Thursday, January 29, 2015

Readers' Choice: Spotlight On... Steve Ditko

Karen: Well today is the last reader DIY column while Doug and I are on our vacation, and I decided to make it a "Spotlight On..." one, to give you a chance to sing the praises of a particular comic artist, writer, inker or other comics luminary that you feel needs to be noted for their contributions. Please try to avoid anyone we've spoken about in the past. I've compiled a list of these folks to help you out:

Dave Cockrum
Steve Englehart 
Steve Gerber
Frank Robbins
Neal Adams
Chris Claremont
E. Nelson Bridwell
Rich Buckler
Barry Windsor Smith
John Byrne 
Joe Sinnott
Jim Steranko
Gil Kane
Mike Ploog 
Jim Aparo
Gene Colan
Walt Simonson
John Romita Jr.
Frank Miller


Anonymous said...

Steve Ditko. Genius ? Overrated ?

Humanbelly said...

Somehow both?
Loved his Spidey & Dr Strange when I was a littler kid; couldn't bear to look at his work as a teen & young-adult fan; have developed a much greater appreciation for him in my more-thoughtful advancing years.

His politically-isolated and rather prickly personality don't help to endear him to the fans that remember him, I think. I mean, strictly speaking, the fellow probably is literally a genius-- he's awfully smart. But he's also quite odd, yes? And I wouldn't say over-rated, based on the best work of his career-- but I daresay his style didn't keep up with the times as Kirby & the Buscemas (and Aparo) became the house styles at the big companies. Oddly enough, it wouldn't have taken much stylistic tweaking for him to have had a HUGE resurgence in the 90's. Erik Larson in particular always made me think of Ditko-- as did many of the other more cartoony "hot" artists of that era. The late Mike Wierengo, also (moreso, even).

HB-- gotta run, teammates!

david_b said...

I'm not a fan of his early Spiderman. It's nice and ingenius (concept and execution..), but once Romita came on the scene, the bar went FAR higher.

But as a contrast, his Doc Strange work is phenominal, far more suited to Ditko's austere style and mood, and ultimately a perfect foray for all the then-budding psychedelic concert venue posters and college hipsters buying up black-light decor.

Edo Bosnar said...

I certainly don't think he's overrated, but I would fall just short of calling him a genius as well.
Like many kids who started on comics in the '70s, initially I didn't like his art when I saw it in newer books. However, once I got a hold of those Marvel pocketbook reprints from the late 1970s, which featured his work on Spider-man and Dr. Strange, I became a fan.
And he did some outstanding work over the course of his career, working in almost every sub-genre of comics: SF, horror, sword & sorcery, super-hero, crime/action and even a few western stories (back in the '50s).
One of Ditko's big drawbacks, however, was that he really needed someone else to script his stories. He (obviously) did outstanding art, and he was a solid plotter, but when he writes his own dialogue - like in those Mr. A stories - it's pretty grim and almost unreadable.
One area in which I'll say Ditko was truly a genius is costume design. I only need to mention the costume for Spider-man and the red-and-gold Iron Man, two that have truly stood the test of time.

Anonymous said...

Edo, I had a couple of those Pocket Books you mentioned - that's where I first read the early Dr. Strange stories from Strange Tales and as everybody has said Ditko was excellent on Dr. Strange.

Anonymous said...

Colin, good topic. Would love to hear your take. I'm trying to decide if it's possible to agree with HB (Somehow both?) and Edo (neither) at the same time. :-)

He certainly had a unique style that I think I appreciate now more than I first did. I also had some of those pocket books and enjoyed them.

And I must say that the list of previous "Spotlight On" subjects is quite impressive. Somebody should take a vacation after all that. Oh wait...already did.

Get back to work Karen and Doug. :-)


Anonymous said...

If Ditko is overrated, its not by much - how many artists have a style so distinctively their own and immediately recognizable?

I have to disagree with HB about Ditko keeping up with the times - sure, he probably could have made more money, but I admire his willingness to be true to himself. Who cares about fashion in the long run? So he missed out on being a second Erik Larson(!?)...he was able to earn a living and be his own man. Don't know about genius, but that's pretty impressive in itself.

Everyone seen the BBC documentary about Ditko? If not, its on youtube and makes a good case for his work...


Garett said...

I've never warmed up to Ditko's art, although I can see he can draw well and create and design costumes. He's certainly influential. But for my personal preference, there's something too plain about his linework, and something a little out of whack with his body language and compositions. Maybe it's reflecting his unusual personality? Every so often I'll pull out some of his comics and give it another try. I much prefer Kirby's power over Ditko's wackiness. Even on titles like Spider-man and Doctor Strange, I like other artists better. But he was an originator.

Sean, I did see that BBC doc by Jonathan Ross. Good one-- think I'll watch it again.

david_b said...

