Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Who Authored Ditko??

This essay, an investigation on Ditko's Timely-Atlas Fantasy stories, was originally published in Ditkomania # 71. It's been updated and revised for this blog post.

The fantasy stories that Steve Ditko drew for Atlas comics in the late 1950s-early 1960s have always been admired and revered for their originality, mood and charm. The question of authorship of these stories, however, has been riddled with inconsistencies, with Stan Lee usually credited over the years. Stan Lee’s signature did not appear on Ditko stories until 1961. The mythology that has permeated the fan press is that Stan Lee signed everything he wrote, but if that is indeed the truth, then the question cries out: WHO wrote the pre-1961 Ditko stories, of which more than a few read very much like the later Lee signed stories? There is proof of at least one author on a few stories, but the others lead to further speculation. Perhaps somewhere along the line a better understanding of the Lee-Ditko working relationship will emerge, providing some insight into the evolution of what would become the Marvel style of storytelling in the 1960s.

One known fact is that Steve Ditko began working for Editor Stan Lee at Atlas Comics in 1956. Most of the stories were fantasy related, although Ditko did draw a western filler, which, coincidentally, included Stan Lee’s first byline with Ditko (“The Badmen”, Two-Gun Western # 4, May 1956). Carl Wessler scripted some of Ditko’s early fantasy stories (Wessler kept records of the stories he wrote)[1]. With only two stories appearing in 1957-58 for Atlas, Ditko returned with a vengeance in 1959, working on over 100 stories into 1961, most with no writing credits. The tone of many of the early non-Wessler credited stories are distinct; many are very copy-heavy and use names and plots with possible input by Ditko (Ditko denies writing any stories in this time period). By 1960 the stories became less verbal and many may be either plotted by Lee or Ditko. Larry Lieber, who has been credited with scripting the majority of Jack Kirby drawn feature stories, as well as back-ups by Don Heck, Paul Reinman and Dick Ayers (over Lee plots), has often been the likely suspect, but this appears to be a falsehood.  A close examination of some of these stories, however, shows an uncanny resemblance to the signed work of Stan Lee, in tone, style and mannerism.

The First Stan Lee and Steve Ditko byline, 2-Gun Western # 4, May 1956


The “fact” that Stan signed everything he wrote begins to unravel with a little detective work. Stan himself has disputed the statement a number of times. Comics’ historian Will Murray interviewed Lee in Comics Scene # 76. In reply to a question regarding the writing of the monster stories, Stan states:

“I only did the ones I signed my name to. But there were some that I did that I didn’t sign because I wasn’t thinking of it.”

Lee elaborated further in email correspondence with this author (Dec 29, 2007):

 “Actually (and this is just a guess, because I really don’t remember) I probably just forgot to sign those stories because in those days it’s hard to describe how rushed we were, trying to meet our torturous deadlines. Or, there’s the off chance that someone else wrote ‘em, but in that case I imagine I’d include the writers name. No, I’d say the odds are I wrote ‘em and forgot to sign, or the letterer forgot to letter my name—or—occasionally (though rarely) my signatures were pasted in and they might have just fallen off.”

Lee makes one error regarding writer credits of the period, which, aside from his name were usually NOT included. Otherwise his statements remain consistent, leaving the possibility that he did write unsigned stories.


In an interview with Jim Amash (Alter Ego # 35, April 2004), John Romita replies to the question of who wrote the Captain America stories in the mid-1950s:

  “ … Stan wrote them all. I remember seeing his name on the scripts.”

Lee’s signature is notably absent on these stories.

Since Lee has contradicted himself in the past and has a notoriously bad memory, should we regard as gospel earlier statements that he signed everything he wrote?  Sometimes misconceptions die hard, and this may be just such an instance. 

Do we have proof that Lee wrote ANY unsigned stories? We can look to an editorial note from Lee himself, which appears at the end of a signed Lee/Ditko story in Tales of Suspense # 26 (Dec 1961). Lee wrote:

 “Remember our sensational tale ‘The Silent Screen’ a few issues ago? We still get letters asking for another such unusual tale. ..and now in response to all your requests-here it is- by the same talented artist-writer team who brought you the now classic SILENT SCREEN” (emphasis added).

Tales To Astonish # 26, Dec 1961



Stan's Editor's note from the splash page



The story Stan refers to appeared in Tales to Astonish # 21 (July 1960), five months earlier.

The story Stan referenced five months later, signed only "S.Ditko",
from Tales To Astonish # 21, July 1961


 Three months later Stan’s signature began appearing regularly on Ditko stories, beginning with October 1961 dated issues. Is it likely that there were others Lee forgot to sign as well?

