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Tag Archives: Ditko

2021 Ditko Convention Interviews by Alex Grand

Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.

In the meantime enjoy the show:

Click above to experience 2021 Ditko Con held by his family, and click below read my report on my overall experience of the Ditko Convention and the complexities of maintaining Steve Ditko’s legacy at The Comics Journal.  Interview texts farther below:

Alex Grand:
Well we’re here at the Ditko convention here in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, this is my friend, Mark Ditko, how are you doing, Mark?

Mark Ditko:
I’m doing good, exciting.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. This is an exciting time. This is actually kind of the first time that I’ve seen, that there’s been such a celebration on Ditko as an artist, writer, and storyteller. What’s some of the take home points that people should know about your uncle, Steve Ditko, and what he’s contributed to the world of comics and storytelling in general?

Mark Ditko:
We have to do a nine hour interview, but you know what, I think a lot of people know Steve Ditko and know his career, Spider-man, Dr. Strange, all that stuff, 70 years of comics, and what this really is focused on is him as a person. That he had an alternate life, that he was a… I’ll say a regular guy, but with a strong philosophy. So this is more trying to emphasize the personal take on who he was and dispel some of the rumors, and get more people to understand who he was even right out of his hometown in Johnstown.

Alex Grand:
And something I noticed coming to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, you could really get a sense that it’s a small town, and that it gives you a sense of, he was a small town guy that was living in a big city, and pioneering comic storytelling. Does that fit into how we should try to interpret him as a person?

Mark Ditko:
Oh yeah, no doubt. And that’s really kind of the bigger point, is he wasn’t reclusive, he wasn’t all the other adjectives, he was just from a small town, and he had a passion for a career path, he wanted to do comics, he always wanted to do comics, that’s what he did. He was committed, he went to the big city, probably helped when he went over to Germany for a couple years, that he was able to kind of break out of the Johnstown, small town, vibe box. But he was committed, he had a passion for what he wanted to do, and he went and did it, and he was a professional at it.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. And that’s, I think, something that he expected also the people… Of his employers, that he expected them to be as professional as he was, and I think that’s one of the reasons why he was very select with where he was working, and what stories he was working on. What is your personal favorite era of Ditko? There is 50s Charlton, there’s early 60s Marvel, later 60s Warren, the DC. Then you have the Mr. A period that followed after, that he worked on for a long time. What’s your favorite?

Mark Ditko:
I’m a big Ditko fan. So I got to say if I had to isolate some… I don’t know that I have a favorite. I love his Warren work, that to me is just so unique. I love, love, love Mr. A, but I was going through the comics that he sent me from the 50s, the early Marvel stuff, the five pagers, mind boggling stuff, the volume and the impact, the energy that’s in there, I love that stuff. To me, there’s a couple eras. This is early Marvel stuff, pre-superhero stuff, his Warren stuff, and I love Mr. A.

Alex Grand:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) That’s cool. And so now how did this Ditko convention get together? I’m surprised there haven’t been more of these already. Was it a difficult process?

Mark Ditko:
Matt lamb, the creative director here at Bottleworks was always a Ditko fan. He has his own collection, memorabilia and stuff in comics. There’s a very strong comic community here. When he found out… Which he didn’t know originally, that Steve Ditko was from here, it was a no brainer. He was immediately interested. This is what they do down here at Bottleworks, and then once I got him in touch with… I was obviously interested, once I got him in touch with my brother, Pat and my dad, they were on board, and then it was just a matter of logistics.

Alex Grand:
That’s awesome. Well, I’m glad you’re doing it. I’m really glad to be here, and thank you for showing us around this convention center a little bit. You’re also going to show us the exhibit a little bit later. So we’re all very excited about that.

Mark Ditko:
Looking forward to it. There’s a good exhibit over there. A lot of people have come in from out of state. It’s been a nice influx of people almost every day. So yeah, the more the merrier.

