Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gorgo Loves His Mama



Ditko Monsters: Gorgo: edited by Craig Yoe; written by Joe Gill and others; illustrated by Steve Ditko and others (1961-64; reprinted 2013): This grand, tabloid-sized volume reprints all of comic-book legend Steve (Spider-man, Dr. Strange) Ditko's work on the Charlton Comics adaptation and continuation of the giant-monster movie Gorgo.

Gorgo was a British attempt in the early 1960's to match the success of Toho Studios' Japanese giant-monster movies, especially Godzilla (nee Gojira). Thus was born Gorgo, a giant monster with an even more giant mother. Like King Kong, Gorgo gets captured and exhibited by some remarkably stupid showmen. Unlike King Kong, Gorgo has a mother who seems to be several hundred feet tall. England takes a beating.

After adapting the movie, Charlton continued the adventures of Gorgo and Mama Gorgo. Ditko and his long-time collaborator at Charlton, writer Joe Gill, combined on several issues of the title over a three-year period, with Ditko also providing several covers to issues he didn't otherwise illustrate.

This volume really highlights Ditko's two almost paradoxically opposite skills as a comic-book artist. He's great at drawing really weird things, and he's great at drawing people and settings that look far more normal and believeable than that of any other mainstream American comic-book artist in history. Giant monsters and ordinary people: it's the Robert Redford/Godzilla movie you always wanted!

In between depopulating the ocean for their out-sized caloric requirements (Gorgo's mother can gulp down sperm whales whole), Gorgo and his mother sleep on the ocean floor and occasionally get into adventures. They're not the villains of the series -- far from it. Instead, they end the Cuban Missile Crisis (I'm not joking), save Earth from an alien invasion, rescue an American nuclear submarine from the ocean floor, and inspire men and women to get married wherever they go (again, not kidding). For giant, destructive monsters, they sure are swell.

Throughout, Ditko juxtaposes the mundane and the fantastic with the same sort of skill he exhibited on his far more famous work on Spider-man and Dr. Strange, two characters he was drawing for Marvel pretty much simultaneously with several of the stories in this volume. Ditko enjoyed working for Charlton, pretty much the cheapest of the comic-book publishers to survive through the 1960's and 1970's, because he had pretty much carte blanche. Charlton was too cheap to exert editorial control, which meant Ditko didn't have to tailor his style to the publisher or have his stories micro-managed by an editor.

It's all a lot of over-sized fun on over-sized pages. This is Ditko near the height of his mainstream artistic powers. The scripts by Joe Gill are loopy in that Silver-Age science-fictiony way. The historical material contextualizes both the movie and the comics. Really, a fine piece of work. Gorgo loves his mama! Highly recommended.

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