Book review: The Art of Ditko


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


  1. I’ve never been much into superheroes, but I had the opportunity to see an art exhibit recently about superhero art with the originals for one of Ditko’s Spider-Man stories. I could have spent an hour just looking at his composition and brush work.

  2. Always worth mentioning (although I’m guessing that about 95% of BB readers know it already) that Ditko created or co-created most of the Charlton Comics superhero characters that would become the inspiration for Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen; in particular, The Question (as well as Mr. A) heavily inspired Rorschach.

  3. Thank you for writing this post. I’m a big fan Steve Ditko; I’ve learned to appreciate his style of art ever since I was a child. Now that I children, I hope it meets the same standard of entertainment as it met mine, when I was growing up.

    -Maurizio Maranghi

  4. Ditko was really one of the poorest artists Marvel ever employed. Maybe in today’s comic art climate — where being able to draw accurately isn’t a pre-requisite — it’s appropriate that he have a revival of sorts.

  5. Steve Ditko is, politically, just plain wrong. His philosophical views and presentations are clumsy and simplistic. However, he’s a brilliant comic book artist and creator.

    The only thing about buying this book that bothers me is that Craig Yoe solicited an introduction from Stan Lee, whose name doesn’t deserve to be listed as “co-creator” on anything created by Ditko and Kirby. Oh, well.

    1. > Stan Lee, whose name doesn’t deserve to be listed as “co-creator” on anything created by Ditko and Kirby.

      That’s bollocks. I remember when Kirby returned to the Marvel Comics Group in the 1970s and took over Captain America for almost 2 years for issues 193-214. Kirby handled the jobs of writer and artist for those issues, and it was clear that he was nowhere up to the standards of writing and plotwork which had been common in the days when Stan Lee did the writing which Jack Kirby stuck to the art. If anyone is noteworthy as a great writer/artist in combination it would be Jim Starlin, not Kirby or Ditko.

      Kirby’s stint at Captain America was especially disappointing because it followed after Steve Englehart’s term as the writer for Captain America. Englehart was a great comicbook writer and the drop in quality of plot and writing really showed when Kirby took over. There’s just no way of accounting for such a gap when compared to the issues which Lee and Kirby did together except by taking into account Stan ‘The Man’ Lee’s contribution.

  6. Very much agreed that Yoe turned out a nice anthology of Ditko’s work, but the best book -about- Ditko and his work remains Blake Bell’s “Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko”.

    Regarding Anonymous #5: I recognize some of Ditko’s work can be considered an acquired taste, but I am wondering who you consider one of the better artists Marvel ever employed.

    Me, I love Ditko’s work: Not just the confident linework, but that he was able to come up with so many unique ways of laying out a story on the page yet at the same time remained totally comprehensible to his readers.

  7. Steve Ditko was a huge inspiration to me when I was a teenage budding artist. His figures in action are the most dynamic of any comic artist of his time. He even draws hands dynamically! His composition, page layout, and command of anatomy are all top notch. My favorites of his are the work he did for the Warren magazines CREEPY and EERIE created with ink washes, arguably his finest work. I love the bizarre “other dimensions” he creates, most notably in Dr. STRANGE. The original first 33 issues of SPIDERMAN which he co-created, drew, and plotted are masterpieces and in my opinion the finest superhero work ever!

    I have not seen this new book on Ditko, but since it has lots of his more obscure work I will have to add it to my collection.

  8. Agree with everyone, anthology of Ditko’s work is very nice and I really love the Blake Bell’s “Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko”. And I also like when Ditko came up with so many unique ways how story delivered and very interesting for us readers. | ffxiv gil

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