Alex Grand:
Further adventures here at the Ditko convention in Johnstown, PA. This is a former executive editor over at Marvel comics, Carl Potts. Carl, how are you doing?

Carl Potts:
I’m doing well, thanks.

Alex Grand:
So we interviewed Carl at the Comic Book Historians podcast. It’s fun to actually talk to him in person as well. Carl, what brings you to the Steve Ditko convention? What was some of your most precious memories of being exposed to Steve Ditko’s work?

Carl Potts:
Well, my first exposure was a house ad for Spider-man that was in one of the early issues of Sergeant Fury, which were my first Marvel books. And I got turned onto the rest of the Marvel line through those. And the Ditko stuff just totally different, unique way of having the figures bounce around the page, and for Spider-Man’s poses and the way he did things. It’s like, if there’s a human that could do this, that is how they would have to look. I love the way he did anatomy, I learned my basic initial anatomy lessons from him. When I was a junior, my high school art teacher asked me where I learned anatomy, I said “Steve Ditko.” And it always stuck with me. Perhaps my all time favorite issue of a Marvel comic is the second Spidey annual Dr. Strange, because Dr. Strange is also one of my all time favorite characters, and it still baffles me sometimes that both those very different characters sprang from the same mine.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, they’re very different, because one’s kind of urban, and the other one’s in a mystical, other dimensional plane.

Carl Potts:
Yeah, and for someone, especially who later in life started trying to concentrate more on real life kind of stuff instead of the more fantastical elements, unless it was a horror story, it just seemed so unusual for him to come up with a mystical character for someone who was based on science and fact and all this stuff, very interesting.

Alex Grand:
Right, because the Mindless Ones, and Dormammu’s zone that he lived in, in that other dimension, none of that feels very objectivist to me. So I agree there was something extra going on with Ditko that was really creative, and his faces and hands were really unique.

Carl Potts:
His hands actually often did that. I was just talking to somebody about when he’d visit at the office, he’d often have his fedora in one hand, and his tan raincoat on the other. If he’s standing in the door, he’d put the hand holding a fedora in his hip with the finger displayed like this, and those were his hand gestures. He was exaggerating a bit, but not as much as people think.

Alex Grand:
What are some interesting interactions that you… Or while you were at Marvel, that people had with Steve Ditko?

Carl Potts:
One time I asked him to pencil a story for our self-parody magazine, What The–?!, and he said “well, I don’t believe in parodying heroes, only villains. So if you have a story that does that, I’d be happy to do it.” So I asked Mark Greenwald, and he wrote a parody of Secret Wars villains, and Steve Penciled it, and John Severin inked it, came out great. His convictions did affect his decisions on what he did or didn’t do, just an interesting guy. He’d come by the office once in a while and just stop in, pop his head in and start talking, often he’d go on some philosophical or sociopolitical thing. And when he got going, it was hard to interject anything. And I felt kind of weird if I did, so he could go on for a long time, but he wasn’t shy with his opinions, but he didn’t just assume that everybody was going to take everything he said as the, be all and end all on a particular subject, just very fascinating guy.

Carl Potts:
When I was a kid and I first saw his work, I couldn’t have imagined actually working with him on anything or meeting him or whatever. And I hear all these stories about people who never got a chance to meet him and I feel very lucky for having been able to do so. And I’m one of the few people on the planet that can say that they actually met Ditko at a party, because he was not known for attending parties, but Neal Adams had a first Friday party and he invited Ditko, got him to show up, and Jim Starlin kind of dragged me over there and introduced me to him, because Starlin had known him for a long time, and that was my first meeting with Ditko.

Alex Grand:
Wow, that’s awesome. Do you remember what he was wearing and what his body language was like at this party?

