Welcome once again to Brave and Bold. Today I would like to talk about one of the greatest artists of the silver age. He is the incomparable Steve Ditko. Despite placing an image from Mr. A. at the top of this article, I am going to avoid discussing the politics of the man. This is an article that will focus on his art. Although his personal life did have an effect on his work, I am not an expert on Ayn Rand. I have never read her work, and I do not know enough about Ditko outside of his art to feel capable of presenting an analysis of his politics. So, with all that out of the way, let us delve into the world of Steve Ditko!
No discussion of Ditko would be complete without discussing The Amazing Spider-Man. Spider-Man is one of the first superheroes I ever loved and Ditko’s art on the character is one of the main reasons for that adoration. Peter Parker was not a pretty boy, he did not even take on the call to superheroics once he got his powers. Parker was flawed, unconventional, down on his luck, and most importantly, he was us. It is my belief that Ditko is the main man behind the creation of Spider-Man. Robbie Reed’s work on Ditko for his site Dial B for Blog certainly agrees with my assessment: ‘Mr. Ditko DOES have an auto-biography. I’ve read it, and I bet YOU have too! As you’ll soon see, it’s called THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.’ http://www.dialbforblog.com/archives/695/
It is certainly undeniable that Stan Lee had the initial spark to create a superhero based on a spider. However, without the injection of Steve Ditko’s DNA into the character of Peter Parker, it is my belief that Spider-Man would have failed. As you will see below, the comparison between Ditko and Parker is very clear. I will not give Stan Lee no credit at all, that would be unfair, he did make Marvel great with his marketing sense. Spider-Man though, is the achievement of Steve Ditko. Lee just worked some dialogue in. Everything that we love about the character of Spider-Man, everything about the down and out teenager behind the webbed mask, comes from those 38 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man that Steve drew and plotted. His art style is unique, inspired, and beautiful, and all the credit and profit that Stan Lee has enjoyed from the webslinger truly belongs to Ditko. Stan came up with the name, Ditko did the rest. I hope one day everyone will believe that and see it as true.
The other character that Ditko is most known for and has thankfully been given more credit for is the master of the mystic arts, Dr. Strange.
Now, I will admit that I am much more well versed on the adventures of Spider-Man than I am of the adventures of Doctor Stephen Strange so I will purely focus on the art for this section. As you can see in the image posted above, Ditko’s use of space and shapes creates dynamic and fascinating worlds and scenes like nobody else ever could. In these lines and shapes Ditko demonstrates a dream-like world on the page. It truly is magical to look at and every time the image is viewed, something else jumps out at you.
Here is a story page from Dr Strange by Ditko. His ability to show the passage of time and space in his panel work and his use of negative space is utterly incredible. If the upcoming Dr. Strange movie can even capture a miligram of the magic that went into this art they will be onto a winner. However, pages like this one do prove that comics are not just storyboards, they are not just movies that do not move. The images shown here cannot be done in any other medium and nobody has been able to match the artwork that Ditko did on Dr. Strange. Then… with no warning, Ditko left Marvel, but his artistry and brilliance went over to Charlton and created some of the greatest characters that DC now owns.
Ditko’s characters for Charlton continued to show his talent and he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted. One of the characters he created was the second Blue Beetle, Ted Kord. As another bug based character on Ditko’s roster it would be amiss to not discuss a comparison to Spider-Man here. They are both wise-cracking, acrobatic, inventing, arthropod themed heroes. However, it appears that Blue Beetle is more like the character that Ditko wanted to create when he first tackled the Spider-Man. Kord had no powers and was totally reliant on his wits, skill, and mind. Ditko’s work on Charlton proves that he was a brilliant creator on his own and without the shackles of Marvel he could truly let loose, as he did with the other great character he developed there.
Ditko also created The Question. His real name was Vic Sage and with a special gas, and a unique mask, Vic took to the streets of Chicago as The Question. He began to terrorize criminals and informed them that crime would not be tolerated. He worked outside of the law if he needed to and stuck to an unbending, objective standard of ethics to all men and their actions.
In my view, his work on The Question is some of Ditko’s greatest. His command of anatomy gives all of his characters unique looks. The Question, with his short and stocky build mimics Will Eisner’s The Spirit. As you can see by comparing all of the images that have been used thus far in this article, Ditko gave every character that he created a unique look. Spider-Man’s world is ugly and twisted, Dr. Strange inhabits a world of freakish shapes and fluidity, Blue Beetle is more static and shows the struggle he has due to his lack of powers. Finally, The Question’s gas is used to present mystery and their is a claustrophic feel to the work that gives it the feeling of classic noir thrillers.
After working for Charlton, in 1968 he spent a short time at DC Comics where he created such characters as The Creeper, and The Hawk and The Dove.
The Creeper proves once again, the effort and skill that Ditko possesses. His hand lettering of the “HAs” gives a unique illusion of movement, and The Creeper’s movement is also unique. The use of the strange red cape that flows around the character makes The Creeper truly creepy, particularly in the second panel.
And so we reach the final character that must be discussed when we look at Steve Ditko. Mr. A. is the fully creator owned, independent character that Ditko developed in the late 1960s. In these stories of morality, Ditko continued to demonstrate his command of story-telling through imagery. With the presentation of Mr. A. being in full black-and-white we get a brilliant glimpse into the true talent of Ditko. He is a storyteller, a visionary, a true talent, and above all else, he is my favourite comic book artist. If Steve ever reads this, I would just like to say one last thing.
Dear Mr. Ditko,
Thank you for the years of joy that your art has given me. You are a true talent and a master that belongs alongside Picasso and Van Gogh as a master of the craft.