Did Stan simply forget to sign some of the stories, or was there a more logical reason? Did the division of labor alter at some point? Could Stan’s involvement have grown, making him feel his signature was warranted? According to Larry Lieber, Stan took particular interest in Ditko’s stories early on. Could he have heavily edited Leiber’s (or other writers) stories to suit his tastes, in effect making them sound more like his own work? Over time the type of stories changed, focusing on offbeat endings that mirrored the popular Twilight Zone TV series. One possible scenario: Stan discussed stories with Ditko, who penciled from Stan’s plot. Lee then handed the pencils to Lieber to dialogue. Its possible Ditko was unaware of contributors other than Lee, as he never mentioned other writers (aside from a handful of stories written by Carl Wessler). There is only one signed Leiber/Ditko story, plotted by Lee, in Tales of Suspense #37, Jan 1963. This was a rare lead story by Ditko, who was likely called into service because Kirby was busy working on new superhero features which were replacing the fantasy stories. If Lee and Ditko DID work in this manner, it may have inadvertently led to the origin of the Marvel method, which would soon dominate the Marvel line. While this is an interesting theory, it appears to unravel, as we shall see.

There are many mysteries and contradictions in this time period: while the answers lie hidden beneath the rubble of the fleeting decades, a few clues exist on the surface. Did someone other than Larry Leiber write some of these stories? If so, who? Ditko has stated that he worked from Stan Lee plots early on and did not work from full scripts[2]. The question is how early did this occur?[3] It has also been discovered by comics scholars Michael Vassallo and Tom Lammers that Lee often recycled old scripts, handing them to artists to revise. While the basic plot is the same, such as in “I Know the Secret of the Flying Saucer!” from Tales of Suspense # 11, Sept, 1960, originally presented as “I Discovered the Secret of the Flying Saucers”, art by Jack Kirby; inks by Chris Rule, from Strange Worlds # 1, Dec, 1958 (no scripting credits on either story), there are enough differences to wonder if Stan handed the original script to Ditko, who went off in another direction. If so, this ability to plot stories may have given Stan confidence to work with Ditko in a closer capacity. If Ditko reworked the script, and Stan added dialogue and edited, this may have been the genesis of their working method. Quite a few later signed Lee-Ditko stories were revisions of earlier stories, so it would make sense that they had begun working in this manner earlier on.


"I Discovered the Secret of the Flying Saucers!"
from Strange Worlds # 1, Dec 1958





The last page to "I Know the Secret of the Flying Saucer!"
from Tales of Suspense # 11, Sept 1960




 Larry Lieber has repeatedly stated that he did not write any of the Ditko stories and that Stan worked exclusively with Ditko, meaning either Leiber may have forgotten that he wrote any Ditko stories or, more likely (since he clearly recalls Heck, Reinman and others illustrating his scripts), he never wrote those stories[4].  If Lieber was not the author, then the question begs to be answered, who was? There are very few possible candidates.

Marvel Comics in the late 1950s-early 1960s was far from a robust operation. Lee was running the show with a small staff of freelance artists. Robert Bernstein was one scripter who appeared early on in the super- hero run, so it’s possible that he arrived at Atlas earlier and worked on some of the unsigned stories. Sol Brodsky was working for Atlas as an artist/production assistant: his name would occasionally appear as writer on a number of filler stores, usually in the western genre. Publisher Martin Goodman oversaw a big operation, including many slick magazines, under the parent company, Magazine Management. Perhaps an unknown writer was “slumming” on the comic’s stories. All these theories remain unproven, which leads to another scenario that may have a basis in reality.

Stan Lee may have deliberately left his name off the Ditko fantasy stories. Considering the times, and how few years had passed since the senate hearings and the institution of the Comics Code, Lee may have felt there was still a stigma attached to the pseudo-horror stories and chose not to sign his name because he didn’t want to be associated with them. Lee always signed the teen humor and westerns of the period - the “safe” stories - but he could easily have left his name off the fantasy stories to remain cautious. It may be hard to imagine the impact that the Comics Code had on the industry, especially reading these stories in a present-day mindset, but Lee was always aware of appearances. Would it do him any good on his resume to have his name displayed on these stories? After all, how did he know if the industry was even going to survive? Why then, would Lee do an about face and add his name to the credits? Shows like the Twilight Zone were getting critical acclaim, so this may have given Stan incentive to legitimize the fantasy stories he was writing.

A close examination of many of the stories shows distinctive Stan Lee traits that turn up over and over. A few examples are the use of sparse dialogue as opposed to the earlier copy-heavy stories; abundance of slang words, and fewer dialogue balloons per panel. The style and tone of these stories are very noticeably different from the early 1960 period. Were they just heavily edited by Stan, or fully dialogued by him?

