In Memory Of Steve Ditko


Self-Portrait of Steve Ditko

To many of us longtime comic book fans, Steve Ditko was an enigma.

We knew that, as the original artist on The Amazing Spider-Man and as the creator of Doctor Strange, Steve Ditko was responsible for much of Marvel’s early success.  Though he would never make a cameo appearance in an MCU film and the mainstream media will probably always continue to act as if Stan Lee is solely responsible for every character in the Marvel Universe, true fans know that, without Steve Ditko, Benedict Cumberbatch would never have cast as spells as Doctor Strange and Tom Holland would never have swung through New York as everyone’s favorite web slinger.

We all knew of Steve Ditko’s talent but the man himself remained a mystery.  He rarely gave interviews or made public appearances, saying that he preferred to let his work speak for itself.  And what work it was!  With Spider-Man, Ditko’s art captured not just the excitement of fighting criminals and saving the world but also the angst and anxiety of being young and overburdened.  With Doctor Strange, Ditko brought magic, both literally and figuratively, to the Marvel Universe.  Filling the pages with surrealistic images and out-of-this-world creations, Ditko kept Marvel relevant even as youth culture made the transition from the optimism of the Kennedy era to the drug-influenced psychedelia of the late 1960s.

Ditko left Marvel in 1966.  The exact story of his departure are unknown.  Perhaps, as a committed and outspoken Objectivist, Ditko chafed at the editorial restrictions that Marvel put on his work.  While Stan Lee wanted to sell comics, Steve Ditko wanted to reach minds.  After leaving Marvel, Ditko worked for several different companies, including Charlton and DC.  (He even returned to Marvel in 1979 and regularly contributed freelance work to the company.)  The best-known of his later creations was Mr. A, a reporter-turned-masked-vigilante who dispensed of criminals with uncompromising justice.

Despite his reputation for eccentricity, most people who worked with him described Ditko as being personable and cheerful.  According to Charlton’s Frank McLaughlin, “He was a very happy-go-lucky guy with a great sense of humor at that time, and always supplied the [female] color separators with candy and other little gifts.”

On June 29th, Steve Ditko was found dead in his New York apartment.  Rest in peace, Mr. Ditko.  Thank you for sharing your imagination with us.

From The Amazing Spider-Man #33:

In Strange Tales, Ditko introduced my favorite of all of Marvel’s “cosmic” entities, Eternity:

And finally, the character who may have been closest to Ditko’s worldview, Mr. A:

Rest in Peace, Steve Ditko (1927-2018)


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The world lost a true artistic visionary when Steve Ditko passed away at age 90. He had supposedly been dead two days before his body was found in his New York City apartment, an ignoble ending to one of comic book’s most unique artists, the man who co-created Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, two characters currently riding high in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That their spiritual father should leave this mortal coil so anonymously is a tragedy, and a crying shame.

Ditko’s work will never be mistaken for a Jack Kirby or Neal Adams, or any of their myriad imitators. His art was deceptively simple, yet so complicated in its execution. He’s all angles and motion, with lots of empty spaces. His was a style all his own, a style that fans loved for its singularness. Ditko, after a post-war stint in the Army, entered the comics field in 1953, working…

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TOMAHAWK Fights The War of Independence – in Comic Books!


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There weren’t very many comic-book heroes (super or otherwise) whose adventures took place during the Revolutionary War era. In fact, I can only think of one – DC’s Tomahawk, who made his four-color debut in Star-Spangled Comics #69 back in 1947. Tomahawk fought not only the British, but Indian co-conspirators in the pages of Star-Spangled and World’s Finest, getting his own book in 1950, which had a 140 issue run until folding in 1972.

Writer Ed France Herron and artist Fred Ray produced the bulk of Tomahawk’s tales, and being a comic book there were some sci-fi elements added during the 50’s, and campy super villains in the 60’s. Tomahawk even introduced America’s first superheroine Miss Liberty, a frontier nurse by day who fought alongside Tomahawk in 22 issues. In honor of the July 4th holiday, here’s a gallery of covers chronicling the thrilling stories of Tomahawk:



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This 4th Of July, Make The World Safe For Democracy With These Patriotic Super Heroes!


This 4th of July, while celebrating America’s birthday, don’t forget that there was a time when superheroes not only starred in movies but also made the world safe for democracy!  From World War II, here is a gallery of patriotic super heroes fighting for the freedoms that we enjoy today!

Not even the most powerful of heroes could do it alone.  For that reason, when they weren’t beating the enemy in their own backyard, they were encouraging their readers to support the armed forces by buying war bonds.

Over the course of World War II, 85 million Americans purchased war bonds totaling an estimated $185 billion.

Finally, what other way to end this patriotic post than with a musical tribute to the Star-Spangled Man With A Plan?

