Saturday, July 7, 2018

REMEMBERING DITKO

The comic book world is reeling from the news that Steve Ditko—genius, visionary, giant of the industry—has passed away.  What Ditko, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created in the 1960s was the foundation not just of the Marvel Universe but of a good part of our current popular culture.  And of course Ditko’s contributions to DC Comics—Hawk and Dove, Shade The Changing Man and the Creeper, to name three—still have vitality and importance today.

I worked with Ditko twice in my early days at DC, the first time on the short story “The Dimensions of Greed,” which appeared in the science-fiction anthology Time Warp. (Could a writer new to comics ask for anything more? I knew I was lucky then, I know it more now.)  I’ve often wondered where the surreal visual language Ditko created—on display in the “Greed” page below and at its peak during his extraordinary run on the Doctor Strange feature in Strange Tales—came from. Comics had never seen anything like it and we’ve all been echoing that work ever since.  (One of the most overused words in my scripts is “Ditkoesque.”  The other, unsurprisingly, is “Kirbyesque.”)  It’s no wonder folks in the 60s thought Stan and Steve were dropping acid!



Without Steve Ditko there would be no Ted Kord, which means no Blue Beetle and Booster Gold anchoring JLI.  Without Steve Ditko there would be no Kraven the Hunter, which means no Kraven’s Last Hunt.

We build our careers on the backs of giants.  

Rest well, Mr. Ditko.


Addendum:  I’ve shared this before, but here’s the story of the one and only time I met Steve Ditko:

Steve Ditko was the visionary creator who pushed, some might say shattered, the boundaries of 60's mainstream comics with his work on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. I can't think of another artist of the era—aside from the King of all boundary-shatterers, Jack Kirby—whose work was more revolutionary and influential.

Ditko illustrated a couple of my early stories—including a Legion of Super Heroes issue that's considered one of the worst Legion tales of all time (my fault, not Steve's!)—back when I was starting out at DC Comics, and one day, when I wandered into the office of editor Jack C. Harris, there he was, the legend himself: an unassuming middle-aged man, dropping off his latest batch of pages. Ditko is notoriously reclusive, the J.D. Salinger of comic books, so I was delighted—and perhaps a bit awed—to be standing in the same room with him, making (very) small talk.

Now imagine my excitement when I discovered that Ditko was leaving the office at the same time I was. We hopped in the elevator, walked out of the building together, and headed off, side-by-side, in the same direction. We talked a little (perhaps about the story we'd just worked on, I can't say for sure) and the twelve year old inside me was doing cartwheels. Me and Steve Ditko, strolling down the avenue and chatting? By the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, I was in Comic Book Heaven.

I didn't stay there long.

We'd gone, perhaps, half a block, when I said something to the effect of, "So...ah...do you ever think you'll go back and draw Spider-Man again?" In my defense, I don't think I realized that the subject of Spidey, of Ditko's Marvel work in general, was verboten—but I found out soon enough: Within seconds of opening my ignorant mouth, Ditko wished me a good day, crossed the street and vanished into the crowd. I felt like an idiot, but a lucky one: I'd had my moment, however brief, with the elusive legend. 

And, all these years later, I still treasure it.


©copyright 2018 J.M. DeMatteis


18 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing these moments with us, JM. These are wonderful memories to have of such a great artist.

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    1. Let's try this again from scratch, Mackenzie. Very glad you enjoyed the post and sorry about the confusion in my previous answers.

      I think it's time for bed! : )

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  2. I'm not sure he died as much as phased to a different reality.

    A few hours before he died, I actually got a copy of Man-Bat #1... which most people probavly on't even know he drew... or that it exists.

    A few hours before it was public knowledge I bleieve, 7:00-8:00 pm est, Ron Marz and Jim Starkin did a Q and A for their kickstarter backers.

    SAtarlin was asked about his influeces... which is a question I have personally answered a million times at least.

    As always he focused in on Kirby and Ditko, gushing and praising. But unlike most times, it was more DItko.

    He talked about how great of a storyteller he was, actually focusing on the classic SPider-Man lifting debris scene. Mentioned how it actually inspired some works of his.

    That may be how Ditko would most want either his last few moments of life, or first few of death to be noted. People talking about his work. The quality, the skill, and how it made them better. The job and the labor.

    I first read reprints fof his Spider-man and Dr. Strange as a teenager. It blew me away. He had a certain unpolished, unpretty style that made everything look believable.

    His SPider-Man looked almost Noirish at times. He drewa a New York, that even if you lived in Chicago, or Seattle, you knew that street.

    He also wasn't chincy. His usual was nine panels a page. NINE! Chalked full of Stan's notably long dialogue.

    By God, you got your money's worth with him.

    AND what abut those opening splash pages. You didn't want to read what happened in the book, you needed to read what happened.

    Dr. Strange looked so far out and insane. His monster comics were creepy and even disturbing. But dammit, they look so plausible.


    Shout oput to a forgotten Ditko work I always remember, Amazing Fantasy #15's "Man in the Mummy Case" and "There are Martians Among Us." I can't forget those works.


    And man oh man, his use of lighting and shadow.


    Jack

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  3. Wait also, lets remember. Could anybody have made Spider-Man work in those early days? HE was the antithesis of the conventional superhero.

    Seriously, actually sit and describe the character, his foibles, mistakes, and personal issues, being heir to everything human, to someone who doesn't know comics and never use the name Spider-MAn.

    It sounds liek an indie-fim mocking superheroes, or lightly having fun.

