Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why I Like Steve Ditko

It's only fitting that one of my first posts discusses Steve Ditko, whose work I've admired since I was a child. I was trying to recall my earliest memories of his art, and what made it connect with me on such a visceral level at a very young age. An image came to mind: a panel in Amazing Spider-Man focusing on a band of criminals fleeing. I observed how the folds of clothing on their pants moved in a realistic manner;there was a sense of bone and sinew beneath the clothing. This was not just simple lines on paper; there was an innate understanding that the person drawing these pictures invested in depicting life in a very real way, despite the fantastic elements.

Amazing Spider-Man # 19, Dec 1964
Ditko's work comes from a cartoonists background;much like many of the artists he admired (Will Eisner, Jerry Robinson, Mort Meskin) Ditko had the ability to delineate figures, forms, clothing, settings and people with a knowledge of the real world. Ditko studied how folds of clothing flowed, he understood the workings of the human hand, muscle structure and how the body moves. Like Alex Toth, Ditko was able to simplify. He knew what to include and what to eliminate. 

                                               Amazing Spider-Man # 15, August 1964. 

Ditko brought a sense of realism to characters by not turning them into superhuman powerhouses (not that there's anything wrong with that - but more on Jack Kirby in future posts). Another early memory is the cover to Amazing Spider-Man # 15, which draws the reader into the situation masterfully. Spider-Man is in the foreground, struggling to escape a net he is trapped in as Kraven the Hunter approaches. The park setting is established by trees and a city landscape peeks out in the background. Unlike DC characters, who often faced absurd situations or gimmicks on their covers, Ditko placed Spider-Man in a dangerous situation that was not too far out. You can easily place yourself in Spider-Man's predicament and wonder how you would escape.

Rarely did a hero get a beating like this. Spider-Man's rouges gallery of villains, including the Scorpion were dangerous; Ditko made this clear by Spider-Man's body language and with little touches such as the torn costume. It also pointed to something important - doing the right thing had consequences. Amazing Spider-Man # 20, January 1965.  

Ditko's heroes were flesh and blood. They could get bruised and beaten (but not bleed, due to the  confines of the Comics Code) and often had to use their mind to outwit opponents. Ditko thought out his plots and situations in ways that his peers didn't often do. This is one of the reasons you can go back to these stories and appreciate them over and over.

                                        Amazing Spider-Man # 17, October 1964

Another aspect of Ditko's art that immediately appealed to me was his use of humor. Through facial expressions and body language - in particular the use of hands as a tool to depict emotions - Ditko crafted personalities that many could relate to. Like the best storytellers in the field Ditko was a versatile artist who created a familiar world amidst fantasy trappings. Whether it was Peter Parker frantically attempting to avoid a blind date, or engulfed in troubles far beyond his years, Ditko added a dimension to his work that heightened the drama considerably.     

Ditko is an original. Unique, offbeat, compelling. Now in his 80s, he continues to draw comics. There are those who chose to denigrate the man on a personal level, criticizing his choices and wanting to invade his personal space. I've read too many articles, blogs and essays filled with distortions, inaccuracies and outright lies about the man which have nothing to do with constructive discussions about his work. I intend to pursue a more positive direction here.

Ditko's final panel to the Dr. Strange story in Strange Tales # 134, July 1965, is an excellent example of the artists skill at composition. The reader's eye is directed to the solitary figure of the hero walking the dark, stormy streets of Manhattan. As an individual, much like his characters, Ditko has always followed his own path.  

More on Ditko soon....


Booksteve said...

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

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

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

Nick Caputo said...


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

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

Javier Hernandez said...


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

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

Nick Caputo said...


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

Danny said...

Whatever happened to your Marvel Genesis blog?

Nick Caputo said...


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

Jacque Nodell said...

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

Nick Caputo said...

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