Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.6: Steve Ditko

No.6: Steve Ditko

Steve Ditko’s artistic footprint ran at odds with all of his peers during his key period at Marvel, his style very much an ersatz, more fluid and experimental take on super-heroes. Throughout his career his off-kilter, slightly cartoonish pencils proved to work best with outsider or oddball characters, or in the case of his horror / mystery books, they evoked mood, tension and alienation. Perhaps the most enigmatic and withdrawn of all the artists on this list, Ditko rarely connected with fandom or even his co-workers, the comics medium being a conduit for both his artistic ambitions and his political convictions. Regardless of this, his at times erratic art could be breathtaking in its scope, vision and emotiveness, his ability to push the envelope being a considerable influence on later alternative artists.… Words: Andrew Colman

photo courtesy of Marvel

Just like the man, not a great deal is known about his formative years. After serving in the US army Ditko, in his early twenties, arrived in New York in 1950, where he studied at the Cartoonist and Illustrators School, under the tutelage of Batman artist Jerry Robinson. Having been a fan of newspaper strips when he was growing up, comics were in his blood, and he soon found work in what has since become known as the pre-code era, illustrating stories for smaller publishers such as Morse, Ajax Farrell and Simon and Kirby’s Crestwood. He tended to focus on horror or fantasy titles at this point, especially when he began his association with Charlton Comics, a publisher he would work for intermittently for the following three decades. During his initial tenure at Charlton, he began to produce some of his early key stories, notably for The Thing, This Magazine is Haunted, Strange Suspense Stories, Tales of the Mysterious Traveller, Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds and Space Adventures. It was in Space Adventures that he co-created Captain Atom, a man atomised in deep space by a rocket explosion who gains nuclear powers. Captain Atom was the character that Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan is based on.

In the late 1950s Ditko started working at Atlas, which was soon to morph into Marvel Comics. Once again working on horror / science fiction tales (but very much cleaned up due to the presence of the code) he began his celebrated collaboration with Stan Lee, on titles such as Strange Tales, Journey into Mystery, Strange Worlds, Amazing Adventures, Amazing Adult Fantasy, Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense. The doomsday type “pre-hero” monster stories in these books proved to be a major success with fans, at a time when the company was only permitted to publish eight titles a month due to a distribution deal with rivals DC. By this point, Lee had made tentative steps to return to the superhero genre, via the backdoor, with the Fantastic Four presented initially as a pre-hero title. As serendipity would have it, the book was an instant hit, but not enough to convince Lee to continue in comics. However, in the last issue of one of those aforementioned horror/mystery books, retitled Amazing Fantasy, everything would change.

In many respects, 1962’s Amazing Fantasy 15 was as important a book as Action Comics 1, and is certainly the comic that really kick-started the Silver Age. Lee and Ditko’s tale of a mawkish, nerdy teenager who gains superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider, a process that ends with the protagonist making a fatal mistake, chimed immediately with the publisher’s readership. Lee instantly realised what he had tapped into, and that comics could attract a more mature demographic. Within six months Spider-Man had his own title, and the rest was history. Jack Kirby had been given the post as penciller for the origin story, but Lee felt that what was needed was less bombast and kinetics. Steve Ditko got the job and quickly made the character his own, his pencils ideal for the bespectacled Peter Parker and his sinewy alter ego. Ditko’s 38 issues on the Amazing Spider-Man were a tour de force, bringing in a compulsive rogue’s gallery of villains as well as an iconic supporting cast. His work on the title, despite his use of the nine panel grid structure, was dramatic, with his stylised, deceptively detailed pencils bringing a unique take on, as Lee put it, long underwear characters. Despite the creative intensity of this run, Ditko felt that he was doing the lion’s share of the work and wasn’t given sufficient credit. What made him leave the title was differences between him and Lee over the direction of the ensemble, whether Peter Parker should graduate from high school, and the identity of Spider-Man’s main nemesis, the Green Goblin. Lee won the argument, and Ditko was replaced by John Romita.

Ditko also worked on other titles for Marvel during the Silver Age, such as the Hulk run on Tales to AstonishIron Man in Tales of Suspense, and Thor. His other main Marvel book however was Dr. Strange, in Strange Tales. Detailing the exploits of former surgeon and mystical mage Stephen Strange, the series brimmed with cosmic, weird tales of dark dimensions, the black arts and the psychodrama of inner and outer space. Ditko’s garishly psychedelic artwork was very much in the spirit of the times, appealing to the college crowd, and was certainly a step forward in terms of lysergic storytelling and beguiling graphics, despite Ditko having no connection with youth culture.

After leaving Marvel in the mid-60s, Ditko continued to be prolific, returning to Charlton Comics to work on Captain Atom, along with Blue Beetle, as well as drawing supernatural tales on numerous titles for the publisher, such as Ghostly Tales and The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves. These titles were very much in the E.C. vein, although considerably less visceral, leaning towards gothic atmospherics. Also in the latter half of the 1960s Ditko had brief periods at Dell, Tower and above all DC, where he co-created The Creeper and Hawk and Dove, two somewhat left-field efforts, both of which subtly hinted at his political leanings. The Creeper was an eccentric creation with a brightly coloured costume who had a scary laugh that was used to frighten villains, while the Hawk and Dove focused on the dichotomy between the warlike and the peacenik. Weird stuff indeed. At this time there was also Mr. A and The Question, Ditko’s most overtly political works. Based on the Objectivist theories of writer Ayn Rand, Mr. A operated in a binary world where there was only good and evil, with no room for nuance or grey areas. Appearing in Witzend magazine, the character was quite controversial for the time, acting as a vigilante and summary executioner according to his own Randian code of ethics. If any work allowed a glimpse into Ditko’s remote headspace, it was this one. The Question, a Rorschach prototype, was a similar crusading outsider character who briefly appeared in various Charlton books, sporting a featureless artificial skin on his face to hide his identity. Very outré, but certainly worth investigating.

