Friday, October 21, 2016

Charlton Press

Charlton's comics line was always on the fringes - never to be confused with any other company. They had no pretensions about their product; it was low budget fare that nevertheless had a look, feel and smell of their own. If DC, Dell, Harvey and Archie were the Saks or Macy's of their period, Charlton was akin to Woolworth's or John's Bargain Store (those of you of a more tender age won't get the reference, but it was a chain of variety stores that once prospered in 1960 era Pre-99 cent store days). Finding a Charlton comic book could be a chore - at least for this kid from Brooklyn - even though there were candy stores on every other block in the mid-1960s. My brother John managed to wrangle a few, usually hero types like Thunderbolt, Capt. Atom or Blue Beetle. I'd always loved Steve Ditko's work and have a strong memory of reading Ghostly Tales # 71, which featured two Ditko stories, "The Eternal Oak" and "Phantom Surfer" in a barbershop. By the early 1970s distribution improved in my neck of the woods, around the time Haunted # 1 (an all-Ditko issue) appeared, and my brother John would soon buy most of the mystery titles, especially those adorned with Ditko covers.

Sometime in 1968, or perhaps 1969, I came across this comic book in a barbershop while awaiting a haircut. When I looked inside I discovered an artist whose distinctive work was instantly recognizable. No signature was needed - I was reintroduced to the art of Steve Ditko. Ghostly Tales # 71, January 1969. Jim Aparo cover art.     
 Charlton occasionally tried to jump on the superhero bandwagon, as it did in the mid-1960s, inspired by both Marvel comics' success and the popularity of the Batman TV show, but their Action-Hero line had its own personality. Charlton had a tangible charm, and the editors, including  Pat Masulli, Sal Gentile, Dick Giordano, George Wildman, Bill Pearson and Robin Snyder, came off as unpretentious men who were very much aware that they weren't competing with The New Yorker or Esquire. Their letters pages were unique among Archie, ACG, Tower, DC and Marvel's. They often praised (and were not afraid to name) their competition, always made note of their artists accomplishments and, refreshingly, admitted that some of their stories and art didn't always make the grade. 

It has often been noted that Charlton’s page rates were low, but editors gave artists the freedom to experiment and often fashion a script to suit their own preferences. Joe Gill was their primary writer, and while no one (including Gill) would categorize him as a great literary talent, he could at times turn in solid work that had charm and humor. While there were a few notable writers at Charlton in the 1960s and 1970s, including Steve Skeates, Denny O’Neil and Nick Cuti, Gill remained a Charlton perennial until its demise.
One of Charlton’s high points was its array of diverse artists, some of whom remained with them for decades. Many were both proficient and versatile; drawing stories in every genre, from romance to war. While its beyond the scope of this essay to highlight every cartoonist who worked for Charlton (over thirty years worth!) I'd like to pay tribute to a selection of grizzled veterans (and some rookies) who worked in the trenches and got little respect or attention, but deserve their moment in the sun.             

When one thinks of Charlton, the team of penciller Charles Nicholas and inker Vince Alascia (often credited as "Nicholas Alascia") come to mind. Their efforts were simple, clean and competent, and sometimes rose above that level when they were inspired. I've grown to appreciate the good work they produced throughout Charlton's line.  Both men were veterans of the field, having worked for Fox, Fiction House, Ace and Avon, among others. Alascia, in particular, had a long run inking Timley's Captain America over Syd Shores' pencils.  

An attractively designed and offbeat romance cover by the team of Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia. Brides in Love # 8, June 1958. Image from Comic Book Plus:

Nicholas's off-kilter layout adds a sense of mood to this page. "Let The Buyer Beware!", Vince Alascia inks, Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 20, June 1970.

Charles Nicholas was occasionally rendered by other inkers, one of the most distinctive being Wayne Howard, who added a Wally Wood inspired gloss. "Who'll Die Tomorrow?", Haunted # 12, May 1973.  