The question of who authored the Ditko fantasy stories may never be fully answered, but it is not a stretch of the imagination to conclude that Stan Lee, as editor, appreciated and utilized the unique artistry and concepts of Steve Ditko. The truth may forever be clouded by the passage of time, but the evidence on the printed page points to exceptional work in the fantasy stories signed either “Ditko”, “Steve Ditko”, or “Stan Lee and S. Ditko.” They are worth seeking out and enjoying, whoever the true authors may be.

My sincere thanks to all those who contributed to this essay: Melissa Webb for her copyediting and wisdom, Frank Mastropaolo for his insight and intensity: the research, interviews and knowledge of Michael J. Vassallo, Robin Snyder, Will Murray and Larry Lieber. and to those on the Ditkomania and Ditko and Kirby lists for their challenging discussions. A special thank you to Steve Ditko, whose creativity and imagination has kept my mind active and constantly seeking out the truth.  
 


[1] Known stories include “They’ll be Some Changes Made”, Journey into Mystery #33, “Those Who Vanish” Journey Into Mystery # 38; “The Faceless Man” Journey into Unknown Worlds #45; “No Bars Could Hold Him” Mystery Tales # 45; “None are so Blind” Spellbound # 29; “Who Lurks Down There?” World of Suspense # 2  Thanks to Robin Snyder for the information


[2] “…in regards to our working method, Stan provided the plot ideas.” Steve Ditko, “An Insider’s Part of Comics History Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man”, Robin Snyder’s History of Comics, May 1990 

[3] While Ditko only mentions the year 1961 in his article, he later refers to the five page fantasy stories as “we” meaning he and Stan working on them. It should be noted that Ditko identifies Stan (from all information, erroneously) as the writer of the lead Kirby features as well.

[4] “Steve Ditko would do the last one (story) which Stan wrote himself. Those were special stories with Stan. He liked working with Ditko.” Interview with Larry Leiber, conducted by Will Murray, Comics Scene # 52. This author also spoke to Larry Lieber in a phone conversation on Sept 10, 2004. Lieber again clearly stated he did not write any of the Ditko stories.    



   POSSIBLE STAN LEE WRITTEN STORIES:


Although I suspect Stan may have written other stories, I pared this list down to a minimum. My criteria consisted of some of the telltale signs of Stan’s scripting, i.e. use of slang, short captions and dialogue, humor, emphasis on certain words and narrator addressing the reader. While there is no absolute proof that Stan provided the dialogue for any of these stories, this list may, at the very least, provide a starting point for more research in this direction.

AMAZING ADVENTURES (NOTE: DITKO HAS EXPLAINED THAT HE WORKED WITH LEE ON STORIES IN AMAZING ADVENTURES, ALTHOUGH ONLY ISSUE 6 HAS LEE’S SIGNATURE)
# 1 (June 1961) “Midnight in the Wax Museum”
# 2 (July 1961)  “Rocky’s Last Ride”
# 3 (Aug 1961) “The Teddy Bear”
# 4 (Sept 1961) “Who or what was…the Bootblack?”
# 5 (Oct 1961) “The Joker”

TALES OF SUSPENSE
# 7  (Jan 1960)  “I Come from the Shadow World”
# 14 (Feb 1961) “I Am Gorak”
# 18 (June 1961) “Enter..the Robot!”
# 19 (July 1961) “The Haunted Paper”
# 20 (Aug 1961) “The Bomb”
# 21 (Sept 1961) “Whose Face is in the Mirror?”

STRANGE TALES
# 71 (Oct 1959) “I Dared to Defy Merlin’s…Black Magic!”
# 74 (Apr 1960) “When the Totem Walks”
# 78 (Dec 1960) “The Worm Man”
# 79 (Jan 1961) “ The Ghost of Grismore Castle
# 82 (Mar 1961) “The World Beyond”
# 84 (May 1961) “They Met on Mars”
# 86 (July 1961) “Georgie’s Globe”
# 88 (Sept 1961) “The Lifeless Man”

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY
# 61 (Oct 1960)  “I Opened the Door to Nowhere”
#62  (Nov 1960) “I Can’t Escape from the Creeping Things”
# 63 (Dec 1960) “I Took A Journey into Fear”
# 64 (Jan 1961) “I Must find Korumbu”
# 68 (May 1961) “Where Walks the Ghost?”
# 69 (June 1961) “When Darkness Falls”
#70 (July 1961) “The Stone Man”
#71 (Aug 1961) “The Painting”
#72  (Sept 1961) “Will this be the End of the World?”
#73 (Oct 1961) “One Look Means Doom”

