Comics 101

Comics 101
    by Scott Tipton
One Hand Clapping
    by Chris Ryall
Kentucky Fried Rasslin'
    by Scott Bowden
Squib Central
    by Joshua Jabcuga

    by Jud Meyers


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By Scott Tipton
Scott Tiptons Comics 101


As we get ever closer to the release of COMIC BOOKS 101 in bookstores and comic shops nationwide, (and why not pre-order it right now?) it seemed like an opportune time to take another glance at a snippet from the cutting-room floor, excised from the book for space reasons. This time? Marvel's very own Sorcerer Supreme...


In 1963, as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were laying the groundwork for what would become the Marvel Universe, there were other books still being published by the company as well, remnants from the company's earlier days pumping out sci-fi and monster comics. As Marvel editor Stan Lee began to realize that superheroes had become the company's bread-and-butter, the remaining anthology books like JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, TALES TO ASTONISH and STRANGE TALES began to feature super-types as well. In the case of STRANGE TALES, Lee decided to split the book in half, and devote half the pages every month to solo adventures of the Human Torch, from the pages of Marvel's big hit THE FANTASTIC FOUR. When sales immediately jumped, Stan decided that another superhero would nicely fill out the second half of STRANGE TALES' monthly page count. So who came up with the new character, Marvel's resident Sorcerer Supreme? Well, here's where it gets a little hazy...

In Lee's chapter about Dr. Strange in his 1974 book ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, he goes into far less detail about the inception of the character compared to the others featured in the book. Sure, Stan discusses his love for the 1930s radio show CHANDU THE MAGICIAN, and cites it as an inspiration of sorts, but there's no discussion of the character's actual creation or development, merely "Anyway, Steve Ditko once again took up the art chores while I penned the words," which is hardly a blow-by-blow account. Correspondence from Stan Lee at the time of Dr. Strange's first publication has been printed in numerous sources, in which Stan says words to the effect that "Steve Ditko has come up with a magician character, Dr. Strangeā€¦" It would be great to hear Ditko's account of the creation, but the artist's absolute refusal to do interviews ("My work speaks for me" is pretty much the extent of Ditko's public statements since 1965) makes that unlikely at best.

Although it was most likely Ditko who created the character, Lee's characterizations and dialogue played a more than significant role in the increasing popularity of Dr. Strange. Lee's knack for creating insanely catchy names and phrases that just roll off the tongue was going full bore in this strip, as evidenced in Dr. Strange's opponents, like the Dread Dormammu, his spells, mystic talismans like the Eye of Agamotto, and his expressions: "By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!" Thanks to Steve Ditko's psychedelic dreamscapes, the "Dr. Strange" strip looked like nothing else out there, and thanks to Stan's dialogue, it sounded like nothing else out there as well.


In the good doctor's first appearance, STRANGE TALES #110's "Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic!", the mysterious Dr. Strange agrees to enter the dreams of a man tortured by nightmares and determine the cause of his torment. As stories go, this one's pretty routine. A fairly standard "Twilight Zone"-ish riff about a man's own guilt torturing him, the plot's nothing to write home about, and Lee's script is pretty blah as well.


If anything got this story noticed, it was Ditko and Ditko alone. Starting off with the character design: Dr. Strange stood out from most other comic-book magician types like Zatara, Mandrake or Sargon, who tended to wear variations on the evening-wear attire favored by most stage magicians. The subtle emblem on Strange's tunic implied dark forces dwelling within him, straining to get out, while the black dots on his orange gloves seemed to symbolize the power bubbling from his fingertips.


As for the storytelling, Ditko's conception of Strange's astral form leaving his body and entering the dreamworld was unusual, groundbreaking stuff in comics back in '63, and his heavy use of inks and shadows gave the book an overall sense of moodiness not seen in any of the other books Marvel was publishing at the time.


By Dr. Strange's fourth appearance, there seemed to be a recognition that Marvel had another hit on their hands, and Stan began devoting the same amount of attention to the scripting that he did on the other books. All of a sudden, the Dr. Strange stories weren't just moody space-fillers, but full-fledged Marvel comics, with the same attention to characterization and human nature that the other series had become acclaimed for. You can definitely see the difference in STRANGE TALES #115's "The Origin of Dr. Strange."

The story opens with an exhausted, haggard Stephen Strange arriving at the remote Indian chamber of the Ancient One, where he demands that the wizened figure use his rumored healing powers to help him. The Ancient One peers into Strange's mind to learn the real story. Stephen Strange had been a successful but haughty, uncaring surgeon, self-absorbed and only concerned with money and material gain. However, after a terrible auto accident, Strange found that he had suffered incurable nerve damage in his hands, rendering him unable to operate ever again.


Strange's life went into a tailspin after the accident, ending up a drifter, until he heard rumors of the healing powers of the Ancient One.

The Ancient One refuses to help Strange, but does offer him an opportunity to stay and study under him. Strange rejects the offer, but is unable to leave due to a mysteriously arriving snowfall. Forced to remain in the Ancient One's temple, Strange witnesses a sorcerous attack on the old man, and soon discovers the culprit: the Ancient One's scheming pupil Mordo. Mordo slaps a spell on Strange, rendering him unable to warn the Ancient One of Mordo's villainy.


Strange soon discovers that the spell only prevents him from speaking about Mordo's plot, so he returns to the Ancient One and asks to study under him, so that he can defeat Mordo and protect the elderly sorcerer. With that, the Ancient One accepts Strange as his disciple and releases him from Mordo's spell.

In this appearance, not only had the plotting and characterization been tightened up considerably, but Ditko had also begun refining the character designs, with Dr. Strange, Baron Mordo and the Ancient One all appearing pretty much as they would through the rest of Ditko's tenure on the strip. Ditko also shows the first steps toward what would eventually be his trademark portrayal of mystic battles and spells.

Steve Ditko left DOCTOR STRANGE after 35 issues, and although many a talented soul worked on the book in his stead, none has ever really been able to capture the freaky flavor that Ditko had brought.

Scott Tipton is eagerly awaiting the release of COMIC BOOKS 101. If you have questions about Dr. Strange or comics in general, send 'em here.