Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why I Like Steve Ditko

It's only fitting that one of my first posts discusses Steve Ditko, whose work I've admired since I was a child. I was trying to recall my earliest memories of his art, and what it was that made it connect on a personal level. An early image came to mind: a panel in Spider-Man focusing on a band of criminals fleeing. I recognized how the folds of clothing moved they looked the same way my trousers moved when I ran. It was a simple observation, but brought a sense of reality to the scene.

Amazing Spider-Man # 19, Dec 1964

Although Ditko's work comes from a cartoonists background, much like the artists he admired (Will Eisner, Jerry Robinson, Mort Meskin), Ditko had the ability to deliniate figures, forms, clothing and settings with a knowledge of the real world. Ditko studied how folds of clothing flowed, he understood the workings of the human hand and how the body moves. Ditko, like Alex Toth, was able to simplify. He knew what to include and what to eliminate. 

Ditko made his characters realistic by not turning them into superhuman powerhouses (not that there's anything wrong with that when you're a superlative storyteller, but more on Jack Kirby in another post). Another early memory is the cover to Amazing Spider-Man # 15. The cover draws the reader in with brilliant ease. Spider-Man is in the foreground, struggling to escape a net he is trapped in, as Kraven the Hunter approaches him. The park setting is established by trees and a city landscape peeks out in the background. Unlike DC characters, who often faced unusual situations or gimmicks on their covers, Ditko puts Spider-Man in a "real" and threatening situation. You can easily put yourself in Spider-Man's situation and wonder how he will escape his predicament.

Ditko's heroes were flesh and blood. They could get brusied and beaten (but not bleed in the confines of the Comics Code) and often had to use their mind to outwit their opponents. Ditko thought out his plots and situations and though his pencils look flawless, its obvious that a lot of thoughgt went into his decisions. I believe that is one of the reasons one can go back to these stories and appreciate them over and over.

Ditko is an original. Unique, individual, compelling. Now in his 80s, he continues to draw comics. There are those who chose to denigrate the man on a personal level, attacking him for the type of stories he has chosen to tell in his independent work. I'm not one of them. I've read too many articles, blogs and essays that turn into hateful bile, filled with distortions, inaccuracies and lies about the man - not constructive discussions about his work.  I intend to pursue a more positive direction here.

More on Ditko soon....


Booksteve said...

Hear, hear! One certainly doesn't need to agree with Mr. Ditko to admire his brilliant cartooning! And sure, it's easy to say he's "wasting his talents" doing the kind of stuff he does but seriously, don't you think he's more than earned the right to create what HE wants?

Another influence you neglected to mention is Joe Kubert. Some of Ditko's earliest stuff is at first glance nearly indistinguishable from contemporary Kubert work.

I might add that I was just discussing with my wife yesterday that if I absolutely had to choose one cover that epitomizes the Silver Age of Comics, I believe I'd pick AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # Steve Ditko.

Nick Caputo said...


I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Some argue that it is Meskin's influence on both artists that comes through in Ditko's early work. Ditko has never cited Kubert as a direct influence, but my own thoughts are that Kubert was an influence early on.

ASM # 25 is a sensational cover, but I'd have a hard time to pick one image from that period. there were so many exceptional covers by folks like Ditko, Kirby and Wood, to name a few.

Javier Hernandez said...


I'll be following your blog to read your thoughts on all things comics.

As Booksteve says, when people say Ditko is 'wasting his time' on his personal comics, I can't think of a more misinformed statement. He can't be wasting his time if he's doing exactly what he wishes to do. Maybe plenty of people would have rather seen him working at Marvel with a writer, but that would have been a complete waste of his time!

Nick Caputo said...


Thanks for joining in. It's a bit foolish for fans to be wasting their time being upset over Ditko's choices. No one is forced to read or buy his current output if its not to their liking, but to spend time attacking it makes no sense. If you like his earlier work than discuss that, don't make it a personal vendetta against the artist.

Danny said...

Whatever happened to your Marvel Genesis blog?

Nick Caputo said...


That's not my blog, its run by Don Alfasi, which is on my favorite list. I hope it will return soon.

Jacque Nodell said...

Last week I scanned a bunch of stories from the '70s monster reprints and have been enjoying reading the Ditko monster stories. They are simultaneously sparse, cute, and a little eerie too. Looking forward to more Ditko posts!

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks Jacque! That's a good description of Ditko's stories. I'll be back with more Ditko content, although there may be one or tweo other artists you'll enjoy me posting on in the meantime.