Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Wealth of Talent

I'm going back again to the cover of an issue of a book that I recently added to my collection. This is AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #13. While Jack Kirby was doing the lion's share of the the work for the fledgling Marvel Comics, the second most productive artist at the company was Steve Ditko. While not quite as prolific as Mr. Kirby, Ditko was still capable of creating a truly prodigious amount of finished comic book artwork.

From what I've read on the subject, Stan Lee was working constantly under the threat of the company's imminent demise. If the profit margins shrank much more, then his uncle was quite likely to figure that the best thing to do would be to sell off the company's intellectual property and assets and retire to Miami Beach. To prevent this, Lee stayed busy keeping the distributors supplied with product that would sell well enough to keep the publisher in enough black ink so that the company's survival would be safe. However, it was the struggle of a species that was forever threatened and perched on that edge beyond which lay extinction.

Thus, Lee was forever in search of creative talent around whom he could anchor his hopes and dreams. There had been a number of such men through the years. After the tragic death of Joe Maneely, the man who could, apparently, draw any kind of book requested, Marvel/Atlas was a craft adrift with a crew of capable hands, but no standout talent. In a while, of course, Jack Kirby drifted back to Lee's office, as did the relative newcomer, Steve Ditko. At that point, Lee had found his creative saviors, and this time in the form of two men. If DC succeeded in stealing Kirby, he had Ditko. If Ditko fled, then he had Kirby.

When you look at a title such as AMAZING ADULT FANTASY and a specific issue such as #13, you can see why men such as Steve Ditko were indispensable to an editor like Stan Lee who was always looking for talent. In Ditko, he'd found someone who was resourceful, brilliant, reliable, and--above all--hard working. Ditko wasn't just working for Marvel/Atlas at this time, but for a number of other publishers. He was drafting a tremendous amount of work for Charlton, also. I've never seen any numbers, but he had to have been penciling many hundreds of pages per year of comic book artwork during the late 1950s and early 1960s, before he crafted his initial superhero creations, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

Steve Ditko had a unique way of rendering water, and the effects of water. He used it often in his stories and one day I need to write an essay that deals specifically with this facet of his work.

The talent at work from Steve Ditko is shown in this very imaginative and carefully rendered contents page from Amazing Adult Fantasy #13. Here we see the man's imagination given free reign, boiling down enough of each story to pique the reader's interest and to show the essence of each as a single image, surrounding it all with a kind of Twilight Zone montage of weirdness. You can see why he was making himself an important figure to his editor and publisher. The stories are, mainly, simple things lifted from other sources by Stan Lee--tired plots stolen so many times that no one could likely find the true author. The art, however, is all classic Steve Ditko, his own personality flaring to the printed page like hammered gold.

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