TALES TO ASTONISH
# 7 (Jan 1960) “I Spent Midnight with the Thing on Bald Mountain”
# 8 (Mar 1960) “I Live Again”
# 9 (May 1960) “No Way Out”
# 12 (Oct 1960) “A Monster Waits Outside”
# 14 (Dec 1960) “Behold! I Am the Master of Time!”
# 15 (Jan 1961) “I Am the Invisible”
#16 (Feb 1961) “I Am a Victim of the Sorcerer”
# 17 (Mar 1961) “Beware! Of the Ghastly Glass!”
# 18 (Apr 1961) “Monsteroso!”
# 19 (May 1961) “The Terrible Trap”
# 21 (July 1961) “The Silent Scream” (unsigned, but later noted in an editorial message as Lee-Ditko)
# 22  (Aug 1961) “For Whom the Drum Beats”
 
     




Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Mighty Marvel Westerns

The Marvel westerns have usually been neglected or dismissed, perhaps rightfully so in terms of the presence and dramatics afforded the superheroes. It may not be a genre they are noted for, but I’ve always found something interesting about the “Kid” heroes; Kid Colt, Two-Gun Kid and Rawhide Kid, in particular, the “big three” of my childhood. The westerns were always far removed from the superhero shenanigans of the Marvel Age, even though Stan Lee tried to indirectly tie them in by using costumed villains from time to time, but they remained on the edge, in their own little niche (at least until Steve Englehart tied them into the Marvel Universe in the Avengers in 1975. I once asked Stan why he didn’t cross-over the Western characters bad he simply said he never thought of it. I suspect the primary reason was there was little interest in them, as far as fan base was concerned, and they were thought of as lesser titles). Kid Colt always seemed to be drawn by Jack Keller, a solid if not entirely dramatic artist, who seemed particularly suited to the character. Larry Lieber, in his best Kirby style, wrote and drew the Rawhide Kid for many years, and Two-Gun was usually at the helm of steadfast Dick Ayers, although Ogden Whitney drew quite a few issues before new material was phased out.

My first Rawhide Kid comic. Issue # 75, April 1970, Larry Lieber pencils and inks
I slowly got interested in westerns, having been immersed in Marvel’s superhero fare growing up. I don’t recall the first western I read, although I have a dim memory of a kid Colt comic in the house, probably purchased by Brother John. In 1967 Martin Goodman took the name of The Ghost Rider, a western hero created by Ray Krank and Dick Ayers for Magazine Enterprises. It was not the first time Goodman took control of an out of date trademark (does the name Daredevil ring a bell?) and this time around, since Dick Ayers was working at Marvel, he was assigned the strip, with Roy Thomas plotting and Gary Friedrich scripting. Dick has recounted that he never knew that Marvel didn’t own the character until years later, when he spoke to Editor Vin Sullivan. One reason the Ghost Rider was given his own book, according to Mark Evanier, was because Independent News did not allow Marvel to add another superhero title. They reportedly could add a western title, and the idea was to make it as superhero-ish as possible, hence the costumed, masked Ghost Rider, who also fought costumed villains such as the Tarantula, and was advertised as “In the style of a western Spider-Man”. The first issue I recall seeing was # 5, and I was instantly attracted to the white garbed hero with a full face mask and “Spider-Man” eyes that pre-dated Spidey (one wonders if the original provided any inspiration for Steve Ditko).  The Ghost Rider only lasted seven issues; they were interesting but not on the highest level. Still, I missed the character and wanted to see more. At that point I likely had no knowledge of the earlier version; I assumed this was a “new” character.


The Ghost Rider # 5, Sept 1967. Dick Ayers pencils; Vince Colletta inks

After a two year hiatus the Ghost Rider did return, as the star of a new 25 cent anthology entitled Western Gunfighters. Ayers was back, inked in the first installment by Tom Sutton, who lent an appropriately eerie atmosphere to the art. This version was again not long for the world, and the book soon reverted to all reprint material and a standard 20 page format. Soon after, the western Ghost Rider was replaced by a contemporary, motorcycle riding hero, once again written by Gary Friedrich. The western character was relegated to occasional appearances in the Marvel Universe, and when the originals were reprinted his name was changed to the NIGHT Rider, which always bothered me (couldn’t we have had a reprint series entitled “the Original Ghost Rider”? Wouldn’t kids be able to differentiate between a motorcycle and a horse?).     
After Western Gunfighters, there was very little new material produced by Marvel in the 1970s. Reprints abounded, though, and one distinctive memory was of buying the first issue of a western comic entitled the Ringo Kid. It featured a tall hero, clad in black, and the art was distinctive. I immediately liked the art, which was by a guy named Joe Maneely, who I would grow to appreciate (and learn much more about, thanks to Timely-Atlas Historian and good friend Michael Vassallo) in the years to come. Truth to tell, I’d seen Maneely’s art in a few Marvel Tales “Black Knight” reprints earlier, but for some reason that Ringo Kid cover touched a nerve.   