Nicholas' art was prominent in practically every genre at Charlton. He drew countless war, romance, crime and western stories for over two decades. Jon D'Agostino's slick inking adds texture to his pencil's on this exciting splash. Billy the Kid # 51, August 1965. Image from Comic Book Plus:    

Maurice Whitman produced fine work beginning in the 1940s, notably at Fiction House. He toiled at Charlton extensively in the 1950s and 1960s, drawing everything from Atomic Mouse to Fightin' Marines, and was particularly impressive on covers. Often neglected in the pages of comics history, Whitman was a very talented artist who later went on to work for Warren and DC.

An inventive Maurice Whitman cover from Strange Suspense Stories # 36, March 1958.

There was a time when dogs and horses headlined their own comic books - and artists like Maurice Whitman could draw then with great craft! Rocky Lane's Black Jack # 21, January 1958.    

Dick Giordano’s accomplishments have been well documented, but his importance as both an artist and editor at Charlton is worth noting. Giordano began drawing for Charlton in the 1950s on many genre stories. He also produced an enormous amount of attractive covers throughout the line, both as penciller and inking over other artists such as Rocco Mastroserio and Pat Masulli. As editor he instituted the "action hero" line in 1966, competing against Marvel and DC with new characters including Thunderbolt, Sarge Steel, Peacemaker, Judo Master and revivals of Captain Atom and the Blue Beetle.   Under his tenure letters pages became a staple (with personal replies by Giordano) and, inspired by Marvel, he began to add credits to the stories. Giordano was instrumental in creating a personality for Charlton, elevating it in the eyes of fandom.

An impressive early effort by Dick Giordano. "Shakedown!", Carl Memling script, Charlotte Jetter lettering, Racket Squad in Action # 14, January 1955. 

Dick Giordano cover art, Konga # 12, May 1963.

Giordano drew countless romance covers for Charlton. I Love You # 59, August 1967.

For a period of time Joe Sinnott worked for Vince Colletta's shop, penciling countless stories for Charlton's romance line. In addition, he filled-in for Steve Ditko on a run of Gorgo stories. Although Sinnott is recognized as an exceptional inker, enhancing the pencils of John Buscema, Gene Colan and Jack Kirby, he has also penciled many stories over the decades for outfits including Dell, Archie and Treasure Chest, where he illustrated biographies of Pope John XXIII, General Douglas MacArthur, Patton, Eisenhower and Babe Ruth.           

"The Venusian Terror", Joe Gill script, Joe Sinnott pencils, Vince Colletta inks, Gorgo # 10, December 1962. 

Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio is another artist who deserves greater recognition. While indexing  stories and covers for the GCD I’ve observed how prolific and talented Mastroserio was. Mastroserio had a strong line and his inking was solidly detailed. His covers, stories and introductory pages were scattered throughout Charlton’s line for some 14 years. Mastroserio also produced excellent work for Warren in the late 1960's for their black and white line of horror magazines. He would have likely branched out and worked for other, companies (in a few years I'm sure he would have excelled working for Marvel's horror titles). Unfortunately, Mastroserio died in 1968, at the all too young age of 44.  

Rocco Mastroserio cover art to Ghostly Tales # 59, Jan 1967. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the lettering skills of Jon D'Agostino, who worked for many years at Charlton. In addition to his solid calligraphy, D'Agostino was also a skilled artist, inker and colorist. D'Agostino continued to work in the industry for many years, often drawing stories for Archie comics.    

Mastroserio cover to Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 4, Nov 1967, Giordano layout and/or inks. In an interview in Whizzard # 14 (Winter 1981), Dick Giordano spoke about Mastroserio: "He was living and working in Derby at the time and if you look at those books you'll see that he used to do about 70 per cent of the covers, which were generally laid out by me but penciled and inked by Rocke." 

Mastroserio was also an attractive inker over many of Charlton's mainstays, adding a level of John Severin style detail to the pencils of Bill Molno. "Sgt. Yellabelly", Joe Gill probable script, Battlefield Action # 28, January 1960. Image from Comic Book Plus:

Jim Aparo began his career at Charlton in the 1960s, and although he is recognized for his work at DC on characters such as AquamanBatman and the Phantom Stranger, his Charlton output was equally impressive. Aparo had a clean, attractive style and he always produced a complete job (pencils, inks and lettering). Perhaps his finest accomplishment at Charlton was his excellent run on the Phantom.      

