Friday, May 18, 2012

#31DaysOfDitko: Revisiting "In Search Of Steve Ditko" Doc (P1)

In recognition of the debut of my latest book, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives vol.3 this month, May is "31 Days of Ditko" where I post highly entertaining content re: the co-creator of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Mr. A, half of #BeforeWatchmen, and many more.

This came back around my way when someone posted the URL to the Stan Lee portion of the 2007 documentary for BBC4, "In Search Of Steve Ditko", produced by U.K. television personality, Jonathan Ross. I have an intimate connection to this one in more ways than one and, in light of all the creators' rights issues that have resurfaced surrounding the Avengers movie, let's revisit one of the rare instances when someone with enough clout outside of comics used that clout to bring comics to a mass audience. First, though, go watch the thing, and then we'll be back tomorrow with more. You can also read a piece that Ross did about the doc for The Guardian newspaper at the time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

#31DaysOfDitko: OddBall Ditko

In recognition of the debut of my latest book, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives vol.3 this month, May is "31 Days of Ditko" where I post highly entertaining content re: the co-creator of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Mr. A, half of #BeforeWatchmen, and many more.

Today, we go hyper on examples of the oddest stuff Ditko has ever done. When you've worked almost 60 years in the business, especially when you pulled a "John Galt Split" (i.e., working on your personal material while making a living by taking "last rung of the ladder" material), you've likely pulled down a few whack jobs, and Ditko is no exception. Roll credits (click to enlarge)...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

#31DaysOfDitko Dave Sim reviews 1960s Ditko

Yesterday, we posted Dave Sim's review of 1950s Ditko. Today, we're back with 1960s Ditko, in recognition of the debut of my latest book, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives vol.3 this month, May is "31 Days of Ditko" where I post highly entertaining content re: the co-creator of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Mr. A, half of #BeforeWatchmen, and many more.

“Beware!!! Of the Little Toy Men!!”

I tell you, folks, Ditko is just full of surprises. In this case, the sudden use of hatching and cross-hatching which hasn’t cropped up before – here starting with the pin-stripe suit on the character on the splash page, a tradition which comes far more from the Alex Raymond end of things rather than the Milt Caniff end of things Ditko usually inhabits. I’d have to call this style Hatched Iconic because of the laborious line-work. He’s still stripping down his rendering to an iconic level of composition but then he seems to be coming back the other way and adding hatching to give the image greater weight and density.

This batch of pre-Spider-man Marvel stories raise some interesting questions – was the reduction to an Iconic splash page an editorial decision on the part of Marvel or an individual decision on the part of Ditko? It’s a good one in terms of “branding” – you couldn’t mistake the splash pages on Marvel mystery stories prior to 1961 for anyone else’s splash pages. The story titles on a bunch of them are all in the same typeface as well. Dry transfer lettering? An Artie Simek template font that anyone with a ruler and some tracing paper could duplicate? Marvel, thy name is economy!

Monday, May 14, 2012

#31DaysOfDitko Dave Sim reviews 1950s Ditko

Crack open your three volumes of my Steve Ditko Archives series, because Dave Sim (creator of Cerebus and Glamourpuss) is going to seriously break down some 1950s...

“The Library of Horror”
THE THING #13 (April 1954)

The really interesting thing about this one, and something that I had never seen before, is the similarity of Steve Ditko’s early drawing style to Joe Kubert’s work. It’s particularly noticeable in Ken’s posture in panel 2 on page one, Allen’s face in the next panel, Ken’s figure in the last panel on page 4, the panel where Ken and Marion Welles meet for the first time on page 5.

 If you had showed me those panels on their own I probably would have guessed Kubert (around the time of the first run of TOR). As far as I know Joe Kubert was in the business before Ditko but certainly not much before Ditko. Does Ditko count him as an influence? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Creators who enter the field around the same time that you do tend to have a magnified presence in your life that isn’t apparent to others. The fact that Bill Sienkiewicz was the first person to make a splash in comics who was younger than me made my Bill Sienkiewicz phase inevitable. I remember Jeff Smith telling me that he sensed that kind of relationship with Mike Allred since they both arrived on the comic-book radar screen at the same time and were both working in a brush style that was further over in the direction of “cartoon-y” relative to everything else that was coming out. I don’t know too many people who would think of Jeff Smith and Mike Allred as sharing a context but as soon as its pointed out to you, you go, “Oh, right, of course.”

