Sunday, November 02, 2014

Steve Ditko

Today is Steve Ditko's birthday, he's 87.  So Happy Birthday to him.  He is generally known as being co-creator for Marvel character, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.  He's a pretty reclusive guy, so he stays out of the limelight, so not a lot is known about him.  As far as who was the creator of Spider-man there's a bit of contention to that story as well, which I'll talk about further down.  

For whatever reason, as a kid, I never knew much about Spider-Man growing up.  I don't remember seeing those comics at the local corner store where I'd ride my bike and buy a comic or two whenever I had the spending money.  Bear in mind, back in the stone ages, there weren't specialty and mega stores catering to comics fans.  What you found on the spinner rack, or in my case, the wired magazine racks that held a few comics and magazines were all you got.  Unless you had a friend that also collected comics to share in the experience you just remained oblivious. There were no fanzines in a small town either, and this was even before cartoons of such comic characters appeared as well.  Like I said, it was the stone age. Plus I never got an allowance or had a lot of disposable spending money, so I got what I could find, and that was fine.  Plus even though the corner store didn't have a huge amount of comics, they did have a nice selection, so you had to weigh your decision on the spending of a quarter or whatever change you had on a comic plus candy or two comics and no candy--it was a heavy decision for a kid!

Back in that day, I was drawn more to the larger-than-life iconic superheroes, like Superman, Batman, and sometimes The Flash.  At Marvel, I remember just buying the Fantastic Four, or one of their varied monster-type books, like Tales to Astonish or something like that.  So I knew about Spider-Man from the in-house ads in the back of Fantastic Four, but that was about it.  Had I had read one of the actual Spider-Man comics and his web slinging abilities, I'm sure I would have been a big fan. 

So it wasn't until years later that I even considered Spider-Man, and by that time, I was sort of outside the age range of who he might have appealed to.  Not really, but sort of.  In other words something else may have diverted my attention like Conan or X-Men, and then too, I quit collecting comics for many years.  It probably wasn't until around 1988 when Todd McFarlane started drawing Spider-Man with stories by David Michelinie, that the title sort of entered public awareness again with The Amazing Spider-Man #298.

The synopsis for the issue goes like this:  "Chance Encounter!" Part 1 of 2. Script by David Michelinie. Pencils by Todd McFarlane. Inks by Bob McLeod. Cover by Todd McFarlane. Chance is back in business and working a new job for the Life Foundation! The clandestine organization wants Chance to steal an arms shipment coming into the west side docks! That should be a piece of cake for the high-flying mercenary! However the Daily Bugle dispatches an undercover photographer to observe the delivery! And beneath the moonlit sky, fireworks explode when Chance and the Amazing Spider-Man throw down on the docks! First appearance (and cameo on the last page) by Eddie Brock (aka Venom). First appearance of Carlton Drake of the Life Foundation. Cameo appearances by Mary Jane Watson, Joy Mercado, and Joe Robertson. (Notes: Chance previously appeared in Web of Spider-Man 15. This issue begins Todd McFarlane's 2-year run as the penciler of the Amazing Spider-Man series.) 32 pages. Cover price $0.75.

The comic wasn't an overnight success, but gradually the art helped sell the new direction of the book due in part to McFarlane.  Over time he became a fan favorite, and would hide little things inside his intricate artwork.  For me, his art work is a little bit too cartoon-y, but I think it is fun to look at and he's pretty good at action sequences, and so I can see why it gained so much attention with fans at the time.

 Born in 1927, Ditko began his work in comics in 1953 and did some of his earliest professional illustration work with the Joe Simon - Jack Kirby shop. He began a long stint at Atlas Comics, later Marvel, in 1955, and by the mid-'60s was one of the most accomplished artists of his generation.

During this time, he wasn't exclusive to Marvel, also working with Charlton; in 1960, he co-created Captain Atom. He would continue to work with Charlton intermittently for decades, including a revamp of Blue Beetle that would see the character reinvented from a magic-based superhero to a street-level avenger in the vein of Batman.  For much of his work, especially once he became famous working on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, Ditko's work became known as stylized and almost psychedelic. Introducing characters like Eternity -- a cosmic entity whose design was that of a black shadow filled with images of the universe -- reinforced this sense.

