Friday, February 15, 2019

The Corner Candy Store

In the mid-1960s candy stores and newsstands proliferated in New York City, and, from what I've gathered through reading accounts and descriptions by fellow fans my age, practically every other urban neighborhood. A kid didn't have to walk far in order to purchase a comic book, and the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York (my neck of the woods) was no exception. Every week my older brother John and I, either together or separately, would saunter off in search of the latest comics; John bought all the Marvel superhero titles, along with a smattering of DC, Tower, Archie/Mighty Comics, Dell and Gold Key's whenever finances allowed (HIS finances, I should add, since I was younger by seven years and, John being a teenager, made some cash by selling Pretzels). While we visited any number of stores, the closest was Angelo's, located a block away from our house.


The Central Avenue station in recent days. Angelo's was on the right somewhere near or before the gate. 

Located on Central Avenue, Angelo's stood in the shadow of the elevated M train, which connected residents to Coney Island and Manhattan. On train trips with my Mom Angelo's was a stopping off point, either to or from our destination. 

I'll attempt to recreate the store from memory (with help from my brother John) in hopes of shaping the flavor of that period. Angelo's store was long and narrow. Newspapers were in front of the store, and customers could pay through a window-slot. When you walked in the register was to the right. The counter included a stand for TV Guide, in those days a phenomenal seller, since practically everyone who owned a television bought it. 




TV Guide for the week of August 19-25, 1967. As Jack Doyle related in his essay "Lucy and TV Guide 1953-2013" "By the 1960s TV Guide was the most read and circulated magazine in the United States." You can read the entire piece here: https://www.pophistorydig.com/topics/lucy-tv-guide-1953-2013/

I'm pretty sure all the assorted candy and chocolate bars (Tootsie Rolls, Good and Plenty, Mallo Cups, Mary Jane, Candy Cigarettes), cough drops, trading cards and the popular Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum (for the price of one cent!) were below the counter. 



Bazooka Joe was an inexpensive treat and kids loved the comic strip that came with it. I learned about inflation when Topps raised the price from one to two cents (and when comics went from 12 to 15 cents in 1969!) Image from the Topps archive blog: http://toppsarchives.blogspot.com/2014/05/premium-time.html  

Topps baseball cards were essential items for almost every child, but "non-sport" cards were also prolific. It was addictive to buy a pack of cards, often at the cost of a nickel a pop, which consisted of 5 cards and a stick of rock hard gum. Since cards were randomly inserted it sometimes took a while to complete a collection, although trading with friends helped. A few of my favorites included Batman (at the height of the ABC-TV show in 1966), Marvel Super-Heroes (the Grantray-Lawrence cartoon was then in syndication), the Monkees, Dark Shadows and Planet of the Apes. 


A 1966 Topps Batman card with art by Norman Saunders and Bob Powell. A prolific and talented comic book artist, Powell provided layouts which  Saunders completed in paint. Quite a few familiar artists plied their trade at Topps, including Jack Davis, Tom Sutton and Wally Wood.   



Like many kids my age, I raced home from school to watch Dark Shadows, the supernatural soap opera which initially aired at 3:30 on Monday through Friday. Of course I collected the card set and even had the display box that I asked for at a newsstand. That's long gone, unfortunately.  


  The November 28th, 1970 edition of the Sunday News featuring Dick Tracy by Chester Gould. The Sunday edition was usually bought after attending church. Image courtesy of Michael J. Vassallo.   

In my household The New York Daily News was required reading for my father (also named Angelo.) My brother John has often recounted that he had to scour the neighborhood for the paper when Angelo's was sold out (don't come back without it!). I loved the comic strips and since candy stores received the "guts" of the paper three or four days in advance (everything except the main news section was printed earlier; that section was inserted on Saturday nights - the "Night Owl" edition - or Sunday mornings). I stared in anticipation at the latest Dick Tracy adventure, which adorned the front of the comics section. When you were a child waiting for Sunday to arrive felt like an eternity!