                             Jim Aparo cover art, The Phantom # 38, June 1970. 
                          Jim Aparo's effectively moody cover to Ghostly Tales # 79, April 1970.
Wayne Howard was a Wally Wood inspired artist (and one time assistant) who often wrote, drew and lettered his own stories. He began working for Charlton in the early 1970s, and was credited on covers as the creator of the mystery-anthology Midnight Tales, where he also created the hosts Arachne and Professor Coffin. Howard also inked other artists work to good effect. Although Howard occasionally worked for DC and Marvel, mostly as an inker, it was at Charlton that he had the freedom to experiment. Howard died in 2007.   

A Wayne Howard Wally Wood inspired page, likely written, drawn, lettered and colored by Howard. "The Voyage", Ghost Manor # 8, Nov 1972.  

Wayne Howard cover (and lettering), Ghost Manor # 13, July 1973.

Pat Boyette was hired by Dick Giordano in the 1960s and became a prolific artist well suited to the mystery line. His faces and figures might not be attractive, but he brought mood, experimentation and an expressive quality to his stories. Boyette often wrote, drew and lettered stories, giving him an opportunity to play with the form. Because Boyette's style was so idiosyncratic he was not always welcome at other companies, but at Charlton he fit in perfectly.

Pat Boyette excelled in portraying bizarre creatures, as seen on this painted cover. Ghostly Haunts # 52, Oct 1976.

Boyette's sense of mood and panel movement is showcased on this page, from "The Things Some Kids Dream Up!", page 6, Joe Gill script; pencils, inks and letters by Boyette, Haunted # 14, Sept 1973.   

Sanho Kim was a Korean artist who started working in 1957, drawing fantasy and science fiction related comics. In the late 1960's Kim moved to the United States and began working for Charlton on many of the ghost titles, but also contributed to war, western and romance stories and covers. Kim had the unusual habit of including the day, month and year the work was completed in the final panel. Kim inked and lettered all his stories, occasionally writing them as well. Kim also produced some work for Warren and Marvel. In 1973 Kim produced an early Graphic Novel for Iron Horse Press, Sword's Edge, in collaboration with Michael Juliar. Kim returned to Korea in 1996, continuing to create comics, and In 2008 was honored with an Order of Cultural Merits award by the Korean Government. He continues to be involved in fine art centering on Korean culture. 

Sanho Kim wrote, drew and lettered, "The Promise", cover billed on Ghostly Tales # 101, Jan 1973, as "A Korean Folk Tale told in English and Korean". The rigid formats of DC or Marvel in that period would not have found room for a story like this, but Charlton allowed such experimentation. Kim also wrote an editorial message at the end of the story. 

Pete Morisi, better known under the pseudonym "PAM", created Thunderbolt for Charlton and worked on war, western, romance and mystery stories. A police officer by day, he freelanced anonymously in his off-hours for Charlton since the force frowned on outside work. Morisi's style was greatly inspired by veteran George Tuska, along with artists like Jack Kirby. While Morisi's figures had a stiff quality, his sense of pacing and storytelling made up for it.

An effective Morisi page from "Wrong Turn", Haunted # 13, July 1973. Nick Cuti script, PAM letters.  In this period Morisi used photo references (not for the aliens, I assume!) 

Thunderbolt was the creation of Pete Morisi. This page highlights a good sense of design. From issue # 51, April 1966.

Tom Sutton would have been a perfect fit for EC comics 1950s horror line (indeed, he was inspired by the work of Wally Wood and Graham Ingles) but he was instead destined to bring a sense of the macabre to Charlton's 1970s thrillers. Another triple threat (writer, artist, letterer) Sutton loved the ability to experiment with styles and techniques and - like Boyette - painted many stunning covers for the company. Although Sutton worked for other companies, including Marvel and DC, his quirky, offbeat renderings were most at home in the backwoods of Charlton. 

Tom Sutton's bizarre imagery was showcased on Charlton's mystery line. Painted cover from Haunted # 17, July 1974. 

