Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

I can do a tribute to Steve Ditko just by recycling old stuff!

I wanted to do a nice tribute to Steve Ditko like the rest of our gang, but I never met the man and, honestly, I didn’t appreciate Ditko when I first started buying comics and when I finally did, he had retreated into his lair in Manhattan and wasn’t putting out comics that I wanted to read. So I never had a “come-to-Jesus” moment when I read a Ditko comic and thought, “Holy cow, this dude is awesome!” It was more that I simply began to recognize how good he was over the years. So I thought, instead of writing about how a Ditko comic transformed me, I’d just show all the examples I used during 2014, when I did the “Year of the Artist” series over at Comics Should Be Good. I did 10 days of Kirby and Ditko that year, because why wouldn’t I? So let’s take a look at the evolution of Ditko over the decades without me showing any of his work on Spider-Man or Doctor Strange. That’s just how I roll!

The first examples are from a story called “Paper Romance!” from Daring Love #1, which was published in 1953. This is the first Ditko comic ever published (it’s not the first one he drew, but that one was published after this), and it’s about sex, like all comics in the 1950s. Those people were repressed, yo! Liza reads an advertisement in the newspaper that claims you can write letters to them and they will forward them to members of the opposite sex who will then respond. She gets a letter from someone she thinks is a dapper cosmopolitan dude but it turns out it’s really the boy next door, and when she finds that out, they, well, they get it on. People liked the sex in 1953!

Liza enjoys kissing Seth, but he’s just not the man for her. Oh, Liza, you tease!

Ditko really makes it obvious that Liza is probably masturbating while thinking about “Tom Hamilton.” I mean, the people in the 1950s had to get this, right? They weren’t that obtuse?

Liza has really hard nipples and a firm grasp on that pitchfork. Ditko isn’t subtle, that’s for sure!

Seth shamelessly stares at Liza’s boobs and Ditko leaves the pitchfork standing straight up while Liza and Seth make out. Um, excuse me, I need to go take a cold shower …

The next story is “A World of His Own” from Strange Suspense Stories #32, which was published in May 1957. It’s a short story, so I’m only showing two pages.

These pages are neat because they show Ditko experimenting with some things that would become much more assured when he drew Doctor Strange some years later. The lack of holding lines making the other dimension look less tangible, the coloring making it eerie, and the strange random elements that make it clear this is another dimension are things we’d see in Ditko’s Strange masterpiece. It’s fun to see him trying stuff like this in print years before it flowered into something else.

The next story is “The Desert Spell” from Strange Suspense Stories #34 (November 1957), so it’s very close in time to the previous story (and who knows – Ditko might have drawn this first). It’s about a Nazi who wakes up from suspended animation and thinks he can remake the Nazi regime but then drinks more of the serum that put him in suspended animation and falls back to sleep, from which he presumably never wakes up. Both of these examples show Ditko using some interesting techniques with page layouts, which weren’t as innovative in the 1950s as they would be in later decades. Ditko, always pushing the envelope!

After Ditko left Marvel in 1966, he drew some stories for Warren Publishing, and that’s where the next two stories are from. The first is “Beast Man!” from Creepy #11, which has a famous sequence that I’m not going to show. Instead, let’s check out this two-page section where the woman gets menaced by the beast man!

(M-Wolverine asked if I could show the famous sequence. Rob Allen nicely linked to the entire story, but here’s the famous part.)

This is a terrific sequence, as we get the first page from the Beast Man’s point of view, and Ditko uses angled panel borders to make the POV a bit askew, given that it’s a beast man looking out on the world. The hands are great, showing the man’s inhumanity, and the way Ditko moves in and out on the woman make it seem like the beast is stalking her by getting close to her and then backing off. The shadow above the girl in the final row of the first page is great, as it creates even more tension, leading to the final panel of the woman, terrified, looking up, which leads to the splash page, which shifts our POV so that we see the Beast Man dropping down toward her, with those torpedo breasts helping the effect of her body bending backward under the irresistible force of the beast. As we saw above, Ditko can be a wildly sexual artist, and the splash page is aggressively sexual, making it even more memorable. The black and white brush work is excellent, too.

