Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bill Everett 1950 Lev Gleason story unearthed

Some of the most satisfying moments in putting together the Bill Everett Archives volumes have been discovering hitherto unknown works that seemingly no one knew existed, and that fall outside of Bill's normal modus operandi - i.e., working as a virtual lifer for Marvel Comics, creating the Sub-Mariner in 1939, doing all those horror books in the 1950s, and co-creating Daredevil in the 1960s.

We're still one story away - Target Comics #8 - from completing Everett's 1938-42 work in volume 2. If you have this comic, please email me.

Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1 focused on Bill's earliest Golden Age comics - from 1938 to 1942 - for companies other than the oft-reprinted Marvel superhero work. Heroic Comics: The Bill Everett Archives v2 completes that material and then moves into some of his most stunning work. And it's been this pursuit - especially the 1950s canon - that has led to some fantastic surprises.

The most recent is a story in Crime and Punishment for the company, Lev Gleason, (in)famous for its Crime Does Not Pay title and other books that brought the crime genre into comics. Collectors and historians have assumed that when Everett came back from WWII he jumped right into the Sub-Mariner books and then into the horror work. In fact, circa 1949-50, just after the Marvel heroes died off in 1949, and before the horror genre overtook that company, Everett did reach out to some other publishers to either fill a gap or load up on income, given that he would be bringing three children into the world around these years.

Everett wrote the following in a 1961 letter to comic fan, Jerry Defuccio: "Things got rough about 1949, and I felt it advisable to pack up and move back to New York. I left my family (two kids by now) in Erie, Pa., with my sister and her family, and came to N.Y. by myself. I picked up comic accounts with Quality Comics, Eastern Color, and, of course, with Stan Lee. Things finally started to good in '50, and my family joined me (four of us lived and worked - in one tiny room in a mid-town hotel for six months!), and we eventually moved to Ridgewood, New Jersey, where I brought a small house."

Everett reestablished his connection with Steve Douglas, editor at Eastern Color, and did a number of adventure and romance stories in books like Heroic Comics and Personal Love. But any 1950 Lev Gleason connection was unknown until I received an email from Mr. Monster creator, Michael T. Gilbert who sent me scans of "The Button" from Crime and Punishment #31, cover-dated October 1950. (Click on the above image to see the signed splash panel.)

Bill had done a couple of stories in 1942 for Silver Streak Comics published by Gleason, but that was while Everett was working in the Funnies Inc. studio, packaging stories for other companies. Still, in 1949/50, Everett must have reached out to Lev Gleason editor Charles Biro for some freelance work and was thrown this story. (Mr. Gilbert also sent me a text story from Silver Streak Comics #1, cover-dated Dec. 1939, that had an Everett illustration - another unknown Everett contribution!)

So far, that's the only Everett crime story for Biro/Gleason we've uncovered. Everett's not in the issue on either side - you can check out full books of the rest of the title at Why possibly only one? Perhaps the same as why Everett only did one story for DC Comics in late 1959. Gleason editor Charles Biro and DC editor Robert Kanigher were reputed to have a "hands on" editorial style and Everett loved the freedom he had under Stan Lee.

Regardless, here's hoping we continue to uncover more Bill Everett in our journey of bringing you unreprinted works from this comic-book legend.

We're still one story away - Target Comics #8 - from completing Everett's 1938-42 run in vol. 2. If you have this comic, please email me.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bill Everett Archives v2 title, cover & help needed!

We're happy to share with you here for the first time the cover and title for the second Bill Everett Archives. Click on the image to your left to see a larger version of the cover to Heroic Comics: The Bill Everett Archives vol.2!

The table of contents for this volume takes the quality of Everett's artwork to another level. We finish off the 1938-42 Golden Age non-Marvel work, but the rest of the volume is filled with tons of surprises that will blow your mindhole! You can't miss this one if you want to see the best of Everett's best.

It's another 200+ pages of artwork, plus all the extras you enjoyed from volume one, such as a thorough introduction and detailed notes for each section that place the work in its historical context and talks about the how the industry worked in its naive heyday.

