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‘The Ditko Version’ – Exploring Steve Ditko’s Recollections of Marvel in the 1960s by Rosco M Copyright © Rosco M 2023

 

 

Introduction

 

Steve Ditko (1927 – 2018) was one of the most distinctive illustrators to work for Marvel Comics during the formative years of the early 1960s and is probably best remembered for his definitive runs on ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Dr Strange’.  Many of Ditko’s conceptual/visual contributions to these strips continue to be utilised today, both within the comics medium and as part of the immensely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 

Following his departure from Marvel in late 1965, Ditko remained active in the industry for decades.  He avoided official interviews and convention appearances, however he communicated with readers through essays, articles, and letters in which he expressed his views on a wide range of issues relating to the comics industry and the wider world.  Included in these writings were numerous specific recollections/opinions regarding Marvel and his work with writer/editor Stan Lee.

 

Unfortunately, the true value of Ditko’s Marvel-related accounts remains largely unrecognised by enthusiasts of popular culture.  Their original presentation and distribution, as well as the lack of any comprehensive collections, have limited their accessibility.  There have been few attempts to present Ditko’s commentaries in a manner that fully reflects their value as an alternative, independent comics history.  In some instances, quotes have been presented without appropriate context, or in combination with speculation/assertions that are simply not reflected in the original material.

 

This essay aims to present readers with a truly “Ditkocentric” perspective of his career/work at Marvel Comics during the years 1961 to 1966, via the presentation of key quotes presented within a chronological narrative.  Cover dates of relevant publications have generally been employed when determining which work falls into which era, even though these do not reflect the actual date of sale (or, obviously, of production).  This approach is taken for the sake of simplicity and in recognition of the challenges in determining precisely when some of the events mentioned by Ditko took place.  (Separate ‘Conclusions’ and ‘Endnotes’ sections are included, which contain some personal opinions/thoughts as well as related information from other sources, for those who are interested).

 

Please note that this is not an overview of all of Steve Ditko’s writings, which include many pieces relating to his personal philosophies as well as his post-1966 interactions with Marvel/Lee.  Anyone interested in seeking out such information is strongly encouraged to do so via the original sources.

 

I hope that this essay inspires others to create professional publications/videos that draw on the amazing records that Steve Ditko left us.  In the meantime, it remains a work in progress.  Anyone who discovers a new quote from Ditko (or a reliable secondary source) that could add to this project is encouraged to provide it via the website (Comic Book Historians).  I also welcome any constructive feedback in relation to factual errors, typos etc.

 

Rosco M
Last Update: 16 January 2024

 

 

Part One: 1961/1962

 

 

‘In regards to our working method…’ 

 

Steve Ditko’s earliest recorded accounts of his work at Marvel Comics relate to 1961, the same year in which the publication of ‘Fantastic Four’ #1, by editor/writer Stan Lee and creator/artist Jack Kirby, initiated the ‘Marvel Age of Comics’.  At this point in his career Ditko, aged 34, was already an established freelance artist.  He had also been illustrating short stories for Atlas Comics, a precursor of Marvel, since 1956.

 

 

Lee, having recognised Ditko’s affinity for effective storytelling, made the decision to showcase their combined talents in an anthology publication entitled ‘Amazing Adult Fantasy’.  This series commenced with issue 7 (December 1961) and was a rebranding of the pre-existing ‘Amazing Adventures’, consisting of short stories with twist endings in the ‘O.Henry/Twilight Zone’ tradition.  The inclusion of the world ‘adult’ reflected Lee’s intent on attracting a more sophisticated audience, which was emphasised via a cover blurb proclaiming it as ‘the magazine that respects your intelligence’.

 

 

Ditko provided the following summary of this period:

 “In 1961 I was working with Stan Lee (writer/editor) at Marvel Comics in producing material (stories and art) for Amazing Adventures (which became Amazing Adult Fantasy). Briefly, in regards to our working method, Stan provided the plot ideas. There would be a discussion to clear up anything, consider options and so forth. I would then do the panel/page breakdowns, pencil the visual story continuity and, on a separate piece of paper, provide a very rough panel dialogue, merely as a guide for Stan.

Stan would provide the finished dialogue for the character, ideas and consistency.”

— Steve Ditko “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man” essay from Avenging World (2002)

 

 

(This approach falls under what is now often referred to as the ‘Marvel Method’ of producing comic books.  Various iterations exist, but all involve artists working from a premise/outline as opposed to a ‘full script’, with the dialogue being added by the writer after the story has been laid out by the artist.  Depending on the situation and those involved, the premise/story ideas may come from either party.)

 

 

 

‘Spiderman’

 

“For me, the Spider-Man saga began when Stan called me into his office and told me I would be inking Jack Kirby’s Pencils on a new Marvel hero, Spiderman.”

