Historical Hits: Steve Ditko

Stephen J. Ditko
– HERO –

November 2, 1927- June 29, 2018

~


July 3, 2018, 

I wasn’t sure where to begin with this one.

There is so much depth and detail to the man,

the sheer volume of his interests and works.

His contribution to the industry is hard to describe and vast.

Vast.

Yet such a man, a legend in fact;  deserves to be celebrated.

He lived his life in a mysterious and quiet way.

This choice of a life of solitude

makes any kind of personal examination

almost impossible.

He is an inspiration to me and countless others.

I’ll try and give you some of the amazing story that is the life of – 

Steve Ditko.


The unique quality of his work makes it instantly recognizable. 

He is one of a very small group of industry originators that inspired almost every generation of comic artists and continues to do so today.

Steves’ characters are iconic and helped to establish not just one era…but multiples of them.

Steve Ditko shunned public life and lived in complete solitude for the most part. He never married and as far as anyone knows, he never chose to have children.

In the early days of his life, artistic inspirations appear to come first from his father. The elder Ditko was a man who fed his family working with his hands as carpenter. 

Ditko senior enjoyed weekly newspaper strips and this undoubtedly influenced the interests of young Steve.

By his middle school years he had already learned to emulate his father creatively and had contributed to the war effort during by modelling wooden scale replicas of German warplanes.

This was in an effort to supply coastal defense groups to help them learn to recognize and report any appearance of German aircraft in North America. 

These groups were spread out as a network of tiny communities all along the eastern seaboard in small seaside villages from the tip of Florida north –

to the Maritimes of Canada and all the way into Newfoundland, which at that time; was still a Dominion of Great Britain.


The appearance of a famous superhero in 1940

just a short while before Steve entered high school is said to have been a huge inspiration.

It most likely shaped his choices of where his hands and his art could take him.

Batman was very popular with young people at this time, and Steve was no exception.


Perhaps as a result of being born of an immigrant family, Steve felt he had an obligation or civic duty to serve the country that had welcomed them.

He had been too young to go to war but perhaps he still felt a responsibility to do his part, as most young men at that time did.

And so, his military service began two months after WWII ended. 

His career with the Army consisted of postings in Europe working for various Allied newspapers where he produced weekly comics strips.


 

After returning from his service in Europe, Steve apparently knew exactly where he wanted to go next.

Subsidies offered by the U.S. Government to retired and disabled war veterans

 through a program that was known as the ‘G.I. Bill’ enabled Steve around 1950, 

to enroll in an art school that was being run by his comic artist hero Jerry Robinson.

When asked in later years what he thought of the young Steve, Jerry looking back felt that – 


“…here was a young fellow that knew how to work with a team…”


He remembered that Steve had a great imagination and that he was a most enthusiastic student once saying :


 “He was in my class for two years, four or five days a week, five hours a night. It was very intense.”

~ Jerry Robinson~


His teacher and mentor saw so much potential in this young man that he made sure to pull some strings in order to ensure that Steve could receive a scholarship and continue his studies in art.

Robinson would frequently invite industry artists and writers to the school to share experience and the nature of their respective enterprises with his students.

It was during one of these special gatherings that Stan Lee briefly came into contact with a young Steve Ditko.


After finishing his studies, he was encouraged and excited to have a chance at working directly

with Mort Meskin, an industry heavyweight.

Steve had long looked up to Mort and later recalled:



“Meskin was fabulous. I couldn’t believe the ease with which he drew. 
Strong compositions, loose pencils, yet complete;

…detail without clutter. I loved his stuff.”

~ Steve Ditko~ 


He began doing ink work with Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.

Steve also collaborated and contributed his skills

at ‘Carlton Comics’ and Warren Publications among others.


Warren Publications dealt in mystery and horror genres in which Steve also excelled.

By the spring of 1954 however, he contracted tuberculosis and was forced to return home.

Hey stayed nearly two years in order to attend to his health under the care of his parents.

​ 

He did recover however,  by the fall of 1955.

He then made up his mind that he would return to New York to continue with his work.

It was at this point that he began work for ‘Atlas Comics’ which would evolve of course eventually, into –

‘Marvel Comics’.


Steve added his talents to a large variety of projects at ‘Atlas/Marvel’.

