MOME Vol. 19 remembers indie’s underground roots: Fantagaphics’ comics anthology delivers a more depraved DitkoPosted on September 13th, 2010 - 08:42 AM by Claire Donner, Party of One
Mome, Fantagraphics’ quarterly collection of independent comics artists new and old, has been delivering the latest in art and lit comics innovations for five. The series started on very strong footing with young upstarts like David Heatley and Sophie Crumb, sure hands such as Anders Nilsen and Gabrielle Bell, and even established European stars like David B. Inevitably, many of Mome’s finest finds began fine arts careers or otherwise became successes in their own right, leaving them less dependent on the anthology’s exposure. Thus, the book has often been a dramatically hit-or-miss read, sometimes offering little to write home about even from legends like Beto Hernandez or Gilbert Shelton. At this late date, it’s even more exciting than ever when Mome’s editorial staff excavates some undiscovered diamond in the rough – and this summer, they struck sequential art gold, interestingly enough, under the influence of mainstream monolith Steve Ditko.
Spider-Man co-creator Ditko’s contributions to the Marvel and DC universes are immeasurable, both in terms of crafting characters and bringing pathos and surrealism to a medium that was rarely as fantastical as it might be. The boundless imagination and psychological depth of Ditko’s work were most evident in pulp comics to which he contributed, like Eerie, Creepy, and a variety of titles describing themselves as “strange” of “suspense”-filled. The Mome entry in question draws on a 1972 Ditko short for the Charlton Comics title Haunted #4, “Driven to Destruction”, about a man whose sadistic spouse continues to dominate him even from beyond the grave. The punny title is only the first symptom of the story’s pedestrian pulpiness, with its Crypt Keeper stand-in (“Impy”), equally emotional and psychological violence, and obvious ironies. Ditko spices up the panels and prose with his trademark Fruedian histrionics and hallucinatory heebie jeebies.
However, not to dis Ditko, but for gruesome ‘70s offerings, it hardly compares to the titillation contemporaneously offered in the grindhouses – or even other comic books, from independent publishers. One imagines that Ditko might have felt as constrained as his castrated protagonist by the Comics Code Authority – shortly before this publication, the artist shared a studio blocks from Times Square with the infamous Eric Stanton, and sometimes collaborated on Stanton’s fetish comics.
With that in mind, D.J. Bryant’s vibrantly perverted take on “Driven to Destruction” is less an update and more a revisionist move, granting Ditko’s story the freedom that other creators enjoyed at the time. It would be almost impossible to present the most powerful evidence here, as most of Bryant’s finest panels are very NSFAnywhere. Though Bryant chooses a far less flamboyant title – naming the work after its villainess, Evelyn Dalton-Hoyt – nearly every page is rife with pornographic flourishes, as he trades in “Driven’s” icy iron maiden for a sadistic sex therapist who uses psychobabble to ensnare a man in a marital nightmare. However, Bryant doesn’t rest on the dubious laurels of simple envelope-pushing; he is a startling talented draftsman who easily proves himself the equal of a Ditko homage. See Exhibit A below, a panel that serves as a deft summing-up of the ways in which Bryant pigeons Ditkos’s expressiveness while introducing an element of rotten sexuality that ran rampant in other comics (or rather, commix) circles in the original author’s era. Suffice it to say that the rest of Bryant’s artwork overshoots suggestiveness and provides the reader with near-medical specificity about the goings on between the protagonist, his wife, and whoever else strikes her fancy.
As with Ditko’s original, the hausfrau fatale’s degradations transform her husband from unter-mensch to potential murderer, but the circumstances of her death ensure that he is doomed to think of her forever more. Though Bryant certainly enjoys a greater freedom than did Ditko in terms of adult content, one can hardly imagine a penicller more capable of delivering sheer dementia than the elder artist. No one would have the nerve to impugn Ditko’s supremacy in this specific realm, but Bryant makes a valiant go of it with his depictions of the insect-infested, infantile inner working of a man losing his mind. There is hardly room here to flaunt the younger artist’s talents in full, it’s a fair bet that the results would give Dario Argento nightmares.
For the time being, D.J. Bryant seems to be toiling in obscurity – even the Livejournal link provided by his bio leads to a virtual dead end. One hopes that the Mome team will not live up to their name (which is French for nogoodnik, or as Fantagraphics knowingly claims, “blockhead”), and do us all the favor of inviting him back for Volume 20 in the fall.
Tagged: david heatly · Indie Comics · mome
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