— Steve Ditko “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man” essay from Avenging World (2002)

 

 

Ditko received the first five pages of his new assignment, depicting the beginning of an origin story pencilled by Kirby.  The lack of a hyphenated name was one of many differences between the character appearing in those pages and the ‘Spider-Man’ that is familiar to global audiences today:

“The Spider-Man pages Stan showed me were nothing like the published character. In fact, the only drawings of Spider-Man were on the splash and at the end. At the end, Kirby had the guy leaping at you with a web gun. Aunt May was there, and Uncle Ben was a retired policeman. He looked a lot like General Thunderbolt Ross. Anyway, the first five pages took place in the home, and the kid finds a ring and turns into Spider-Man.”

— Steve Ditko “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man” essay from Avenging World (2002)

 

 

Ditko’s recollections of these pages’ contents would be revised on various occasions.  While largely consistent, another version offered a slightly different description that included additional story/character details:

“The other four pages showed a teenager living with his kindly old aunt and hard, gruff, retired police captain uncle, a General Thunderbolt Ross-type (from The Hulk) who was hostile toward the boy.

Next door or somewhere in the neighbourhood was a whiskered scientist-type involved in some type of experiment or project. The end of the 5 pages depicted the kid going toward the scientist’s darkened house.”

— Steve Ditko “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man ”The Comics Vol 1 No. 5 May 1990: the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Ditko’s accounts included a description (and attempted reproduction from memory) of the original Kirby-designed costume worn by the ‘Spiderman’ character, which included a cowl that covered half the face in a manner akin to ‘Batman’ or ‘Captain America’:

 “I’m uncertain about the abstract chest design. The closest thing to it is the one on Ant-Man. Kirby’s Spider-man had a web gun, never seen in use. The only connection to the spider theme was the name”

— Steve Ditko “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man” essay from Avenging World (2002)

 

 

Lee, who made no mention of who had come up with the idea or storyline, explained that the character was a “…teenager with a magic ring that transformed him into an adult hero – Spider-Man”.  However, this premise was familiar to Ditko, who told Lee that his new hero “…sounded like Joe Simon’s character, The Fly (1959), that Kirby had some hand in, for Archie Comics.”

Lee, presumably concerned, contacted Kirby to discuss the matter further:

“Stan called Jack about The Fly. I don’t know what was said in that call.

Day(s) later, Stan told me we would be doing SM (Spider-Man). I would be pencilling the story panel breakdowns from Stan’s synopsis and doing the inking.”

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History 13 “Speculation” The Comics! Vol 14 No. 8 August 2003, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Lee’s newly written synopsis was described by Ditko as consisting of a ‘brief story line’, being a ‘page and a half’ in length.  This would form the basis of a new origin tale with a twist ending in the style of other Lee/Ditko short stories.  Ditko viewed it as a fresh start for the strip:

“Kirby’s five penciled Spiderman story/art pages were rejected. Out went the magic ring, adult Spiderman and whatever legend ideas that Spiderman story would have contained.”

— Steve Ditko “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man” essay from Avenging World (2002)

 

 

Reflecting on his role in this turn of events, Ditko would pose the following question decades later:

“Does anyone wonder or care what S-M would look like, be like today, if I had never mentioned the Fly and just inked Jack/Stan’s S-M idea?”

— Steve Ditko, ‘The Silent Self Deceivers’ 2012 (as reprinted in ‘The Complete Four-Page Series and other Essays’, 2020)

 

 

A ‘New Creation’

 

For reasons unmentioned in his records, Ditko was assigned as both the penciller and inker for the project.  He likely welcomed the decision given his strong views on splitting the roles:

“Pencil art needs an inker to bring out the strength of the penciller’s style in how a penciller emphasizes or diminishes panel elements: people, faces, action, mood, settings, etc. in panels.

So matching an inker with a penciller is almost impossible because they are two different talents, skills, even in outlook: more imaginative, more realistic, etc.”

— Steve Ditko, “Creator or co-creator” The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted ‘The 32 Series by Ditko’, Vol 1 Overture, 2019 p 27)

 

 

The pages that Kirby had originally pencilled for the new strip, which Ditko had retained, no longer appeared to hold any value:

“The Lee/Kirby S-M idea, five art pages, was not a story, no kind of blueprint but a flawed, failed S-M idea. The potential (acorn, seed) could not be brought to life.”

— Steve Ditko “Roislecxse” The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted ‘The 32 Series by Ditko’ Vol 1, Overture, 2019)

 

 

In an era where the value of original comic art/history was very different to today, those pages would meet a sad fate:

“I always regret I threw away Kirby’s pages on his ‘creation’ of Spider-Man. I could have, should have, had the pages photostatted.”