Carl Potts:
Well, when I entered the live living room, he was sitting on the sofa… Neal’s’s sofa, and nobody else would come near because I think they were all in awe and they weren’t sure what to say. And I felt bad, but I didn’t have the nerve to go up there, and Starlin drags me over and he goes “I’ll introduce you.” Because Starlin had known Ditko for years. When Starlin was still a fan, he’d come to New York and he’s one of those people that’d call up Ditko out of the blue and say “Hey, can I come over?” And Ditko said “Sure.” So they know each other. So he takes me over to Ditko and goes “Steve, this is Carl. He thinks you’re God.” Then Starlin pivoted and walked away, left me sitting there sweating. I didn’t know how the hell to react to that.

Carl Potts:
But we ended talking a bit and got to know each other enough so that when Steve did… When I was on staff at Marvel years later and Steve came up the offices, he would often make the rounds of the editorial offices and speak to the editors he had an acquaintance with, and often that would be Tom DeFalco, Ralph Macchio… He spent a lot of time talking to Ralph Macchio, Ann Nocenti, Al Milgrom. Al had worked with him both at Marvel and DC. But he would never… We’d always offer to take him out for lunch on the company and all that, and for whatever reason, he always declined. I don’t know why, but that’s too bad. I would love to have been able to take him out to a nice lunch and chat over whatever it was he wanted to eat.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. That’s awesome. Well, I really appreciate you sharing that story with us. So when you saw him at the party, it was while you were at Continuity Studios?

Carl Potts:
Yes. This would’ve had to have been around 1977 perhaps, around there.

Alex Grand:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yeah. And then Al Milgrom went over to Marvel after that DC implosion, right? Of ’78

Carl Potts:
Yeah. He was an editor at DC along with Larry Hama for a year, and then the implosion hit, and then they both ended up at Marvel. And I got my editorial job at Marvel because Milgrom decided to leave editing and go on contract to be a staff creator. And so I got a call out of the blue asking to replace him, and I wasn’t counting on being an editor, so there was a big career change and shift for me.

Alex Grand:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yeah, and you had a great career over at Marvel as an editor. You’ve also been an artist as well as writer for Marvel. What are you working on these days, and how can people reach your current projects?

Carl Potts:
One of the things I’m working on is a huge graphic novel, based on some world war II experiences my mother’s side of the family had during the war in the Philippines, and it’s going to be published by the Naval Institute Press. And the artwork, I wrote it and I did some of the layouts, but most of the layouts have been done by Bill Reinhold, and he’s doing the finished art all in ink wash, and then we shoot it, and it gets turned into Sepia tone so it has that kind of world war II, faded news reel look to it. And the work looks gorgeous. I just kind of only half jokingly told Bill I hope it comes out in my lifetime. I wish it was coming out faster, but it looks gorgeous.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, I look forward to reading that, and I definitely will. Carl, thanks so much for chatting with me today.

Carl Potts:
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Alex Grand:
Well, we’re here at the Ditko convention in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I’m here with Javier Hernandez. Javier, how are you?

Javier Hernandez:
Very good. Having a great time. My first time in Johnstown love to be here.

Alex Grand:
Well, Javier, this is a really one of a kind situation where the Ditko family’s put together this great celebration. We’ve gotten to know a lot more about Johnstown, Pennsylvania. So tell me, what is it about Steve Ditko that you love so much? You just did a big panel on him just now.

Javier Hernandez:
Well, as a kid, I just fell in love with the work… Basically a Spider-man story of Spider-Man, Human Torch versus the Beetle, look that up everybody, and ever since then, every time he’d do new work, I would just pick it up, fall in love with it. At one point I think I saw him do the Creeper once again at DC in the 70s, and then in the eighties he took over Machine Man from Kirby. I just loved his cartoony figure work, the rubbery expressiveness of the characters, and then also you start reading about him, how he’s this kind of private guy, and just doing his own thing, that stuck a lot to me, which kind of explained why I got into self publishing later. So loved him always as an artist, but also as an individualistic creative person.

