Monday, July 9, 2018

Who Was Steve Ditko, To Me?

First, thanks to cartoons, I grew up playing I was Peter Parker a lot of times when I wasn't playing Spider-Man. I remember talking to myself in imitation of the thought-voice-over effect. I remember going to the bathroom in the middle of a sermon, stripping off my Sunday best, hanging up my clip tie, and rushing out into the church parking lot in my Underoos Spider-Man shirt to save the congregation from the Green Goblin.

Somehow, Spider-Man was my choice for my third and fourth birthday cakes. The cake's my first clear memory- I have been a Spider-Man fan longer than I can literally remember! (Popeye got the nod on #5.) Ditko's art adorned my much-beloved Spider-Man punching bag, too.

I drew superheroes, but especially Spider-Man, it seems like, all the time. The familiar costume design, I tried duplicating in untold homemade costumes. The mystery of the padlock on the dog pen was solved (and caused) by, the note said, "Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man!"

The concept of a teen with spider-inspired powers seems to have arisen with scripter Stan Lee. The split-face Spider Sense visual, the Spider Signal in his belt, Spider Tracers (invaluable in tracking villains who think they're getting away), and most of all, the double-tap, "I love you" sign language finger contortion activating that signature Spider device, the web-shooter all go back to Steve Ditko. His studio mate at the time, a bondage artist named Eric Stanton , once claimed credit for the webbing, and I think, the shooters. Here's what's undeniably Ditko: look at Spider-Man move! If you want to figure out how to draw Spider-Man- not just a man in his costume, but his unique poses- realize every Spider-artist has looked back to that three years- plus initial run. Agility, fighting style, and the sometimes unnerving ways he paces on the ceiling and furtively sneaks about: Steve Ditko's drawings gave Spider-Man, life!

To say nothing of how much Peter is the image of his creator's high school year book pics.
HEre's the page where the famous suit and web-shooters debut, during his origin story, Amazing Fantasy #15 (Aug. 1962).

Want to hear Steve Ditko? I know of no other recording of his voice. It's here:

Peter's clash with the dog-eat-dog freelance world, centered around the whims of the capricious, verbally-hectoring, sneaky, lying, upstanding citizen, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson, was absolutely money. Readers have long loved to hate JJJ, whose hatred of our hero is practically a clinical condition! But from the first year, some humanizing glimpses suggested a sympathetic portrayal beneath the buffoonery inspired by his greedy crusade to smash Spider-Man. He's awful, but he has redeeming qualities. Funny as Spider-Man is, riling him up, JJJ sometimes brings the worst out in Peter. Nobody's perfect! I have to say 1) there's a touch of realism planted here, regarding autocratic work places, and 2) the older readers became, the more I suspect they began to better understand our favorite crew-cutted baboon. He was Ditko's statement not only on tabloid journalism, but corporate greed at large. JJJ is both an enduring supporting character and a satirical dig at power and propaganda.

This was my first pure introduction to Ditko, thanks to View Master. My busy Dad had taken me out of our crowded house for a rare afternoon out together. That View Master and its three slides gave me hours of entertainment. Every frame was drawn by Steve Ditko. Steve's work gave a lot of parents, I suspect, a way to show their love.

With the reprint of this issue- the beginning of the Master Planner Trilogy-I began collecting Marvel Tales every month. I had almost a year of Ditko stories, counting the annual, to discover and enjoy. I did, too! Dated clothing styles and abrasive personalities were all simply taken into account as the lay of the land. I was just as excited to get my Marvel Tales on as I was by any new comic- often, much more! It took quite a while to make my pilgrimmage through all of Ditko's issues, but I finally did.
Ditko's designs and unique way of telling and setting up confrontations (and there's always a lot of conflict, between most people in Ditko stories, really) established a set of villains known to generations. They each came about with unique back stories. Here, one dozen of the most famous villains:

The Vulture (#2). Doctor Octopus (#3). Sandman (#4). The Lizard (#6). Electro (#9). The Enforcers (#10). Mysterio (#13). The Green Goblin (#14). Kraven The Hunter (#15). The Scorpion (#20). The First 'Spider-Slayer' robot commissioned by JJJ (#25). Those are some memorable super-villains! I might go one further and say, Molten Man (#28). Meanwhile, disguise master The Chameleon (#1), The Tinkerer (#2, albeit in a story that seemed to be about aliens!), The Living Brain robot (#8), inventor Norton G. Fester, the Looter (#36), a Guy Named Joe (#38) and inventor Mendell Strom (#37) round out the antagonists, along with a character I think Ditko created to fight Hulk, The Ringmaster (and his Circus of Crime, in Hulk #3) and The Beetle (fresh from a Human Torch spot in STrange Tales #119 think it was).

Childhoods have hosted some sampling of those guys- especially the ones above Molten Man, there- every since. That's a lot more designs to put out to the world. This was all done by 1965, the stellar villains I mentioned. Think about that.

I wonder if something about his mystical Dr. STrange journeys caused him to react even more strongly to, and embrace, Objectivism? A= A is a different philosophy than tales of black magic and battles of planes beyond those precious objective, quantifying senses.

"Unique"- I keep coming back to the word! HOw do you decide a man made of sand, fights? I've not even touched upon the intentionally-all-made up mysticism of Dr. Strange. Doc, I came to appreciate as an adult.
There's a lot of scholarship on the whole story- it would be great to actually know the entire process that brought each issue about, though by 1966, Lee described his contribution as more like "a crossword puzzle I'd fill in"- Steve conceived the plots and drew everything before his writer/ editor had even begun. That's where the collaboration ended up; that's documented. Those first two years- that's so much intellectual property. It's more than the sum of its parts, and that's undeniable, even as we puzzle over them. I am not trying out that rabbit hole- this is for someone who would like to know a bit more about this Spider-Man creator that died. If you never heard of him before July 7th, that's practically by his choice as much as by the press' affection for Stan Lee.
He gets more recognition in comics circles for his creative visual invention and serious, philosophy-inspired plotting than for the fact that, as an illustrator, the man's a terrific comedian.

With Jack Kirby on pencils, Steve inked the first true Marvel Team Up, a Human Torch story called "On The Trail Of Spider-Man" from Strange Tales Annual #2, 1963. That month saw the first two annuals with new material in the Marvel Age, the other being Fantastic Four Annual #1.

Steve Ditko's stint on Tales of Suspense gave us the red and gold template that became classic Iron Man.
He was bulky and golden, his first few appearances. The second tone and design, from Tales of Suspense #48, heralded the definitive Iron Man look.

Ditko gave us an transformed-by-emotion Hulk, at last. Bruce Banner went through many triggers (a self-made ray gun, night fall) for his change. It's during a Ditko issue the familiar manner of Banner's distress causing him to turn into the Hulk, debuts.

It's Ditko who gave us the second Blue Beetle, who became a beloved character over which I bonded with the best of friends. The same character inspired Nite Owl. It's fair to say Ditko's characters at Charlton, recreated anew out of proprietary necessity, became part of the single most influential storyline in comics after the architecture of fundamental Marvel, in The Watchmen by Alan Moore and David Gibbons.

Even Destructor at Atlas started out kind of cool and different, though the kind of legacy Image, Dark Horse or Valiant generated was not to be theirs. His friend Jack C. Harris displayed several pages of Batman concept drawings when he pitched for Detective in the late 1970s. "The powers that be said his concepts were too violent," Jack said. So, there were other ideas yet which never came to be!

The Question was his street-level Objectivist vigilante, the Charlton answer to his own Mr. A. A = A is the prime tenant of Obectivism, a philosophy the artist fully adopted in 1965.

ON the other end of Logic, there lurks the seeming madness of The Creeper, his DC creation.

I found him monthly in the last year's publication of Rom, which I bought while I was eleven. Terrific inker combos, stories that excited me. I was sorry to see Rom and Ditko go. But I'd finally see Rom again, ten years after Earth's final stand against the Dire Wraiths. I'd buy as many issues as I could find for a dime each, and my wife would make them her very first favorite series to read.