And to all the real, flesh-and-blood heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice to save the world from tyranny, thank you.

Pulp Fiction #2: The Man of Steel Turns 80!


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On April 18, 1938, National Publications presented Action Comics #1, showcasing typical comic book fare of the era like master magician Zatara, sports hero Pep Morgan, and adventurer Tex Thompson. And then there was the red-and-blue suited guy on the cover…

Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men… who can change the course of mighty rivers… bend steel in his bare hands… and so on and so forth! Eighty years ago tomorrow, Superman made his debut and changed the course of mighty comic book publishers forever. An immediate hit with youthful readers, Superman headlined his own comic a year later, spawned a slew of superhero imitators, became a super-merchandising machine, and conquered all media like no other before him!

Wayne Boring’s Superman

And to think he came from humble beginnings. No, not the planet Krypton, but from the fertile…

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Mini Kus! Round-Up : “Nausea,” “Collection,” “Master Song,” And “Resident Lover”


For fans of international “art comics,” there’s no more exciting package to receive in the mail than the latest four-pack of minis from Latvian publisher Kus! — you never know what a new batch from them will have to offer, but you can be certain that, one way or another, it’s going to be challenging, thought-provoking, idiosyncratic stuff, so solid is the Kus! track record. And so, with their latest quartet hot off the presses, then (printed, as always, in full and lavish color on top-quality paper stock and featuring heavy cardstock covers), now would pretty much be the perfect time to give ’em all the once-over, would it not? Why don’t we do just that —

Nausea by Abraham Diaz (Mini Kus! number 63) is a wild ride through the socio-economic gutters of Mexico City, infused with a hard-edged immediacy and vulgarity that the lazy might call “punk,” but is probably more accurately described as “nihilistic.” The narrative is linear enough after a fashion, but definitely scattershot, and the same can be said of the art, which certainly calls to mind the early-career works of Gary Panter and Lloyd Dangle, but with a decidedly more dangerous undercurrent. Diaz has been plumbing these sorts of depths for some time in woks like Suicida, and shows no signs of “mellowing out” when it comes to depicting the underside of the underside of the underside of his home city. A visceral gut-punch that’ll leave you reeling — and, frequently, laughing in spite of yourself.

Collection by Pedro Franz (Mini Kus! number 64) is an emotive series of images, with accompanying text, that sees the noted Brazilian cartoonist/fine artist filtering a series of melancholic reminiscences of various childhood injuries through the lens of another set of memories — those of the racks n’ stacks that once populated expat Mexican artist Ulises Carrion’s quasi-legendary Amsterdam books/art/comics shop Other Books and So. Of the four offerings under our metaphorical microscope today, this one is admittedly the most difficult to get a firm “handle” on, so personal is Franz’ vision and methodology, but it more than returns the investment of time you’re willing to put into it by revealing new depths not only of the work itself, but of your own reactions to it, with each successive re-reading. My best advice? Try feeling, rather than thinking, your way through this one and see if the at-first-glance oblique connective tissue holding it together becomes less so as you absorb not only the cartoonist’s offerings, but the intent behind them. This is a comic that may very well mean something entirely different to each reader.

Master Song by Francisco Sousa Lobo (Mini Kus! number 65) is a strictly-formatted (four panels per page) character study of a complex, no-doubt-emotionally-damaged young nanny in London who harbors anti-Semitic views and a deep passion for the risible novel Fifty Shades Of Grey, and if that sounds like a combination for internalized conflict of the most harrowing sort, well — it is. Emily, our protagonist, isn’t what one would call a sympathetic character by any stretch of the imagination, but Lobo does a masterful job of making you feel her emptiness and longing as she seeks fulfillment of her jumbled fantasy life by means of anonymous bar hook-ups that are, of course, doomed to disappoint. The simplicity of the cartooning and text in this comic stands in stark contrast to, while simultaneously drawing out, the depth of the painful self-examination Emily is constantly drifting into/out of, and the clinical dispassion with which she analyzes her own existence is at once disconcerting and, somehow, logical. A work of sparse and haunting beauty delineating a person’s near-complete sense of estrangement from their own life that raises a million probing questions, the most prominent for this reader/critic being — how does one process an alienation so deep-seated that one is even alienated from it? Sosa is a Portuguese talent that I admit to having been unfamiliar with previous to this, but I will be eagerly hunting down whatever works of his I can find in the very near future.