Located a little further back was a counter with a few swivel seats, where customers sat to drink a soda or snack on ice cream or a candy bar while perusing a paper or magazine. I'm not certain, but Angelo may have had a fountain and perhaps fresh Ice Cream. Many smaller establishments often sold bottled soda in a unit which was filled with ice. You had to dip you hand into it to fish the selected item out, a treat on oppressively hot summer days. 
           

This scene is perhaps SLIGHTLY exaggerated by Lee and Kirby, but since the store bears a resemblance to Angelo's I think it fits perfectly here. Fantastic Four # 11, February 1963. 

The left side wall had wooden racks that housed the latest comic books. That section piqued my interest the most. Comics were distributed to stores on Tuesday's, packaged in a wire-bound bundle which often included TV Guide and an invoice on top, obscuring all but the corners for identification. A major point of contention for anxious youths, who had no understanding - or concern - for business operations, was that the proprietors, or their help, had to inspect the contents and check everything off before they were put up for sale. When they were busy, or just didn't care, we were told to come back later, but instead we often went to the competition, in hopes that they were more efficient. One of our least favorite owners was a cantankerous old man (everyone was old to us back then!) who always berated us before he showed the latest comics, proclaiming: "You went to the other store first, didn't you?". This fellow placed his comics high above our heads, on a wire that displayed the covers. He was the only person I know who kept all the comics behind the counter. In retrospect he may have had good reason to do so. Perhaps too many comics were stolen by hooligans in the past. 

From what John and I recall Angelo was pretty good at putting the comics out quickly. In later years I was given the ultimate honor: allowed to cut open the fabled wire-bound comics and put them on display. Angelo even dubbed me "The Comic Book Kid!"


           
 I can't visualize Angelo's exact likeness, but I'm pretty sure he smoked a stogie. This character, as drawn by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson, is probably a close facsimile! Batman # 199, February 1968. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database. 

Metal shelves took up the rear, populated with a multitude of magazines; Time, Newsweek, Popular Mechanics, Esquire, along with the forbidden Playboy and other "girlie" titles. There were also plenty of Men's Adventure mags, quite a few which were published by Martin Goodman, who ran Marvel comics. Some famous names got a start writing for those publications, including Mario Puzo, before he rose to fame as author of The Godfather. We ventured into this area to check out Mad,,Creepy, Eerie or Famous Monsters of Filmland.



Male, August 1969, previewing Mario Puzo's bestseller The Godfather. Cover painting by Mort Kunstler. Image from http://www.menspulpmags.com/2015/08/  where you can read much more about this and other pulp mags.  

Like every candy store, Angelo's also sold wooden airplanes, spinning tops, rubber balls, (spaldeen or Pensie Pinkie) and other inexpensive toys. In those days we didn't have hand-held devices or computer games to play with; they were far in the future. On the other hand you didn't need much money to have fun. 


EVERY kid had either a Spaldeen or Pensie Pinkie! Which one was better continues to be a point of contention to Brookynites. Pensie Pinkies were cheaper, but both were used to play handball, stoop ball, baseball or just plain bouncing. 

While Angelo's was our primary source for comic book purchases, many stores and newsstands populated Bushwick. We often went elsewhere to track down comics Angelo didn't carry, particularly Gold Key titles. The one company that was absent from almost every store in my neighborhood were Charlton's. 



While this photo was taken in 1940, the store on the corner of Knickerbocker Avenue and Starr Street remained in business at least into the early 1970s. This was another candy store that my brother and friends bought comics at, since it was conveniently located across the street from the park and close to my school. Image from Brooklyn's Bushwick and East Williamsburg Communities by Brian Merlis and Riccardo Gomes, an excellent history of the neighborhood. Thanks also to my friend Sunita Shiwdin, who gifted me with the book. As owner of Mahalo New York Bakery, Sue's store evokes the best aspects of the Mom and Pop stores of the past. If you live near, or are traveling to Queens, stop by her shop for delicious cupcakes and extraordinary treats, all freshly baked. Her made-to-order cakes are truly out of this world. And while Sue doesn't SELL comics, she does have a mini-library with donations from yours truly and my buddy Barry Pearl, including books, fanzines and comics to enjoy while you're having a snack. You can learn more about her store here: http://www.mahalonewyorkbakery.com/ (End of free plug. Now can I have a cup of Coffee?)