He worked with industry work horses Joe Sinnott,

Paul Reinman and Don Heck.

Stan Lee was contributing his writing to various titles but had the added responsibility of acting as editor for the company as well.


Steve and Stan had worked together on a series of short stories included as filler in some well-known and popular titles. 

This partnership with Stan resonated with readers quite well and soon enough this concept was given the go ahead for its own spread.


Launched as ‘Amazing Adult Fantasy’ and later simply ‘Amazing Fantasy’ –

and was aimed at a more mature audience.

An attempt to expand the reach of comics into a much varied demographique

than had been the case in comic publications previously.

A period of risk taking and in trying to find new ways to reach more readers.

While being interviewed around 2009 – Stan recalled :


“All I had to do was give Steve a one-line description of the plot and he’d be off and running.”

” He’d take those skeleton outlines I had given him…and turn them into classic little works of art…”

“…far cooler than I had any right to expect.”                                                                 

~ Stan Lee ~ 


 

After having approached lead artist Jack Kirby with some concepts for a new young hero, Stan Lee was convinced the idea had merit; 

but wasn’t satisfied with Kirbys’ portrayals.


He passed the idea to Steve Ditko and together they created an icon. The rest as they say…is history…


“One of the first things I did was to work up a costume.

A vital, visual part of the character. I had to know how he looked…before I did any breakdowns.

For example: A clinging power so he wouldn’t have hard shoes or boots, a hidden wrist-shooter versus a web gun and holster, etc…

I wasn’t sure Stan would like the idea of covering the character’s face but I did it because it hid an obviously boyish face.

It would also add mystery to the character….”             

~ Steve Ditko ~


For the first time, here was a new idea – a new type of character.

One not made in the cookie cutter style so prevalent in the industry.

It was a real risk to feature a completely redefined concept.

A teenager in the lead, a superhero kid;

and not simply a token sidekick, providing comic relief.

And so, for a tragically short burst of time,

Stan and Steve worked on Spider-Man.

 


 

This period resulted in an explosion of new ideas and creations.

Truly groundbreaking. 

Together they created the most unique, 

the most recognizable and iconic villains to ever grace a comic page. 

Dr. Octopus, Electro, Sandman.

The unforgettable Green Goblin and The Lizard.


 

This flurry of artistic expression inevitably resulted in the ultimate collaborative comic book masterpiece,

the welding and fusion of writing and art like never before.

It culminated in the Lee/Ditko issue #33 of –

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’.

Almost any comic enthusiast will agree that it is one of the most pivotal,

remarkable and memorable moments in all of comic history.


That issue changed the industry and how that industry thought about itself

It changed it’s relationship to the fans it was trying to reach.

Spider-Man almost lost in that issue, but his love of his family

and his sense of responsibility gave him the strength and he refused to give up.


It made our hero human, it made our hero fallible.

It gave us a real stake in the life of our hero.

We had long identified with our heroes in comics, this much was certain. 

But unusually here we faced the very real possibility

– Spider-Man might lose –

We might lose him…

It was a pivotal moment for comic book writing and expression.

Fandom went wild.

A sort of sophistication had been reached.

Artists and writers changed the way they approached

the humanity and the subtle weaknesses of their heroes.

They could use those weaknesses to help build a relationship with readers.

And comic book heroes would never the same again.

We had the realization and fulfillment of the spark and at the core, the idea – the ‘Marvel Method’ – 

Manifested as true collaboration in the artistic and writing expressions that we call comic books.

(with a very quick production pace)

At the nucleus was trust, understanding and the free communication of ideas.

Comic fans and historians everywhere,

are familiar with Steves’ distinct takes on so many iconic heroes.

He worked his pencil on some of the first issues that featured – 

‘Iron Man’

Steve featured Mr. Stark in the familiar red and gold ‘Iron Man’ battle armour that we all recognize today.


 

When the first ‘Hulk’ series ended with Ditko wrapping up the final issues,

and when he was burned out from his work on his work on Gorgo and Konga came…

‘Dr. Strange’

This unique and dazzling new character became a huge hit with young adults in the late 60’s.

By the spring of 1966 however, Steve was becoming disillusioned with’Marvel Comics’.