Resident Lover by Roman Muradov (Mini Kus! number 66) is one of those comics that almost manages to leave me at a loss for words — almost. I’ve read this through eight times now, and came away more impressed each time. Ostensibly a story about love that conspicuously never mentions love once, it’s actually something far more than that — a study of duality, symmetry, and identity (or lack thereof) that poses the same query a more youthful version of myself was floored by in the early-days Tears For Fears single Change, “Where does the end of me become the start of you?” Muradov’s cartooning is a mass of beautifully-balanced contradictions : rich yet austere, symbolic yet literal, mechanical yet organic, static yet fluid —- it’s no wonder that this Russian “import” now based in San Francicso has seen his work featured prominently in everything from The New Yorker to Vogue to GQ to The Paris Review. Visual poetry gets no more poignant and absorbing than this — prepare to spend hours poring over its mysteries and magnificence.

Once again, then, our friends at Kus! have outdone themselves with perhaps their strongest slate of new offerings yet, and the only thing better than buying each of them is buying them all together for the bargain price of $19 — with free shipping to the US! No need to hem and haw over this decision, get off my website now and get over to https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/29745014/mini-ku-63-64-65-66

 

“Is The Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman” : Here Comes Box Brown To Save The Day


Don’t look now, but it appears as though Box Brown is making a concerted play for the title of “Best Biographer In Comics” — and he’s doing it by telling the life story of a guy who held a title of his own, that of “World Intergender Wresting Champion.”

Yup, dadaist comedian Andy Kaufman is back under the media microscope in a big way, and it makes all the sense in the world that the cartoonist who chronicled the exploits of Andre The Giant and the history of Tetris in his previous volumes for First Second (who also publish his latest) would be the guy to do it. Kaufman’s never really left the spotlight entirely, of course — his tragically early death, combined with his singularly bizarre (and I mean that in the best possible way) career are more than enough to ensure that his legend will always carry on — but detailed looks at the man behind such memorable characters are Latka Gravas and Tony Clifton have been few and far between. Academy Award-winning director Milos Forman gave it his best shot with Man On The Moon nearly twenty years ago (the title being taken from R.E.M.’s song about Andy — which also never seems to go away completely), but despite a stellar starring turn from Jim Carrey, who absolutely inhabited the role (or should that be roles?) of Kaufman, I think most would agree that the film didn’t quite manage to pierce the veil of its own subject. And so now it falls to Brown to humanize this most alien of talents, and with his graphic novel Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, he (spoiler alert) manages to do it — at least to a greater degree than has been done in the past.

The fleshing-out of important members of “Team Kaufman” such as writing partner/Tony Clifton fill-in Bob Zmuda, girlfriend Lynne Margulies, and manager George Shapiro go some way toward answering the books’ titular question for us, as does a more-than-cursory examination of the future comic’s early years and of his relationship with his family throughout his life. Brown being Brown, though, you pretty much know going in that one particular aspect of Kaufman’s career is going to get the most attention — his turn as a pro wrestling bad guy.

Cue some rather curious side-bars — such as Brown devoting something like 15 pages to a re-telling of the career of Kaufman’s main “nemesis,” Jerry “The King” Lawler , as well as a relating of the history and minutiae of Memphis regional wrestling in general — that very nearly run the book off the rails, and yet things come back together more or less just in time to prevent your interest from waning, even if it is rather curious, to say the least, that Brown spends more time on the Kaufman/Fred Blassie one-off video Breakfast With Blassie than he does on Kaufman’s entire five-year stint on Taxi. Go Figure.

Still, for every lapse in judgment like that, there’s at least one strong choice that Brown makes to ensure that your faith in his storytelling abilities never wanes. He makes it clear, for instance, that yes, Kaufman’s entire “thing” was an act (or, if you prefer, a series of acts), and shows enough of the comedian away/apart from his various ingeniously-constructed personas so that readers finally have a fairly solid handle on where Andy ends and, say, the “foreign guy,” or the misogynist wrestler, begins. This takes a deft touch, to be sure, but the disarmingly straight-forward script is aided in no small part by Brown’s smartly minimalist cartooning that draws special attention to differences in body language, facial expression, etc. that let you know when various “switches” are “flipped.” No one will ever accuse Brown of having a hugely varied repertoire as an illustrator, but his rote and basic forms and figures carry a degree of nuance that their ostensible “simplicity” wouldn’t necessarily be assumed to be capable of conveying. There’s also something of the frank and absurd to Brown’s style that fits this material perfectly — as if something utterly unique unto itself is being communicated in a visual language we can all understand.

A style as no-frills as Brown’s is also highly adaptable, and so whether Kaufman is portraying Elvis, Latka, Tony Clifton, or Lawler’s foil in the ring, the panels transition into each role nearly as seamlessly as did the comic himself. At the end of the day, though, Box Brown’s greatest triumph with Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman lies in the fact that, perhaps for the first time (and thanks, no doubt, to the assistance and participation he was able to obtain from the late performer’s family, particularly his brother, Michael), he finds a way to show Kaufman  — at every phase of his life and career, from his earliest years to his ascension of showbiz’s heights to his painful final days — as his most complex and compelling character of all : himself.