Ditko and Kubert. How could I have NOT seen it until this story?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

#31DaysOfDitko: Dave Sim reviews Ditko

Back in 2007, I restarted work on my Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko book and, upon learning that Dave Sim (creator of Cerebus and Glamourpuss) was an ardent admirer of Ditko, I sent Dave a whack of late 1950s/early 1960s Ditko material. I asked him to review it on my old Ditko Looked Up website, in exchange for links to his Cerebus trades. I thought I might get a page worth of words, generalities, but Dave sent back a lot of words, with a lot of specifics.

He also sent an introduction for his reviews that I share with you here too. Dave used to do a blog back then, so he posted the intro. there and then linked to my site for the reviews. Only Dave could write an intro. like this...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

#31DaysOfDitko: More on Dave Sim and Ditko

Yesterday, we posted Dave Sim's review of my 2008 Ditko bio/art book, Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko. He first read that review to me in a phone conversation that was one of the most emotional comic-related moments in my memory.

I had hit upon Cerebus in 1987, just after issue 105 (of 300) and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Easily moved to my favourite current comic, easily moved Dave into that trinity alongside Ditko and Everett.

Dump me on a desert island with nothing other than Ditko's run on Spider-Man, and Cerebus #11 to #136, and I'd be entertained for life.

And Dave was the 1980s equivalent of Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols: a legit, street-cred, no-nonsense rock star/shepherd. He was the Jack Kirby equivalent of his generation; the "Godfather" of the indie movement, influencing and inspiring too many creators to count. That all changed when Dave let his point of view on gender relations all hang out in Cerebus #186.

I bring this up because the consequences of that POV informed my 2008 phone conversation with him. Dave didn't look fondly upon the Deni Loubert/Dave Sim chapter of my first book, I Have To Live With This Guy!, from 2002. Still, two subsequent meetings had buried the hatchet. That led to various exchanges including what was this whirlwind of a conversation re: Ditko.

Dave felt (correctly so) that Ditko had been consistently belittled, insulted and relegated for his Randian viewpoints mainly because the whole world just wanted Ditko to roll over, do Spider-Man and Dr. Strange again, and have his blood sucked for where "all the bodies are buried" at Marvel.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

#31DaysOfDitko: Dave Sim and Steve Ditko

What's a boy to do when three of his "heroes" are Steve Ditko, Dave Sim and Jesus Christ? (Now there's a Last Supper!) How did I stumble onto this collection of individuals vilified for their beliefs (or, at the very least, how they express them), each seeing no "gray", no compromise, and no middle ground. And what does it say about me?

Oh well, I'll save that for my first non-comics book but, for now, let's look back for a few posts on my relationship with Dave Sim, creator of the 300-issue comic Cerebus, as it intersects with talk of Ditko.

My relationship with Dave has its roots back in 2002 when I interviewed Deni Loubert for my first book, I Have To Live With This Guy! She was married to Dave for a time in the 1980s, acted as the publisher of Cerebus and went on to be the publisher of her own company, Renegade Press, publishing some of Ditko's work. I'll save the middle of the relationship story for another time but, in 2008, Dave and I spoke on the phone about my then-just published Ditko biography/art book, Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko. I'll comment tomorrow on that conversation, but the second act of it was him reading me his just-written review of the book. (Hint, the conversation was very similar to the arch of the review.)

On the weekend that sees the release of the Marvel movie, The Avengers, and its contribution (or lack thereof) to the dialogue on Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and the company that continues to make billions off of their creations, it seems fitting to share this. Note: tomorrow, I doubt I'll be able to convey the emotion present on both sides during the 3rd act of the conversation between Dave and me, but I'll try...

One Man’s View
Dave Sim, © 2008

As I told Blake Bell in a phone message, I think that Strange and Stranger is probably the best book of its kind that I’ve read – certainly preferable to the biography of Wally Wood, Wally’s World that came out back in ’06.

It’s pretty thoroughly researched and annotated, for one thing, which means it’s either the definitive Ditko biography for the ages or the foundational work which subsequent efforts will seek to enhance and amend, develop and correct. At the very least it strikes a very successful balance between the invasion of someone’s private life (a generally unpleasant task made more so by the fact of the subject’s scrupulous maintenance of that privacy), an examination of the art styles and approaches of its subject, capitulation to the intended mainstream audience with Big Pop Art Enlargements of Campy Off-Register Colour (er – that is what the mainstream audience wants isn’t it?), a nice selection of black and white copies of originals and stats (for those of us “weirdos” who are interested in seeing what an artist’s art looks like) (go figure) and a clear chronology of what happened when and why.