 One fine day in June, 1971, Steve Ditko's cover to Haunted # 1 appeared out of the blue in Angelo's store. Charlton comics finally began to receive distribution in Bushwick. Previously the only Charlton sightings were in a discount store on Knickerbocker Avenue (the main shopping thoroughfare), stacked in piles, mainly old Hot Rod titles which I had no interest in. A copy of Ghostly Tales surfaced at my Barbershop and the local used book stores sold a few. Even at a young age I was a devotee of Ditko's work and immediately snatched this comic off the rack!   

Luncheonettes also often carried comics, magazines and paperbacks. I discovered All in Color for a Dime when I stopped with my Mom at a huge luncheonette on the corner of Knickerbocker and Myrtle Avenue. Somehow I managed to coerce her to part with the $1.50 to buy the book. A treasured item, it remains in my collection to this day. 



My beat-up copy of All in Color for A Dime, the book that propelled my interest in comic book history.  

 Once we moved out of Bushwick into Ridgewood, Queens I lost track of Angelo's. In the 1970s, and into the early 1980s I frequented a candy store located about seven blocks from my apartment. The owner was a pleasant man named Walter, who treated me (and everyone) with kindness. Whenever I came in for new comics he would bring the stack out from the back and read each title out loud. I would tell him what I wanted and sometimes put books out for him. He told me that he originally tended bar just a few doors down from his location, but owned the candy store since the early 1960s. He lived only a block or two away from me and I sometimes saw him and his wife when they walked home. When my brother started to work in Manhattan he discovered that new comics were sold two weeks in advance and bought them regularly on his trip home. We also learned of a store that specialized in comics and related ephemera, the Little Nemo Shop in Forest Hills. 

In my teenage years I began collecting my own comics, and despite other options I made it a point to stop by Walter's store, often buying a few westerns or reprint titles. One day I learned Walter was robbed and assaulted. Shaken up by the event, he closed the business and sold the store. I never encountered either him or his wife afterwards; he most likely moved out of the neighborhood. I often thought about Walter and hoped the remainder of his days were peaceful. He was a good man.  



I bought this copy of Marvel Tales # 137 (March 1982) in Walter's candy store, explaining to him that it was a reprint of Amazing Fantasy # 15, the original which he probably had for sale back in 1962. If only he had kept a few for resale 20 years later. Jack Kirby pencils; Steve Ditko inks.       

 Walter's closing symbolized the end of an era for me. Into the late 1980s there were a few neighborhood candy stores that still carried comics (I recall stopping in a store with my friend Frank and seeing Charlton Action # 11, starring Steve Ditko's Static) but they were dwindling away. Not as profitable as they once were - and taking  up valuable rack space - comic books were largely discarded from newsstands. The growth of the direct sales market, where publishers sold comics to specialty stores on a non-returnable basis, escalated in the 1980s, but It also meant that comics were becoming marginalized. Children in particular found other interests and were often ignored by the publishers. Less places to sell magazines eventually affected all periodicals to a large extent. In Manhattan, where newsstands were once ubiquitous, they now are barely part of the landscape (and many only sell soda, candy and Lotto). In my Glendale, Queens neighborhood I can canvas Fresh Pond Road or Myrtle Avenue and find hardly a trace of magazines, let alone comics (only a few large stores, such as CVS or Stop and Shop supermarket carry a small selection of periodicals, and the Archie digests are the sole comics item). It is indeed a different world.  



One of the last comic books I bought at a local store, appropriately enough, was one of Charlton's last publications before they went out of business. Charlton Action # 11, October 1985, Steve Ditko art.     


The candy stores I frequented in those bygone days were populated with distinct characters that embodied their surroundings. Comic books were part of that landscape, one magical fragment that has stood the test of time. I hope I've provided a glimpse into that era, when a candy store was more than just a place to buy comics: it was a gathering of friends on their way to a movie, the park or after a game of stick-ball. Like Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow" with great longing and beautiful simplicity, there was at times a truthfulness to those childhood days that I continue to cherish.   