Alex Grand:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) And then you also have recommended people to read his recent stuff, like more like over the past 12 years shortly before his death in 2018, what is it that people who aren’t reading that stuff… What are they missing out on?

Javier Hernandez:
Yeah, kind of went on a little rant up there, I go “Yeah, let’s not just talk about oh, the old Ditko, the old Ditko.” Yeah he’s done work for 60 years, but he’s done like maybe a thousand pages of work in the last 10, 12 years. What does I love about it? I loved that he was just doing it, at his age that’s inspiring. He was in his eighties at the time doing that. And he’s still doing the stories he’s always loved. Like adventure, philosophical, and he draws the styles a little different, but you can still see the old Ditko in it. But really just… I wanted to support the work, and for me, it was, I’m getting a new Steve Ditko book every… Whatever, 4, 6, 8 months, like clockwork for like 10 years, that’s amazing.

Alex Grand:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) So Javier, we’re learning a lot about Ditko and his family, and even is ethnicity. It’s a very particular type of Eastern European. Have you come into contact with any more information on that?

Javier Hernandez:
There was this couple, they’re from this local Russian community ethnic group.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, and it’s not necessarily Russian, R-U-S-S-I-A-N, right? It’s Rusyn, like R-U-S-Y-N. It’s like Slavic a type of thing. All right, what were they saying?

Javier Hernandez:
We were just talking about… Obviously Ditko, and his art, and what it meant to me, and what their connection was. And they talk about the cultural background of the family, the Ditko family there in Johnstown. And then the lady’s brother was telling me that the Ditko family, their religious background is Byzantine Catholic, which I think Mark Ditko shared on… When you interviewed him a few episodes ago.

Alex Grand:
That’s right. He did share that, Byzantine Catholic, yes.

Javier Hernandez:
Or Eastern Catholic, some people call it. The brother was telling me, in the studying of what they call the icons, which is the saints, like the paintings of the saints, looking at them, he was noticing there’s always particular, very distinct hand gestures of the saints. They’ll have their hand raised up and they may have two fingers pointing up or they may have a combination of different fingers and different directions. And he actually called up on his cell phone, he showed me this one particular image, of this one particular Saint, and he’s like “Check out the hands.” And I looked at the one hand, he had the… What we we would call the Dr. Strange, Spider-man webshooteer hand, with the two middle fingers folded in, and the two outer fingers pointing out, and the thumb pointing out. But he was saying we all know Ditko as an objectivist, in his adult years turned away from all religious thoughts, but he grew up… Like anybody else grew up in a particular religion, it was around him and such.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s something that you’d only really get if you came here and talked to the locals, and found out something like that. And actually the position of that hand gesture of that Saint, it looks like a Charlton picture of this sorcerer escaping a prison cell, and his position, even the way he’s standing, looks like that picture. So that’s cool. Thank you so much for sharing that Javier.

Javier Hernandez:
Sure, absolutely.

Alex Grand:
And then you, yourself are also comic creator. You have your comic character el Muerto, who also has its own movie as well. Tell us about that character.

Javier Hernandez:
Yeah, el Muerto debuted in 1998, means the dead one. It’s a comic book based a little bit on Aztec mythology, and day of the dead folklore. So a young man, Diego De la Muerte, on his 21st birthday, which is day of the dead, gets killed in a car accident. He ends up waking up in the land of the dead, the Aztec land of the dead, and he gets resurrected as this Aztec zombie. And then in 2005, I got approached by some filmmakers, they wanted to make a movie out of it, made a deal eventually. In 2007, we released our film, staring Wilmer Valderrama, I was associate producer, and I had a little cameo in there.

Alex Grand:
That’s awesome. That’s like every comic creator’s dream. So how can people find more of your content as well as your Ditko zine that you’ve created?

Javier Hernandez:
I would recommend going to my Instagram page, it’s javierloscomex at Instagram, I guess, or Instagram at javierloscomex. You can go to Javzilla.com, J-A-V-Z-I-L-L-A, that’s like my blog. I got all the links for everything on there. My web store, my Amazon, everything.

