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 # 5, circa 1963-64. From the collection of (and with thanks to) Manny Maris.
                                            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 cover (traced over for reproduction purposes) and a dynamic illustration of  Spider-Man (which looks to be the same image as the one used for # 5, although this is fully drawn by Ditko) 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 Bill Schelly's Super Heroes Anonymous # 2, March 1965. 
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 excellent book, Sense of Wonder: A Life in Comic Fandom, Ditko admonished the teen for publishing the sketch without asking the artists permission. Image courtesy of Bill Schelly. 

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.

                                            Capa Alpha # 38, December 1967?

                                                Gosh Wow # 2, summer 1968

Two versions of the same drawing. From what I can ascertain Capa Alpha was published by Don and Maggie Thompson and mailed out by Robert Schoenfeld (my issue is both unnumbered and undated, but judging by the letters of comment on the previous two issues and cross-referencing information with the concurrent Comic Reader - also edited by Schoenfeld - the dates seem to add up). 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 . 


Ximaipa said...

Great article on rarely seen Ditko drawings beyond his publish comic book work. It's good to know that Ditko had an interets in the early fanzine publications and reflect on his present day comics. Thanks!

Javier Hernandez said...


This is quite the treasure trove! I very much appreciate you compiling these and sharing them.

The Defender page is definitely one I hadn't seen before! And a few others as well.

Well done.


Booksteve said...

A full dozen illustrations here that I'd never seen before. Great stuff! Thanks Nick, Robin. And Mr. D as well, of course!

Kid said...

To be fair, Nick, the categorization of Ditko being 'reclusive' came about AFTER he became - well, reclusive, so the description is hardly 'false'. He only ever attended one convention, stopped doing drawings for fanzines and fans, wouldn't be filmed for Jonathan Ross's 'Search for Steve Ditko' show, etc. You're right in that, as far as participating in fandom goes, he wasn't initially hesitant about it, but he became so over time. So, great article as usual, with some great illustrations, but I'd have to say that for many years now, Steve Ditko really does qualify as 'reclusive' as far as his interaction with fans and fandom goes. Wasn't always the case as you point out, but it is now. But, hey - he's Spidey's co-creator, so we forgive him.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Kid,

I think there is a distinction between being reclusive and being a private person.
Speaking for myself I would categorize myself as private. In Ditko's case I know that
he replies to and corresponds with many fans
(me being one of them). As far as straying
away from fandom, he was generous to a
fault for a great many years and was
apparently burned a number of times
(artwork not returned, etc) so I can't say I
blame him.

Over the years I've had first hand experiences of folks taking advantage of my generosity. I've learned a thing or two along the way and I can only imagine how some fans have hounded Ditko these past few decades.

Unknown said...

I know of two further Ditko pieces he did for fans in the 1960s but alas I don't have scans of them. One was a Spider-Man bust shot done in ballpoint pen (I think that was from the 1964 convention). One was a fully inked shot of Spidey swinging that he drew on a piece of stationery (I can't remember if it was Marvel stationery or not) and sent to a fan. A dealer sold it in the mid-1990s. IIRC, it was about six by nine, maybe smaller.

Nick Caputo said...


I'm glad I provided a few surprises for you.

Nick Caputo said...

Ximaipa and Javier,

Thanks for the kind words. It's great that this work is appreciated so much.

Nick Caputo said...


I'm not award of the butt shot but know about the Spidey swinging illo and may just surprise you with it in the future!

Unknown said...

Thanks for this great overview of Steve Ditko's fanzine efforts from those early days. I knew that he had a presence in fanzines back then, but never realized that he was quite so prolific in that forum. It's too bad that the darker side of fandom pushed him away. Most fans are good people, but like you I've met my share of scoundrels who'd rob their own mother for a buck. Being "reclusive" is understandable, as weeding through the adoring masses would be a full time job for anyone with any degree of celebrity status.

Kid said...

I'm quite prepared to believe that in everyday life with family, friends and neighbours, Steve Ditko is probably not 'reclusive' in the slightest, Nick, but as a 'celebrity' comicbook writer and artist, I'd say he's 'reclusive' to a degree, even if the word IS used in a slightly hyperbolic way. He doesn't attend conventions, give interviews, or mix with fans in general. Sure, there are some 'special' people like yourself who he may respond to, but he appears to have cut himself off from general fandom. The fact that most of his new work is funded by kickstarter appeals demonstrates, I believe, how 'isolated' he's become when it comes to mainstream comics and interaction with comicbook (and not just Ditko) fans. Sure, he may not have started like that, but that's the way he's been for a good many years now. Not that I blame him in any way, but most of the greats were aware of the benefits of meeting and greeting fans at conventions, as it helped maintain their careers long-term. He's an old man now of course, and probably wouldn't be attending too many cons nowadays even if it had once been a common habit, but his desire for 'privacy' does seem a tad extreme to many people, and I can see why they feel that way.