 Yet another Lee-Kirby newsstand sighting! Thor stops to peruse the newspaper. I bet he's reading Dick Tracy! The newsstand includes reproductions of the latest Marvel comics. Journey into Mystery # 127, February 1966.  

  Special thanks to my brother, John Caputo and my cousin, Jack Sanzone, for their recollections. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee:The Final Chapter (1922-2018)


Copy written by Stan Lee promoting the nascent line of Marvel Heroes.  House ad appeared in Fantastic Four # 14, May 1963. Art by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko; lettering by Artie Simek; colors by Stan Goldberg.  

With the passing of Stan Lee the Marvel Age of Comics has ended. The triumvirate of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Lee initiated an exciting, innovative and freewheeling atmosphere at Marvel Comics in the early 1960s. Lee had worked for decades as editor, writer and art director for publisher Martin Goodman's comics, previously known as Timely, followed by Atlas (before becoming Marvel) and produced countless successful, long-running titles, from Strange Tales to Millie the Model. In those years he collaborated with a plethora of talented artists: Syd Shores, Bill Everett, John Severin, Russ Heath, and one of the most prolific and versatile of them, Joe Maneely, who died a few years before the superhero boom. It was Jack Kirby, however, who rejoined Lee after Maneely's passing in 1958. He along with a small group of artists, notably Steve Ditko, began to revitalize the line, producing dynamic, entertaining and moody fantasy stories, featuring over-sized monsters and weird thrillers. 

Lee utilized tropes he honed initially in romance and humor comics, incorporating them into the new superheroes that slowly overtook the monster titles. As co-creators of that era, Kirby and Ditko were no doubt instrumental in bringing a wealth of creativity and concepts to the table. Lee, however, led the charge as promotional wizard for the Marvel line. He infused everything - cover copy, replies to fan letters, editorial pages - with a child-like enthusiasm, making him the perfect company cheerleader. Most importantly, Lee conveyed a  bemused, self-deprecating mockery in a period when other editors echoed the tone of a stern school principle. From this framework Lee molded the "Marvel Comics Group" into an entity which was not only successful in terms of the bottom line (which was the primary concern of publisher Martin Goodman) but was critically acclaimed by older fans and cognoscenti of the medium.     

There are those who have questioned Lee's persona, opining that it was all an affectation. I don't believe so. I think Lee was a big kid who never quite grew up. My conclusion is based on personal correspondence, which often displays the same jocular writing style. From 2009 or so I began to email Lee (thanks to my pal Michael J. Vassallo), sometimes on serious questions related to the field, other times in a more humorous vein. Lee always replied to my emails promptly, and they were clearly his words, not those of an assistant. That raised the bar in my respect for him, because he could easily have ignored, or had someone else reply, to my missives. I thought I'd share a few here in tribute to the man.

In this email dated March 27, 2008, Lee replies to a question I asked about how important he felt letters pages and fan interaction were:    

  Stan often seem the most energized when I sent him satirical letters. In this one, dated June 21, 2009, he follows up on a joke I made about one of my favorite goofy villains, Paste Pot Pete:    


  
My email to Stan on learning about Disney purchasing Marvel, dated September 8, 2009:    

   
Stan's reply: 

  Since Stan often employed humor in his stories so I inquired as to what comedians he admired (December 16, 2009):

 From March 6, 2010. My comment on a cameo video (was this really at the Academy Awards?) and his reply:


From June 22 & 23rd, 2011, I questioned Stan on some of the editors who he looked up to in the comics industry and received a serious and illuminating response:








I'll end with another aspect of Stan Lee that I admired, his forward-looking attitude. I wrote him lamenting the superhero movies and my belief that they would replace the comics themselves. His reply, from May 24, 2012: 




 And there you have a glimpse of Stan Lee, not under the lights of a camera or surrounded by throngs of fans at a comic con, but in one-on-one personal correspondence. I think these words gives a glimpse of his true personality, one that echoed throughout his career and brought a buoyancy to the countless comics he authored over the decades. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Steve Ditko's Shade, The Changing Man: A Look Back

The Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 1 starring Shade, the Changing Man reprints, for the first time, the original eight-issue run of Ditko's 1977 creation, along with the unpublished 9th installment (in addition, all of Ditko's 1970s mystery, humor, sci-fi and war output for DC is collected). A little background is necessary: when DC had a downturn in sales, management demanded massive cuts throughout their line. Contents of the completed comics (minus coloring, which was the final level of production before heading to the printers) were compiled in order to retain copyright ownership. Totaling at a massive 942 pages, 40 xerox copies were printed in two volumes as Cancelled Comics Cavalcade and sent out to contributors. An additional copy was reserved for Bob Overstreet, publisher of The Comic Book Price Guide. A few have surfaced on the secondary marketplace and can be found online. 

While the compilation and preservation of Ditko's work is laudatory, one aspect that troubled me, and which I believe is worth addressing, is the  decision to print Shade # 9 in black and white. When Ditko's unpublished Blue Beetle and Capt. Atom stories surfaced in fanzines, the addition of color in a small press publication was cost-prohibitive. In this instance the concern was of an editorial nature: to present the material without alterations (akin to a DVD release of an uncut film). However, I believe it has the exact opposite effect, since Shade was earmarked for color; the only reason it lacked hues was due to production being called to a halt. Color would invariably have enhanced the work and rendered it closer to what the artist had originally intended.                  



  House ad promoting Shade, incorporating Ditko's cover art to issue # 1, appeared in May-June 1977 dated DC comics. Lettering by Gaspar Saladino. 



The Comics Journal # 33, April 1977 heralded Ditko's new character. Was this intended to be the original cover to issue # 1? A presentation piece? Promotion art for fanzines or conventions? It includes a hand-lettered title by the artist, emphasizing the word "Changing." Perhaps the logo was a preliminary design Ditko suggested to DC? This issue also includes a review by Mike Catron: "Shade: Ditko's new book shows potential."



Gaspar Saladino was one of the top letterers in comics, often sought-after by editors at both DC and Marvel to craft attractive cover copy and logos. Saladino created the "Shade" title, while Bill Morse devised "The Changing Man." 
    
 DC had planned to feature Ditko's name above the title, but since this was a collaborative effort and not a sole creation, the unerringly ethical artist  vetoed that idea. From The Comics Journal # 32, January 1977.

It's clear that these stories look infinitely better on higher grade paper. In 1977 the printing quality in most comics was abysmal. Straight lines wobbled and pages bled through consistently, making it difficult to appreciate the art, and sometimes hard to read. Here we see Ditko's illustrations reproduced with a much sharper texture, achieving a more rewarding experience.

   
An example of DC's hardcover reprinting of Shade. Unless otherwise noted, images are taken from the original publications.  

Ditko created the character of Shade, who fits into his concept of a hero and a moral ideal. As with many Ditko protagonists, Rac Shade is a man wanted for crimes he did not commit and pursued by both criminals and the law. He wears an outfit that gives him the ability to alter his appearance based on his opponent's fears. Like his later character, Static, the device could be used for good or evil, depending on the wearer. Although there is a base on earth, much of the story takes place in other-dimensional realms. 


Ditko adds conflict to the strip in Shade's relationship with Mellu. "The Forms of Destruction," Shade the Changing Man # 2, September 1977. Michael Fleisher dialogue, Bill Morse lettering, Liz Berube colors.   

Ditko's plot is thick with characters and concepts - perhaps a little too dense in places - but he devises a number of interesting twists and turns throughout the series. Shade's love interest, Mellu, is a strong, independent woman. A Government agent, she blames Shade for the crippling of her parents, but harbors a modicum of doubt over his apparent guilt. While others may have played this plot-line out interminably, Ditko wisely resolves it in the 6th issue. 


   A trio of bizarre villains crafted by Ditko. From top to bottom, Form, Sude and Khaos.  

Ditko's visual concepts stand out in his design of villains such as Form: a woman who can change into a misty substance, Sude: a large mechanical face with arms and enormous teeth, and Khaos: a distorted figure who represents anarchy. 

