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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Spotlight on the Legendary Steve Ditko

LK suggested an unsung heroes sort of article for a few comic artists, and I figured since I already did a spotlight on Carmine Infantino, I might as well incorporate LK's idea with a spotlight on Steve Ditko and his vast contributions to the world of comics. Sure, most focus on Stan Lee and Jack "the King" Kirby and they do have a myriad of comic book contributions, but there are a wide range of other comic legends as well.

Actually, and unlike many other comic legends, Steve Ditko has shied away from the public spotlight. Since the 1960s, Dikto has refused to give interviews or make public appearances and explained in 1969 that,

"When I do a job, it's not my personality that I'm offering the readers but my artwork. It's not what I'm like that counts; it's what I did and how well it was done.... I produce a product, a comic art story. Steve Ditko is the brand name."

Whether you or I agree or disagree with that, I kind of admire that certain humbleness that is rarely seen in most creative egos, especially considering the amount he has contributed to the world of comics and the Spider-Man character alone.

Around his early teens, Ditko's interest in comics grew with the introduction of Batman. Aside from idolizing comic artist Jerry Robinson, Steve was also a fan Will Eisner's The Spirit.

After military service drawing comics for the Army newspaper, Steve enrolled at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City and underwent artistic training under his idol Jerry Robinson.

3 years after moving to New York City in 1950, Ditko got his first professional comic assignment in 1953, drawing the story "Stretching Things" by Bruce Hamilton for Stanmore Publications. The story was not published right away, so it's not his first published comic work.

His second known comic work was in the story "Paper Romance" and became his first credited published work in the pages of Daring Love #1. In 1954, Stretching Things was sold to Ajax/Farrel and was finally printed in the horror comic Fantastic Fears #5.

Fantastic Fears #5 Daring Love #1
Black Magic #3 (27) vol. 4

Ditko also met Mort Meskin and began inking and aiding Meskin on a variety of projects. His 2nd published work that's known was in the story "A Hole in His Head" in Black Magic #3 (#27 on the cover) volume 4.

Aiding Meskin, he then notably inked over Jack Kirby's pencils in Captain 3-D #1 by Harvey Comics. Ditko also worked on Strange Fantasy #9 at the time, and Overstreet has both Captain 3-D and Strange Fantasy #9 tied for Ditko's 3rd published work.

Ditko's first published cover is The Thing #12 and he began a long association with Charlton Comics even while finding his way to Marvel Comics which was Atlas then. Before that happened, the comic legend would contract tuberculosis and return back to his hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania to recuperate.

Steve returned to New York in late 1955 and got regular gigs at Atlas Comics, Marvel's precursor publishing company. So what might his first Atlas/Marvel work or work at Atlas be for this comic legend who later helped to revolutionize the super-hero genre of comic books?

This bad boy just may very well be it right here - Journey into Mystery #33 in the four-page story "There'll Be Some Changes Made" in 1956. Wow, if that title wasn't stating the truth, but the issue and the stories featured in this issue were not super-hero stories. 

The titled comic series was still telling science fiction tales of wonder and the strange. Overstreet recognizes this as a possible first Marvel work for Steve Ditko but also has a question mark next to the listing. Just might be the first known Atlas work by Steve Ditko and there could be an actual work or un-credited work before this one.

Not too sure and looks like others aren't as well. Ditko penciled for many titles during the Golden Age in such comics as Astonishing Tales, Strange Tales, Mystery Tales, Strange Suspense Stories and various other horror and science fiction titles.

At the time, superhero comics had faded out of popularity and many publishers were still creating horror, romance, humor and science fiction comics. Even when DC Comics revived the genre beginning in 1956, Atlas was a bit late on boarding the train of the superhero revival.

It would take nearly 4 years since 1956 for Atlas to set loose the Fantastic Four into the comic world under the Marvel banner. Marvel was taking unprecedented approaches to their superheroes that most comic publishers hadn't capitalized on before.

Things were not harmonious for Marvel's superheroes. The Fantastic Four, although a family and team, had tensions between their members. This clashing of egos would also be presented later in yet another superhero team of Marvel's mightiest heroes called, "The Avengers".

At the time, Steve Ditko was still penciling tales of the weird, creepy, or just plain out of this world stories in various titles. His horror tales in these horror comics are starting to be considered absolute classics by many comic historians and even some collectors.