But we need help! Get a free copy of the book!

There's two short stories from the early 1940s that we can't locate. If you have these books, please email me at We'll give you the specs for the high-rez scans and how to get them to us. Here are the two books:

Silver Streak Comics #20 (Apr '42) - Rex Reed 8-page story
Target Comics v1 #8 (Sep '40) - Chameleon 6-page story

If you can help, we'll send you a free copy of the book and put your name in the Acknowledgements. Look for the volume to come out in April 2013.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 4 title and Cover Art

It's Mr. Steve Ditko's 85th birthday today! Amazing that the man continues to produce work (now approaching Issue #18 of his new series that's been coming out regularly since 2008). Yes, he's up to eighteen x 32 pages of story and art in the last four years. How many self-published/independent creators half Ditko's age have produced that much in the same time frame? Not many, I suspect.

Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter blog has a "Five for Friday" featuring Ditko, where you submit your five favourite Ditko issues. Artist Michel Fiffe has a nice, long piece on his Ditko Connection. And here's a whack of Steve Ditko images to get you in the celebratory mood.

'Round here, we're only up to 1958, compiling the first five years of his almost 60-year career in putting together comic books.

And 1958 is where you'll find us in Impossible Tales: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 4, coming out next May from Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

I'm scanning like a Mad Man this weekend for the upcoming volume; a great way to spend Steve's birthday immersed in all this fabulous artwork from one of the definite peaks of his career. Here's the publisher's blurb for the volume:

"Five years before Steve Ditko began work on his now legendary co-creations for Marvel Comics, the Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, he was producing some of his best work in near anonymity for Charlton Comics. Like its predecessors, Impossible Tales: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 4 features over 200 meticulously restored full-color pages of Ditko in his early prime - stories that have never seen a proper reprinting until now, thrilling stories of suspense, mystery, haunted houses, and unsuspecting victims all delineated in Ditko’s wildly idiosyncratic, masterful style. This fourth volume ranks as the best in the Archives series to date thanks in large part to the inspiration Ditko took from comics derived from the classic host-narrated radio shows, which gave an extra oomph to his creepy yarns. Moreover, comics such as This Magazine is Haunted and Tales of The Mysterious Traveler bore witness to a veritable explosion in Ditko’s ingenuity in terms of manipulating the traditional comic-book page layout. This new level of excellence also manifested itself in his work on other books, such Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds, Out of This World, Strange Suspense Stories, and Unusual Tales, all of which are amply represented in this volume."

Saturday, October 20, 2012

More Secrets from the History of Marvel Comics

We're rushing to the end of the production cycle of the Secret History of Marvel Comics, from myself and noted 1930s-50s historian Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, published by Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Today, I'm adding to the captions list because, even after we submitted the design mock-up for the book back in late August, we're still coming up with potential new additions to our 300-page tome.

The book's all about the earliest days of Marvel Comics owner Martin Goodman and the Golden Age Marvel artists like Jack Kirby et al. who crossed over to do work in Goodman's other businesses. Since we thought we had closed the book on the design, we've uncovered two new pictures of Martin Goodman from the 1950s that are buried in his magazine line, including a nifty one with Charlton Heston from 1953.

This picture would have been taken just right after Heston's breakthrough role in The Greatest Show on Earth that won the Oscar for best picture of 1952. It was also three years before Heston played Moses in The Ten Commandments and six before he played Ben-Hur and won the Oscar for best actor. But, there he is, sitting with Goodman at Gogi La Rue's in New York City. The other picture has Goodman on a horse wearing a cowboy hat!

Our book won't make the Christmas rush, but that's what you get when you expand the scope of a book from 168 pages to 300! And we're still getting more artwork and Goodman magazines in that we never knew existed. (Finally nailed a copy of that Zippy mag with the Joe Simon cover, plus an Elvis magazine cover from 1957!) Just how many titles did that man produce? And you thought he flooded the market with his comics?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Muriel Kubert on Joe Kubert P2

Yesterday, we published the first half of my 2002 interview with the late Muriel Kubert for my firsts book, "I Have To Live With This Guy!", on life with her husband, the recently departed Joe Kubert.

