For over three decades, comic book artist Steve Ditko has refused to give interviews, developing a reputation as a recluse which has garnered comparisons to J.D. Salinger. Even before making a conscious decision to avoid publicity, he wasn't known to be the most gregarious individual. Most people who have met the artist describe him as neat, quiet and polite; just don't get him started on politics. Ditko doesn't feel the need to speak about his art, claiming his work speaks for itself. And his post-Spider-Man creative output speaks volumes.
After his departure from Marvel in the mid-1960s, Ditko returned to Charlton. At that time, the company's comic book editor, Dick Giordano, had been developing a line of superhero comics for the company. Ditko returned to working on his co-creation Captain Atom, as well as revamping the 1940s superhero Blue Beetle as a backup feature.
When Blue Beetle was given his own book, Ditko created a new backup feature for it, The Question, written by the artist, though attributed to a Charlton office boy. The Question was actually a watered down version of another Ditko creation, Mr. A., who began showing up around the same time. Mr. A, who took his name via Ayn Rand, from her usage of Aristotle's A=A, has appeared since the 1960s in a series of controversial Objectivist-influenced stories in independently produced publications, such as Wally Wood's Witzend. At the same time, Ditko's most political works began to appear in small publications put out by fans. Unlike many of the early Mr. A comics, which were essentially superhero stories, these comics eschewed plot and linear narration for what could be seen as comic book essays. Though difficult, these works combined Ditko's powerful art style with powerful political/philosophical convictions into results which were anything but ordinary.
Also during this furtive period, Ditko drew a handful of wonderfully rendered stories for Jim Warren's Creepy and Eerie magazines, edited and written by the talented Archie Goodwin. He also managed to contribute work for such publishers as Dell and Tower, even ACG. The Charlton action line wasn't a huge success, but in 1968 DC/National Comics took note of it enough to raid their stables, hiring Giordano and a number of artists and writers who had worked with him. At this time, Ditko created two series for DC. The first, The Creeper, was a visually stunning character with an insane laugh featured in mundane superhero tales. The second was Hawk & Dove, in which the titular characters were a pair of teenage boys with strange costumes, nebulous superpowers and extreme points of view: one advocating violence and the other pacifism, both to the point of inanity. These comics were plotted by Ditko and dialogued by another writer. This would be the case for a good deal of Ditko's more personal work for Marvel and DC, though he scripted his independently published comics.
Ditko soon left DC, supposedly because he was having problems with his eyesight, though he reportedly had more problems with editorial interference on his work. This was never a issue at Charlton, for whom Ditko worked until the company's demise in the 1980s. He would continue to do his political work throughout the decade for fan-based publications as well. In the mid-70s, he contributed to Martin Goodman's short-lived Atlas/Seaboard line of comics and did a little work for DC. Then in 1977, Ditko created and plotted Shade, The Changing Man for DC. It was a science fiction adventure with an over-arcing plot, utilizing some elements of Ditko's political and philosophical views and allowing the artist to create his own self-contained universe for the story-line. Unfortunately, the underrated series was a victim of what became known as the DC Implosion when, after a bad assessment of the marketplace, the company, feeling they had overreached, cancelled many of their comics. Ditko continued to do work on a number of minor series at DC, and at the end of the decade also returned to Marvel to work on such titles as Machine Man and Micronauts. His work on Marvel's ROM, a character based on a toy, in the mid-1980s has a garnered a cult following.
During the 1980s, independently published comics blossomed for a period due to the distribution system offered through the growing number of comic book specialty shops, and Ditko was a part of this movement, doing work for companies like Pacific Comics. One short-lived title of note was Ditko's World, an anthology of varied ongoing works by the artist published by Renegade, a company that included Ditko work in a number of their publications. This was part of an ongoing publishing collaboration between Ditko and Robin Snyder, who would work with the artist to put out many collections of his work through the years. In 1988, Ditko created Speedball, another teenaged superhero, for Marvel, and the artist plotted roughly half of the stories featuring the character. Another underrated series, the Speedball tales were somewhat of a throwback to Ditko's 1960s work and even featured some of the artist's philosophical leanings, though in muted form. These seem to be Ditko's last major creative input into a mainstream comic.