To me, it seems pretty straightforward as narrative: this is what Ditko proposes to do, this person or company agrees to what he proposes to do, Ditko does what he says he was going to do and the person or company doesn’t. Ditko goes his own way. At the very least the volume seems misnamed. “Strange and Stranger?” Shouldn’t there be something in the title about Integrity? Particularly given Ditko’s sober second thoughts on all forms of supernatural content (to the extent that he eventually was turning down jobs with supernatural elements, let alone supernatural themes). Granted, in the 21st Century there could be few things more unimaginably strange than integrity – but isn’t that more of a comment on what used to be called the lumpen proletariat than on the perhaps solitary individual still making his decisions based on personal ethics (ethics that get progressively more stringent over the years, rather than more flaccid which is the common route in our society)?

There’s a lot in here that I didn’t know and other things that I had forgotten.

How could I have forgotten that there had been the time when Ditko had offered original Mr. A stories to interested fanzine publishers, gratis, with the only proviso being that they publish the work in a timely fashion and return the originals? Could there have been a more fundamental challenge to the Brave New World of anti-corporate, power to the people rebels? They certainly talked the talk in a way that resonated with Ditko’s rugged individualism. All he was looking for was people who would do what they said they were going to do. The experiment failed miserably, of course, but the fault can scarcely be laid at Ditko’s feet. As with most of his experiments he found that those who talk the talk are legion, those who walk the walk are anecdotal.

They’re all here – or most of them are: like a Greek chorus of Ditko caricatures, all with their rationalizations, their self-congratulation and their mystified expressions. The lessons are all the same, as far as they’re concerned, the bottom line summed up best as “We’re very disappointed in you, Steve Ditko.” It seems never to occur to them to ask why that’s their bottom line, given that Ditko always holds up his end of the bargain. Steve Ditko holds up his end of the bargain – it’s the primary recurrent theme of his self-generated work: the holding up of the respective ends of a bargain, reciprocal satisfaction which results when that takes place, misplaced animosity when it doesn’t – and the people he struck the bargain with end up disappointed in him.

Unfortunately the author and the publisher of the book join that Greek chorus at the end. “We’re very disappointed in you, Steve Ditko.” I kept hoping that there would be a plug for Robin Snyder, the only publisher that Ditko has stuck with and therefore (basic logic would inform us) the only person to hold up his end of the bargain over however many years. Just in case there is a mainstream audience for this and they – or a small fraction of them – are interested in seeing what Steve Ditko has to say about himself, you know? Given that everyone else has his and her say for two hundred and twenty-some-odd pages and the author and publisher have, presumably, made a good buck off of Steve Ditko’s name and stellar reputation and artwork knowing that he implicitly disapproves of what it is they’re doing here…

I get the impression that I’m the only person of my own generation in comics (and possibly of all succeeding generations) who sees the situation clearly. Certainly my primary question for myself was “Where was I?” Back in the 1970s I worked on one of the few successful (that is, it actually came out when it said it would) fanzines, Comic Art News & Reviews. Why didn’t we publish a Ditko Mr. A story since Ditko was making it that easy to do so? Politics, basically. We were all extreme leftists back in the 70s and Ditko, of course, with his ethics which were carved in stone rather than situational like our own, was a fascist, a Nazi. The world couldn’t get far enough, fast enough away from the honour and ethics and morality of a Steve Ditko, couldn’t run far enough fast enough in the other direction. And here we are, as far over in the opposite direction as you can get in just about the kind of world you would expect: inhabited almost exclusively by Steve Ditko caricatures – who turn out not to be caricatures at all. Even back in the 60s, Ditko was drawing accurate portraits of what we were all choosing to become.

Even a nice guy like Blake Bell. I can vouch for him being a nice guy because I’ve spent a certain amount of time in his company and you really can’t fake that gut-level of earnest good guy that Blake exudes. But there’s something about actual ethics that makes even nice guys more than a little loopy when they experience them. Blake writes, “Alas, once again the market proved to be a cruel mistress, and Ditko and Snyder would abandon publishing again after the release, in the summer of 2002, of a comprehensive, 240-page collection of Ditko’s Objectivist comics and essays titled Avenging World that sank without a trace (even most Ditko fans are unaware of its existence).”

