WHAT IS SO DAMN MYSTERIOUS ABOUT STEVE DITKO? by Sam Catalino
Well, this is an old column I wrote several years ago about Steve Ditko. The reason I am bringing it out of the closet is that on September 16, Jonathan Ross is running some sort of documentary called ďIn search of Steve DitkoĒ on BBC 4.
Gosh, I did not know that he was lost. Why is Mr. Ross so interested? He wants to tell the untold story about Steve Ditko, who according to the BBC (where this originates) website is virtually unheard of. Well, if you do a bit of digging, you can find out all about these untold stories which are related by Mr. Ditko himself. All you need do is pick up a few years of Robin Snyderís The Comics, a very interesting monthly newsletter which Mr. Ditko writes about comics and a number of other interesting items.
There are a number of essays about the early years of Spider-Man (in The Comics) written by Mr. Ditko himself. You donít have to search for it, it is right there. Whether it(this program that Mr. Ross is working on) will be accurate or not will remain to be seen. One thing I can say is that after reading a number of Mr. Ditkoís essays, I have found them to be consistent, and there is no doubt about the position each essay makes.
Now, you are all wondering why and how I came up with that title for this column. Well this is not the first time I have heard this term used about Steve Ditko, and frankly I am tired of hearing of it. Now most people consider Steve Ditko the J D Salinger of comics because he does not consent to submit to interviews or go to conventions and meet with fans. I have asked a number of pros about Mr. Ditko, and to my horror, even Chic Stone (who passed away several years ago) called him a mystery man.
The latest offender (and like Chic it is someone I actually like) is David Spurlock who has done a fantastic service to fans by printing books which honor great artists such as Curt Swan (who in my opinion is the most underrated artist in comic history), John Buscema, John Romita Sr, Nick Cardy, Hal Foster to name a few. His latest book that I picked up was Steve Ditkoís Space Wars. Now I donít know if Mr. Ditko is receiving any royalties (that would be yet another future column one day I may just get around to it) from this enterprise or has approved (I sort of doubt it myself) it, but it probably reprints stories from Charlton that are now in the public domain, much as Greg Theakston has with Jack Kirby and a few volumes on Steve Ditko. The book itself is well done, as most of the books published by David Spurlock who (in my opinion) runs a first class outfit when it comes to reprints or new material. If you donít believe that, check out MONSTERS by Neal Adams.
Enough of that though, I just want to center my attention on his opening comments in SPACE WARS in the second paragraph which states: Ditko is the most mysterious man in comic book history. Really? My question to David Spurlock and to anyone who actually believes that is why do you think that? Before we go any further, let me give you all the definitions of the word mysterious. Or of mystery.
a: of, relating to, or constituting mystery
b: exciting wonder, curiosity, or surprise while baffling efforts to comprehend or identify: Now let us look at the definition of mystery:
1 a: a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand
2: something not understood or beyond understanding
3: profound, inexplicable, or secretive quality or character
Let us take a look at the prime root of the word which is mystery. Do any of you think that Steve Ditko is a religious truth that one can know him only by revelation? Well, I guess we can strike out the first definition.
Let us take a look at the second definition. I think from Mr. Ditkoís writings and his essays which appear on a monthly basis I donít think there is anything there that he writes that can not be understood or is beyond understanding. Many feel he is an Objectivist. I donít know myself, but I try to read everything that he writes and donít see any mystery there. It is pretty obvious what he writes and the thoughts he wishes to convey.
Which leads us to the final definition, which is profound, inexplicable or secretive quality or character. Trust me if you read Mr. Ditkoís essays, although there is profound thought that goes into them, they neither reveal anything that is inexplicable or a secretive quality at all. So strike that one off too.
What I do believe is the adjective which describes Mr. Ditko is that he is a private man. He does not submit to the constant demands for people asking for interviews. In his own (to paraphrase his words) words, his work is him. To quote him in Showcase #73 in 1968 (the first appearance of the Creeper) he states: ďI never talk about myself. My work is me. I do my best and if I like it, I hope somebody likes it too.Ē Now, that does not sound like someone who is mysterious to me. Now that was 37 years ago.
In The Comics he has discussed the early days working on Spider-Man and continues to discuss the creative process during these days and he seems to be engaged in what is currently taking place in comics. Donít take my word for it. Subscribe to Robin Snyderís The Comics and you will find that out. You will also discover a lot about other comic creators such as Fred Ray and some that you never heard about.
Enough of my plug for The Comics though. I think there may be reasons why Mr. Ditko does not consent to interviews as many other creators have in the past. Just as there were reasons for him leaving Marvel almost 40 years ago when he had piloted Spider-Man to being the best selling Marvel comic. If there is any mystery about his career, that may be it. But to label him as mysterious is unfair to him. If he chooses not to discuss past events, that is his right, but to label him mysterious or a mystery is unfair. There may be elements of mystery to some people about a few aspects in their career, but that does not make them mysterious. You can find more mystery in Stan Leeís career (and you donít want me to go there) than you will find in Steve Ditkoís career.
By the way, I recommend Steve Ditkoís SPACE WARS book by Vanguard. It is a great read.
Sam Catalino The Peopleís Commentator
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