The clean, attractive artwork of Joe Maneely instantly attracted my attention. The Ringo Kid # 1, Jan 1970, reprinted cover from Ringo Kid Western # 18, 1954
I continued to buy many of the western reprints, attracted most of the time by the cover art. Gil Kane, prolific cover artist on the superhero line, also loved westerns and did some of his best work on the covers (one of his favorites turned out to be one of mine – which I discovered when I spoke to him at a con and gave it to him to sign).


Mighty Marvel Western # 44, of which, when I handed it to Gil Kane, he told me it was one of his favorite covers and that I have good taste 


Marvel was also graced with the distinctive pen work of John Severin, who also excelled in the genre. Of course, earlier on Jack Kirby drew some exciting Rawhide Kid stories, many of which were reprinted in the 1970s, along with his distinctive covers on Kid Colt, Two-Gun kid, etc. Herb Trimpe did some nice work, as did Dick Ayers (naturally), Larry Lieber, and the occasional special covers by the likes of Gene Colan, Jim Steranko, John Buscema and Paul Gulacy.   

Kid Colt, Outlaw # 214, Jan 1977. Gene Colan pencils; Klaus Janson inks
By the late 1970s, even the reprints were being phased out at Marvel, and aside from a few revivals, have pretty much disappeared from view. Meanwhile I scoured conventions, collecting many of the original Atlas westerns, such as Gunsmoke Western, enjoying the covers and work of artists such as Russ Heath, Bill Everett, Carl Burgos, John Severin, and of course, Joe Maneely. Inside there are numerous examples of superior craftsmanship by the likes of Werner Roth, Joe Sinnott, Jack Keller, Dick Ayers, Don Heck, Angelo Torres and many others. For some it is their best work, and their love of the genre stands out.  While the stories are usually standard fare, there are exceptions to the rule, and many are comparable to other genre shorts.

Gunsmoke Western # 56, Jan 1960. Jack Kirby pencils; Steve Ditko inks
While it is understandable that Marvel, in particular, concentrated their interests on the best-selling superheroes in the 1960s and 1970s, it’s unfortunate that we didn’t get to see what Jim Steranko, Gene Colan or John Buscema could have done with a well written script (Steve Englehart was set to write a Ringo Kid series, some of which was penciled by Dick Ayers, but it was shelved. You can see more on Steve's site:
The Marvel westerns might not always have been mighty, but they were not without charms of their own.     
                             

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Barry Pearl Guest Blog

Before Barry begins, I wanted to let everyone know that this is not a eulogy. I'm still alive and kicking, although personal issues have kept me away from regular postings.


I sincerely want to thank Barry for orchestrating a very touching post that makes me proud to be part of fandom. It is people like those whose comments you will read that make the world a little easier to get through. 

 The Way It Began!
  Nick Caputo: The First Yancy Streeter!


Nick Caputo was born at a very early age. But he would gain a reputation of knowing and loving comics and being incredibly generous. Nick would also be one of the premiere identifiers of Marvel Age Artists.  You don’t make many good friends after the age of 40, but the Yancy Street Gang, me, Nick, Mike Vassallo and our ward, John Caputo, became fast friends really quick.  And I mean real friends.


So our story begins: How did Nick get involved with comics? 


John says:


 As his brother I am 7 years older, so I can vividly remember his youth. Nick always loved books and was an avid reader of many different genres. My brother's exposure to comics came from my always having comics, magazines, and an abundance of books that I had purchased around. Many a time he had to help me hide my comics from my parents so they wouldn't get torn up or thrown out because of some trouble I might have gotten into.
 
His ability, even as a young child, to focus on details, was remarkable. His love and enthusiasm for comics reinforced his knowledge of comic writers, inking and artists drawing styles. Even as a teenager he amazed me and my friends with his ability to identify artists, inkers and even letterers. As he was getting older we would have many discussions on storylines art styles and sometimes lack of.

I used to joke about the "minutia" he knew (still do), but his love and knowledge grew, and my little brother is now a respected authority. He deserves all the recognition he gets for his abundant knowledge. I am proud of how he continues to learn and is not afraid to correct a mistake which he or someone else may have made. I am happy that in a very small way I may have contributed to the way he turned out. Proud of you Nick!"