Don Perlin had been drawing comics since the 1950s, although he received greater recognition in the 1970s at Marvel on horror series such as Werewolf by Night, Ghost Rider. Perlin produced a great amount of stories for Charlton in the 1960's and 1970s, both in the mystery and war genre.   

A Don Perlin splash page showcases his skill at composition. Joe Gill script, likely lettered by Perlin. "The Night of the Poltergeists", Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 18, Feb 1970.

 Fred Himes became a Charlton mainstay in the 1970s. His style was clean and simple, with an emphasis on attractive women. He worked on war, western, romance, mystery and television related titles such as Valley of the Dinosaurs and the Six Million Dollar Man, with covers often inked by Pat Boyette.  

Fred Himes' attractive page from "The Devil's Bride", Ghostly Tales # 96, July 1972. Possible Gill script, likely Himes lettering. 

Joe Staton was part of the “70’s wave” of young artists who started at Charlton. Staton had a charming, cartoony style, with a mix of inspirations, including Steve Ditko. The versatile artist produced a plethora of mystery, romance and adventure stories. Staton is most noted for his collaboration, with co-creator-author Nick Cuti, on the humorous super hero strip E-Man. Staton has had an impressive career working for companies such as DC and Marvel, and currently draws the Dick Tracy comic strip, but his early work at Charlton is fondly remembered and worth seeking out.

Staton's sense of pacing, design and Ditko influence is evident on this page. "No Way Out", from Ghostly Haunts # 28, Dec 1972. Nick Cuti script, Charlotte Jetter letters. Jetter's distinctive  lettering enhanced many Charlton stories from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Jetter began working in the 1950s alongside her husband, artist/editor Al Jetter at Fawcett; in later years she  worked for Marvel. Charlton's colorists remain a mystery, although artist/letterer Jon D'Agostino is a prime contender when he worked there in the 1950s and 1960s; he is said to have begun as a colorist for Timely/Atlas' production department (per Stan Goldberg) and has been mentioned from time to time as working in that capacity for Charlton. Wendy Fiore was the only known colorist who was occasionally credited in the 1970s and 1980s.      

Staton art and storytelling enlivens this page from "Reunion", Haunted Love # 4, Oct 1973. Joe Gill script, Joe Staton letters. This was a extra-length 16 page story, and Staton created a moody and effective tale.

Mike Zeck showed great ability in his fanzine art for titles such as RBCC. His first professional sale was at Charlton, where he drew stories and painted and colored covers. In a short period of time he moved to Marvel, gracing titles such as Master of Kung Fu, Captain America, Spider-Man and the Punisher.

Mike Zeck pencilled, inked and colored this dynamic cover for Ghostly Tales # 123, Oct 1976

John Byrne also began his career at Charlton. His enthusiasm and talent was apparent from the start, working on such diverse strips as Speed Buggy and Doomsday + 1. Byrne soon found employment at Marvel, first penciling, and later often writing strips such as Captain America, Fantastic Four and a little known comic titled X-Men.

John Byrne's skill is apparent in this splash to Rog-2000, "Withering Heights". Nick Cuti script, Byrne art and lettering. From E-Man # 7, March 1975.

Don Newton had been known as a talented artist in fanzine circles for years, drawing impressive covers for RBCC and many other fanzines. Newton broke into the business in the 1970's at Charlton, working on mystery stories and creating hosts such as Baron Weirwolf. His work on The Phantom is on a par with Jim Aparo's. Newton later followed Aparo on another famous character: BatmanNewton died in 1984.    

Impressive Don Newton splash page to "Death in the Storm!", with inks by Dan Adkins. Written by Joe Molloy, likely lettered by Newton. From Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 49, Jan 1975.

The Phantom visits Casablanca, with some familiar faces in the background. Don Newton pencils, inks and letters, Bill Pearson script, from The Phantom # 70, April 1976

    And, of course, there was Steve Ditko.