Perhaps it was a result of personal or political differences,

Perhaps it was a result of feeling slighted for not getting the credit or reimbursement he felt he deserved for his creations.

Or maybe, it was just time for a change.

In any case it signaled a real breakdown within  the collaborative spirit of the gang at ‘Marvel’.

That year marked the end of an era for Marvel Comics and for Steve.

He went on to work on many incomparable and memorable titles working at a whole variety of publications.

He returned to a lower paying gig at ‘Carlton Comics’

and was allowed much more creative freedom and control of the products of his brainchild.

He worked on ‘Captain Atom’ and ‘The Blue Beetle’ for example.


By 1968 he began his contribution at ‘DC Comics’.Writer Paul Levitz later said when asked to comment on Steves’ art, offered that it was :

“…unlike anything else being published by DC at the time…” ~ Paul Levitz~


Steve put his skills to use while at ‘DC’  on such well known titles as ‘Beware the Creeper’ and ‘Hawk and Dove’.


He continued to assist in various freelance projects and to he contributed to ‘Heroes Inc. Presents Cannon’ with his longtime on and off again comic co-pilot Wally Woods.

This effort is regarded industry wide as the first true foray

into independent comic production.


He left ‘DC Comics’ after only a short time and returned faithfully to ‘Carlton Comics’

and assisted industry friends and colleagues everywhere with various independent ventures until the middle of the 1970s’.

What followed just after this period in Steves’ life can only be described as a flurry and perhaps can be best understood as the realization of his career experiences to this point.


A level of comfort, familiarity and habit with his craft seemingly allowed him the confidence and established routine to become incredibly prolific and creative in his contributions to the medium.

He spread out his talent in all sorts of directions. It was as if now looking back through the catalog as if he were everywhere, anywhere, all at one time.

He returned to ‘DC Comics’ in 1975 and was back at ‘Marvel’ by 1979. He did furiously productive freelance work for ‘Pacific Comics’ and ‘Eclipse Comics’.

He was it seems, continuously juggling all sort of new concepts and content. The tempo of the work was unstoppable.


During this whirl, he created and introduced or contributed to such memorable toons as –

Shade the Changing Man.

Captain Atom, Static and The Mocker.

He worked out Stalker.

He brought forth the villain The Exploder.

Ditko created Dragon Lord.

He stepped up frequently to contribute his help to Kirbys’

Machine Man, lending his hand to The Micronauts.

He brought back ‘The Creeper’, he pulled ‘the Fly‘ out from the comic history bin.

He conceived ‘Missing Man’

It should be remembered Ditko created Squirrel Girl

It goes on and on for days folks. I’ll have to stop somewhere.

I told you, it’s vast.

It’s an enormous masters list  –

of masters works.

But, it is said by some admirers,

that to truly understand Steve Ditko as the artist.

The man working from the heart of the medium.

A master of his craft, there is perhaps no greater creation

to try to understand and appreciate Steve Ditko…

the artist and the man than –

Mr. A

Personally, one of my favorites isn’t even a hero.

For the tone or relief or change of direction that is instantly achieved by just an appearance.

The best is my inspiration; the crabby and sarcastic Newspaper editor Mr. Jonah Jameson.

**I love him I think because he’s the best of Steve and Stan together.

A reflection of their lives and work and seems almost a parody of their tumultuous relationship worked out with humor.

He’s very  endearing in this way.**


Steve Ditkos’ activity and output during his professional lifetime is truly remarkable and he continued to work extensively with many artists and writers all the way through to the 1990s’ and beyond as recently as 2012. Steve Ditko can be credited as having created or co-created over 105 characters during his career.

He’s been referred to during the latter part of his productive period as – a has-been that held on too long, a quaky kind of salesman who took the trash work or the dog that took the scraps, taking up anything that paid. There are many other derisive and insulting slurs that have been used to describe the man. I take issue with any of this sort of commentary, since anyone involved in creating and selling art knows – if someone is going to pay you for your art –

You take the gig.

Ditko seemed to have been of the philosophy that you took the work you could get, not the work that you would like to have. If you don’t – you starve. This sort of attitude to your work seems reasonable enough to me, especially if you want to keep doing it.

What should Steve respond?


“Sorry what was that?”

