Monday, September 30, 2013

Some Ditko Treats

This time out I thought I'd share some odds and ends by that master of the graphic form, Steve Ditko, including a few goodies not seen often. 

This piece was drawn especially for the cover of Comics Buyers Guide # 1214, Feb 1997, used to promote the first issue of Strange Avenging Tales. Ditko creates a compelling image, using wash tone for his primary figure, the Baffler. Ditko provides interesting visuals along the borders: faces and masks, silhouetted figures attempting to explode dynamite, barbed wire, a folder crushing individuals and his tools of the trade in action. Most situations are connected to interior stories, and Ditko's vignettes add a air of mystery and speculation about the contents.    

Created by Jack C. Harris and designed and drawn by Ditko, Substance was a character with the ability to become invisible with the use of a device. The first issue appeared in 1990 for publisher Ray Zone. Ditko does an effective job with the 3-D technique, using depth perception to good advantage, enhanced by Ray Zone's expertise. Jack C. Harris had this to say about the concept in the introduction:

"Substance came about from conversations with Steve Ditko about crime, justice, good, evil, etc. We supposed, if "illegal evidence" could be collected without active participation by the police, could it be used to bring about justice? After all, even if evidence is "inadmissible" it might still proclaim the truth. And isn't the truth the goal of every trial? Are truth and justice the same thing? Maybe, maybe not."  

Harris goes on to mention his working with Ditko in the late 1970's and 1980's in his editorial capacity at DC, on Shade, the Creeper (appearing in World's Finest) and various mystery and sci-fi stories. Harris later created Star-Guider with Ditko for Western, which eventually appeared in Robin Snyder's Revolver at Renegade Press. Harris goes on, explaining:

"We prepared and shipped a slew of presentation packages featuring a half a dozen characters. I'm willing to bet there is at least one Harris/Ditko proposal deep in the files of every independent publisher."      

It's unfortunate that so many ideas were left floundering, especially at a time when there were plenty of independent publishers. How many series have fans lost out on seeing? Harris concluded:

"Steve and I drifted on to other projects. Then, a couple of years later, while walking in New York, lo and behold, there was Steve. We stopped, stood in the middle of a throng of passers-by and talked of old comics and new, of likes and dislikes. "Remember all those old proposals we did? Let's do some more'" I suggested. He agreed."

"That very night I went home and outlined Substance. With Steve's art in hand, in August, I headed for the San Diego Comic Convention to pitch the idea to the publishers in attendance.
I got as far as Ray Zone's booth. Looking at the presentation piece both Ray and I said (simultaneously) "an invisible man in 3-D! Wow, what a concept!"     

An attractive, Non 3-D image on the inside back cover of Substance # 1

 Included in the first issue were some of Ditko's 1950's Charlton covers and a Crime and Justice story altered by Ray Zone into the 3-D technique.    

Cover to Substance # 2. The villain of the piece, with those goggles, reminds me of Hambone, a character invented by Sandy Becker, who was a staple of  New York City local children's television in the 1960's. For those who are not in my age category, do not reside in the US or have no idea what I'm talking about: Local stations once employed hosts in between cartoons such as Bugs Bunny, Heckel and Jeckel and Popeye. They often performed skits, featured puppets and advertised for their sponsors. Sandy Becker was also a voice actor on radio ("Young Doctor Malone") and (here's the comic book connection, kids!) was the voice of Steve Rogers/Captain America on the Marvel Super Heroes cartoons in 1966. 

Inside front cover, explaining Substance's powers.

A second issue of Substance appeared in 1991, with two stories featuring all-new material. Then, Substance faded away. It was an interesting strip, worthy of continuation, with or without 3-D techniques.

This ad for Charlton's line appeared in 1985, in fanzines like the Comics Journal # 105 and Amazing Heroes # 82. The figure in the middle is Static, originally published by Eclipse Comics, moved to Charlton, and later collected and published by Robin Snyder. In the background Charlton's hosts appear, all drawn by Ditko in various periods, including the Mysterious Traveler, Dr. Haunt, Mr. L. Dedd, Dr. Graves, Winnie the Witch and Mr. Bones.  

Finally, here is another Charlton ad, penciled, inked, lettered and likely written by Ditko, including his first and only interpretation of heroes such as Yang and Thane, but, even more surprising, cartoon and animated characters such as Lil Genius, Timmy the Timid Ghost and Atomic Mouse! (all of which were appearing in reprinted comics at the time) It's a playful and charming ad, including the cat and dog figures, showcasing Ditko's versatility (I think it would have been interesting to have Ditko draw an issue of Atomic Mouse or Lil Genius). This was a last ditch effort to promote the Charlton line, which finally closed their doors in 1986.

I hope you enjoyed a look at a small, but nevertheless interesting potpourri of Ditko's efforts in the 1980's and 1990's. Steve Ditko is a prolific artist, and his rich body of work is endlessly fascinating.      



bob said...

Cool stuff.

Is your copy of the CBG cover cropped at the bottom like that, or was that just because if it was too big to scan? If it's cropped (and you're not missing too much, less than a half-inch, mostly barbed wire and dripping ink) let me know if you want a scan of the full cover for your own files.

That second issue of SUBSTANCE was one of the hardest full Ditko comics to find for me. A shame, it's a pretty good comic.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Bob,

Yes, it was a little big to scan, but thanks for the offer. I think U was lucky enough to have bought those issues of Substance when they first came out.

Kid said...

Fascinating to see, Nick, but also sad that, in quite a few of the examples, the art doesn't seem to be up to par with Ditko's '6os Marvel output. Or is it just me?

Steven Thompson said...

Personally, I see Ditko's art as having continually evolved. While I prefer his sixties work, even his most recent work shows progress as opposed to so many other comics artists who simplify, slack off or just seem to lose the magic over time. I won't mention names but I saw a recent portrait of a classic hero by a legendary artist and it looked pretty amateurish to me.

Nick Caputo said...


I enjoyed Ditko's work in this period, particularly his work on Static. While his art simplified considerably, his design sense and storytelling ability remained strong. We all have favorite periods and the Marvel era is an absolute benchmark where Ditko produced some of the finest comic art ever.

Nevertheless, Ditko's body of work is huge and endlessly fascinating.

bob said...

Just remembered, Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics posted once about the background of the CBG cover.

Teddy @ Pencil Ink said...

Enjoyed the post very much. Keep up the good work...

Nick Caputo said...


I'll do my best. I've been remiss in not having you on my blog list, since pencilink is always fascinating and informative. I've corrected that and hope everyone will take a look at Teddy's excellent site.