Ditko worked for Charlton early in his career drawing horror, science fiction, crime and westerns. He never really left the company, as he explained in First Choice, an essay published in Steve Ditko's 160 Page Package, 1999:  "..Charlton left us and the comics field"

Ditko always had a strong sense of pacing and choreography, as this page illustrates. "The Forbidden Room", possible Joe Gill script, Jon D'Agostino letters, Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds # 4, July 1957. 

Even when Ditko was busy working for Stan Lee on mystery and superhero stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s he continued to produce art for Charlton, notably the monster titles based on movies Gorgo and Konga. There was only a short gap in the 1964/65 period when Ditko only had one story appear each year. Ditko returned to pencil a revived Capt. Atom in late 1965, the title appeared on newsstands the same month as Amazing Spider-Man # 32 (comics were usually dated two to three months ahead of "real time"; Capt. Atom had a December cover date; Amazing Spider-Man # 32, January - both apparently were on sale in early October). After creating "the Question" and a revised Blue Beetle, Ditko settled in for a long period drawing primarily for Charlton's mystery line.  

Ditko's page design and atmospheric inks were exceptional in the late 1960's-early 1970's period, one of the most expressive of his long career. "Return to Trilby Shoals" Ditko art, Possible Joe Gill script, Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 16, Oct 1969.  

Ditko drew many finely detailed and experimental stories for Charlton in the 1970's, some of his finest work ever. While his art became less detailed by the mid 1970s he still produced for Charlton while working at DC and Atlas-Seaboard. In the mid-1970s Charlton went all reprint, but Ditko returned for their last revival attempt in 1985. Along with drawing a few new stories for the revived Tales of the Mysterious Traveler, Ditko brought his creator owned Static to the company. Ditko and Charlton were a good fit and he remained loyal to them until they closed their doors for the final time.

It doesn't get much better than this. Ditko's line absolutely flows on this page. His design sense, characterization, layout and backgrounds are expert. "An Ancient Wrong", Ditko art, Joe Gill script, Charlotte Jetter letters, Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 20, June 1970.  

Charlton’s  line of romance, war, western, mystery and humor had a place on the newsstands from the mid 1940s to the mid-1970s. Increasingly, with the loss of mom and pop stores and the proliferation of comics shops their product became marginalized. Fans in the 1970s almost exclusively sought out superheroes, or monsters with a continuing back story, such as Tomb of Dracula and Swamp Thing. Their line-up continued to cater to a younger crowd, but the audience for hot rods and westerns appeared to be diminishing. Although they tried to make another run in the mid 1980's, it was not to be.

Alex Nino cover art to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler # 15, December 1985. 

Steve Ditko's final new story for Charlton appeared alongside reprints of his 1950s Mysterious Traveler stories. Story, art and lettering by Ditko. Tales of the Mysterious Traveler # 15, December 1985. Story copyright 2016 Steve Ditko.  

For many years Charlton was a familiar product on the comics racks, alongside Archie, Harvey, Western, DC, Marvel and others. Their diverse titles sold well to a general audience.  Although often maligned, they had a solid group of diverse and dependable creators. While Charlton never rose to the top ranks of comics publishers, perhaps that was a good thing. Nestled in their own little corner Charlton thrived for decades; an offbeat company that received little notice or acclaim, they chugged along at their own pace. I'm glad they were around to entertain me when I was growing up and appreciate them even more in today's often predictable and antiseptic environment.  

Top image, Tom Christopher art; bottom image, Steve Ditko art. Ads such as these appeared in fanzines such as Amazing Heroes and The Comics Journal to promote Charlton's revived line in 1985. The company was one of the few still attempting to cater to a variety of tastes, but sales were not strong enough and Charlton called it quits late in the year.  

I've had the honor of assisting Mort Todd on his Charlton Comic Book Cover Series, which I highly recommend. If you like Charlton you'll love this collection of covers. The Kickstarter campaign ends soon, so get on board now!