To insure I wasn't too subtle on my Ditko-Strange praise before, I'd put him well over anyone who came after, even Colan, Brunner, Sal Buscema (Defenders..), etc.

Starting with Colan, Strange's world and all it's evil inhabitants just got lusher and lusher.., when to me, Ditko's minimalist style struck the absolute right chord.

As Hitchcock taught future filmmakers.., 'Less is often better'.

J.A. Morris said...

If I have any criticism of Ditko, it's that so many of the people he draws look the same. And look at his crowd scenes. They look the same in the 1950s or the 80s.

But I wouldn't say Ditko's overrated. His fight scenes in the early Spider-Man issues still look great 50 years later.

I think his problem was that his art was a lot less accessible than John Romita's depiction of the wallcrawler. I believe it was the "Romita look" that made Spider-Man Marvel's signature character.

Edo Bosnar said...

On that documentary by Jonathan Ross ("In Search of Steve Ditko"), I like most of it well enough. It's informative and there's a lot of good interviews with other comics creators, etc. - and I especially like that part with Alan Moore.
But the ending just really annoys me: I knew there was no way he was going to get Ditko to say anything in front of a camera or any other kind of recording device, so I just hated the fact that he and Neil Gaiman had a private meeting with him and then gushed about it on camera afterward. It was kind of like, "ha, ha! We met him, and it was awesome and screw the rest of you guys!"

SteveDoesComics said...

I loved his Marvel work in the 1960s. As well as his pencilling, I especially liked it when he inked Jack Kirby.

I really tried to like his work in the 1970s but, to me, it seemed so much more simplistic than it had been in the Silver Age. Also, as others have said, his work totally failed to keep up with the times. You could read his stuff in the 1970s and 80s and feel you were reading something produced in the late 1950s.

Having said that, for his work on Spider-Man and Dr Strange, he deserves to be remembered as one of the greats.

Anonymous said...

Edo - Yeah, the end of that documentary is really annoying; Ross and Gaiman love Ditko's work but don't respect the man enough not to hassle him. Which is a shame, because otherwise it was such a good appreciation.


Anonymous said...

I like Ditko in general, but I agree with J.A. about Ditko's faces all being the same (Kirby did that too). But Ditko's costumed figures were great; his art seemed to fit better on some of the "weirder" stuff: Doc Strange, Creeper, Shade the Changing Man, the Question...I would have liked to see Ditko's take on somebody like Deadman, or maybe Metamorpho.

Mike W.

dbutler16 said...

I think I am largely agreeing with Humanbelly and david_b. His early stuff is good, but I've never been very fond of his art, to be honest. I think his genius is in his designing. He may be the best designer of all time, and apparently a smart and creative guy, but I only thought his 60's art was OK, and his 70's and 80's stuff was nigh on unreadable to me. I also agree that Spider-Man got better when Romita came along.

Garett said...

I like Brunner better than Ditko on Doctor Strange, especially with Giordano inking in issues 1-5. Brunner draws faces with more realism, and has exciting panel pages like this:
Brunner 1
Also there are trippy pages like this:
Brunner 2
Ditko is a good artist, but Brunner's art here draws me in much more.

pfgavigan said...


I find myself in the position of agreeing with almost all the points raised during this discussion.

I'm hesitant to use the term genius in most circumstances, but am more than willing to assert that Mr. Ditko has had moments of genius. While the there have been artists who have illustrated both of his most famous Marvel titles who I have perhaps enjoyed more than Mr. Ditko, they have all consistently utilized his visual language, the texturality, if you will, that he developed during his tenures.

If he has a, shall we say, stock company of visual characters that he uses regularly, what comic book artist doesn't? If his artwork has become static over the years, he has yet to become a parody of himself. As long as he retains his formidable story telling abilities the application of a skilled inker brings out the best of his work.

As to his writing abilities, well . . . there we are at an impasse. I fully support his right to produce the stories that he wants to tell. And I am quite certain that he fully supports my right not to purchase them.



William said...

I, for one, absolutely LOVE Steve Ditko (his personality shortcomings aside). I don't understand people who adopt some weird rule, or philosophy like "I'll never give an interview, or allow myself to be filmed or even photographed." And then stick to it like a religion. I think it definitely becomes an obsession of sorts. And probably isn't very mentally healthy. Especially when there is really no good or logical reason for it.

But, as far as his art goes, I think he's pretty much a stone cold genius. For good or bad, no one draws like Ditko, and his style is instantly recognizable. I loved his work on Spider-Man. However, I'd classify him as my second favorite all-time Spider-Man artist. Ron Frenz being my #1. But, ironically Frenz's early Spider-Man work was heavily influenced by Ditko, which is one of the reasons I liked it so much.

I enjoyed the work he did for other companies besides Marvel as well. Like Hawk and Dove and The Creeper for DC, and especially Captain Atom and The Blue Beetle for Charlton.

Humanbelly said...

