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.


  1. Thanks for posting this insightful essay.
    Are there any artistically-inclined Kubert grandkids?

  2. Thanks, Blake! Interesting. I don't see the resemblance in the two B/W pages (it was easy to tell the Ditko page even as a thumbnail), but do see the others. Your article is a good example of *influence* vs. *swiping.* And We see so much that subconsciously influences us throughout the years, it's impossible to remember or document them all. Thank you for not suggesting that Ditko was copying or doing anything unethical.

    Just an FYI, you may want to edit the text regarding the two panelled pages--Joe's page is on the "right." :-)

    Did you ever ask Steve about Joe?

    Mike Pascale