Alex Grand:
All right. Well thanks, Javier, nice chatting.

Javier Hernandez:
Thank you, Alex.

Alex Grand:
Well, I’m Alex Grand here at the Ditko convention in johnstown, Pennsylvania. This is my friend Arlen Schumer. Arlen, how are you?

Arlen Schumer:
Hey, man, great to be here. Hi Alex, I haven’t seen you in so long. Great to see you.

Alex Grand:
So Arlen, you just got done with a big panel on Steve Ditko. What is it about Steve Ditko that you feel that people who don’t know him, are missing out on? Or that people who know him a little bit, don’t know enough of?

Arlen Schumer:
Wow, that’s a loaded question. I said up on the panel that we’ve got to start…. We’ve got to stop treating these great comic book artists like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby as just “Great comic book artists.” They’re great American artists who happen to work in the comic book field, and in Ditko’s case, happened to create two of the greatest 20th century mythological characters, Spider-man and Dr. Strange, that are part of our popular national culture now in the 21st century. So, that is the way also… Being here in Johnstown, which is still only known mostly by the flood, a very negative obviously occasion, that has marked this city with a bit of a black mark. The irony is, I went to eat breakfast at The Flood City Cafe, and I’m thinking to myself “Where is Ditko Diner?” You see?

Alex Grand:
Yeah, that’s a good point. The Ditko Diner, okay.

Arlen Schumer:
Copyright Arlen Schumer, 2021, by the way. Ditko Diner, thank you.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Okay, good.

Arlen Schumer:
No, but what I’m saying is, the way Johnstown itself gets out of this 100 year curse of the flood, is by promoting itself as the hometown of Steve Ditko, the great American artist who created Spider-Man and Dr.Strange et al., And then when you drive around this city, you see paintings of Ditko’s characters on the giant abandoned mill walls, and the rooftops that, in a sense, look depressed, but that’s how you bring back a community. There’s an incline here like there is in Pittsburgh. And I’m imagining a statue of Spider-man climbing up the incline. And that’s how you change… Instead of Johnstown is the home of the flood, it’s Johnstown, the home of Steve Ditko,

Alex Grand:
Arlen Schumer, city planner, ladies and gentlemen, amongst many other skills.

Arlen Schumer:
I am ready to serve.

Alex Grand:
So now Arlen, of the different stages of Ditko’s career, you have the 50s Charlton, you got 60s… Early 60s Marvel, you have the-

Arlen Schumer:
Superhero Marvel.

Alex Grand:
You have then, the later DC, Warren, right? Then you have his Mr. A period, and then after the more modern stuff he did-

Arlen Schumer:
All well was independent. Iron ran objectivist’s influence political track type comics, but he always would return to Mr. A, he would pop in and do something for Marvel or something for DC out of nowhere. I remember in 1977, the word got around… Now the comic book fan zines, and where you learned about upcoming comics, they were like three things. But when the buzz got around that Ditko was drawing Batman, in a one shot issue of Man Bat, we didn’t care about Man Bat, we cared that Ditko was drawing Batman. And he drew him very uniquely where, he kind of shadowed his entire face. Which is something that guys like Frank Miller and everybody has done since. But I think Ditko might have been one of the first to really do that. So little things like that.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. He had a atmospheric cinematic approach to a lot of his comics, especially his Charlton stuff. It seems like he added that chiaroscuro effect to a character like Batman, and that was almost long overdue. That probably should have happened sooner. There might have been some cases, but you’re right, the Ditko art of that issue is really the only reason why to even look at that issue really. Everything else about it doesn’t really matter. It’s the Ditko stuff that mattered.