Well, you know Robin Snyder just published Ditko’s “Toyland” essays in The Comics in the last year and The Avenging Mind in April. I didn’t even find out about Robin Snyder until late 2006 and managed to buy all of the extant 1990s Ditko material at cover price by mail. So there is a “trace” of Steve Ditko – it’s just that it seems that the largely rancourous, largely unthinking, reflexively leftist comic-book field can’t help “playing to type”: that is behaving like the accurate portraits Steve Ditko has been rendering of them for a good forty years now. Having driven him as far out of the field as we can, just by relentlessly not holding up our sides of any bargain struck with him, we now need to act as if his work “sank without a trace” instead of doing something sort of, you know, honorable (just for the experience – we can always go back to the old way if honour proves to be as unsatisfying as most of us are determined to see it as being).

Like what?

Like “People interested in helping to supplement Steve Ditko’s extremely modest income can do so by ordering his various new works which are in print and available from Robin Snyder, 3745 Canterbury Lane #81, Bellingham, WA, 98225-1186 USA, email RobinBrigit [at]"

Now that simple paragraph could have been on every bookshelf in every comic book store and Barnes and Noble and wherever else these books are going to turn up. Instead it will only appear here in a fanzine. And will probably rile everyone up and start a new round of Evil Dave Sim talk, no one will order anything – and those same people will cry a river of crocodile tears when Steve Ditko passes from this vale of tears.

Acting just the way he’s been drawing them for close to forty years now.

Sickening, isn’t it?


In recognition of the debut of my latest book, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives vol.3 at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend, May is "31 Days of Ditko" where I post highly entertaining content everyday on the co-creator of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Mr. A, half of #BeforeWatchmen, and many more.

Friday, May 4, 2012

#31DaysOfDitko: 1959 Ditko Drawing Table

Yesterday, we introduced the notion that Ditko was influenced by the late John Severin, famed EC/Cracked/Marvel Comics artist. We spotlighted a 1959 picture of Ditko in his studio surrounded by 3 Marvel covers (in various stages of production) by Severin, all cover dated Jun/Jul 1957, but there's a couple of pieces under Ditko's drawing table that were really tough to identify. Here's another picture from the same shoot, from a different angle...

Well, wonder no more about the fully-inked cover (being covered by the pencil page that Ditko is about to ink). Not surprisingly, it's another John Severin cover, but this time it's from 1959 (lending a lot of credence to the dates of these pictures)...

Kid Colt Outlaw #86 is cover-dated Sep '59, less than a year after Stan Lee restarted the Marvel Universe with Strange Worlds, Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense with the additions of Kirby and Ditko to his roster. That date should also help narrow down the identity of that penciled page... (to be continued...)

But before we go, never let there be doubt that Ditko didn't draw from his real life...

The above is from Space War #6, Aug '60, published by Charlton Comics. Think about it! Ditko always did.

In celebration of the debut of my latest book, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives vol.3 at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend, May is "31 Days of Ditko" where I post highly entertaining content everyday on the co-creator of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Mr. A, half of #BeforeWatchmen, and many more!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

#31DaysOfDitko: John Severin's Influence on Ditko

In celebration of the debut of my latest book, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives vol.3 at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend, May is "31 Days of Ditko" where I post highly entertaining content everyday on the co-creator of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Mr. A, half of #BeforeWatchmen, and many more! (That's me on the right - my copies of the book arrived today, and I must say that the designer folks at Fantagraphics Books Inc. have outdone themselves. The reproduction is unmatched again, natch, but the covers and surrounding insides really capture the atmosphere of the artwork and the whole period for Ditko's 1957 Charlton output.)

John Severin's Untold Influence on Steve Ditko
We lost one of the greats on February 12, 2012. Few artists in comic-book history maintained the artistic standard that they set at the peak of their career all the way through their lives. Gene Colan, and Russ Heath come to mind, and so does John Severin. He never lost it, plain and simple. I can't even say that about Ditko. But few people know that Severin had a direct influence on Ditko.

Part of the reason why few people know this is because we have very few documented examples of Ditko actually speaking about another artist's work in any terms. He wrote a fanzine piece in the mid-'60s on the virtues of Mort Meskin (he shared time with Mort in 1953 at the Joe Simon / Jack Kirby studio). Ditko frequently mentioned the impact of Jerry Robinson as his teacher, but barely any others who inspired/influenced him. In the 1959 letters to fan Mike Britt (that we again spotlight unpublished passages in this book), he does say he enjoyed Harvey Kurtzman's The Jungle Book, but that's about it.

