Tuesday, August 26, 2008

STRANGE AND STRANGER: THE WORLDS OF STEVE DITKO

I'm not finished reading this great book, but I felt the need to promote it here at my blog. It's STRANGE AND STRANGER: THE WORLD OF STEVE DITKO. Now, Steve Ditko remains, after my first exposure to his work more than 44 years ago, my all-time favorite comic book creator. Those of you who've followed this blog also know that I credit him completely with the creation of both The Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange--books which he produced for Marvel Comics, and characters whose names are now attached to a man who had almost nothing to do with their creation.


This book has so far been something of a treasure for me. For instance, I had wondered for many years why Ditko's art seemed to blossom when he worked very briefly for Warren Publications when he illustrated stories for the horror magazines CREEPY and EERIE. Steve Ditko created art for those two magazines that were far and away from the material his fans had seen before that, and were not equaled in the long years after. The author of this biography, Blake Bell, explains quite simply why Ditko tried so many new and different methods of illustration with the tales he illustrated for Warren. I won't explain those reasons here--for you need to buy this book to discover why.

From Warren's EERIE MAGAZINE

I also had many other questions answered. For instance, the input of Stan Lee into the characters Ditko created at Marvel had been a mystery to me since I first began to suspect that Lee, indeed, had not created any of the characters whose ownership he has claimed for so many decades. Blake explains, to a certain extent, Lee's pitiable contribution to the labors of both Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. For this he reaped tens of millions of dollars? The mind is boggled.


Some people have asked me why I would champion a fellow whose political ideals are so diametrically opposed to my own. Ditko is a proponent of Ayn Rand's Objectivism. And I find that philosophy abhorrent and have nothing but disdain for Laissez-faire capitalism, which lies at the poisoned base of Objectivism. It's partly a mystery even to me. It could be that I'm not entirely opposed to Ditko's own lessons of personal responsibility so readily apparent in the stories he wrote. Or it could be that Ditko's art, and even his tales, are so well wrought that I am able to look beyond the obvious propaganda inherent in them and see them as the works of fine illustration and sequential art that they are. Frankly...I'm not sure.

Ditko remains a strange man to me. He's a mystery. Much as JD Salinger is a mystery. Much as Jack Kerouac is a mystery. I don't compare him equitably to people like Salinger and Kerouac, but there is that strain of not quite knowing where the creator is coming from, nor at what he's aiming. If you're a fan of Steve Ditko, there is no more perfect book for you than Blake Bell's STRANGE AND STRANGER: THE WORLDS OF STEVE DITKO. I could have done without the fawning book dedication to a certain fascistic monster, but I'm willing to overlook that minor irritant. Pick up this wonderful hardback. It'll be a great addition to any comics and biography library.

2 comments:

dogboy443 said...

I have this same book, and I know Bissette has been reading it, and I think that Ditko has become a found again pleasure for me. I was too young in the 60's to appreciate his art and by the early 70's he was out of the major limelight so I was content with the early days of Gene Day and Jim Starlin. It wasn't until later on with ROM and a few of the other obscure books that I re-found Ditko, even though I am not a big Spider-Man fan. I have however always been a Kirby fan and the next big purchase of legendary work for me will be the collection of Jack Kirby's The Demon.
I am enjoying this book, however I have a problem with religion, whatever the original source of it comes form, and for a man to turn away work because of such beliefs and to also turn away work because of wanting complete control and not working as a team, also baffles me. If Stan Lee worked more closely with Ditko, and actually created a team/partnership with him, would we have had more output from Ditko because of his enjoyment of a partnership? I blame Stan Lee, it's his fault. Nuff said.

HemlockMan said...

Well...Lee never really "created" any of the books with which he's credited. (With the single exception--MAYBE--of Daredevil, and even the name of that character was taken from a Golden Age superhero.) I'm just not keen on the details of the creation of DD.

Ditko walked away from his own creation for his own reasons. To me, it's one of the great tragedies of comics history. I doubt Steve Ditko would look upon it that way, though.

As for Lee's input--he inadvertently admitted how things were done when he said, in print, that when the pages to Fantastic Four #48 came into the office, he had to call Kirby to ask him "Who's this guy with the big "G" on his head. And the guy on the surf board? Who's that?"

That's some admission for a man who later claimed to have "created" the Silver Surfer.