Book review: The Art of Ditko

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I was never much of a fan of Steve Ditko, the cartoonist who created Spider Man and Dr. Strange. Not because I had a special dislike for those two characters, but because I was and still am lukewarm on superheroes. (I'd rather read Little Lulu or Uncle Scrooge than a superhero comic book.) The only creation of Ditko's that I was passingly familiar with was his 1960s Ayn Randian hero, Mr. A, which I came across in a Fantagraphics anthology that I'd spent a few hours with one day in the 1980s. I can say two good things about Mr. A: one, the design and art is really cool and weird, and two, Mr. A's mechanical affect and self-righteous logorrhea succeeded in snuffing out any ember of objectivism still smoldering from my college days' reading of The Fountainhead.

When Craig Yoe told me last year that he was publishing an anthology of Steve Ditko, I thought, if anyone could make an interesting book about Ditko, it's Craig.

For years, Craig was the creative director of The Muppets, working closely with Jim Henson. He was also the senior designer at Marvin Glass, the crazy toy and game company responsible for many of my childhood treasures: Ants in the Pants, Dynamite Shack, Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, Gnip Gnop, Hands Down, Haunted House, Lite Brite, Odd Ogg, Operation, Mouse Trap, Time Bomb, Tip-It, and Toss Across. Craig is also a fine cartoonist and comic book historian of the first water. Last year he wrote a remarkable book about the sad fate of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, who ended up becoming an illustrator for seedy fetish pamphlets.

So I received The Art of Ditko with an open mind, which was promptly blown even wider by the stunning presentation, the selection of 30 full-color stories from the '50s to the '70s, and the essays written by comic industry folks who worked with Ditko (who lives a Salinger/Pynchon-esque life of reclusivity these days).

The Art of Ditko hasn't changed my opinion of Ditko's political philosophy, but I now understand why many comic art aficionados consider him a master of comic book art and panel design. Craig's book revealed to me a genius I had ignored my entire life.

The Art of Ditko

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