another strong issue, thanks to Gill and Boyette’s “The Other One!” and of course Ditko illustrating “A Man Who Was Here“, Joe Gill’s parable about a Tennessee mountain man displaced, but not entirely, by the construction of a modern superhighway. Read the entire issue here, ladies and gentlemen.
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« The butler’s a real monster! » Ghostly Tales no. 25 (June 1972) is where Mr. Ditko demonstrates his unmatched virtuosity in the delicate task of incorporating several elements of a tale without winding up with the dog’s breakfast. Compositional alchemy of the highest order! The cover tale aside, Joe Gill’s wonderfully-titled “What Will Lance Surprise Us with This Time?“, illustrated by Fred Himes, is loads of fun. Read “I’ll Never Leave You!here.
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Roger C. Feeney, Indian Affairs bureaucrat from Washington, DC, appears to have stumbled onto the wrong sacred Hopi cave. Uh-oh, Roger, it appears you’ve been noticed by… something. This is Ghostly Haunts no. 26 (Aug. 1972). Beyond the classy Ditko cover, it’s just an okay issue.
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« Why does it happen each year? Citizens of Trappton don’t know it, but it always begins right here… at an unmarked grave… » Presumably bearing no direct relation to the 1967 Michael Winner- Orson Welles – Oliver Reed film, I’ll Never Forget What’s-His-Name“, the Gill-Ditko cover story is a classic, the tale of a forgotten man, Bertram Crumm, who merely wanted his existence recognized by the town that spurned him during his lifetime.
It’s too bad Charlton only occasionally featured mystery host Dr. Graves in active (rather than narrative) roles, because when they did, the results were pretty gripping. Unusually, Graves guests outside his own book and in Winnie’s, and we find ourselves with a classic on our hands. This is Ghostly Haunts no. 27 (Nov. 1972). Read the Gill-Ditko story here, but don’t miss the fabulously oddball “The Mine’s All Mine!” by Gill and Stan Asch, featured right here.
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« Maybe I’m going mad! I keep imagining I hear his voice! » Ghostly Haunts no. 29 (Jan. 1973) features a striking (gold) exercise in fearful symmetry announcing the Joe Gill – Ditko saga of two untrustworthy acolytes in the Canadian North. Check out “Partners!here.
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« Ugh! It’s really hideous! Is it a self-portrait of the real you?»  We put the finishing touches on our tour of Steve Ditko covers from 1971-72 with Ghostly Haunts no. 30‘s “Fear Has Three Dimensions” (Mar. 1973). Despite a theme right in Ditko’s wheelhouse, none of his art appears within; the cover feature is handled by Wally Wood disciple Wayne Howard, and the other tales are deftly told by Fred Himes and Warren Sattler.

That just about wraps it up. For further reading on the topic, I recommend you check out Ben Herman’s perspective on some of these very stories, and on Ditko’s spooky Charlton work of the 70s in general.

« Poor Agatha Wilson still has screaming fits! »

-RG

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