” I didn’t quite hear you there, I was too busy working…”


Steve Ditkos’ contemporaries, whoever they may have been; that have had only contemptuous or disparaging remarks to offer when referring to Steve Ditko or his work seem to me, to be speaking only from a place of envy and bitterness towards a man whose obvious talent, comfort, productive capacity, mastery and enormous contribution to the medium of comic books can only be honestly described as truly monumental and astounding.  It makes them cry.


And so you may ask – how ends this story of amazing, selfless and accomplished artistry?

Well, you see…

Over the span of his life, as I alluded to earlier, Steve did not accept many invitations to appear publicly for the most part and he declined most interviews. His quiet and private life and the primacy of that privacy was so manifest, that the creators and producers of ‘Dr. Strange’ in 2016 chose not to contact him for his creative input on the title character or even to just to stop in for fucking tea; because they believed he would most likely turn them away. **Strikes me as appallingly shameful I’m not sorry sorry to say.**

But I believe that truly, in fact I know that the choice to exclude him from the process likely had more to do with what had continuously upset and hurt Steve tremendously throughout the course of his entire career it seems…
You know…those who talked trash about him, those that didn’t appreciate him and those that didn’t pay him what he was worth for his work. All three here on display from what I see.

Myocardial infarction……( how fuckin ironic).

And so tragically, an immensely valuable opportunity was lost to involve Steve in Dr. Strange.

I cant help but feel that personally for Steve, Dr. Strange would truly be one of his most personal, cherished and unique creations.

To have had the chance to acknowledge and celebrate that would have been tremendously beneficial for him and to have lost or rather -avoided that chance – it seems almost criminal.

Steve Ditko was a remarkable individual from a very small group of original innovators who collaborated mercilessly and tirelessly for decades.The word ‘genius’ has been frequently used in material I’ve read or heard in relation to Steve Ditko.

The more one chooses to explore about him, the more one comes to understand why there really isn’t anything else that can be used to describe him accurately. Genius.


Steve Ditko in particular, can be said to have a direct hand in the creation, the evolution and the spread of the entire medium.

From independent publishing, to mainstream and the everything in between of comic book culture over an astounding seventy-one years.

He touched and shaped every facet, every side of the craft – art, writing, ideas – all of it.

His fingerprints are everywhere here. Absolutely everywhere.


Seventy one years of creation. Seventy one years of creation in comics for all of us.


Perhaps there’s a chance that he felt he had never got what he deserved for such tremendous and unflinching loyalty,

self-sacrifice and dedication to an idea, to a dream.

He didn’t hate. I think he was hurt. That’s it.

I think he was hurt and so he didn’t feel quite so comfortable with the world anymore, but he kept going.

He built things. Tremendous things.

He went forward.

Truly phenomenal. Outstanding. Preeminent. 

-Unique –


 

Steve Ditko the man can only be seen as a literal shooting star.

It has been quietly,slowly and methodically burning for us through the sky of the medium  over the course of its entire existence to date. 

The little sparks from the tail of that star have fluttered down everywhere if you look.

Does it not seem like some kind of dream? One of lifes’ little ‘miracles’ ?

Deliciously and ironically marvelous. That’s a hero.

That’s a fucking hero right there.


Every dictionary should have a picture of Steve smiling up at us forever for the word “Marvelous” methinks, since…I’m pretty sure that ‘Marvel’ is already trademarked.


Thank you Steve Ditko. Thank you so much for everything.

I sure do miss you.


