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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Lydia Horvath

Along with Spider-Man’s debut story, three other Ditko-Lee collaborations appeared in Amazing Fantasy No. 15, including the five-pager “The One and Only!” According to comics collector James Horvath, however, the story was really drawn by his grandmother, Lydia Horvath, a Golden Age artist who spent her career ghosting for bigger names.

Or at least that’s the premise of my novel The Patron Saint of Superheroes. My agent suggested the manuscript include a sample comic book page, so I went in search of an artist who could pretend to be Lydia Horvath pretending to be Steve Ditko. Sean Michael Robinson swooped to my rescue.

And at the risk of revealing myself to be an Alan Moore-level control freak, I think our email correspondence reveals a few things about the collaborative process of writing and drawing comics.

original script (2)

SEAN: Your page from the script you shared looks great– just enough stage direction. My only practical concern with it– Ditko very rarely broke more than 9 panels a page. In fact, in my cursory Ditko flip-through this morning (“Essential Spider-man V 1”, “Steve Ditko Archives” V 1 + 2) I’m seeing the majority of the page breakdowns hovering around 6-7 panels, with a few outliers in the 8-9 range.

Was this actually drawn by Ditko? If not, are there any “tells,” or should it look as much like his work as possible?

CHRIS: It sounds like we were looking at Essential Spider-Man simultaneously this morning. And you’re absolutely right, the panel layout is nothing like Ditko’s—and that’s actually the one “tell” I want the page to have. I’m attaching the PAGE THREE script, which includes the layout. (The gutters form a St. James cross, which is the artist’s secret signature, are a big part of the novel.)

first layout

SEAN: Okay, here are two rough (very rough!) layouts. You’ll notice I make a few script suggestions in the margin for the sake of space. Also, I’m not sure how to approach visually the third panel on the 1st tier– substituted a far-off climbing Jim. Feel free to send a sketch my way. Are we seeing just the hand? The top of his head or pack? The view down the cliff face?

Also substituted a close-up for the 1st p 3rd tier– let me know how it strikes you.

Singulus_layoutAlt

CHRIS: Yes to trimming the first caption. So it would now read:

Before vanishing, Singulus told Little Jim that he had gained his powers from a guru in Tibet. Nothing left to lose, Little Jim splurges on a one-way ticket!

For panel 1.2, try a downward view from the very top of the cliff with mostly just Jim’s giant hand reaching up.

1.1, 1.3, 2.1, 2.2 all look good–I especially like how the cave opening worked out. 2.3 and 2.4 look good too, but I’d like to move the talk balloons, so that 2.3’s “Singulus?” is at the bottom of the panel with the balloon arrow pointing to the left gutter (and so Jim in 2.2), and Onlyone’s bubble moves to the top of 2.4. I think that way it will be clearer to see that the flashlight is moving up from the discarded costume to Onlyone, because currently the balloons partly block the partial views of Onlyone’s legs and the costume.

For 3.1, I really like the first version, with Onlyone extending his arm with the ring–but try rotating the panel 180 degrees so Onlyone is at the top and Jim at the bottom. Their dialogue can be reversed so Onlyone speaks first and Jim responds with “Me?”

Yes about lowering the hand on 3.2, so we can see more of Onlyone’s face. Also Jim should slide the ring onto his left ring finger, as he would a wedding ring.

The close-up of Onlyone is good though, so could you place it in the final panel instead? There’s no need for Singulus to appear at all in 3.4. And Onlyone’s emphatic talk bubble can go at the the bottom of the panel, ending the page.

For the big Singulus! 3.3 panel, let his talk bubble punch through the top of the panel into the bottom of 2.3 (which could make a nice effect with the previous “Singulus?”) and let his elbows jut into 3.2 and 3.4. Also, if it’s not already, leave 3.3 unframed.

SEAN: Does this work?

Two versions of the 1.3 panel– pls let me know which one is closer.

Singulus_layoutA  Singulus_layoutF (1)

CHRIS: Go with the alt for 1.2. The bigger the hand the better. It should overwhelm all of the other visual information, so 1.3 then is an answer to the implied questions: what’s going on? where are we?

Good talk bubble flip on 2.3.  Flip 2.4 too.