Mr. Ditko gave us Serling-flavored tales with surprising subtlety, from his first Timely assignment in 1955. He continued through the MOnster Age. Of note is the science fiction-twist anthology that settled on the name Amazing Fantasy, whose last issue gave us a throwaway character called Spider-Man. How novel, they thought, to do one of these Twilight Zone object lessons as the origin of a super powered guy who doesn't become a hero until, in his eyes, it's too late.
That was the only Spider-Man story Lee and Ditko had planned, you know.

The rest came along by demand.

Over a lifetime, I've spent more time drawing his Spider-Man design than any other single subject this side of my spouse. He created the other face, for our boundless energy, selflessness, and bravery. Then, a year later, his new idea, Dr. Strange, in eleven page monthly segments, depicted a mature man, dealing with criminals, but more readily engrossed in another face for our entire reality!

I don't wish to steal Ditko's words by way of quoting, but I want to make it clear he's Dr. Strange's intial creator:

Lee's comment (from The Comics Reader, 1963) that it was "Steve's idea" is confirmed by Ditko in The Avenging Mind (2008) where he writes: "On my own, I brought in to Lee a five-page, penciled story with a page/panel script of my idea of a new, different kind of character for variety in Marvel Comics. My character wound up being named Dr. Strange because he would appear in Strange Tales." The phrase "wound up" suggests that when Ditko brought in his five penciled pages to Lee, unsolicited, the hero's name was not "Dr. Strange" -- though what he was called at that early stage is not known (unless it was "Mr. Strange")

The name "Dr. Strange" was originally used by Stan Lee in Tales of Suspense #41, for an early, lost Iron Man villain- so it's likely he coined the "Doctor STrange" moniker so it'd fit with the anthology's title, STrange Tales. We may never exactly know.

Steve Ditko and STan Lee populated those dimensions with the dark side of our own passions, brought to rout only after great courage, curiosity, scholarship, meditation, and always, intitiative.

What I'm thinking about is, the heroes Ditko made creatively stood apart from humanity. They felt a loneliness. Often, little thanks or recognition came their way. Ditko wanted to illustrate and write mystery men. Authentically, he chose to become one.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Welcome to Summer- home edition

WE rolled out of bed so late you might be jelly if I told. NO time to lose! I wrapped the grill top, she lit her pyramid of coals while cloud cover kept things friendly. We worked in stages and watched all of General Hospital we could.

I helped Ang cook out the chicken thighs Mom prepared Tuesday night. I started them in the oven. I like mine just a bit more done, so I put mine and the remaining one back on the grill. She got our potatoes off without tearing them up, and noted the coolness of the outer grill. I used the residual heat of the oven to keep the sides and chicken warm. Final touches, and it's time for three plate loads. (I mean one each.)

Ang-my wife- went for a walk with me. I stopped to show her where I took on the thicket that had been growing up beside the ditch. With Grandpa White's old sling blade and Mom's old push mower, old Cecil came to realize how much stamina you'd really need to fight with swords and spears and shields and axes on a battlefield! It wasn't that hard, it just helped me appreciate how much strength ruled in old times, so many places and occasions. i chopped Bradley Pear limbs above me. I hacked, I mowed. I really enjoyed it. And, ow. But don't over do it, be determined not masochistic, and Epson Salts in your bath seem to help.

This whole suburban trip has given me so much more insight into my Dad's life, all the years he did these things here and in the places they raised us. I know it made him feel proud and he did not take having a home of his own for granted. I want to leave the home he worked so hard to have, better. Especially the yard situation. We creossed the lawn so obligingly mowed while I steped inside to cool off, by our neighbor Tim, with his awesome mower fit for a stadium job. His daughter loved trying to learn how to drive it with his guidance. I've seen this man outside my window, on a bike with his three kids and wife out in our street the other day. Tim is a true Dad. Hey, he was befriending the new neighbor, and while they were hanging out, they decided they'd seen me working away at it and maybe I'd appreciate new neighbor bringing over the weed eater and edging the curb, and Tim's Batmobile of Mowers, honestly, would be perfect for the situation I'm trying to turn around for MOm in her back yard. Sorry, weeds, but we've got your number after this round! But each year, you really should have preventative weed killing measures in place before spring. When you've never been a suburbanite in your adult life, you have this brand new puzzle. No, not "my" house, but as I walk around the neighborhood containing it, I see so many ideas worth incorporating. And what do you know, I can grow and help and make something even nicer on the eyes of what is a really lovely place. Good work, Dad.