However, all the best to him - he's entitled to live his life any way he wants. I'm picking up the Marvel Omnibus edition of Dr. Strange in a few days, even 'though I already have the stories in various publications, so I'm obviously a fan of his classic work. You got your name down for a copy, Nick?

Nick Caputo said...


Thanks for the kind words.

Nick Caputo said...


In studying Ditko's career over the decades; weighing the numerous stories, rumors, gossip and innuendo and talking to people who actually met him in person, dealt with him at comic book companies (editors, writers, fellow artists) and on a personal level I get a far different impression of him. He may well be more guarded than many of his peers but he has also been scrutinized to a degree many others have not.

Ditko does not consider himself a celebrity, nor has he ever apparently been comfortable in the spotlight. Not everyone is. For every Stan Lee, Jack Kirby or Neal Adams there are writers and artists who are more comfortable working in their studio than meeting or greeting fans.

AS far as "special people" like me that Ditko responds to (and believe me, I don't think I'm special) from what I've been able to ascertain Ditko has probably responded to hundreds, if not thousands, of fans over the decades. He has likely been inundated with mail, and lord only knows how many requests for special items, signed comics, commissions, sketches, advice, etc. Think how you'd feel if you were pestered by folks who wanted something from you every time you wrote a blog!

Finally, and most importantly, Ditko wouldn't have brought the unique qualities to his work if he were an average joe. He has his own distinct personality and quirks, and I think that makes him what he is.

Anyway, that's my take. I have all the original Strange Tales issues but I'll probably pick up the Omnibus. I know the editor and he has done a terrific job on putting these books together.

Kid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kid said...

Everything you say is true of course, Nick, but your explanation as to why he is as he is sort of confirms why he is regarded by many as 'reclusive'. Remember, his attitude of many years is at odds, as you pointed out in your excellent post, with how he used to be earlier in his career, and it's his younger self he is being measured against, as well as the attitudes of fan faves like Lee, Kirby, Adams, etc. However, whatever he is, reclusive (from the fans' perspective) or not, he's entitled to do and be as he wants. I don't think anyone uses the description (reclusive) in an insulting way 'though - it's just the easiest way to explain the difference between his attitude to fame and fandom and that of most of his peers. In the end, I suppose it depends on your point of view: I thought his act of declining to be filmed for Jonathan Ross's Ditko programme to be slightly 'reclusive', you'd presumably view it as him merely desiring 'privacy'. A case of 'a rose by any other name' perhaps? Anyway, thanks for allowing me to express my opinion.

Could you send me the Omnibus editor's email address (check with him first of course), as I'd like to alert him to a few errors in the Masterworks and Omnibus editions for correction in future printings. I did contact someone before, but never heard back, and the errors I pointed out weren't corrected in subsequent releases.

Thanks again Nick.

Nick Caputo said...

Nothing wrong with some civil discourse, Kid. You don't have to agree with everything I've said, and it would be be pretty boring if we DID agree on everything. I appreciate your thoughts and certainly understand your point of view.

I'll contact the Masterworks editor and pass on his email if he is agreeable.

Russ said...

Ditko seemed to be one of the few contributors who took Witzend's mission seriously, delivering a character that could not have appeared in the contemporary mainstream, well-thought out and executed with rare intensity. Because there was no real payment to speak of, Wood's friends tended to contribute by cleaning out their drawers with a lot of whimsical, ephemeral material, a lot of which I enjoyed. But Ditko really made a commitment here, and it was the beginning of him cutting a new trail for himself that led to his characters appearing in fanzines, "Underground" publications, indy publishers and odd prozines like Questar, which appeared on newsstands but seemed to be fan-produced. The last gasp of Charlton was a place where he reprinted a number of his weird creations and the current continued through Renegade Press which segued into self-publishing the concluding chapters of characters like Static and the Mocker himself. Because it was such a jolt, the violent retribution in some of the stories seems to be what people remember, but there is actually a lot of optimism and fun in much of this work.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Russ,

You're right about Ditko taking it much more seriously than most freelancers. He had a purpose and followed through with his convictions.

I also agree with your assessment that Ditko's independent work does carry its share of optimism and fun. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

Darcy said...

Hi Nick - great post, it's fascinating to see many of these Ditko sketches that I have never seen before! I am especially interested in the small 1964 Doctor Strange convention sketch that you have uploaded. I am wondering where you got the san of that image from? The reason I ask is because I would love to get in contact with whoever owns it to see if they would be open to hearing offers for it :-P You can contact me at :) Thanks!

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Darcy,

Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad to share these images with fellow Ditko aficionados. Unfortunately I copied that sketch many years ago and don't recall who was selling the piece. If I turn anything up I'll let you know (and I' sorry I didn't try to acquire it myself!)