3.1 looks good. Same for 3.2, though maybe make Onlyone a little smaller so 3.4 is more of a revelation.

Nice elbows on 3.3, but I think the “Singulus!” will work better at the top of the panel, especially since the 3.2 and 3.4 talk bubbles are at the bottoms.

I also attached images for combining into the Singulus costume: Superman’s original boots, Amazing Man’s waist and chest belts, Wonderman’s collar and v-neck, plus standard briefs, long sleeves, no gloves, no cape. (I’m not sure about the Ultraman helmet.)

amazing man wonderman ultra man 1940

SEAN: Here’s the promised costume rough (emphasis on rough). Feedback? I have the v-neck and the collar turning into the shoulder of the cape, if it’s not clear. Also added some horizontal stripes in the speedo area. Not sure about that helmet, and the only pics I can find of the character don’t really help in terms of how it’s put together 🙂

Anyway, all thoughts welcome.

Singulus_costume_RUFF (2)

CHRIS: This looks great, Sean. Some possible fine-tunings:

Gloves or wrist bands that match the boots.

And maybe simplify the lines in the chest by having the v of the shirt merge into the v of the criss-crossing belts?

I’m also debating whether the helmet is too much. Maybe instead add a lone ranger mask?

Singulus_costume_RUFF_C

CHRIS: I really love your face, which is lost with the mask, so let’s not have a mask, and you tell me whether you think the helmet works or not.

The wrist bands, briefs and collar all look good.

Should the wrist bands cover the forearms the way the boots cover the calves?

Ditko_practiceInks (1)

CHRIS: Yes, I can see Ditko coming through in that.

If Singulus’ face is unmasked, young, good-looking, with a full set of hair, Jim should be a bit chubby with a receding hairline.

And keep Onlyone’s body as bony as possible, with almost skeletal arms, definitely a bald head, and a face of ancient raisin-like wrinkles–underneath which is Stan Lee’s face.

Singulus_pencils_full_B     Singulus_pencils_full_C     Singulus_pencils_full_A

SEAN: Three versions here. Thoughts? I’m hoping the rendering will take it into firmer Ditko territory…

CHRIS: Go with Singulus facing left away from the last panel, and with Onlyone’s head larger. Final fine-tunings:

Make Onlyone completely bald and super wrinkly.

Give Jim even more of a gut.

Let the words “Singulus!” burst out of the panel frames in 3.3. His right elbow protrudes into 3.2 well, and so let his left elbow protrude into 3.4 too, maybe slipping slightly behind Onlyone’s head?

To clarify the spatial relationship between 1.3 and 2.1, can you lower the bottom of the cave opening so this becomes the moment that Jim enters the cave? Also, can the same mountain that’s in the background of 1.3 be in the slightly more distant background of 2.1?

SEAN: Okay, here are two versions. I have a strong preference for B, but either one is fine with me!

Things that can be done to make it a bit more “Marvel”:

1. Re-letter this using a font close in style to that decade’s Marvel letters. I can’t get close to that look myself (being left-handed is a big impediment to that, believe it or not 🙂   ) I can look around on some sites if you want me to find a 60’s Marvel copycat font.

2. appropriate artwork stamps on top

3. color “old page” tint to the page (depending on your needs).

CHRIS: I agree that B, with the elbow cut off by the panel frame, looks better, so let’s go with that. And yes also to “old” tint and the artwork stamps. Oh, and can Onlyone be more wrinkled in that final panel close-up? And if you think refonting would look good, go with that too.

SEAN: Here is the finished color file. Thanks again for working with me on this! It was a lot of fun and quite the challenge 🙂

singulus_fullcolor_flat

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Two pages from the original artwork for the Spiderman comic.

The final issue of Amazing Fantasy No. 15 featured not only Spider-Man’s debut but three shorter Steve Ditko and Stan Lee collaborations, including “The One and Only,” a five-page tale made in the late 1950s and dropped into Amazing Fantasy as back filler. Ditko is credited for the art, but comics collector James Horvath, grandson of Golden Age artist Lydia Horvath, believes his grandmother actually drew it. Ms. Horvath was renown for her ability to imitate other artists, including Joe Shuster for whom she ghosted as a member of his studio before leaving Cleveland in 1940 to begin her freelancing career with Timely and Paragon Comics.