— Steve Ditko, The Hero Comics #29 (Autumn 2019)

 

 

Working with lee’s written outline, Ditko commenced conceptualising/illustrating the fifteen pages of pencilled artwork for what would become the iconic ‘Spider-Man’ origin tale.  His artistic and creative talents would be critical in bringing the story (and Spider-Man himself) into existence:

“Everything beyond Lee’s synopsis-creation idea needed another hand/mind to make abstractions, some mind/word ideas, into a different, new creation by adding, creating, ideas, executing, to make the necessary physical whole for publication.”

—Steve Ditko, ‘Roislecxe’, The  Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted The 32 Series by Ditko, Vol 1 Overture, 2019

 

 

Working from a Synopsis – Ditko as the ‘Artist Plus’

 

Ditko’s accounts of his early work with Lee contain numerous references to written story ‘synopses’, i.e. documents containing story/plot ideas that Lee provided to him as directions in lieu of a ‘full script’.  It seems that none of these were retained by Ditko and those that were in his possession have been lost to time (the image reproduced in this section is of a surviving Lee synopsis written for ‘Our Love Story’ #17, June 1972).

 

 

There is no mention of the synopses being prepared during (or in relation to) any story conference between the two, however there is a specific instance of Lee incorporating a suggestion from Ditko (i.e. the concept of a villain with mechanical arms, which became ‘Dr Octopus’).  There are also references to Lee’s synopses containing ideas/scenarios that Ditko disagreed with, e.g.: the use of alien/supernatural protagonists in the Spider-Man strip.

 

 

Lee’s use of synopses differed substantially from the ‘full script’ method more commonly employed in the comics industry at the time.  Comic book artists always made some creative decisions beyond simply drawing pictures, but this particular approach explicitly conferred upon them a portion of the writer’s traditional storytelling responsibility.

 

 

As Ditko explained it, Lee’s decision to employ synopses meant he “…surrendered his part of the writer’s division of labor as a writer of full script, to the artist.”  This was because a synopsis did not contain sufficient detail/directions necessary to directly transfer story ideas to the page without significant creative input from the illustrator:

“A synopsis is a brief story line, words, abstractions, and so is a part, incomplete, not detailed not the whole story.

A comic book synopsis does not tell/show the what, how and why for every panel and exactly how each character should, must be seen, act, react, in art in every situation.

The synopsis does not tell/show how to create the visually important, especially in dramatics scenes, in fight scenes, and how they are to be staged, shown, in what way, how many panels etc. and from what visual viewpoint (close up, long shot, mid-shot, over-head, etc.).”

— Steve Ditko “Roislecxse” Avenging Mind 2007, (as reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1, Overture P 23)

 

 

The additional responsibilities (and creative freedom) inherent in the process necessitated a certain type of illustrator:

 “…a created synopsis needs an artist – a creative artist. The artist has to collaborate – co-create – by supplying additional ideas and storyline for a publishable story/art creation. The artist has to collaborate with the synopsis writer in providing, in co-creating, the rough equivalent of a full-script, a complete page/panel story idea breakdown. Then, alone, the artist creates the visual story/art continuity. He provides rough panel dialogue, a rough full script for the writer to use, edit and, for the final panel, dialogue.”

—Steve Ditko, A Mini-History 1,” The Green Goblin”, The Comics! Vol 12. No. 7, July 2001, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

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Ditko even created a term to describe the artist working under this scenario – the ‘artist-plus’:

“With a synopsis, the incomplete storyline material, there is an actual need for more than an illustrator, and even more than an artist.

A synopsis must have an artist-plus. An artist-plus has to take what is incomplete, what is partly provided, and add new story ideas, fill in, expand, provided everything else needed to make a complete, whole, work/picture story.

The artist-plus has to supply rough dialogue for every panel for the writer, dialoguer, to polish, provided better storytelling, continuity etc.”

—Steve Ditko, ‘Roislecxe’, The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted The 32 Series by Ditko, Vol 1 Overture, 2019, P 23

 

 

In his writings Ditko expressed no opinion as to whether the use of synopses was any better or worse than that of a ‘full script’ (though he did express dissatisfaction with the extent to which his role as ‘artist-plus’ was acknowledged).

 

 

 

‘My Ideas and Creation’

 

The ‘ideas’ that Ditko contributed to the origin of Spider-Man included elements that became synonymous with the new character:

“Stan’s synopsis to me did not mention any (two) wrist shooters, or hidden belt, or any specific costume or specific spider-like actions. Those are my ideas and creation.”