Below is part two, including the follow-up questions and my interview with Joe about Muriel and her contributions to the family, to his career, and to their school for cartoonists. God bless them both. Few leave such a legacy, few have such an impact on so many in the business.

Muriel Kubert interview
P2: Thursday, March 7, 2002

BB: What is the experience like, to be able to first open that thing (the Kubert School)?

MK: Exciting. It's still exciting. You look around and you look in the comic books. Sometimes I'll take a look in the Buyer’s Guide - very rarely - and I'll see the names of our kids. It's really something. And we have international students too. There's one boy, that I used to call my Nigerian son, he's now the top political cartoonist in England. It's wild. It really is.

BB: So that first 22, do you remember all 22 of them?

MK: I don't know about all 22 of them. There was Rick Veitch. There was Steve Bissette. There was John Totleben, or did he come a little bit later?

BB: They all still hang together, the three you just mentioned. They all hit Swamp Thing at one point or another. They all traded off from each other. Are those some of the guys that stand out?

MK: Tom Yeates. I’m trying to remember the names. It's going back, what, 26 years?

BB: Once the school is open, what are you doing the school?

MK: I was there all day. Early in the morning until school closed, I think we closed at 4:30. I love to cook, but at that period of our lives, we opened up a charge account at the diner because I didn’t have time to cook.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Muriel Kubert on Joe Kubert P1

Muriel Kubert passed away in 2008 after 57 years of marriage to her husband, Joe Kubert, who has now joined her in Heaven. I had the distinction pleasuring of having Muriel and Joe participate in my first book, "I Have To Live With This Guy!", back in 2002. She was a strong woman, knew her business, was protective of her family and their legacy (five children; two, Adam and Andy, important artists in their own right), and an integral part of the Kubert School that has produced many great cartoonists during its now 36+ years in business.

In my book, I combined the Kuberts in a chapter with Stan & Joanie Lee, as well as Will and Ann Eisner. All three were examples of men, and families, who broke the mold, in terms of finding success in the industry that was accomplished beyond the pen. All three men were good businessmen, and good salesmen.

Originally, my book was going to be nothing but interviews, but I wanted to provide more context, so I went the prose route. So, here, for the first time, is the entirety of the Muriel Kubert transcript (edited afterwards by her), in two parts. We'll publish part two tomorrow night, which includes the follow-up questions and my interview with Joe about his wife and her importance in his business and their family (read onwards after the jump break).

Muriel Kubert interview
by phone from New Jersey
for “I Have To Live With This Guy!”

Blake Bell: I'm speaking to Muriel Kubert on Thursday, March 7th, 2002. Muriel, I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about your background; your family background; where you grew up.

Muriel Kubert: I grew up in New Jersey; a small town, Towaco, New Jersey.

BB: Now, when you say small, how small?

MK: At that time, maybe five thousand people. My dad had a small supermarket there – Fogelson’s Super Market. I went to Booton High. I went to Rider College after that. Got a B.S. in business administration.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Joe Kubert’s influence on Steve Ditko

Renowned comic-book artist Joe Kubert passed away this week at the age of 85, leaving behind a remarkable legacy: 70 prolific years of cartooning that has influenced generations; a school that continues to produce comic-book artists; and two sons that have made their own name in the field.

Amongst those influenced by Kubert’s drawing style and storytelling was a young Steve Ditko, almost 10 years before he would co-create the Amazing Spider-Man. Ditko was first published in 1953 and there are numerous examples in that first formative year where the Kubert influence is quite clear. It dissipated during the latter half of the 1950s, but did pop up on occasion.

“One of the first things I recall about seeing Captain Atom,”said Roy Thomas (writer, then editor at Marvel concurrent with Ditko’s tenure), “is the resemblance of Ditko’s faces to Kubert’s 1954 comic, Tor.”

It’s one thing to draw faces similar to another artist, but it’s another to be influenced by how said artist lays out his page. Below, if I didn’t tell you which is which, you may have challenges telling the difference. On your left is Ditko’s Black Magic #28, cover dated Jan ’54. On your left is Kubert’s Witchcraft #1, cover-dated Mar/Apr ’52. Note the very striking similarities in choices of staging, perspective and lighting (click to enlarge, and open both side by side)...