But there was a period in 1959 and 1960 where Ditko's work exhibited a detailed inking style - that "word carving effect - that John Severn did so successfully. It's a unique period in Ditko's career but it's perhaps my favourite because of the beautiful detail in the work. What led Ditko down this path? Coincidence, or something more? Well, take a closer look at one of the three photos of Ditko in his studio that he shared with famed fetish artist Eric Stanton in 1959 (click to enlarge)...

Notice the two large-sized covers, one behind this head, and one just off his left shoulder? Okay, now notice the black and white cover under his left shoulder that you can barely see. One problem: none of these pieces are by Ditko. They are, in fact, all pieces by John Severin. They are John's covers (click to enlarge) for three Marvel books in Jun/Jul '57 - Strange Tales Of The Unusual #10 (Jun ’57), Adventure Into Mystery #8 (Jul ’57) and War Comics #48 (Jul ’57).

While Ditko did do 19 stories for Marvel in 1956, it's startling to see this Severin artwork in this format (not the comics themselves, but the covers at various stages of production). How did Ditko get a hold of those two completely finished covers at this size? Were they stats just collected from the Marvel offices? And what about the black and white cover? Did Severin, or someone at Marvel, just give them to Ditko, so Ditko could practice / observe Severin's work? And Ditko is still referencing them in 1959? Now, about that piece of original art under Ditko's left hand... (continued tomorrow)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

#31DaysOfDitko: Byrne Notice

In celebration of the debut of my latest book, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives vol.3 at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend, May is "31 Days of Ditko" where I post highly entertaining content everyday on the co-creator of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Mr. A, half of #BeforeWatchmen, and many more!

John Byrne: What Do You Think?

Right: Steve Ditko, 1959, co-creator of "Spider-Man"
Left: John Byrne, co-creator of "Ret Con"

Having achieved his fame as the penciller of the Uncanny X-Men in their heyday, Byrne also inked Ditko on a few occasions...including the 1984 Avengers Annual which Byrne did quite well, same with that 2nd last issue of Ditko's Rom run. The first instance of Byrne inking Ditko is an ususual story. When Byrne first started in the business, he was doing material for Charlton Comics circa 1975. Charlton had whacked Ditko's two titles in the late 1960s - Captain Atom and Blue Beetle - which left an unpublished issue of each. Byrne inked the Captain Atom story and it was published over Charlton Bullseye #1 and 2. To your left is an example from that story (click to enlarge).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ditko Archives v3 debuts at TCAF! May is "31 Days of Ditko"

My latest book, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives v3, is making its debut in my hometown of Toronto this weekend at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The festival goes both days (admission is free!) and is located at Toronto Reference Library (on Yonge St, just above Bloor St). I'll be at the show from 2:30pm to 3:30pm, so if you see me, I'll be happy to sign your copy.

I am very excited about this release because it really is Ditko at the beginning of his peak that ran from 1957 until the mid-to-late 1960s. This volume also features a never-been-published Ditko drawing from 1959, plus more unpublished musings to a fan by Ditko from that year.

Want to see the book in action? Check out this video preview of the book, and here's an 18-page .pdf preview. You cannot beat Ditko on his two 1950s signature titles: Tales of the Mysterious Traveler and This Magazine is Haunted and this volume has tons of both!

How/When to Buy
  • Should be in comic-book stores next Wed May 9.
  • Should be in bookstores and on week of May 14.
  • Pre-order now from at 38% the cover price for a limited time.

What is "31 Days of  Ditko?"
To celebrate the release of this volume, I'll be posting a new blog entry everyday in the month of May. And not just some cheesy, 140-character tweet, but some good, hardcore never-before-seen-on-this-blog stuff that'll blow your mindhole. Follow me on Twitter and watch for the hashtag #31DaysOfDitko to get even more tidbits or join the Steve Ditko Archives Facebook group that houses lots of original material. To get us started with 31 Days of Ditko, here's a hummer from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Neil Gaiman...

Ringo Starr enjoys the taste of Ditko
That's the image we used for my Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archives v2, seen here as a U.K. reprint in the 1960s from publisher Alan Class who reprinted a lot of Ditko Charlton and Marvel work under different titles...