Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ten Reasons Why I Like Steve Ditko Just A Little More Than Jack Kirby

After reading the fascinating "Strange And Stranger: The World Of Steve Ditko" by Blake Bell this past weekend, I have decided that I like Ditko just a little bit more than his fellow Marvel Comics legend Jack Kirby. And I'll tell you why.

10. I Love The Slightly More Kooky Types

They are always more interesting.

9. I Met Ditko

Granted, he only opened the door a sliver to take the envelope I was delivering to him. But, now I too am part of the legend.

8. He Shamelessly Let His Personal Philosophy Send His Book Off The Rails

The story in Bell's book of how Ditko let his Ayn Randian viewpoint virtually hijack Spider-Man is a must-read. See point #10.

7. He Did His Time Doing Soft-Core Fetish Art

Kirby might have had to do romance comics, but Ditko had him beat.

6. His Acid-Trip Imagery Was Better Than Kirby's

Yes Kirby had those trippy collages. But, Ditko's Dr. Strange backgrounds were hardcore.

5. He Created That Iconic Peter Parker "Spidey Half-Face" Shot

For that alone he deserves an Eisner, as well as a full pension.

4. He Refuses To Do Work That Goes Against His Ideals

Which allowed him to turn down a Batman assignment for having "supernatural elements," for example, while drawing "Chuck Norris And His Karate Kommandos" was perfectly ok.

3. Hands

I'll take Ditko's impossibly-jointed, flexible fingers over Kirby's squared-off hands any day.

2. Shade The Changing Man, The Creeper, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and The Question

No, they're not The Hulk, Thor, and the rest. They're just f**king awesome.

1. Speedball And Squirrel Girl

'Nuff said.

"Strange And Stranger: The World Of Steve Ditko" is currently available from Fantagraphics Press


  1. I agree with all of this, and I'll add another; the oddness, the strangeness, the quirkiness of his art is pretty much impossible for any other artist to capture. Kirby homages are aplenty; when was the last time you saw an artist successfully imitate Ditko? They usually just throw up their hands and go for Romita when trying to do "classic" Spider-Man. Romita himself has remarked on the impossibility of following Ditko. The book's visual style just had to change to a more traditonal look.

    He has a unique visual style never seen before or since, and I think that, more than anything other than the teenage angst, is what made Spider-Man stand out.

  2. when i was about 12 years old, i took a tour of the Marvel offices with my patient parents.

    as we sat in the lobby, a tall, slender man walked by, looked at me for half a second, and then walked out of the lobby.

    later, when i finally saw a picture of Steve Ditko, i realized it was him--STEVE DITKO happened to be at Marvel the exact moment i was.

    had i known that, i would've busted a gut.


  3. Anonymous1:17 AM

    Yeah I agree. Ditko's work was just more interesting than Kirby's. He was like Martin Scorcese compared to Kirby's Tony Scott. Also for some odd reason Ditko's work always reminded me vaguely of old Chinese paintings. I wouldn't be suprised if he was directly influenced by them. There are a lot of similarities, especially in his poses and hand gestures.

  4. Anonymous1:24 AM

    Oh yeah, and as far as Ditko imitators go, I think Ron Frenz did a pretty decent job of evoking Ditko on his Spider-man run back in the 80's.

  5. Ok Val. I'm leaving my wife for you :D


    I have most everything that he has done in mainstream books in one format or another.

    I have picked up a lot of his "indie" stuff when I can/could (funds are very tight right now...) Damn car repairs and flooded basements!!!

    I gotta get this book...

    Ditko was the reason I wanted to be a comic book artist .... talent is the reason I wasn't ;)


  6. Brilliant, thanks for posting.

    It's true, that as far as explicit influence early Jim Starlin uses alot of Ditko tropes. But the real heir I think is Gilbert Hernandez. Look at early Heartbreak Soup. I think Ditko was kind of the link between Beto & an older generation of cartoonists that then influenced him like Caniff.