In 1960, however, Steve Ditko created Captain Atom with writer Joe Gill for Charlton Comics. Some sources claim that Captain Atom is Steve Ditko's first superhero creation in comics that became published. Captain Atom's first appearance was in Space Adventures #33, and the character created by Gill and Ditko is the original also known as Adam Allen.

Captain Atom would be acquired by DC Comics later, and this nuclear powered superhero was the basis or inspiration for the character of Alan Moore's Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen.

Sometimes yet few, he would draw for a western title or a war comic like Battle. Steve did inks for The Incredible Hulk #2 volume 1 comic (1st green Hulk), and that might be his first Marvel work on a superhero comic. His first Marvel superhero co-creation is most likely none other than Spider-Man.

As most accounts of who created what and to what degree, there are conflicting stories. Stan Lee has always stood by his story that he created the concept of the character, a teenage kid with teenage problems that could relate to an older audience than just the kiddies.

He also wanted to model the character's superpowers after a spider. Martin Goodman, publisher at the time, was not too privy to the idea. He thought the concept would not go well since most people feared and hated spiders.

As the story goes, Goodman reluctantly agreed but was still widely skeptical. Stan Lee first approached Jack Kirby for the project. Kirby was instructed to flesh out the character and draw some pages for this new spider character.

When Kirby presented his work to Stan Lee soon after, Stan did not like what Kirby had come up with. According to Steve, Kirby's vision of the character had a web gun and finds a magical ring of sorts that turns him into Spider-Man.

Debut of The Fly
This supposedly was awfully similar to Joe Simon and Jack Oleck's proposed Spiderman character that was later changed to The Silver Spider done around 1953. The character of the Silver Spider never took off, but was then metamorphosed into The Fly by Jack Kirby who used Simon's original Spiderman script.

Of course, accounts of how this all went down differ. In Jack's account, he took the Spiderman logo drawn by Simon to Stan Lee and proposed the idea.

Steve Ditko and Stan Lee both agreed that Kirby did have proposed pages of his mysterious and lost Spider-Man pages that were "too heroic" for Lee's tastes as he supposedly recalled. Ditko recalls seeing these mysterious pages and thought that they were too similar to The Fly comic that Archie Comics published.

As the legend goes, Lee then approached Ditko for the task. He first drew up a costume design and decided on a costume that covered the entire face to add mystery.

Whichever is true or not, Lee and Ditko's Spider-Man ended up being a whole different character than what Kirby supposedly presented, and the character was reworked into the Spider-Man that we now know today.

Spider-Man appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15. It surprisingly became one of the best selling titles, and the long and iconic supporting characters of Uncle Ben, Aunt May, Flash Thompson, and Liz Allan debuted in Spidey's 1st appearance and origin issue.

Marvel capitalized on the success of Spidey and immediately thrust troubled and guilt-ridden Peter Parker in his own comic series titled the Amazing Spider-Man. Comics would never be the same, and some of the most iconic supporting characters and villains would be created during Ditko's reign on the titled series. Iconic Spidey antagonist J. Jonah Jameson also debuted in the first issue to Spider-Man's on-going and headlining comic series.

The Chameleon, and the Terrible Tinkerer debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #1, and just to connect the new revival of Marvel's superheroes in comics, the Fantastic Four made their first ever cross-over in that issue as well. Issue #1 of Amazing Spider-Man also ties with Fantastic Four #12 as the 1st ever Marvel cross-over.

Amazing Fantasy #15 Amazing Spider-Man #1
Amazing Spider-Man #2

As most know, I usually don't like the tie crap, but the comics of ASM #1 and FF #12 both have the same cover date and Library of Congress (LoC) copyright dates (Dec 10th).

Immediately after, iconic villains like the Vulture made his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #2 and then Doctor Octopus in the 3rd issue and then Sandman in issue #4.

In issue six of the Amazing Spider-Man, the debut and origin of Curt Conners as the Lizard menaced his way into the pages of Spidey comics and was followed by the 1st appearance of Electro in issue #9.

Ditko also co-created Mysterio, Kraven the Hunter, Norman and Harry Osborne, Green Goblin, and Gwen Stacy. Steve Ditko is credited with co-creating Mary Jane Watson as well, but John Romita Sr. designed the character's look.

Extending on Marvel's revolutionary formula to their revised superhero relaunch,  the teen aged Peter Parker had personal and social problems, but this did not go away when he became Spider-Man. In fact, these troubles escalated, and the life of superhero seemed more a burden than a blessing.