Even so, his work continues to appear in publications for various companies, with his art popping up in such places Big Boy and Tiny Toons. Ditko's real creative energies seem to be reserved for more political works, as well as a number of cryptic, Rand-inspired essays which have seen print over the years. In 1993, Dark Horse released the ambitious, Ditko-scripted The Safest Place in the World graphic novel, and he had a short fling in 1997 with Fantagraphics Books, which ended under a shroud of mystery. Yet the majority of Ditko's serious output over the last decade has been with Snyder, who has published many volumes of the artist's work, collecting hard to find older works as well as new stories infused with the creator's unique worldview. He recently made his most high-profile media spash after the release of the Hollywood film production of Spider-Man raised old questions as to the who deserves credit for the creation of the web-spinner character. Ditko continues to work in comics.
Kelly: Hello, this is writer Kelly Shane...
Woody: ...and artist Woody Compton, the creators of Is This Tomorrow? We've been asked to supply commentary for some of the strips in this deluxe DVD release. Kelly and I both have been looking forward to doing a strip on Ditko's Rand obsession for years. I'm not sure how many people are aware of this obsession, even amongst comic book fans. It was odd working on this, because we both enjoy Steve Ditko's work quite a bit. I mean, he kinda went nuts when he went full-out on the Objectivist stuff, but I enjoy his later work too. It's full of madness, obsession and lunacy! It is very unique and obviously intensely personal to him, and it shows in the work.
Kelly: Unlike the first Ditko strip we did, this second installment takes the form of a pastiche of Ditko's most didactic Objectivist-inspired work. Like that font we used, which looks kind of like the typewriter approach he used in some of his late 60s/early 70s independent comics.
Woody: I tried to add that flavor to half of the panels using characters Ditko actually put in his later work. The others use sort of generic Aryan uber-folk. I try to keep a balance of sorts when possible and it supports the subject matter.
Woody: Didn't we self censor on this one? The huge Aryan penis from the first panel? I'll recycle that one. It took forever to draw a full scale and reduce, then add in paste up. Maybe it will be a reoccurring character? I always try to re-use stuff when I can. I'm lazy I guess. I really should put more work into these strips as it supports my family and the staff of ITT!!!
Woody: The Question-looking Character always looks like Rorschach to me. It feels like I'm drawing the Watchmen. I'm also assuming few, if any, people reading this strip actually know the Watchmen. They should!
Kelly: I read that early that on Watchmen was supposed to feature all the Charlton heroes from the 1960s, like Captain Atom and Blue Beetle. Then Dick Giordano, who was involved at DC at the time, pointed out that the characters would be pretty much unusable at the end of the story, so Moore and Gibbons created new characters, and Rorschach was the stand-in for the Question. You know, Moore gave his character a sympathetic origin, but Ditko's Question was always kind of an asshole.
Woody: Looks like there is a Batman logo on his "six-pack". Are we gonna get sued for that too? It was purely by accident.
Kelly: Sure. Tell it to DC's lawyers. Hmm, I wonder how many Objectivists were first turned onto it through Ditko or Rush?
Woody: Rush sucks.
Kelly: Not that Rush.
Woody: Oh, well they suck too.
Kelly: No way, man. Neal Peart is rad.
Woody: The "Avenging World" was molded paper mache added to my globe at home, ruining it. Thankfully it was over the USSR part and that was really out of date, anyway. It sold on E-Bay for $12.65 with that part of it all soggy and bubbled up. My E-bay transactions were also part of the capitalism research. I bought and sold some stuff so I could understand the concept. The cityscapes were left over from our unfinished apocalyptic epic, right?
Kelly: Hey, I just send him the scripts, folks. What happens after that, I don't even want to know.
Woody: My next door neighbor actually modeled for the bum. He was tarring his roof and he always drinks when he does that so it was perfect for the raggedy man.
Woody: I hope Steve Ditko doesn't take this the wrong way. We love his stuff, even the way loony later stuff. We buy the later black and white stuff.
Kelly: Yeah. Well, we wouldn't have gone to the trouble of doing this strip if we didn't love his work. Thanks for listening. Hope you're enjoying the deluxe Is This Tomorrow? DVD.
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