Arlen Schumer:
For many of us… I think Gil Kane once said, the only reason for being interested in comics is the art. Which, every writer, not their favorite quote. But what I’ll say is, on the one hand, comics have always been about the great art.I became an artist, like a whole generation did, because of the art in those silver age comics that I grew up with. But on the other hand, Shakespeare said the play is the thing. So in the end, great art cannot save a bad story, but guess what? A great story can save bad art. My favorite single Batman story is drawn by one of my least favorite superhero artists. You know what I mean? By the way, Ross Andrew, and I weep for the generation that came of age with Ross Andrew as their Spider-man. But listen, I love Ross Andrew on Metalman.

Arlen Schumer:
So this is my point, my favorite Batman story… And I’m a guy that loves the Neal Adams Batman, when I think of the story that most affected me, it was drawn by Ross Andrew. So think about that, a guy that I thought had cardboard, awkward figures, drew the story that most emotionally affected me. By the way, Brave and Bold number 90, Adam Strange meets Batman. Now you would think… And written by Bob Haney, who everybody “Oh, Bob Haney’s too goofy.” So imagine a writer with the reputation of being goofy, and an artist with the reputation for drawing cardboard, stiff figures, somehow gave me my favorite Batman story, that brought a tear to my eye as a 12 year old.

Alex Grand:
Right. And such is the power of comics, is the power of story art to make an impact on a generation of kids. Arlen, of course, was affected by that, and that’s led to his comic book historian career. Arlen, how can people buy your book on the silver age of comic book art? Where is it available at?

Arlen Schumer:
So… As I lift up my book here for the camera. The Silver Age Of Comic Book Art, it’s available through my website, Arlenschumer.com, and it’ll bring you to the page for the book. And by getting it through me, you’ll pay, in a sense retail plus postage, but I will sign it and sketch in it for are you to make it personalized. And by the way, people buy the book always on places like Amazon, because of course it’s cheaper, but the author doesn’t make any money from Amazon. We’re all on Amazon just for the exposure. But if you want to help out your local neighborhood freelance artist, you’ll buy the book from artist. So, Arlenschumer.com or the thesilverageofcomicbookart.com will get you there.

Alex Grand:
All right. Well, thanks for chatting with us Arlen.

Arlen Schumer:
Thanks for having me on Alex, and it’s great to see you.

Alex Grand:
This is my very good friend, David Armstrong, former senior vice president at MGM, and comic fan all his life. Dave, how are you doing?

David Armstrong:
I’m doing great. How about you?

Alex Grand:
Good. I’m doing good. So thanks so much for showing me around here. You’ve been to a lot of conventions your whole life. You’ve known a lot of the creators over the years. What’s your impression of Steve Ditko? And what is it that you’ve enjoyed about Steve Ditko’s art?

David Armstrong:
Well, I was always a big Spider-Man fan, and I’ve loved the stuff that I saw from the day I first saw it. And I picked it up off the stands. What I didn’t get a chance to see was his earlier Charlton stuff. So I was really amazed to see that as a collector over time, I thought it was very atmospheric. I thought it’d set up his Dr. Strange stuff, and it was really great to see it here. But the stuff that I really enjoyed seeing are the family photographs, the early wood cuts that he did in school, which I thought are.. It’s great to see the beginnings of a career in a field. And it’s just like the 5,000 hours rule. Someone has to spend a lot of time in order to get good, and you get to see the progression. It’s pretty interesting.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, it is. So of the different eras that Ditko’s done, you have the 50s Charlton, which you said was atmospheric, of course, the early 60s Marvel, the late sixties, as far as DC, but also some of the Warren stuff, his Mr. A, and some of the later stuff. What is your favorite to look at. Just to go back and look at it. Is it the Charlton stuff or would it be the ink wash stuff he did with Warren?

David Armstrong:
Absolutely. The wash stuff. The Warren stuff, I think, was probably the best work that he ever did. It was really wonderful to look at in terms of the tone and how he used the wash. It was a great medium for him in a black and white context.

Alex Grand:
And you were also friends with Alex Toth who also did some work for that. So was it just their usage of shadow with that ink wash? What was it you think that stands out so well?