With thanks to Robin Snyder for his knowledge, input and encouragement and Darci for her grammatical corrections.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Steve Ditko's Fanzine Art: 1963-1986

While early comic book fanzines included contributions by professional artists such as Carmine Infantino, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Russ Manning and Paul Reinman, none were as prolific as Steve Ditko. The talented artist took an interest in these unique publications, created by a dedicated cadre of teenagers, young adults and older fans. Often falsely categorized as "reclusive", Mr. Ditko actually embraced fandom. The many drawings seen here present another side of the man, consisting of a generosity of spirit and an appreciation of the creativity and freedom the fanzines provided.

                                                  Alter Ego # 6, Winter 1963-64

Alter Ego was one of the earliest comic book fanzines, originated by Jerry Bails and continued by Ronn Foss and Roy Thomas. Steve Ditko made his  fanzine debut with its sixth issue, illustrating a letter he wrote. The playful drawing not only features Ditko's two signature characters, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but a caricature of the artist at his drawing board, inside an inkwell. Variations of this self-portrait, utilizing his tools of the trade (pencils, brushes, erasers, ink) have appeared throughout his career and define the intensity of the artist. Ditko's interest and enthusiasm for fanzines is also captured in his letter, as he jokes about "swiping" editor Stan Lee's copies from the Marvel offices.

Ditko drew the cover for Len Wein's Aurora # 5 in 1964. In a few years Wein would become a writer and editor for Marvel and DC, working professionally with Ditko from time to time. This was the final issue of Aurora, whose print run was a mere 135 copies!   

                                            Komik Heroes of the Future # 6, 1964

Komik Heroes of the Future was clearly a crudely produced fanzine, but I have to give editor Don Schank a little slack since he explained in his editorial that # 6 would be his last issue because he was soon entering HIGH SCHOOL! Extra props go to Schank for landing a short interview with Ditko and a dynamic illustration of  Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

Although it has nothing to do with Ditko, as a baseball fan I couldn't resist showing this letter from Yogi Berra that appeared in the letters section of Komik Heroes of the Future # 6. I'm assuming Schank was either a Yankees fan or was aware that Yogi read comics!

In addition to his fanzine contributions Ditko drew the cover and an interior Dr. Strange illustration for the 1964 New York Comic Con booklet. The first official convention took place on July 27, 1964, organized largely by fan Bernie Bubnis. Ditko showed up for the festivities, his first  - and last - public appearance.

                                                         All Stars # 1, Summer 1965

Ditko illustrated this extraordinary Flash Gordon styled sci-fi cover for co-editors Bill Dubay, Marty Aubunich and Rudi Franke. What's even more amazing is that the highly-detailed cover was not an unused piece laying around his studio; it was actually based on fan artist Ronn Foss' interior story. 

                                                        Alter Ego # 8, Winter 1965

This is my favorite fan drawing by Ditko, evoking an undeniable charm. The illustrated letter to editor Roy Thomas features Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Aunt May, Dr. Strange and J. Jonah Jameson. Note the pencil/ink caricature and ink bottle. Thomas would soon join the professional ranks writing for Marvel; one of his early assignments included writing dialogue to two Ditko plotted and drawn Dr. Strange stories in Strange Tales #'s 143-144 (January-February 1966). 

 Ditko personalized this drawing to one of fandom's pioneers, Jerry Bails. It appeared in The Comic Reader # 33, January 1965.

A Ditko illustrated Captain Atom graced the cover of The Comic Reader # 36, April 1965, a character he had drawn for Charlton in 1960-61. As related in the news section, the hero was being revived for a three issue tryout, consisting of Ditko drawn (and Joe Gill scripted) stories. "If it catches on, Steve will probably be asked to continue the series." The author was correct. In six months Ditko returned to draw his first super-hero series.

Another Spidey-Dr. Strange combo appeared in The Comic Reader # 42, October 1965. Ditko wrote letters, contributed drawings and provided information on his latest work to many issues of the long-running and respected news zine. 

The Dr. Strange illo originally appeared in Super Heroes Anonymous # 2, March 1965. This image taken from Bill Schelly's excellent book, Sense of Wonder: A Life in Comic Fandom. The crude mimeograph technology forced the thirteen year old to trace over Ditko's art for reproduction, leading to a weak result. As Schelly related in his book, Ditko admonished the teen for publishing the sketch without asking the artists permission. 