He worked on the first 38 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man before breaking up with Marvel, and while the conventional wisdom is that Ditko left the series over a disagreement with Stan Lee (who, by then, had given Ditko a co-plotter credit) about the identity of the Green Goblin, Ditko denies that.  For years, the belief has been that the straw that broke the camel's back and led Ditko to stop working with Lee was that Lee had decided to make Norman Osborn, the father of Spider-Man's best friend, the face behind the Green Goblin's mask. Ditko, the legend goes, thought that it felt artificial and that the story would do better to reflect the real world, where it would be more likely than not that when the pulled the mask off, the man underneath would be a random stranger
"Stan never knew what he was getting in my Spider-Man stories and covers until after [production manager] Sol Brodsky took the material from me," Ditko told Wizard magazine in 2002. "So there couldn't have been any disagreement or agreement, no exchanges ... no problems between us concerning the Green Goblin or anything else from before issue #25 to my final issues."

As far as the contention goes as to who actually created Spider-Man, well, it varies.  Stan Lee usually says it was his character, and he got the idea from reading the old pulp stories of The Spider.  Jack Kirby, on the other hand, has a different version, which I read about in a couple of different books by Ron Goulart, a comic historian. 

According to Kirby, Spider-Man was not a product of Marvel.  It was the last thing he and Joe Simon discussed at his old studio before closing and moving to Marvel.  They had talked about a strip or script called The Silver Spider.  The Silver Spider was going into a magazine called Black Magic.  The magazine folded, however, and so they were just stuck with the Silver Spider script in limbo.  Kirby goes on to state that once he hooked up with Marvel, when they were on the verge of bankruptcy, he helped getting them back on track by creating Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Captain America, and other heroes.  It was at time time that he mentioned to Stan Lee his Silver Spider storyline, and thought it could be made into Spider-Man.  He thought the character held a lot of potential. But I guess the true story lies somewhere between all four: Lee, Ditko, Kirby, and Simon.

I'm just happy that recently the Jack Kirby estate finally won their lawsuit with Marvel, which is now actually Disney, and Jack's heirs will be reaping some of the hard work that he help build while he was with Marvel.  How much his heirs won, may not be known and is speculative, but I heard it was a pretty penny.

At any rate in the late '60s, Ditko would create or co-create characters like the Creeper and Hawk and Dove, as well as Mr. A, a hero who starred primarily in brutal, one-page comics. Mr. A reflected Ditko's Objectivist leanings and took a "hard line" with criminals. Political debate and controversy would remain present in the stories of Hawk and Dove long after Ditko had left them.

Throughout the '70s and '80s, Ditko would work fairly regularly with DC and Marvel in a freelance capacity, contributing to the creation of characters like Shade the Changing Man and Speedball. He would also draw books like Micronauts and Starman. He continued to freelance, with varying degrees of work actually seeing print, until the late '90s.  He continues to write and draw to this day, although it's mostly self-published and largely political.

Here's some PDF files from an older fanzine on Ditko, called Ditkomania. 

Here are some of his monster, and weird tale-type fiction from Journey Into Mystery. 

I watched the rebooted latest version of  The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) movie last night directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacy, and starring other recognizable big named stars like Martin Sheen and Sally Field.  Up front I'll say I enjoyed it.  It did retell Spider-Man's origins again, which probably wasn't really needed coming so soon after the original trilogy with Tobey Maguire, but it had enough differences in it concerning Peter Parker's high school days,  the bullying scenes, and so forth, that I didn't mind re-watching another take on it.  Again the special effects are totally fun and dazzling, and if you are into a super hero or popcorn movie, this one was pretty fun overall.  I imagine it looked pretty amazing in 3-D as well when it was playing at the theater.  It also had a pretty good score by James Horner.  I'd say it kept the franchise pretty well in good shape, and afterwards, I added the newest movie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to my Netflix queue.


At 8:43 PM, Blogger Richard Bellush said...

Ditko does have a more reclusive style than Stan Lee, but I liked both back in the day and now. Like you I relied on hit-and-miss comic book racks as a kid, but acquired some good stuff including early Hulk and Spiderman -- my mom, like other moms, helped boost the values of later collectors' comics by throwing out my old copies.

The creators of the classic comic book heroes do have a tumultuous history. Joe Shuster, co-creator of Superman, has one of the oddest. He drew soft-core porn comics "Nights of Horror" in the 1950s that became thw subject of a censorship case. See

At 5:33 PM, Blogger El Vox said...

I'd heard a little about that Joe Shuster case, seems a bit harmless now. The last time I heard of a cartoonist getting in trouble big time over smutty drawings was the Michael Dana case. By comparison his art made Shuster seem tame, the same could be said for a lot of underground comix.

Yes, I often read about a new comic collector wondering what their comics are valued at or if they'll appreciate in value--I try and let them down easy, but I doubt they will be worth much when everything is save, bagged, and boarded these days, no less slabbing them in CGC thick plastic, which to me is a bit ridiculous and hype. I think it's a myth perpetrated by the Big 2 comic companies.


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