Thursday, December 27, 2012


The old Strange Tales title at Marvel Comics was an anthology book. In the days before superheroes took over it featured weird tales, mainly told by the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and Dick Ayers right before the super-folk dominated.

After superheroes came along the title remained an anthology book. First with the Human Torch getting the feature story, followed by weird tales by Jack and Steve that were still in inventory and needed to be moved out (since Goodman had already paid to have them written and illustrated).

At some point, though, it was decided that the Torch (created by Carl Burgos, stolen by Marvel Comics) just couldn't support his own title and he was replaced by Nick Fury and Doctor Strange. Fury was created by Jack Kirby and Doctor Strange was created by Steve Ditko. 

Of the two characters, I've never heard if anyone proved one way or the other who was the more popular. However, from what I have read in various journalist sources, Dr. Strange was the hit on college campuses where Marvel's comic sales were being pumped up. Those kids were digging the surrealistic imagery being imagined by the strait-laced Steve Ditko. They assumed he must be doing some heavy drugs. Of course nothing could have been further from the truth.

And one thing I have wondered about constantly over the years was why Doctor Strange never got full-cover billing on the title, especially if he was the most popular character in the book. It bore his freaking name, for Pete's sake! And yet, all he could manage was a cover blurb or a secondary illustration from time to time. Never the main cover. And the only time Strange got a full-cover treatment by Ditko was on issue #147 which was Ditko's last, and which was cobbled together by the production staff from interior Ditko illustrations. It was not really a Ditko cover. Not in the truest sense.

I've always figured the fact that Doctor Strange was never given full space on the cover because of malice from Stan Lee ("editor") and Martin Goodman (publisher). I've never checked, but it could be that Ditko had pushed the plotting credits issue first on the Doctor Strange series and then on Spider-Man. I first noted Ditko's credits there as plotting the stories before I noticed it on Spider-Man. Either way, I feel keeping Ditko's baby off the cover of the book was a way of making  him pay for the affront of asking for credit for work he was doing. How dare he?!

People ask why Kirby continued to work at Marvel after Ditko walked away. Well, Kirby had bills to pay and a family to support. Ditko did, too, I reckon, but he was made of sterner stuff. Also, Kirby was given the run of the shop, so to speak. His covers were everywhere, dominating the company. Covers paid well. They paid the mortgage. Paid for groceries. For health care. Kept clothes on the backs of the wife and kids.

Ditko didn't give a shit. Ditko did his work. He just didn't get the covers for Doctor Strange.

My copy of STRANGE TALES #135.


Kirk G said...

I never thought that Strange Tales was named for Dr. Strange...but it was a strange co-incidence. Second, I never noticed that Dr. Strange didn't get covers until after Ditko left. Maybe he just wasn't interested in drawing them?
Maybe Dr.Strange was the back-up feature and therefore never considered for a cover. Plus, the Torch WAS cross=promotion for the FF. I think there's more than just animosity against Ditko at play here. After all, he was just as much a star luminary when drawing the monster mags as Kirby was.

James Robert Smith said...

The title was not named for the comic. Ditko came up with the character in issue #110 of Strange Tales. That's a long time after the fact. There's a good possibility it was placed in Strange Tales due to it's name, and for the fact that the book had been a home to strange stories of sf and the weird.

As soon as Ditko left Marvel (and the title), Lee suddenly felt that Dr.Strange was deserving of the cover. He was all over the cover many times as soon as Ditko was gone.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

Of all the series from Marvel in the 60's, Dr. Strange & Nick Fury always seemed to me the most obviously created solo by Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby. They were both so different from anything else. And somehow, Stan Lee's dialogue was some of his best on BOTH series. It's as though the extremely "Ditko" or "Kirby"-ishness of both of them either inspired Stan to do his best, or prevented him from screwing them over.

I don't think you're the first one to suggest malice on Stan's part, for Ditko having forced the issue of not just credit, but PAY. (Don't try to convince the "MMMS" guys at the masterworks board. They'll go on for page after page posting ever-more-complicated arguments, all backed up with "evidence!!!!!" just to obscure what tend to be, in fact, SIMPLE truths.

You really should have said "Dr. Strange and Nick Fury" in that order... but what the hey. The Torch & Doc shared the book for most of Johnny's run. I've come to love the Torch stories far more than ANY stories of the original Human Torch (you know-- the ANDROID!!). Johnny was to the FF what Gomer Pyle was to Andy Griffith-- or The Jeffersons was to All in the Family.

Starting with "THE END-- AT LAST!" cover with Ditko art (slapped together by Sol Brodsky, perhaps, much like the sole Don Heck Iron Man cover on SUSPENSE), Doc & Fury alternated every cover to the end. Before that, Fury was spotlighted, perhaps to spite Ditko, perhaps just to promote SHIELD.

Here's my blog page, with my own restorations, all done from scans of my own copies, bought CHEAP in the late 70's!

Some of these are a little dark, some a little "yellow". I've gotten much better since then, and almost never do one of these anymore without using "levels" in Photoshop (best thing anyone ever showed me in that program). As a result, these tend to look more like the actual, old, "yellowed" covers do in real life. Except maybe for ST #136, where somehow, Stan Goldberg's colors were SO dark, they OBLITERATED some of the linework. I had to go in an re-ink some of the details (GASP!!!) in order to see what Jack actually drew. (More or less.)

James Robert Smith said...

Nice work at your site!

It seems obvious to me that Lee just wasn't going to give Ditko the cover feature to screw him out of the extra pay. For demanding the plotting credit.

Lee's dialog--when he was working at it--was fun and superior to Kirby's, and definitely better than Ditko's. I've seen what Ditko produced without Lee around to modify his extremist tendencies, and it's horrid. Of course the emotions come across from Ditko THROUGH Lee. That angst and that sarcasm and humor were all Ditko. Lee just gave it a moderate voice.

Some people make light of Kirby's dialog when he was working on his own, without Lee. And sometimes it was hokey, but generally it was extremely good stuff--not as hip as Lee, but much more insightful.