David Armstrong:
Well, I think it’s both the layouts and the storytelling elements, certainly for Alex and certainly for Ditko, and I think for Carmine Infantino as well. All of them shined because they had spent their entire career, up to that point, honing their craft, and it became very, very, very focused in terms of what they produce. If you look at the… Any of the stuff they did in their early Warren books, it just shines in terms of storytelling, and it’s far more evocative than just a black and white line work.

Alex Grand:
And you were also friends with the Dick Giordano. You’ve actually been to the Charlton factory back in the 60s. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

David Armstrong:
Well, I… It’s funny because I ended up going through the Charlton office so I saw the printing presses. Obviously they printed their own books. They had their own distribution set up. So you could see all of the elements there and a couple of editorial offices, but I didn’t see any of the work being done, but I did visit… Dick Giordano shared a studio with Rocco Mastroserio, and I stopped by their studio and got a chance to see everything that they were doing. Rocco was both a penciler and an inker, and Dick did both pencils and inks, even though he was still head of editorial. But one of the biggest treats for me was, they had a spinner rack with a whole bunch of books on it, and I started going through it and they said “Take anything you want.” And I got this… A thunder to number one, and a couple of other books that as a young collector, were pretty impressive at the time.

Alex Grand:
Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. So Dave actually knows pretty much everybody over the past five decades of comic fandom, and you actually started the Rocket’s Blast Comicolllector magazine. What was the issue number that you first got into fandom?

David Armstrong:
Rocket’s Blast 25. It was a Hawkman cover, and it was before they actually combined Rocket Blast with the comic collector.

Alex Grand:
And so then, when you were in the movie business, were you still kind of looking at comics at that time or were you pretty much more analyzing film?

David Armstrong:
Well, I’ve gone through different periods of collecting. So I collected stuff up until the early 70s, and then I got very involved in the film business, both as a film editor, and then later in the distribution side of the business. So, as I’ve concentrated my efforts and my career, the collecting side went down, but when we got bonus done, A Woman Under the Influence, I ended up taking that money and buying a whole run of detective comics from the golden age. So it kind of goes in cycles, and it has to do with, when I have extra money to spend as to whether I can go out and buy, and fuel my collector side.

Alex Grand:
One more question. Jim Steranko did that tower of shadows comic in 1970, and it was a horror comics piece, but you were actually part of that production when it was actually filmed into a film sequence. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

David Armstrong:
I met Steranko at a 65 convention. He was a dealer at the time before he started working for Harvey, and his number two guy was a guy named Ken Dixon who ended up getting a scholarship at NYU film school, and after that he went to the American film Institute. So the first project that he did was originally supposed to be a science fiction piece. We decided it was too expensive and he called Steranko and said “Could we use your Tower of Shadows story?” And we turned it into shadow house, which was shot entirely at the American film Institute, at the time was at Grey stone in Beverly Hills. Jim did the storyboards for the entire piece, it’s runs about 15 minutes long, it’s shot in black and white. John Carradine is one of the characters in the film, and if you watch the film, there’s a portrait, and the portrait basically was a large scale photograph… It’s about five feet tall, that Jim turned into a painting, to make it look as though as a painting. So he contributed a lot to that film, it was a pretty interesting experience.

Alex Grand:
That’s a great convergence of film and comics, and Dave, thanks so much for this time. You have great stories about comics and film. Wonderful. Thank you so much.

David Armstrong:
My pleasure, thanks.

Alex Grand:
All right. Well, we’re here at the Ditko convention. This is the exhibit hall of the Ditko’s works. Mark, tell us a little bit about what went into this setup. You’ve been here for two months, basically showing people around that have come and checked out this exhibit.