  7. I've actually been doing a lot of studying of Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, and recently, Steve Ditko. Jack Kirby has a really nice, clean style that is very easy to imitate (when he's inked by the right people). He could be a fantastic illustrator, did really good work, instantly recognizable, created and drew some of mainstream comics' most popular characters...there's a reason why he is often a fixture of influence in those Twomorrow Publishing Artists books.

    Ditko, on the other hand, has a pretty striking style, but is far more difficult to imitate. A lot of the decisions he made as far as composition, inking, line work, are all very unique to Ditko. His shadows and figures follow different rules, and only are acceptable because of Ditko's ability to translate it all onto the page coherently.

    I can't think of anyone imitating Ditko at all. Thinking about it a bit, I think Kevin O'Neill falls into the same camp.

  8. James Fry III did a real nice Ditko riff.

    Steve Ditko > Jack Kirby in my book, always. Ditko's work was always more sophisticated and unique. Only "New Gods" ever came close, which helps explain its commercial failure...

  9. I agree with everything you said for all the reasons you said.

  10. #2 and #1 are powerful arguments indeed. It's fair to say Blue Beetle, The Question and Speedball are some of my all-time favorite characters. That said, I came to love post-Ditko treatments of them.

    It really wigged me out when I learned that they all originated in a worldview so antithetical to mine.

    But I do love them. Especially the big Q.

  11. I followed the link to the Bell site, which led to the LA Times review of his book. I had a hard time getting past the first sentence: ". . . Frank Miller, the most important comic book artist of the last 25 years."

    At one point that might have been true, but even with the success of 300, I don't see it. Consider the MVP debate in sports: If you took away Frank Miller's work since 1983, how different would comics be?

    Not significantly.

    Anyway, when I was a kid in the 60s, Ditko and Wally Wood had the two styles that I loved the most. It wasn't until later that I appreciated Kirby.

    What I liked about Ditko's art, especially with Spider-Man is his hero wasn't bulky or musclebound. Spider-Man looked like a kid (which is one reason I didn't like Romita).

    But one of Ditko's weaknesses compared to Kirby was the overall page layout. I loved Ditko's individual panels, but a Kirby page worked together much better.

  12. I love Ditko, but I will always prefer the seismic power and endless creativity of Jack Kirby.

    And Stevepalooza lost me when he compared Jack Kirby to Tony Scott. Ditko as a Scorsese avatar I can see. But Tony Scott has no soul. Jack Kirby was ALL soul. Tony Scott makes empty garbage flicks for mercenary purposes, while Kirby really BELIEVED in what he was doing.

    Find another comparison. If you can. I don't think there is one. Kirby's more personal work wasn't popular enough to justify comparing him to mainstream sellouts, and he was too prolific to make him out to be an Orson Welles or Stanley Kubrick- although his career did have certain parallels to theirs. The pioneering, influential aspect of Welles and the cosmic, personalized storytelling of Kubrick.

    And also the ability to confound and confuse people in the same way.

    I like Jarrett Duncan's analysis much better.

    Kirby seemed to do gods and archetypes par excellence, while Ditko handled the common everyday hero more adroitly. On the other hand, Kirby liked rough-hewn working class types like Dan "Terrible" Turpin so it's difficult to generalize.

    What I love about Ditko's work is the funky impressionist quality. Kirby is almost an expressionist with his collages and bursts of energy dots and almost abstract space scenes and cityscapes. While Ditko was down in the back alleys, finding a kind of grace in puny kids like Peter Parker.

    Ultimately, though, I believe Kirby to be more of a humanist. He seemed to believe more in the innate goodness of humanity from some internal wellspring, while Ditko's take on heroism is pretty much canned Objectivism.

    In the end it's kind of self-defeating to compare them too much. You end up getting into this either-or false competition thing that leads people to make half-baked movie director analogies in order to downgrade one in favor of the other when both are legends and anyone should be equally capable of loving both even if the proportion of said love is somewhat subjective.

  13. Oh... and by that "either-or" stuff, I didn't mean you. Just some of the comments. I really dug the article itself! I love to read Ditko-love!