Mike W, I think a Ditko Metamorpho would have been aces! That's a very good call. And although he'd never supplant Andru in my mind, I would also have loved to see his take on the Metal Men. Hmm-- and maybe Plastic Man? Again, a different take than Jack Cole's unparalleled original series-- but there's a certain amount of similar "fun" in Ditko's pencils (or can be). Ah-- what if, what if, what if. . .

IIRC from that documentary, Neil G & John Ross do clearly come out of that (aggravatingly unrevealed) interview with a surprisingly upbeat attitude. They absolutely imposed themselves upon him, and yet he must have been far, far more pleasant than one would ever have expected. At least that was my take on it. . .


Anonymous said...

Wow William you actually rate Ditko behind Ron Frenz?

Hmm who said Ditko is overrated? Not in my book. Yes, the guy is an unrepentant hermit; whatever personality quirks he has doesn't change the fact that he co-created Spider-Man and gave us groundbreaking surreal psychedelic art on Doctor Strange. For his work on these two titles alone he's definitely an artistic genius to me. Sure, his unique style isn't to everyone's taste and his later work wasn't up to par but then again not everyone loves DaVinci. While I agree Spidey really took off when Romita took over art duties, Ditko laid the groundwork for all other artists to follow.

It's really saying something when after 50 years most people on the planet recognize Spidey's famous red and blue outfit. Who do you thank for that? Ditko.

- Mike 'objectivism schism' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Robert L. said...

I read once on a commentary about Steve that it wasn't because of conflict of the Green Goblin's secret identity that he left Spider-Man.

Lee and the publisher promised him residuals from the Spider-Man character in a verbal agreement. Once the character became a sensation he wanted to know what happened to his agreement and was given no answer.

I can see how Ditko could embrace the philosophy of Objectivism since he was basically shut out of the Spider-Man character forever. There were only two big comic publishers back then who weren't on the verge of going out of business...Marvel and DC. The rest all turned out to be fly by night ones that didn't provide steady employment.

Just look at Ditko's Blue Beetle. Remember his stint on the character in Charlton Comics? You could easily put Spider-Man in the same costume with all of the action sequences and it would be the same type of character. I believe Ditko's name deserves the legendary status it has. Only because he was so innovative. Something happened to his enthusiasm for his work after he left Spidey. It didn't have the power it used to because he unfairly squeezed out of profits to the Spidey character that would have made him a millionaire and
I think watching Spidey becoming a success because of his designs and ideas without him at the helm took a toll on him.

BK said...

Great subject. I can't believe Ditko hasn't been covered on Bronze Age Babies before! I don't think there can be any argument about Ditko's accomplishments or place in comics history: one of the three founding architects of Marvel Comics really guarantees him a seat in the comics pantheon. Creator of Spider-Man costume design and original supporting cast and villains through the first 30-plus issues of the character, as well as co-writer and co-plotter of the series with Stan Lee. Creator of Dr. Strange and his universe. Pretty damn good. Designer of the modern Iron Man armour. Nuff said.

I love Ditko's distinctive art and comics storytelling. Love his designs, his figures, his gestures. Props to him for still creating and self-publishing his own comic books in 2015!!! Props to him for being his own man and not letting others push him around. I wish he had pursued the copyrights for the characters he created or hand in creating, but he has deeply held philosophical reasons for not doing so.

Watchmen wouldn't exist without Ditko.

As for his Bronze Age contributions to comics? His work for Charlton, Warren, DC and Marvel in the 1970s was all topnotch. Outside of Marvel recreated many long-lasting characters, al imbued with aspects of his own philosophy, a rarity in comic books. Even his work on ROM and Micronauts is held in high-regard by some fans! Squirrel Girl is still a thing.

I've found collecting and studying Ditko's later work (not to mention his pre-Marvel superhero work) to be an endlessly enjoyable enterprise. I think he is totally underrated! Genius is a tough concept, but if anyone in U.S. "mainstream" comics is, he is!

Rip Jagger said...

As always it seems, I come late to this chat, but I must say something about the special force which is Steve Ditko.

Whether he deserves the title of "genius" I'm a bit hesitant to say, but there's no denying his dogged determination to make comics in the manner he chose. That distinctive brand has made him utterly unique in the field, a workman who perhaps is not ideally suited to everything he's taken on, but who nonetheless adds to whatever he takes up.

He created Spider-Man, but Stan Lee made him puny Parker. Ditko though went on to give us versions of his true hero, the implacable idealist in the form of Mr.A, The Question, Blue Beetle, The Creeper, Static, and so many many more. All of them pretty much the same guy, a guy dedicated to his philosophy of life which dictates that truth is the ultimate goal.

I don't agree with his philosophy, but I am fascinated to see him relentlessly put it forth.

Steve Ditko made Charlton relevant when no one thought them worth the time. His long history with the Derby firm elevates interest in it still to this day.

Long live Steve Ditko!

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