  Ditko's use of lighting for dramatic effect is evocative of cinematographers such as Karl Struss and reminiscent of his friend and fellow artistic powerhouse, Wally Wood. Image from DC's hardcover edition.  

While Shade has a lot to offer, there are a few drawbacks. I find Shade's visual signature of "changing" his appearance and frightening his foes lacking in drama. A big fist and a scary face can only go so far. One of the most inventive designers in comics, Ditko's costuming of Shade lacks his usual flair (his villains, as seen above, are much more dramatic visually). Michael Fleisher wrote the dialogue for every issue, which is at best workmanlike (the author stated in interviews that he didn't particularly care for the assignment). while I've enjoyed his solo writing on strips such as Jonah Hex, it's unfortunate DC didn't employ an author sympathetic to Ditko's philosophy; someone who could have invested as much into the dialogue as Ditko did his plotting and artwork.




Shade was reprinted in other countries, including Brazil and France. O Mutante cover from Shade # 6, May 1978. Super Heroes image is reworked from the splash page of Shade # 3, November 1977. 

This was essentially Ditko's last hurrah at DC in terms of investing effort in his own concepts. As the article by Joe Brancatelli below reveals, Ditko was growing disgusted with the policies of the major companies, who wanted their product to fit into a comfortable niche. This was anathema to Ditko, who thrived on seeking out new concepts to explore. After the cancellation of Shade most of Ditko's new creations would go the independent route, his work for DC and Marvel concentrating primarily on pre-existing characters. Speedball, created in 1988, was an exception, although a number of hands were involved in the character's development, which lead to a retreading of the teenage superhero motif.  

Joe Brancatelli's column, The Comic Books, from Creepy # 93, November 1977:
                                       DITKO—AS ALWAYS 
 It always seems that no matter how often the four-color comic book business goes into a creative nosedive, Steve Ditko is there with-a new concept, a new character or some new idea. Lately, Ditko has been plying his trade at DC, plotting and drawing a book called. Shade, The Changing Man.. Three issues into the book, Shade doesn't look to be another Spider Man. or another Dr. Strange, or even another Mr. A, but it is easily the most intriguing comic on the market. It's got everything a classic Ditko series has: a character, who is unalterably good, somehow finding himself in combat with organized society; an underlying battle between good and evil; philosophic musings about society, corruption and idealism; and a bunch of typically Ditkoish characters, plot twists, strange and exotic dimensions and artwork. And if the art itself isn't quite up to Ditko's usual exacting standards, it's -improving immensely with each issue.
Unfortunately, the coloring on the book is atrocious ("I always give them color guides," Ditko says, "and they never follow them.") and Ditko's work has never prospered on the smaller pages of today's comic books. "I've plotted up to issue 15 of the book," Ditko says, "but I don't know anything about the book except for the fact that (Mike) Fleischer is writing the sixth issue. I don't know anything at all about sales, either. DC doesn't tell you anything. For all I know it could be a big bomb." Always fiercely outspoken about industry matters, Ditko claims DC editors have been forcing Shade into the standard superhero niches at every opportunity. "I always try to do something different. I never wanted Shade to be just another costumed superhero. I'd have done it differently, but they (DC) want to stay with the hackneyed old stuff. "You look at the long-range prospects of the character and you know Shade isn't the kind of book you can do in 17 pages an issue. But after a while, I just blank out after I take the book in to the office." "You learn," he says bitterly, "that all they ever want is a half-assed reprint of the story you did for them last week. You learn that if you want to survive you have to put up a wall and stay away from all the comic people before they make you as dull and repetitive as they are."

Shade the Changing Man was not only a victim of economics but an example of the limited 17-page format that plagued creators (including Jack Kirby) in the 1970s. Less than a decade later high quality, longer, complete stories (called Graphic Novels) became part of the comics landscape. Unfortunately, the formats that would have been perfect for Ditko's work were reserved for fan favorites such as Frank Miller, John Byrne or Alan Moore. If you were not the current flavor-of-the-month Marvel or DC had no intention of spending money on what they believed to be a money-losing proposition. It took over 30 years for DC to publish a collection of Ditko's work for the company, including Shade. That is to be commended, but imagine if the artist was given the opportunity years ago to complete the Shade saga? What might that have looked like? 