Brother John Caputo on phone, who started Nick (in front) on his path to unearthing comic book mysteries. 


 I met Nick when I decided that, after 40 years, I wanted to put my book together.  I wound up on some sites filled with Kirby fanatics. What I didn’t realize at the time was ALL these sites had mostly the SAME people, with the same point of view. They didn’t believe that I knew my stuff or that I had all those comics.  I had innocently posted something that made them declare me: UNKIRBY. I had posted that Steve Ditko did a great job at Marvel and often improved characters. They got upset when I said he improved the Hulk when he added his anger management issues. But they really got mad when I said I thought that Dr. Strange was a reworking of Dr. Droom, the first Silver Age Lee/Kirby super hero production, but a failed project.  “How do you know”, I was asked, “that Ditko even knew about Dr. Droom?” I was asked a dozen times.  But I knew that Ditko inked the first story. And so did a poster named Nick Caputo.


Now this is the big thing so that I need to underline: Many comic book fans know the credits, many know the characters and many just follow the stories. Nick knows all three; he can discuss comics with anyone. Even me.


Nick cut through the crap and said, “Wait, Barry has a point.” We started discussing comics, on and off line, and haven’t stopped.  Nick was anxious to see the outline of my book and I sent it to him. He gave me invaluable suggestions and does till this day. In fact, when I told Nick I had worked for 40 years getting the cover artists for all those comic, Nick spend days putting it together for me.  Without him and Mike my book would never have been complete or have been completed.


Mike Vassallo (Va-SALL-o) and Nick and John invited me to meet them at a comic con. They had been to several, this was my first one.


Mike Vassallo: 

 "How long have I known Nick Caputo? Over 10 years, having met him on Kirby-L back in the late 1990's. Realizing we both lived in the New York area; we made arrangements to meet at a con and continued to do so frequently. What great times we had! Probably the highlight was walking Joe Simon, arm -in-arm, up and down 2 flights of stairs when his panel discussion was going to be cancelled due to a broken elevator. I looked at Nick, surveyed the stairs and told him "We can do this! C'mon, Joe!” grabbing him on both sides to help him negotiate the stairs.


I began to invite him up to my house and he'd come up about every three months to hang out, talk comics, compare research and book ideas and have dinner with my family. We would have a ball doing massive art ID sessions in my basement where I'd pull out a long run of Atlas books and we'd page through them yelling out ID's to unsigned story art, checking and double checking each other and honing our skills to a sharp point.


Nick would take the subway and then the train out of Grand Central up to the Croton-Harmon station where I'd pick him up. Once my sister-in-law was over and offered to drive him home as she was headed downstate to Queens also. Since Nick doesn't drive, he had a tough time giving my sister-in-law directions! His visits often ended very late and on another occasion, after losing track of the time, I had to rush him to the train station well after midnight so he wouldn't miss the last train of the night, once making the last train with seconds to spare!


At some point another guy showed up online who shared a common Queens New York background and Nick and I arranged to meet him at a show. You may have heard of him, name of Barry Pearl. Anyhow, Barry immediately joined our little group and soon frequent treks up north became the norm as Barry would drive Nick up on Saturdays as a revived Yancy Street Gang was born. Nick and Barry have seen my children grow over the last decade and become surrogate uncles to them. Our dinners would include my wife Maggie as well as my children. The group slowly expanded as Nick's brother John was added to the roster and another online acquaintance who happened to be a neighbor of Barry's, Mike DeLisa, would occasionally join us. Further honorary members culled from our online community would also join at conventions and our after-con dinners began to become legendary and frequently include my now college age daughter Michelle, picking her up from her apartment on the lower east side. 


But after-con dinners aside, I still prefer the laid back atmosphere of our Saturday breakfasts at my local diner and then a BBQ around my pool while discussing the merits of Chu Hing's inking over Pierce Rice and what titles deserved to be reprinted in upcoming Masterworks volumes!"


Dr. Michael J. Vassallo and Nick,
very likely discussing the inking technique of Chu Hing 

When we met at that first convention, we went out have lunch. We just talked for eight hours. We forgot about the convention!  Mike said at one point, “The people at this table know more about Martin Goodman comics than anywhere else.” But we did do something that night for the first time, something we do at every convention now. We see a stack of Atlas comics for sale and look at the covers, and identify all the artists who drew them.  Soon, we discovered that we had so much in common: the love of reading, books, Laurel and Hardy, Baseball, movies and so much more.  We also learned that Nick, John and I had lost our fathers when we were very young and we grew up in one family homes. That is something that changes you forever.