Then there’s Ditko’s story from Creepy #14, “Where Sorcery Lives!” Ditko, of course, drew plenty of sword-and-sorcery stuff for DC in the 1970s, and this is an early example of his work in that genre.

Salamand could easily be a Doctor Strange villain, and Garth is a stereotypical barbarian hero, in that he looks like he grew up on a farm in Nebraska. Ditko’s use of ink washes makes Salamand’s realm look more esoteric and magical, which works well.

More nice use of ink washes here, as Salamand’s realm doesn’t look quite real, which wreaks havoc on Garth’s mind. I want to know how Salamand got his eyebrows to do that.

More nice work from Ditko. Good perspective work, a strong use of black to imply the noxious smoke accompanying the dragon, and a creepy skeleton. Very typical of the genre, but Ditko does a good job with it all.

The use of washes helps make Salamand’s magic look airy, which contrasts well with Garth’s down-home solidity. It’s practical American weapons versus the mystical Asian weirdness!

Tanya ends up stabbing Salamand, because Archie Goodwin was never too bound by convention and Tanya was able to break free of Salamand’s will (his battle with Garth did weaken him, but it’s still cool that Tanya was able to win out). The top row is terrific, as Ditko draws both men in close-up, struggling mightily against each other. Very cool stuff.

After this, Ditko did some work for DC, so let’s check some of that out! In 1968, we got Beware the Creeper #1, an odd book that isn’s quite as beautiful as his Warren work mainly because, I imagine, he had more of a deadline at DC than he did at Warren.

This nice work – the placement of both characters, the Terror and Jurgen; the worry on Jurgen’s face; the slanting of the panel adding momentum to the Terror’s swing through the window; even the moment Ditko chooses – right before the glass breaks – is meant to heighten the tension. It’s well done.

Ditko was never the best at action because his figures were always a bit too angular, but as far as blocking out a fight scene, he was very good at it. This page is laid out well, and while I don’t love the lack of fluidity in the figures, the way Ditko moves us through the page is handled perfectly well. Which is nice.

This is a nice panel, showing the chaotic nature of the Creeper and how he can terrorize even the bad guys, as he shows no concern for his own safety and freaks out the Terror, who presumably doesn’t want to die and can’t believe the Creeper is apparently going to kill them both. That crazy Creeper!

Ditko didn’t just work for DC in the late 1960s and 1970s, though. He did some work with Wallace Wood, too, and our next selection is from Heroes, Inc. #2 from 1976. This is Ditko inked by Wood, which is interesting, to say the least.

Ditko’s hard lines and Woody’s lush inking clash in a good way in this story, as we see here, with recognizable Ditko figures softened considerably by Wood’s inks. Ditko, as we’ve seen, was not adverse to making his comics sexy, but for Wood, comics were sex, so it’s not surprising that he makes Ditko’s pencils a bit more sensual.

Pop Culture Rule #1: Never trust the woman!

This is a nice drawing, inked well. Sometimes that’s all that matters!

More nice work from two masters. We see Ditko faces on the torturer and Cannon, but Wood’s inks on Erika make her far curvier than your usual Ditko female (even though Ditko could draw beautiful women, naturally, but they still were a bit more angular than Wood’s women, who were all curves). Boy, Cannon has a haircut you can set your watch by, doesn’t he?

When Cannon gets chased through the castle by the four assassins, we see things from their points of view. It’s nicely done, and it shows the claustrophobia of the castle quite well.

This is a nice sequence, mainly because the shadows in the final row allow Cannon to kill the assassin fairly gruesomely but without showing too much of it – the readers can imagine his face as Cannon hangs him. Ditko does a nice job with laying the page out here.