Trying to find the balance between his personal life and his guilt in becoming the hero known as Spider-Man, Peter Parker struggled with this in many of his comic book adventures. Furthermore, Peter's guilt of his indirect actions leading to the murder of his Uncle Ben and his commitment in caring for his Aunt May often plagued the hero.

To many historians, this was best expressed in the story arc "If This Be My Destiny...!" in Amazing Spider-Man #33 and is considered #15 of 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time. As comic's historian Les Daniels notes, "Steve Ditko squeezes every ounce of anguish out of Spider-Man's predicament, complete with visions of the uncle he failed and the aunt he has sworn to save."

Also, like the Hulk, he was not revered as a hero to much of the public, largely due to J. Jonah's scathing articles of the webslinger. Instead, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man was seen more as a menace.

Steve Ditko helped to co-plot many of the stories that he worked on in Amazing Spider-Man and Lee would fill in the dialogue. He finally gained plotting credits starting with Amazing Spider-Man #25.

Many of the Spider-Man characters that Steve Ditko created have been used in movies such as Betty Brant, Mary Jane Watson, Flash Thompson, J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May and Uncle Ben, Electro, the Lizard, Vulture, Sandman, Liz Allan, Doctor Octopus, Harry Osborn, Need Leeds, Norman Osborn, Green Goblin, and Gwen Stacy just to name a few.

Ditko's contributions in the comic and Marvel's movie world are far from over, though. While he was still penciling for Amazing Spider-Man, Ditko created the character of Doctor Strange and the Sorcerer Supreme debuted in Strange Tales #110 in 1963.

Even though Stan Lee and Steve Ditko are both credited as creators of the character, both Lee and Ditko have relatively the same accounts that the character of Dr. Strange was for the most part conceived by Steve.

Ditko wrote in 2008, "On my own, I brought in to Lee a five-page, penciled story with a page/panel script of my idea of a new, different kind of character for variety in Marvel Comics. My character wound up being named Dr. Strange because he would appear in Strange Tales."

Lee also confirmed this in a 1963 letter to the man that is known as the "Father of Comic Book Fandom," Jerry Bails:

Well, we have a new character in the works for Strange Tales (just a 5-page filler named Dr. Strange) Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. It has sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him-- 'twas Steve's idea and I figured we'd give it a chance, although again, we had to rush the first one too much. Little sidelight: Originally decided to call him Mr. Strange, but thought the "Mr." bit too similar to Mr. Fantastic -- now, however, I remember we had a villain called Dr. Strange just recently in one of our mags, hope it won't be too confusing! 

A long with Dr. Strange's debut was the hero's mentor, the Ancient One, and Strange's man-servant Wong. Nightmare and Dreamstalker has made their debuts in Strange Tales #110. 

From there, Ditko created and introduced such iconic villains and supporting characters for Doctor Strange like Baron Mordo who debuted in Strange Tales #111, Dormammu and Clea in Strange Tales #126, as well as Eternity whose 1st physical appearance ended up being in Strange Tales #138. His surrealistic artwork and psychedelic imagery in the Doctor Strange comics has been acclaimed by many comic fans and comic historians.

Strange Tales #111
1st Baron Mordo
Strange Tales #126
1st Clea & Dormammu
Strange Tales #138
1st Eternity

Around 1964, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko relaunched a Hulk series in the pages of Tales to Astonish beginning with the 60th issue. While having a pretty short tenure on the newly relaunched Hulk feature (#60-67), Ditko did co-create one of the Hulk's most notable foes, the Leader, who debuted in Tales to Astonish #62.

The green-skinned opposite of the Hulk, Samuel Sternes was exposed to gamma rays and became super-duper smart instead of some behemoth, super-strong dolt. He has been one of the more well-known villain for the Hulk in comics since.

Steve Ditko's run on Amazing Spider-Man ended with issue #38, in which John Romita Sr. took over as regular artist on the titled series. Much like his work on Doctor Strange, Dikto's amazing art, plotting and contributions on Spider-Man have also been acclaimed but to a larger extent.

When his run on Amazing Spider-Man ended, Ditko also left Marvel. Some have claimed that a rift between Steve and Stan had grown because they disagreed on who the Green Goblin's identity should be.

Both Stan and Steve have disputed that claim, but John Romita Sr. recalled in a 2010 deposition that the duo "ended up not being able to work together because they disagreed on almost everything, cultural, social, historically, everything, they disagreed on characters...."

Whatever the real reason, Ditko was leaving Marvel and a farewell to him in Fantastic Four #52 was given in that issue's Bullpen Bulletins. The legendary comic artist was far from done in the world of comics.

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