Rarely seen, this cover image of Spider-Man was to be the last Ditko drew for fanzines. Crimestopper # 1, April 1965. Colors by John Hayward. 

Ditko's impressive Ronald Coleman-ish portrait of Dr. Strange appeared on the cover of Marty Arbunich and Bill Dubay's Marvel oriented fanzine, Yancy Street Journal # 8, May 1965. These two illustrations represent Ditko's final fanzine drawings of his two beloved heroes. In less than a year he would quit Marvel and never draw either Dr. Strange or Spider-Man again.  

One of many design oriented Mr. A spot illos that appeared in numerous fanzines. This one is from Journey into Comics # 5, 1969. Mr. A copyright 1969; 2016 Steve Ditko.    

In 1967 Steve Ditko created Mr. A, the moral avenger who first appeared in Wally Wood's publication, witzend. Wood's magazine was both a place where creators were freed from the restrictions of mainstream comics and an outlet to own their characters. One of the earliest mainstream professionals to jump aboard was Ditko. In the years ahead the artist devoted most of his fanzine efforts on Mr. A stories, essays and other personal work, although a few exceptions appeared from time to time, as we'll see.


Two versions of the same drawing.  The top image is from Gosh Wow # 2, summer 1968. The bottom image is from Capa-Alpha # 5, undated. Both were published by Robert Schoenfeld, but I'm uncertain which appeared first. The Blue Beetle and The Question are two characters Ditko worked on for Charlton in 1966-67. The Beetle was a very early superhero that Charlton acquired from a defunct company; Ditko took the bare bones and greatly revised the character. The Question was a non-super powered hero who fought for justice. Due to Comics Code Authority constraints, however, Ditko's stories were less violent than the similar Mr. A stories that appeared in fanzines, which had no such restrictions.

                                               Defender illustration, Comic Crusader # 8, 1970. 

Comic Crusader featured an impressive mix of articles and fan-drawn strips. Martin Greim was an enthusiastic supporter of Ditko's independent work and published quite a few of the artists stories over the years. Ditko contributed this dramatic drawing of The Defender, a character created, written and drawn by the publisher.

A trio of characters Ditko was associated with at Charlton, this illustration appeared in Realm # 3, November 1970, although I wonder if this piece was drawn earlier, since none of the three had appeared in comics for a few years. 

  From 1971-1976 Ditko's fanzine efforts centered exclusively on articles, essays and stories featuring Mr. A and other independent work. Ditko illustrated the cover to Gary Groth's The Comics Journal # 33, June 1977, spotlighting his new creation for DC, Shade the Changing Man.
Ditko's editorial drawing took pointed aim at the comic book industry. It appeared in The Comic Reader # 160, September 1978. Image copyright 1978; 2016 Steve Ditko. 

Ditko provided the cover art, lettering and colors for the 20th anniversary of Martin Skidmore's fanzine. Fantasy Advertiser # 97, June/July 1986. Image copyright 1986; 2016 Steve Ditko.  

After this point Ditko choose not to participate in drawing single illustrations for fanzines. An occasional letter surfaced in places like Comic Book Marketplace, but from 1988 to the present day Ditko's essays and independent efforts have largely been in tandem with co-publisher Robin Snyder.

Steve Ditko contributed to fanzines for a great many years, offering his time, talent and professionalism to even the weakest of publications. Ditko's interest in the fan community was apparent not only in his drawings, but extended to stories of individual encouragement. His presence in that formative period was an inspiration to those who loved the medium and sought to create a unique voice of their own.  


Pictured above is a rare sketch Ditko drew in ball point pen for a fan at his first and only convention appearance in 1964. Ditko has long since declined requests for drawings of his characters - so don't ask - but back in those early days he was of a different mindset. Do other examples exist??       

Ditko, with co-publisher Robin Snyder, continues to produce new work. Their latest Kickstarter campaign includes a mix of classic work and brand new material.  

The campaign has ended, but if you're interested in purchasing this or other Ditko publications contact Robin Snyder at or go here:

    A special thank you to Robin Snyder, a gentleman in thought and deed .