The script for “The One and Only” was assumed lost, until Horvath recently discovered it in his late grandmother’s private papers. It is a parody of Golden Age knock-offs of Superman and features a Jimmy Olson-like character losing his newspaper job and searching for his beloved hero “Singulus” who went inexplicably missing during the 1950s. It has a dark twist ending which I won’t spoil, but here is an excerpt:

 

PAGE THREE, “The One and Only”

Script: Stan Lee

Row 1, Panel 1: Plane flying over the Himalayas. Caption: “Before vanishing, Singulus told Little Jim that he had gained his powers from a guru in the Himalaya Mountains. With nothing left to lose, Little Jim splurges on a one-way ticket to Tibet!”

Row 1, Panel 2: Close-up of Jim’s extremely foreshortened, rock-gouged hand reaching through a mist of mountain cloud for a ledge hold. Zoom in for the crosshatch of cuts and ragged nail edges.

Row 1, Panel 3: When Jimmy’s gritting face struggles over the ledge, he’s now has a scraggly beard and a few gray wires of hair over his still adolescently-round head.

Row 2, Panel 1: Jim now fully on the ledge pulls out a flashlight from his removed backpack before entering the cave mouth.

Row 2, Panel 2: Jim’s round white eyes above the flashlight eye as he stumbles into the black of the secret cavern, with the cave opening now behind him.

Row 2, Panel 3: Jim’s POV, flashlight finds Singulus’ abandoned costume on the cave floor. Jim: “Singulus?”

Row 2, Panel 4: Jim’s POV, flashlight reveals the ancient guru Onlyone sitting cross-legged next to the costume. Onlyone: “At last the next heir to the Power Singulus has answered the calling!”

Row 3, Panel 1: Onlyone stretches out his arm, hand open with a ring in his palm. Jim reaches for the ring. Jim: “Me?” Onlyone: “I, Onlyone the Lonely One, Holy Keeper of the Power Singular, have been waiting to bestow this gift upon you.”

Row 3, Panel 2: Jim’s POV, as Onlyone watches him slide the ring onto his finger. Close up of finger and the ring with the letter “S” on it. Jim: “But I’m just Little Jim. How can I ever be—”

Row 3, Panel 3: Jim transforms into the new Singulus. His body mushrooms, newly superheroic shoulders shoving through the frame edges. The new Singulus leotard has bolder lines and darker colors than the discarded one shown earlier on the ground. Jim: “SINGULUS!!”

Row 3, Panel 4: Onlyone stands behind the new Singulus. Onlyone in spike-edged talk balloon, words in bold: “But remember!! The Power Singular is singular!! The cosmic charm was forged in secrecy and so in secrecy must remain!! The chosen one must stand alone or free his Secret Rival!!”

Sadly none of this is true. Lydia Horvath does not exist. Her grandson, James Horvath, is the fictional narrator of the novel The Patron Saint of Superheroes, which my agent is pitching to acquisition editors in New York publishing houses. The story is about Horvath’s attempts to preserve his dying grandmother by collecting her lost artwork—a mission that leads him to stealing the original printer pages for Amazing Fantasy No. 15 from a millionaire’s wall and later donating them anonymously to the Library of Congress. That actually did happen in 2008, and my novel is, among other things, the story behind that story.

My agent thinks the novel should also include the art for “The One and Only.” But that’s a little hard to do since the Ditko knock-off story doesn’t actually exist. At least not yet.

I’m looking for an artist interested in being Steve Ditko. Or rather an artist interested in pretending to be Lydia Horvath pretending to be Steve Ditko. If/when some wonderful editor buys the manuscript, the project will expand, but for the current pitching stage, we’re looking for one drawing. The page scripted above.

There’s plenty more to tell (the complete letter-like script was published as a short story in The Pinch in 2011, and the description of another Horvath comic as a prose poem last year in Drawn to Marvel), but these are the essentials. If you’re an artist interested in collaborating, contact me at chris@gavaler.com.

Image result for steve ditko art library of congress 2008

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