Mark Ditko:
Yes. I came in, in July and been here through August and it’s September and I’m still here. So I’ve been running my business out of a room over there, that the Bottleworks graciously set up for me, and anytime anybody comes in, I’m just trying to add the personal flare to this exhibit where, it’s not just browse around and look at the artwork or look at the exhibit pieces, whether they’re personal or military or something. I’m adding that little personal touch.

Alex Grand:
I’ve been really amazed by some of the paraphernalia you have, you actually have Ditko comics that he owned himself. He owned his own comics. He actually had his old stuff, even though he’s known to always look forward with his new art. He also had… As we were talking earlier, articles on Spider-man. So there was some sentiment that he had toward his older works, although he generally always looked forward. Was that one thing that was a surprise for you as you were unpacking a lot of that stuff?

Mark Ditko:
Well, yeah. I think seeing the Spider-Man articles that he saved, that was a little surprising to me that he did that. But as I thought about it more, I was like “oh, okay, sure. Why not?” It is what it is, A is A. A Spider-man, there’s an article comes out, why not just have a copy of it? He had a connection to it, so what’s wrong with that. As far as the comics and stuff go, and some of the artwork that we brought in, he had his own file copies of stuff.

Mark Ditko:
So he was sending me those things, and some of the things that are here, he had sent me, some of the things that are here, he had sent my dad. So, he had his own collection of things, and over times… And I guess as he was getting older, he just thought “Well, it’s time to pass this on.” But some of the comics that are here… In fact, all of the comics that are here that I brought were his. He just referred to them as his file copies. He just kept them for probably reference. It wasn’t some emotional attachment necessarily, it was probably just reference copies.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. And also, I’m amazed by some of the newspaper clippings of Most Likely To Succeed, and he’s at the drawing board. He was at a trade school doing commercial art, and some of the commercial art pieces he made… It’s pretty amazing, because you can see signs of what’s to come in some of that work. How much of this here is from your family’s personal collection, versus how much of it was stuff that he had, that you guys inherited?

Mark Ditko:
Well, I would say probably about 40% of it are things that were more industry stuff just printed out or framed or from someone else’s collection. And then there’s probably maybe 60% that was really from him, and either given to me, which I brought or given to my dad. A lot of his military memorabilia, a lot of his personal photographs of him at home as a kid or at holidays or something. My dad has all of that stuff. So yeah, I would say about 60% of it is things that no one else has probably ever seen.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. I’ve been actually really amazed, kind of jaw dropped, because I thought I’d seen everything of his, but there’s stuff here that I’ve never seen before. I didn’t know it existed. Then also as far as the way he applied himself, I know that your dad is an architect, you’re an engineer, and he was very analytical, and always working to self-improve. Is that the legacy of Steve Ditko? Is that part of the Ditko family ethic? Is it a gene as far as the body of work he’s done, and the body of work that you all do in your own ways?

Mark Ditko:
That’s a good question, and the answer’s probably not as complex as it might seem. My dad is a… Okay, everybody’s an artist in their own way, and we just happened to do… As kids growing up, the physical art, that graphic art illustration. But then eventually, everybody takes that passion and kind of channels it. And I wouldn’t even say that art is the underlying skill, it’s just a commitment to something. I remember when I started drawing, I wasn’t any good. And then I kept drawing and drawing and drawing. My uncle… I’ll tell you, it’s the same way. When he started drawing… High school or whatever, it wasn’t really like he’s doing Dr. Strange in the 60s.

Mark Ditko:
So, like anything, you have to practice and you have to get to that level of professionalism. I think if there’s… And my uncle would never associate it with a Ditko gene, it’s not in a DNA, it’s an internal commitment to be a pro at whatever you do, and follow your passion. And I think that combined together, is what produces somebody who’s really talented. They want to do it, it’s their decision, and they just commit, they’re all in and they have the passion. That’s what makes people good. Yeah.

Alex Grand:
Deep commitment and passion. That’s a great legacy from Steve Ditko. Mark, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

Mark Ditko:
My pleasure.

 

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Interview © 2021 Comic Book Historians

 

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