Even though Ditko has been thought of as a peripheral figure in the industry after his 1960s heyday, he did continue to work in comics until the 1990s, working at DC on notable series such as Stalker, Shade The Changing Man, Man-Bat, The Creeper in World’s Finest and various stories for mystery anthologies such as House of Mystery. At Marvel, he drew the odd fill in or annual, working on Machine Man, Marvel Spotlight, as well as Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Iron Man and The Hulk. Although his art throughout this time was not of quite the same standard as earlier, it was still very much in his own unique idiom, and at times very good. His other work included stints on Marvel TV, film and toy line related titles, while producing art for myriad smaller publishers that had arrived in the 1980s. By this point his work echoed earlier triumphs, with Ditko contributing stories to First, Eclipse, Pacific, and even Cracked Magazine. And in the 90s he did layouts for Valiant, Defiant and Dark Horse. He never quite quit the industry, despite being part of its past.

Ditko was a one-off in an individualist industry, who towards the end of his career had become a sideshow after being one of the leading lights of the 1960s. It might all have been different if he had been accessible and done conventions, but one suspects he was a disinterested professional who couldn’t help imbuing his work with his worldview rather than getting involved with his colleagues and fandom in general. Overall he brought a great deal to the table, an instinctive, non-classicist illustrator who gained a huge following long after his pomp. And when he was at his best, turning out great work that mattered to him, he was exceptional.

Here’s the rest of our 101 Greatest Comic Artists list so far

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.7: Frank Miller

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.8: Will Eisner

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.9: Lou Fine

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.10: Alex Schomburg

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.11: Joe Kubert

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.12: Wally Wood

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.13: Jim Steranko

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.14: Alex Raymond

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.15: Harvey Kurtzman

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.16: Walter Simonson

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.17: Russ Heath

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.18: Bill Sienkiewicz

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.19: Jack Cole

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.20: Bernie Krigstein

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.21: Graham Ingels

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.22: Al Williamson

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.23: Barry Windsor-Smith

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.24: Alex Ross

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.25: John Byrne

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.26: Mike Mignola

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.27: Basil Wolverton

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.28: Howard Chaykin

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.29: Moebius

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.30: Dave Gibbons

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.31: Creig Flessel

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.32: Milt Caniff

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.34: Burne Hogarth

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.35: LB Cole

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.37: Bill Everett

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.38: Robert Crumb

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.39: Mac Raboy

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.41: Jim Starlin

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.42: Mike Zeck

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.43: Adam Hughes

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.44: Daniel Clowes

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.45: Gene Colan

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.46: George Perez

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.47: Michael William Kaluta

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.48: Cary Nord

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.49: Frank Quitely

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.50: Mike Ploog

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.51: Johnny Craig

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.52: Darwyn Cooke

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.53: Steve Dillon

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.54: Gil Kane

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.55: Michael Zulli

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.56: John Romita

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.57: Joe Maneely

 

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.58: Marshall Rogers

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.59: John Severin

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.60: Alex Toth

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.61: Brian Bolland

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.62: David Mazzuchelli

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.63 Reed Crandall

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.64 Harry Anderson

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.65 Nick Cardy

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.66 Matt Wagner

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.67 Bryan Hitch

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.68 Shawn Martinbrough

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.69 Al Feldstein

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.70 Nestor Redondo

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.71 Tarpe Mills

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.72 Eduardo Risso

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.73 JH Williams III

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.74 Irv Novick

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.75 Dan Zolnerowich

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.76 Gilbert Shelton

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.77 Tommy Lee Edwards

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.78: Sean Phillips

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.79: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.80: Dan DeCarlo

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.81: Marie Severin

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.82: John Paul Leon

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.83: Jim Lee

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.84: Denys Cowan

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.85: Ross Andru

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.86: Paul Gustavson

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.87: George Evans

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.88: Michael Golden

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.89: Matt Baker

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.90: Todd McFarlane

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.91: Fiona Staples

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.92: Carl Barks

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.93: Carmine Infantino

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.94: Alan Davis

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.95: CC Beck

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.96: Syd Shores

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.97: Bob Fujitani

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.98: Tim Sale

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.99: Jim Aparo

https://tripwiremagazine.co.uk/headlines/tripwires-101-greatest-comic-artists-of-all-time-no-100/

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The post Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.6: Steve Ditko appeared first on TRIPWIRE MAGAZINE.

No.6: Steve Ditko Steve Ditko’s artistic footprint ran at odds with all of his peers during his key period at Marvel, his style very much an ersatz, more fluid and experimental take on super-heroes. Throughout his career his off-kilter, slightly cartoonish pencils proved to work best with outsider or oddball characters, or in the case
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