Ditko is also famous for his rendering of disembodied mouths/faces harassing either Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, or some harrowed figure from his pre-hero Marvel work. But, as you can see below, Ditko may have caught a glimpse of Kubert when designing that motif.

“The Yellow Streak” page is Kubert from Speed Comics #42, Mar ’46. The Ditko “Help!” page is from Strange Tales #94, Mar ’62, and the 3-panel montage is also Ditko, from a late 1950s Charlton, a Dr. Strange story and an Amazing Spider-Man story, both from 1965.

Below is a Ditko splash to one of his first works: The Thing! #13, Apr ’54. Dave Sim, creator of Cerebus, and a devotee of Kubert, said (when I sent him a pile of 1950s/60s Ditko), “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. (Sim also noted that “same Kubert look” in Ditko’s ‘The Vanishing Martians’ from Marvel Tales #147, Jun ‘56.)

What is interesting about the connection between the two is the friction it created when mentioned. At one of my Steve Ditko panels in the past 10 years (I think at a San Diego Comicon), a member of the Kubert School told the story about when he mentioned to Kubert the resemblance and Kubert shut down on him big time. Fantagraphics co-publisher, Gary Groth, also one of my panels, mentioned that he tried to address the matter with Kubert but was rebuffed.

I don’t believe Ditko has ever mentioned Kubert (although Ditko has only ever mentioned Robinson as a direct influence, because of their teacher/student relationship), and I don’t think Kubert is in print addressing the matter at any length.

Nonetheless, Ditko is one of many artists in the comic-book field that was influenced by Kubert. Both men’s legacies are secured, and Kubert’s influence on the industry as a whole is seen this week in the number of tributes documented by industry peers, and non-industry media outlets.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Joe Kubert: My Memories

Comic-book legend Joe Kubert has passed away at the age of 85. His first published work dates back to 1942 and he was going strong to this day. His catalog of work is extraordinary, as is the quality of the work from start to finish, a true rarity. He also left a huge legacy on three other fronts: he influenced a number of artists, including a young Steve Ditko back in the early 1950s (Ditko's earliest work in 1953-54 bares a remarkable resemblance to Kubert, not just in how Ditko drew his faces, but in how he laid out a page and how he set up a panel).

Kubert also influenced generations of artists through the Kubert school, and through his two sons, Andy and Adam, who have gone onto great heights in the industry as artists.

My association with Joe began in late 2001 when I convinced his lovely wife, the late Muriel Kubert, to participate in my first book, "I Have To Live With This Guy!" that was published by TwoMorrows in 2002. Muriel was a very strong woman, no-nonsense, and a strong force in the Kubert School.

To promote the book, I hosted a "Joe and Adam Kubert" Panel at a Toronto Comicon on August 24, 2002 (in the front row was Dave Sim, who disappeared with Joe after the panel to talk about the school, etc.). Here's a (long) transcript of the panel after the jump. God bless you, Joe, as you join Muriel in Heaven...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Listen to 90 mins on Ditko, Everett & My Upcoming Projects

Want the latest update on the next Steve Ditko Archives (v4), Bill Everett Archives (v2), and our Secret History of Marvel Comics book that's due later this year?

Click here for the Distinguished Comic Book Podcast page run by Zack Kruse and Ben Tiede. Episode #38 is 90 minutes of yours truly discussing the aforementioned topics with Zack and Ben, easily downloadable into your tacknology. We also take a look behind the scenes at Fantagraphics with how these projects are put together, and discuss the Golden Age of comics that we've existed in for the past 10 years on two fronts. First, the stunning amount of archival reprint material put out by companies like Fantagraphics, Marvel, DC, etc. Second, the superb quality of graphic storytelling by the likes of Joe Sacco, Guy Delisle, Seth, Chester Brown, Chris Ware, etc. We're in the golden age of (cable) television drama and of comics, and we discuss the latter at length.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ditko article in the New York Post

The reboot of the movie franchise, the Amazing Spider-Man, opens today across North America. If you're going to the movie under the impression that its co-creator and original artist, Steve Ditko, is reaping some financial benefit from either this movie, or the original three (starring Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man), well, Steve Ditko puts that myth to rest in today's New York Post.