    No one but Ditko could represent that. Those issues don't look like a superhero comic.

    DOn't believe me? There is even an essay that argues Spider-man is a horror comic.

    It does loo more like a crime or horror comic.

    As much as I love Kirby, Buscema, Wally Wood, and I do. None of them would have captured the vibe needed. Even Romita, if he came in earlier (and I actually mayube prefer those issues, Ditko would want honesty).

    Spider-man would have been a C-lister at best, instead of the world class sueperstar he became, if Ditko hadn't laid down that road.

    Stan Lee created Peter Parker, and made us love him, but Ditko made Spider-Man a reality.

    I will even say this. John ROmita Jr.'s early art looked more like his dad's. Sal Buscema, it easily confused with his brother's work.

    Both started to look a lot more like Ditko art as time went on, and they developed their own style. Both are also heavily associated with SPider-MAn.

    Jack

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    1. A horror comic, Jack? Maybe! I remember being young and getting my first look at a Ditko Spider-Man comic and it scared me. Spider-Man was the creepiest looking superhero I'd ever seen It took me a few years before I could adjust to Marvel and appreciate the genius of Ditko's approach. Not just Ditko, the whole Marvel approach, which, at the time, was so different from anything on the stands.

      But once I got it, I got it...big time!

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    2. I didn't find him creepy, but I did think he waqs a criminal.

      Also, posit this, Green Goblin looks like a ...well, goblin. Doctor Octopus is like a refugee from a 50s sci-fi B-movie, and the lizard is a literal monster.

      I don't believe the essay made that point, I would have to check.

      It is an interesting book though. It includes looks at him as a class-straggling superhero, and other examinations.

      Gerry Conway edited it, I believe.

      Here is a link to a video on it, that actually prompted me to seek out the book after I stumbled upon it.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27WCC2-3nTQ

      Ditko is almost the polar opposite of Kirby, light years away. But bizarrely similar too, like being right next door.

      I'll never forget the rap up to the Crime Master story line. It gave chills. It was almost like something out of E.C.'s Crime Suspenstories... albeit less graphic.

      Jack

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  4. There is a certain weird irony to Ditko. HE was a big supporter of Ayn Rand, and presumably a fan of "The Fountainhead."

    However, as far as I know, no one ever tried to stifle his unique style. It was sought out by publishers and adored by fasn.

    I guess I have two points to make from that.

    1) I know he was a man mostly about the work, but I hope he at least knew his work was appreciated by so many.

    2) Thia makes Ditko a... contradiction? and enigma? an oddity? I have absolutely no clue, but not your average guy on the street. And in the end, that is part of the great legend of Ditko. The mysterious artists. The J.D. Salinger of cartoonists.

    His work is first and foremost the thing to remember about him. But don't forget the legend of the man. Comics was lucky to have such a character in teh real world as well

    I won't say I love everything he did (okay, I will say I love all of the art), and given who Ditko was, I beleive it important to honor him with that truth.

    However, even what I didn't like, was mesmerizing. I have read a bit of Mr. A. It wasn't my cup of tea. Not even for the philosophical bend (it is working its way to a compliment, trust me).

    I found the writing.., not a style I like. However, it was still captivating. There was real passion there, at that is something you have to respect.

    Jack.

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    1. Well said, Jack. He was certainly an enigma...but he was OUR enigma. And the comic book world was blessed to have him.

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    2. You Know Dematteis, I wouldn't mind reading an essay like this from you about somebody in comics who is living.

      It just seems like as a society most of the time we only take time to really go on about someone's work, impact, and our gratefulness for it when they have passed.

      Just a little nosh for braining. That....that is the term, right?


      Jack

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    3. I'm pretty sure I've written an appreciation of Stan L—who is still very much with us—at some point and I KNOW I wrote an appreciation of my buddy Len Wein several years ago. And my other buddy Mike Ploog. And there might be more, if we comb through the archives!

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    4. Look, maybe you are right, and maybe your wrong. There is only one thing we can be sure of... I'm not wrong. That is ludicrous right on the face of it.

      I'll leave you to figure out the fine details of that.

      Besides, all that you mentioned is the past. The past is over. Past is prologue. past is a foreign country. Past is a cancer that needs to be removed before it kills you.

      How can we be sure of any of it. For all we know your memories are false for some wicked conspiracy. And any conspiracy that can do that certainly monkey around with a website.

      N Besides what are you going to do, search the website, I won't. and you may think that the conspiracy fooled with MY brain.

      Again, ridiculous on the face of it, and I won't entertain it, and KI suggest you don't either... if you want to keep your good name.

      There is only one way to deal this. You'll have to write some... or possibly more, depending on how this whole reality deciphering works out.

      Make it the future, and as Homer Simpson said, "sorry, can't change the future."



      Jack

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    5. Why do I feel like I'm in a Matrix sequel?

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    6. Sematteis, do me a favor. Don't pos tthe last comment of mine.

      I took a swipe at the Matrix suqeuls, and that is so cliche. and I'm better than that.

      What's more.....

      Look, the whole thing was an embarrassment.

      Thank you for your time, and consideration.

      JAck

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  5. I liked The Question and The Creeper from Ditko. I love your awkward encounter story. I think I would treasure an encounter like that more than a friendly one.

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    1. I especially love the Creeper, Douglas. He's so...creepy!

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    2. Ditko was such a great designer and the Creeper is one of those characters that just looks amazing. Which is the primary reason I love the character. That and his...creepiness.

      Certainly ripe for a reboot, too.

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