Back in the living room at 8 pm, it's Mama and Ang and me. Thank God, I was in a good mood all day.

We had so much fun cutting up and playing Sorry! I always opt to play the heel if I’m doing well at first. It was pretty fun, lots of laughing, our first board game in a few weeks, for sure. Took me more than an hour to win- “the cards are cruel,” Ang said, as we were obliged to wipe each other out! Ice cream really was the logical conclusion. I split a banana for my Mom's, though I didn't have all the sundae stuff handy. I'll tell you, fat free peach frozen yogurt wasn't quite the taste I really longed for. It's those memories of 4th of July weekends at Uncle Frank and Aunt Vivian's house, that homemade peach ice cream on the back porch! We each remember eating this stuff that's so cold, you seem to feel the indiviudual blood vessels in your head, freezing! Then, like my wife says, you still have the head freeze, but you can't wait for it to go away so you can have the next bite!

I wish some guy would just be nice and take Mom’s hand like I just did Ang’s- you know, just a show of gentleness. She's a bit old-fashioned and still can spit fire, but she's tender hearted and loyal. We've been trying to cheer her up. I worked on the garbage and the floors and lawn Tuesday too. She's often tempted away to a trip she enjoys but from which she keeps coming home unhappy, thanks to the host. But today, we leave the romantic complications to the soap characters.
We’re just a wholesome family. Though my mother's stomach for revenge on those who might gloat for fun (me) is substantial! We all successfully turned the momentum of the game through each of us, only to end in a race to HOME with pretty even odds.


Ang is saying, “didn’t the universe seem to put together a ritual so we could enjoy it with the neighborhood and your Mom- without having to explain it?” It’s really been quite golden as days go, without requiring a special trip or anyone else. It will probably be down to me and Ang one day, but this can be the foundation of times that don’t have to be eroded by competing narratives in the future. We so often don’t get to keep our favorite parts of the past happening the same way. These joys and all others are transient. We need something more than those to sustain us between for sure, but even one single-second-thought raises the value of that past occurrence. It’s like, you have to keep eating, basically, but you can value memories of particular meals.

Togetherness. The neighbors coming over to help finish my Mom’s yard with me for a few minutes before dark. The eagle landing on Windrush Drive. The cook out we prepared and ate together. All we needed was everyone out of work on a day when we weren’t otherwise strapped for energy. I don’t think I rely on any ritual that’d be too hard to understand. But something very nice happened: Mom’s yard got a lot of work yesterday, some today, people came together to help each other and have fun. A family dinner table on a holiday with no quarrels is already a grand thing, but isn’t it great to discover these low-key moments we mark the passing of the season? Not every friend or family member is here to do so, in this cycle of the year, anymore, save in hearts and memories. This sort of togetherness is the true fabric of our civilization. This is what keeps us sticking around for more.

Happy Summer. Be Chill, Cease ill

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A talk with GA sci-fi novelist Matthew Curry

Whether sketching his distinctive portraiture or sculpting rustic Georgians and strange visitors with words, Matt Curry gets a fullfilment in putting life to paper that can only come with vocation. His seven books- from essays on art life pitfalls to misery-eating alien factory bosses-capture a flavor familiar to us living in Northwest Georgia this past decade. OUr talk explores the region's inspiration on the life, drawing eyes, and the dignity of capturing every day people in ARt. He's a thoughtful working class fellow, who you can know better by snagging a link.
Follow his musings

Or get a little more in-depth over the course of a trip to

And boom, links to his books on Amazon from there. He really appreciates the support and is thrilled to get feedback!

Be Chill, Cease ill