Moving on, we get Coyote #7 from 1984, in a story that Steve Englehart wrote for Ditko. In this story, Ditko is inked by Steve Leialoha, who’s a much different kind of artist than Wood or Ditko. So let’s take a look!

Despite Ditko not focusing on any one person in this splash page, we can see Ditkovian touches throughout. Leialoha is a rougher artist than Ditko, and his inks make the work a bit scratchier, which fits the setting (modern Cairo, although Cairo did not look like this in 1984, so it’s a bit ridiculous).

Hey, it’s Namor, the Sub-Mariner! What’s he doing in Cairo?

This is, honestly, a nice inking job, especially the last three panels. Leialoha softens Ditko’s pencils and adds a lot of blacks, so Cairo looks a bit more mysterious and spooky. Ditko lays the page out well, and Leialoha does a nice job making it work.

Ditko draws a sexy female, whose name is Sharaia but who looks like a Karen. She’s very much a Ditkovian kind of gal, with the slightly large chin and the nice eyebrows. And look at that beautiful inking on the back wall in the final panel. That’s good stuff.

This is another nice page, because it shows both the Ditko-ness of it – the figure work in panel 3, the face in the final panel – and Leialoha’s solid inking. They made a pretty good team.

I’m going to skip the ninth day of Ditko that I did, because it was Daredevil #264 and it wasn’t the best Ditko work, and skip right to Marvel Comics Presents #83 and “The Matchstick and the Moth,” a story starring the Human Torch.

I don’t have too much to say about this story except to note how nice it looks. It’s Erik Larsen inking Ditko, and they also make a nice team. Larsen’s cartoony line work softens Ditko’s hardness just a bit, even though the Moth is clearly a Ditko woman. On the third page, the final panel is very Larsen-esque, but overall, he simply makes the characters a bit less angular and adds some nice shading, with colorist Santiago Oliveras doing a nice job, too.

So that’s some of my old stuff on Ditko. The dude was amazing, and even if you don’t focus on his Spider-Man and Doctor Strange work, he was still incredible. I also love that he just kept plugging away for years, doing his own thing and giving no fucks about anyone. You do you, Ditko!


  1. tomfitz1

    Looking back on Mr. Ditko’s early works, I remember reading STALKER and SHADE THE CHANGING MAN. I think I may have read a few of his DR. STRANGE issues.

    This was a long time ago before I appreciated who Mr. Ditko was and what his works meant to the industry.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    I remember the Year of the Artist posts. Great selection of art – I find it interesting to see how well-formed and distinctive Ditko’s art was pretty much right out of the gate in the early to mid-1950s. That wasn’t the case with a lot of other artists from that time; e.g., I’ve seen early art by Joe Kubert and Gil Kane that looks nothing like the specific styles they became known for later. Not so with Ditko.
    I also like the later samples showing the work of different inkers/finishers on Ditko’s pencils. All very nice-looking stuff.
    And finally, I have to say I’m glad that someone else noticed that Ditko’s work was often quite sexual – I think I first noticed this in my teens (of course), esp. when re-reading some of the early Spider-man and Dr. Strange stories, and I noticed how, well, sexily he drew female characters like Betty Brant, Liz Allen or Clea.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: Yeah, early Kubert is REALLY different, but when you consider he started actually publishing stories when he was, what, 16? it’s not too surprising that his style changed!

  3. M-Wolverine

    So what’s the famous sequence from Creepy #11 that you won’t show? I mean, you don’t have to show it, because of what it is, but if it’s spoilers I think the expiration date is over on that. Because apparently it’s not that famous on the Internet, and I seem to have misplaced my copy. 🙂

    1. Greg Burgas

      M-Wolverine: It’s just a short two-row sequence where the Beast Man is boxing, and Ditko gets closer and closer on him to show his ferocity. I remember reading about it years ago in some book about comics, and in the introduction to the volume I own, it’s mentioned again. It’s similar to the first page I show in the story, though, and I think the one I show has a bigger impact, to be frank.

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