We also all grew up in Queens and shopped in the same comic stores. In fact, we probably met at those stores but wouldn’t remember it.


Nick is very generous. Our next meeting was our first trip to Mike’s house as a group. When I went to pick Nick up, he handed me a stack of comics. To keep!  No joke, I had a stack for him!  The bunch of us are like that. 


I asked Nick and Mike if they had the Marvel Masterworks of the Rawhide Kid, I wanted to read those comics. They didn’t. So the next time I saw Nick, he handed the first 20 issues of the Rawhide Kid! Not reprints, the originals!  Since then, really, cartons of books and comics and DVDs have been shuttling through our houses! One of my favorite stories is a time I came over to Nick’s house with a huge amount of stuff and he had an equal amount for me. His mother was there and was just astonished to see what was going on.


The Yancy Street gang has shared a lot of adventures together.  We have visited the home of Dick Ayers, had dinner with Flo Steinberg and Joe Sinnott and his wonderful family; we have gone to museums, movies and so many other events. Nick and I also like to go to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria Queens.  We saw the Muppet Exhibition the last time we were there.


Speaking of the Muppets, Nick has five good friends who wanted to be part of this, but can’t type: Cindy (Mike’s dog), Sammy (John’s dog), Lee, Kirby and Gussie (my cats). All jump when they see Nick and run to him! I hope Nick can post my favorite picture: “Kirby Overlooking A Caputo.”

Together for the first time! Nick and Kirby!


Mike DeLisa, author of Cinderella Man, and a great comic book collector found us on Timely Atlas.


Mike D writes:

 Nick used his mind and talents to unveil under-appreciated aspects of Ditko's work.  Magazines featuring his always trenchant articles were snapped up and preserved.  By the time I met Nick in person, I felt as if I knew him well -- unpretentious, slightly inscrutable, droll, and all-around good guy.  I have been lucky enough to tag along with the Yancey Street Gang on several excursions.  Nick, a charter member of the Gang, made me feel welcome. 

Nick is a thinker, that much is clear -- especially now that the Internet's morass has coalesced into the Web and thousands of voices shout at each other in bootless competition with each other.  Nick's blog makes it easy to find his recent thoughts.  It is good to see that Nick continues to think, write, and contribute.  As always, sharper than the rest."

An animated Yancy Street Gang at Doc V's House. From left to right: Mike Vassallo, Mike DeLisa,  John and Nick

Nick has been generous with others.  Sometimes that has led to disappointing results.  He contributed 90% of the material to many Ditko books and is barely mentioned in them. There are too many greedy and selfish people out there who take advantage of Nick’s willingness to share. Nick is always willing to share his great love for the artistry of Steve Ditko. 


Rob Imes, the publisher of Ditkomania writes:

I first encountered Nick's work in Ditkomania #11 (Jan. 1985) which I obtained from DM's original editor-publisher Bill Hall in 1993.  Nick had a few illos in that issue.  He was no longer involved in Ditkomania for most of the 1990s, so I didn't really know who he was.  I began buying Comic Book Marketplace in the late 1990s, and there was an article about Ditko's 1970s Charlton ghost comic work in CBM #84 (Aug. 2001).  The article was by Nick Caputo, and I could certainly relate to the subject matter, since I had written an overview of that material in DM #55 (Oct. 1997).  At the time, it was rare for Charlton's non-superhero comics to get any fan appreciation.  When Bill Hall announced the retirement of DM later that year, Nick contributed a short commentary about the zine (as did I) for the "In Memoriam" page about DM on Blake Bell's "Ditko Looked Up" site.

Nick Caputo has certainly been an asset to Ditkomania with his contributions of articles, letters and art which have appeared in its pages, as well as his contributions to other fanzines such as Jack Kirby Quarterly, Alter Ego, and others.  Long may he write!"


Here is a scan from the letters page of DM #10 (Aug. 1984) where Bill Hall reprinted a page that Nick had typed up to circulate among friends in the summer of 1983, where Nick had used the word "Ditkomania" before learning of the existence of the fanzine with that name.  (DM #1 debuted in January 1983.)  It was a coincidence, or "Synchronicity" as Bill headlined the piece.



Nick's "Ditkomania" Announcement

Nick's first appearance in DM was drawing the cover of issue #8 (April 1984).

The cover to DitkoMania # 8, drawn by Nick
(which reminds him why he switched to writing!) 

A wonderful thing about our Yancy Street Gang is that when we are published we don’t hesitate to give credit to those who helped.  My favorite story is that when we went to Dick Ayers house, I wrote an article about it for Alter Ego. Nick and Mike said that I should keep all the money I got when the story was published, but I said we should all go out for a big dinner together. Well, the meager check came in and we had a moderate breakfast. But even on line, when Nick sees something interesting he won’t “rip” off anyone, as has been done to us.  In fact, his honesty plays into how he became friends with Batton Lash.