**********PICTURE CREDITS**********

SPIDEY FAREWELL – @Bosslogic Twitter feed.
WALLY WOOD – https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/506373551843570914/
SPIDEY?DAREDEVIL – https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Culture/Spider-Man-co-creator-Steve-Ditko-dead-at-90-mourned-by-comics-industry-561858
IRON MAN & BLUE BEETLE PICS -https://www.looper.com/128029/the-world-reacts-to-the-death-of-steve-ditko/
IRON MAN PANELS – https://hubpages.com/literature/Steve-Ditkos-Other-Creations
CARLTON PIC  – https://hubpages.com/literature/Steve-Ditkos-Other-Creations
CREEPY #16 PANEL  – http://comicsbulletin.com/classic-comics-cavalcade-steve-ditko-warren-magazines/
MACHINE MAN COVER – https://i0.wp.com/crustymud.paradoxcomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/machineman10.jpg?resize=671%2C1024
FAN LETTER – http://carlscomix.com/when-i-got-a-letter-from-steve-ditko/
FAN LETTER 2 – https://www.spidermancrawlspace.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/FullSizeRender.jpg
NO COMMISIONS – https://twitter.com/minovskyarticle/status/1015409976830038016
COMIC JOURNAL – https://larsmagne23.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/p1320841.jpg
QUESTIONS ANSWERED – http://unitedfanzineorganization.weebly.com/ditkofaq.html
JERRY ROBINSON – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/jerry-robinson-comic-book-pioneer-dies-at-89/
MORT MESKIN – http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Mort_Meskin
AMAZING FANTASY #15 – https://www.madeinamericastore.com/spider-man-comic-cover.html
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33 – https://www.ebay.com/p/The-Amazing-Spider-Man-33-Feb-1966-Marvel/85470662?iid=163370357753&_trksid=p2047675.m4098.l9054
AMAZING FANTASY #15 INKS BY THE PAGE -www.jimkeefe.com/archives/10071http://bdzoom.com/131795/actualites/
GORGO AND KONGA – http://bdzoom.com/131795/actualites/bye-bye-mister-steve-ditko-and-thank-you-for-all-the-amazing-things/attachment/corgo-conga/
RECRUITMENT POSTER – https://envisioningtheamericandream.com/2013/09/05/america-world-peace-keeper/
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL – https://www.amazon.com/AMAZING-SPIDER-MAN-ANNUAL-1964-MARVEL-ORIGIN-STEVE-minus/dp/B014T544CQ
LATER DITKO PENCILS  – https://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=1493365
BATMAN – https://myfavouritefunnies.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/the-first-days-of-the-darknight-detective/
SNOOPY – https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/2281349-181/a-look-at-remarkable-series?sba=AAS
SIMON/KIRBY – http://www.comicsblog.fr/19262-Portrait_de_Leegende_HS_1__Joe_Simon_et_Jack_Kirby
JERRY ROBINSON – http://www.tcj.com/jerry-robinson-january-1st-1922-december-7th-2011/
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY – http://www.comicscube.com/2013/11/
DITKO IRON MAN SPLASH – https://www.wired.com/story/steve-ditko-remembrance/
DITKO HULK – http://www.marvelessentials.com/hulk/tta061.html
PORTRAiT – https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/110127153373833473/
HAWK AND DOVE COVER – http://www.dialbforblog.com/archives/439/
HAWK AND DOVE PENCILS – https://comics.ha.com/itm/original-comic-art/panel-pages/steve-ditko-showcase-75-story-page-15-hawk-and-dove-original-art-dc-1968-/a/7187-93087.s
HAWK AND DOVE PENCILS 2 -https://comics.ha.com/itm/original-comic-art/panel-pages/steve-ditko-hawk-and-the-dove-1-page-4-original-art-dc-1968-/a/7097-92110.s
CANNON – https://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=383721
PHANTOM PENCILS – https://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=972018
JAMESON – https://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=309334
ROM – https://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryPiece.asp?Piece=1506977
CREEPER PENCILS – https://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryPiece.asp?Piece=1261664
GOODBYE STEVE – https://imgur.com/gallery/xFFUlih
SEVERIN DITKO REMARK – https://twitter.com/rachmarsden/lists/comic
STEVE TRIBUTE PIC – https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/816488607420912959/?lp=true
STEVE COFFEE – http://www.stars-portraits.com/en/portrait-309241.html
KIRBY PORTRAIT – http://www.ronnsutton.com/new-artwork/

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjiosKlv_rfAhVH5oMKHfORC_0Qjxx6BAgBEAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ronnsutton.com%2Fnew-artwork%2F&psig=AOvVaw3L42zpA7We3-wmFfszxE-z&ust=1548009544658759

 

Mike Rogers

Cryo-ed GenXer. Collector of Edwardian era books and histories. Copper and Dark Age comic collector. Confused and irritated resident of the 21st Century madhouse. Resident observer and collaborator on Indie-Sphere happenings. Need some help on a project or perhaps some exposure here ? DM @60Recce