  Ditko revisited Shade for the final time when he agreed to provide an illustration for Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe # 20, October 1986. 

The Steve Ditko Omnibus starring Shade is available for purchase at Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Steve-Ditko-Omnibus-Starring-Shade/dp/140123111X 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

S. Ditko 1927-2018: An Independent Mind

"The creator seeks worthy values. He has the drive and ambition and is willing to struggle with no  guarantees of success or security. He offers his best for all others to consider - to accept or reject." Steve Ditko, Laszlo's Hammer, 1992


The thinking artist. A page from Lazlo's Hammer, (1992) which illustrates Ditko's storytelling process.  

A fiercely independent man, Steve Ditko walked a path distinctly his own through the comic book industry for over 60 years. Early on Ditko distinguished himself as a versatile artist, drawing horror, science fiction, crime, mystery, war, western, romance and humor stories. In itself worthy of praise, but Ditko transcended mere technical proficiency by infusing his work with a deeply-held, unwavering philosophical ideology. That aspect, above all others, wove its way throughout his storied career.      


Captain Atom, which debuted at Charlton in1960, was Ditko's first superhero strip. the character was created and written by Joe Gill and  designed by Ditko. Ditko's tribute to Charlton writer Joe Gill appeared in Steve Ditko's 160 Page Package, 1999. 

In the years (and decades) that followed, Ditko created, co-created, or re-created a litany of heroes, including Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Blue Beetle, The Question, The Creeper, Hawk and the Dove, The Destructor, Stalker, The Void, Killjoy, Shade, Starman, The Missing Man, Speedball, The Mocker, Static, Miss Eerie, Madman and many others. Ditko's striking designs made his characters instantly recognizable. Just as important was Ditko's ability to bring characters to life with gestures, body language and facial expressions. He was one of the masters in that category.    



A sampling of Ditko's costuming. From top to bottom: Spider-Man, certainly his most recognizable design, rendered in cartoons, movies, computer games, tee shirts, toys and other merchandising; Doctor Strange; The Blue Beetle (a long-running character Ditko overhauled in 1966); The Creeper; Shade, the Changing Man; Static and The Baffler.         

In 1967 Ditko broke new ground by creating Mr. A, a character copyrighted in his name. Lacking either a costume or special powers, only Mr. A's face was concealed. Freed from the confines of the Comics Code Authority, Ditko's moral avenger took on the underworld and criminals in a black and white world, both literally and figuratively (Mr. A, quite deliberately, never appeared in a color comic). Featured in fanzines and independent publications on and off for over 50 years, co-publisher Robin Snyder has continued to release reprint and unpublished material starring Ditko's seminal hero. 


                       Mr. A illustration from Eon # 3, 1968

Ditko's characters inhabited a world where actions have consequences. He believed in heroism, justice and individual rights, which was echoed in all his fictional constructs. He was unwavering in his convictions and refused assignments that didn't adhere to his standards. He avoided the spotlight and had no interest in being a celebrity. To some that made him an oddball, a kook, or worse. What mattered to Ditko - what he ferociously embraced - was the work. It was this single-minded intensity that made him a compelling figure.  

Ditko was an inspiration from my earliest days. His art spoke to me on a very personal level. I'm glad I was able to correspond with him these past years. He was a man of letters, more comfortable, I suspect, writing than speaking. As many familiar with my blog know, I've written much about Ditko's work these past years. That will most assuredly continue. 

Thank you, Steve, for the innumerable hours of crafting stories with pencil, ink and paper. Most importantly, thanks for the thought you put into so much of your work.





Dedicated with respect and admiration to Steve Ditko and Robin Snyder.          

My friend Barry Pearl has also written a touching tribute on his blog: http://forbushman.blogspot.com/2012/10/steve-ditko-stan-lee-peter-parker-and-me.html