 Batton Lash:  

 "I met Nick Caputo for the first time a few years ago, but I feel like I’ve known him all my life!


 We both shared a passion: comics. Most especially, the work of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.


 I had seen Nick’s byline on several articles in magazines such as Alter Ego and Comic Book Artist and enjoyed reading his keen observations on various comics and creators, especially those about the Marvel Comics published in the early 60’s. But it was on several online message boards devoted to Ditko’s work, that I truly appreciated Nick’s knack for writing about comics. Even on the best sites, the comments section has its share of tedious meanderings, slapdash analysis, and (worst of all), knee-jerk reactions, usually skewing to the negative. But not from Nick. His comments are always thoughtful, perceptive and upbeat. I would read Nick opine on, say, the classic sequence of Spider-Man lifting the tremendous weight off of his shoulders (literally and figuratively) or the Tales to Astonish Hulk reboot (what worked that didn’t work in the character’s failed first series), and find myself, more often than not, enthusiastically nodding in agreement. When I peruse various comics-lists, I’d check to see if that Nick Caputo fellow would be commenting, because I knew it would be worth my time to see what he had to say! I considered Nick a like-minded cohort, even though I never met the guy.


  Although I now live in San Diego, my parents still live in Brooklyn, where I grew up, and I try to get back as often as I can to visit them. On one trip, several years ago, I made it a point to get in touch with Nick, who I learned resided in New York. I was going to e-mail him cold. I'd introduce myself and see if he had any interest in meeting up. I didn’t know what to expect— I had no idea what Nick was like in person or even if he wanted to meet with a total stranger. Much to my surprise (and delight!), before I could send my message, I received an e-mail from Nick Caputo himself! He had read an observation I had made about Ditko’s stories and asked permission to elaborate on my theory in an article he was preparing about Dr. Strange. By all the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, was that kismet or what?


We got together for dinner and hit it off instantly. Nick is one of the nicest guys I ever met. Easy going, good-humored, very smart, quick with a quip, too. We were kindred spirits; two guys who were there at the dawn of the “Marvel Age of Comics”, now examining and discussing those seminal works of Lee, Ditko, and Kirby with all the scrutiny and devotion usually associated with rabbinical students pouring over the Torah. In time, I would meet the other FFFs (am I dating myself, frantic ones?) in his circle: his brother John, Barry Pearl, “Doc” Vassallo, and Mike DeLisa. And all of us were on the same page—comics page, this is! I look forward to meeting with Nick and his “Yancy St. Gang” every time I go to the East Coast. In between visits, though, I’m pleased that Nick now has a blog that I can read regularly. It’s a great showcase for Nick’s astute observations on comics. A subject, as far as I’m concerned, there is never ‘nuff said."

I encouraged Nick not to lose his generosity; that is how he has met Mike and me. If I am remembered for anything, I hope it is for one email conversation we had before I met him.  Nick wrote that he had started a book several years ago about Marvel but did not receive much encouragement to finish it.  I told him to finish it and I would do anything he need to help him do so. So he started writing again. To this day, I am, I believe, the only person to have read Nick’s first draft!


Nick’s generosity and love for comics always helped and encouraged others. But let us give the final word to Jacque Nodell:

It's hard for me to remember when exactly I met Nick, because it seems like we have been good friends for ages! I can't even say for certain how it happened, but the world of online comic book enthusiasts is small -- especially when you share the mutual interests of Kirby monsters and romance comics!


Regardless of whenever and however we met, I am glad to call Nick Caputo my friend and colleague. He has unfailingly supported my endeavors as a blogger and comic book scholar, and has always been more than happy to read my works in progress and lend supportive yet rigorous commentary. Nick continues to be a great source of knowledge, and someone who is always willing to answer a question. I am so glad that Nick started his own blog in which to record all his expertise.”


Nick Caputo here again: I really got choked up reading these posts from people I admire and respect. Barry, Doc V, Mike DeLisa, Batton, Rob, Jacque and Brother John are all stand up folks who love comics and have something interesting and important to say. They are as much the "Good Guys" as the professionals I've discussed in my previous post. I had a hard time putting this blog up since I'm not one who likes to be in the spotlight, but I promised Barry I would post his Guest Blog and he surprised me with its contents. Rest assured, you'll hear little about "Nick Caputo" from now on, and more on the comics and creators who are worth analyzing and celebrating.
John Caputo, Nick, and Barry Pearl