(Click HERE to read the article.)

Reed Tucker, the author of the piece, went right to Ditko's studio and got a couple of quotes from Ditko for the piece. Many people have passed around the rumour in the past decade that Ditko accepted a big chunk of money when the first movie came out a decade ago, but Ditko confirms this as a falsehood. Other than the pittance he receives when Marvel reprints his old run on Spider-Man, there has never been a single, confirmed report that Steve Ditko has received a penny from the entire, billion dollar Spider-Man franchise since he walked away from it in 1965 over concerns about Marvel's editorial direction and promised royalties (the only thing I would have changed about Reed's piece - for which I was interviewed for almost an hour - is that emphasis, but I think it does come through indirectly in the rest of the piece.)

Kinda makes that whole "Before Watchmen" debate look like kids arguing over lunch money in comparison, doesn't it?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I haven't posted in awhile. I'll share with you "the whys" later because I don't want to distract from the issue at hand: two pages are missing from my latest book, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives vol. 3.

Fantagraphics has posted a print-worthy .pdf of both pages so that they can be printed off and inserted into the book where the missing pages should be. We're also going to reprint both stories in full in the next volume, so that collectors have every Ditko story as they should.

Everyone should know this: the buck stops with me regarding these types of concerns. Not with Fantagraphics - with me. Ultimately, I review the final .pdf of the entire book, going over every page, matching it against the table of contents, etc. I'm over 1600 pages into my career of supervising the production of my books and this is worse than a knife in the gut.

I won't bore you with excuses or even reasons why this happened. Instead, I'd like to share with you the additional methods that I'll be putting into place for validating the contents of every book of mine to ensure we mitigate the risk of this ever happening again.

First, I'll be employing two "checkers" for the final .pdfs of each Ditko and Everett Archives. These will be people who know those artists and are experienced in such matters.

Second, checking the final .pdf via the printed comics will be done twice: once from the beginning of each story, and once in reverse (i.e., starting with the last page of a story and working backwards to page one). This book/experience has taught me that life can lead to the brain playing funny tricks on the mind, and there's no effort too great to ensure we prevent this in future volumes.

Third, as an added measure, I'll also be checking the final .pdf, page-by-page, versus the Grand Comics Database - the site on the Internet for referencing over one million comic-book stories published since the industry began.

In closing, if I may beg your indulgence - opening my snail-mail box once a year, pulling out the envelope from Fantagraphics and holding a brand new copy of my book - that I've poured my heart and soul into every night after coming home from my day job, looking after my children, etc. - is one of the greatest satisfactions available to me as a writer-editor and as a person. Getting this news was my darkest day because without the dedication of a core group of serious fans of this work, these Archives volumes would not be possible. I thank you all again for your continued support in my efforts to get this rare work into print, and look forward to another opportunity to do so.

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...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dick Ayers, 88 Years Young Today!

Famed Marvel Comics artist Dick Ayers is 88 years young today! Dick is primarily known for his work on the Sgt Fury strip for Marvel (Fury set to appear in the Avengers movie, played by Samuel L. Jackson), as well as the go-to inker for many 1960s Marvel books drawn by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. But he started in comics in the late 1940s before first reaching Marvel's doors in 1952. Below is a brief selection of his work, including one of the first pieces of work he did, the cover to "Jimmy Durante Comics" in 1948.

He also "inked" Ditko on the first issue of Iron Man that featured Ditko's seminal redesign of Kirby's clunky armor into the version that still lives on (also in the Avengers movie, Iron Man played by Robert Downey Jr.) almost 50 years later. I put "inked" in quotation marks because Ditko would do very sketchy pencils, adding most of the details when he inked his work. Problem is that Stan Lee started using Ditko like he had being using Jack Kirby - get a new feature going, ensuring the strip was drawn "the Marvel Way" before another penciller/inker would finish it off. As you can see on the original art to Iron Man #48, Ayers whited out the part that suggests he only inked the issue, so that it read "Art by Steve Ditko and Dick Ayers". The issue is also known for having been "watered down" in that the name of the villain was originally called "Mr. Pain" but was changed to the less frightening "Mr. Doll".

I was blessed enough to get to know Dick and his wife, Lindy, in 2001 and interviewed them for my first book, "I Have To Live With This Guy!" A few years later, when Dick was doing his auto-biography in graphic novel form, he drew me into his book (yes, I am that dashing)...

Read more on Dick's career here and here, and scroll through the vast collection of original art and covers on the Heritage Auctions website archives. Happy Birthday, Darlin' Dick Ayers!

1st Row: original art to Tales of Suspense #48 (Dec '63); published version of TOS #48; original art to pg 17 of TOS #48 (all pencils by Ditko, inked by Ayers)
2nd Row: Jimmy Durante Comics #1 ('48); original art to Sgt. Fury #33 (Aug '66); pen & ink of "The Unknown Soldier, 2001 (owned by yours truly)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Steve Ditko Archives v3 - First Look!

Advance copies of my next book, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives v3 have arrived at the publisher, Fantagraphics Books Inc. The book is destined for an early May release. This volume features Ditko's best artwork to date, thanks in large part to the copious amounts of stories from Ditko's two best titles of the 1950s, Tales of the Mysterious Traveler (based on the old radio show) and (my favourite) This Magazine is Haunted. The introduction, and insertion, of a narrator in both titles really sees Ditko open up his page layouts beyond a 6 or 9-panel grid.

The 240-page book is all from 1957 (Ditko's output exploding that year to almost 500 pages of pencils and inks; a feat he matched in 1958, as well) and Ditko's line is far more assured than in previous years. This period in his career is unique; he draws heavily on his Eastern European heritage for the ethnicity in his faces, settings, manner of dress, etc. He also developed many of the motifs seen in his 1960s Marvel work during 1957. Click on the above image to see a larger picture of the physical book. Fantagraphics has an 18-page preview on their website (where you can pre-order the book) that shows the immaculate restoration work that has gone into this volume.

You can order the book via at a whopping 38% off the cover price for a limited time. If you're looking for a sample of Steve Ditko's work at its finest, give Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives v3 a look!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My interview with Josie DeCarlo P3

We've come to the end of our celebration of the late Josie and Dan DeCarlo (and what a better way than with the above 1940s piece by Dan; an elaborately-drawn envelope for, no doubt, another love letter to Josie). She will live on in memories and in Dan's artwork, immortalized as the Josie in Dan's creation, "Josie & The Pussycats". Here's Part 1 and here's Part 2. Part 3 finished off the original interview, done for their chapter in my first book, I Have To Live With This Guy!, published by Twomorrows in August 2002, and adds the follow-up questions at the end. RIP Josie...

Josie DeCarlo P3
taped March 17th, 2002, by phone from New York for 
“I Have To Live With This Guy!”

BB: Stop me if I'm being insensitive here, but financially, with no pension from Archie, are doing okay? Are you and the grand kids doing okay?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My interview with Josie DeCarlo P2

Yesterday, we posted Part 1 of my interview with the late Josie DeCarlo. Josie was the basis for her husband Dan's fictional comic-book rock band "Josie & The Pussycats". The above photo (click to enlarge) is Josie in full pussycats attire on a cruise with Dan. Below is P2 of three of the 18000+ words compiled for their chapter in my first book, I Have To Live With This Guy!, published by Twomorrows in August 2002. I haven't even looked over this, so I'll be reading it with you for the first time in about 10 years (part 3 tomorrow)...

Josie DeCarlo P2
taped March 17th, 2002, by phone from New York for 
“I Have To Live With This Guy!”

Blake Bell: Now when he was working at home, when the door was closed you wouldn't go anywhere near to his workplace?

Josie DeCarlo: It meant, “don't disturb” when his door was closed.