— Steve Ditko “Tsk Tsk Examining a Creator/Creation Claim” Avenging World 2002, p 137

 

 

There is a strong implication in Ditko’s commentaries that Spider-Man’s iconic wall-crawling ability (together with his web-spinning etc.) was amongst those ‘spider-like actions’ left unspecified by Lee.  However, as this was a natural attribute associated with spiders, Ditko viewed it somewhat differently to his more technical contributions:

 “Real spiders naturally spin webs, move on web lines and stick to walls.  No one can ‘create’ spider abilities.  But how a person does it (two wrist web-shooters versus a web gun, etc.) is, again, mine.”

— Steve Ditko “Tsk Tsk Examining a Creator/Creation Claim” Avenging World 2002, p 137

 

 

There was also no direction from Lee as to how the new Spider-Man might appear.  Left to his own devices, Ditko opted not to incorporate any of the design elements Kirby had utilised in the rejected ‘Spiderman’ pencils:

“One of the first things I did was to work up a costume, A vital, visual part of the character. I had to know how he looked, to fit in with the powers he had, or could have, the possible gimmicks and how they might be used and shown, before I did any breakdowns. For example: he had a clinging power so he wouldn’t have hard shoes or boots, a hidden wrist-shooter versus a web-gun and holster, etc”

— Steve Ditko, “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man” essay from Avenging World (2002)

 

 

The decision to employ a full-face mask was unusual for the time:

“I wasn’t sure Stan would like the idea of covering the character’s face but I did it because it hid an obviously boyish face. It would also add mystery to the character and allow the reader/viewer the opportunity to visualise, to ‘draw’, his own preferred expression on Parker’s face and. Perhaps, become the personality behind the mask.” 

— Steve Ditko, “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man” essay from Avenging World (2002)

 

 

In a single panel during the story’s conclusion Ditko depicted pupils in Spider-Man’s normally blank eyelets.  This one-off device was employed to convey the character’s shock at discovering the identity of his uncle’s murderer:

“The eyes through the usually blanked-out eye is just legitimate dramatic effect. We’re not dealing with reality but with fiction and fantasy. The more that can be legitimately shown, explained, the more viewers will accept the exaggerated.”

— Steve Ditko, ‘Ditko Shrugged’ 2020 as quoted by author David Currie, 2020 p 63

 

 

Ditko’s costume design included his selection of an initial colour scheme that was used in the early appearances:

“My original color combination was a warm, red-orange on the webbing section and a cool blue on the body parts. These colors made a nice contrast, they emphasized the webbing and added to the mystery mood.”

— Steve Ditko, A Mini History 3 “The Amazing Spider-Man #1” The Comics! v.12 #11, Nov. 2001) the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

 

Comics Code Concerns

 

Having completed at least some of the pencilled pages, Ditko met with Lee to present and discuss his work:

 “The crucial point came after Stan and I went over my pencilled pages. Stan wanted me to take Peter Parker/Spider-Man off the wire, ceiling, etc. to change the spider-like poses, action.

Why? Stan was afraid the Comics Code ‘judges’ might or would reject Spider-Man because Peter Parker, the teenager, would be seen by young buyers as something non-human, a freak, a spider-like creature. Seeing the spider-like poses would be bad, causing all kinds of mental health and behavioural problems – nightmares and acting out the panel scenes.”

“I said something to the effect that we should wait until The Code complains or demands the spider-like poses be changed or reviewed.”

Lee agreed, and the tale – simply entitled ‘Spider-Man’ – was published as the cover story in ‘Amazing Fantasy’ 15 (August 1962) with the word ‘adult’ having been removed from the publication’s title, ostensibly due to readership feedback.  As for the spider-like poses, Ditko noted that “The code didn’t complain.”

— Steve Ditko, “A Mini-History: 2 Amazing Fantasy #15” The Comics v. 12 No. 10, October 2001, p1) the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

 

The First Spider-Man Cover

 

The cover of ‘Amazing Fantasy’ #15 was pencilled by Jack Kirby, with inks by Ditko.  It utilised a similar layout to an earlier, rejected layout by Ditko – though with some important changes:

“I drew the cover from a subjective viewpoint. I wanted to put the reader/viewer up front with the swinging Spider-Man, to be a part of the activity, to see and realize the danger in falling, in having a sense of swinging along with Spider-Man.”

“Stan rejected it for a more heroic S-M action an objective viewpoint, the viewer not up there with S-M.”

— Stevie Ditko (2013 letter to David Currie), ‘Ditko Shrugged’, David Currie p 67

 

 

 

Ditko’s Opinions: Who Created Spider-Man?

 

The question of who should actually receive official credit for the creation of ‘Spider-Man’ can be a challenging one, given the circumstances under which the character was brought into existence and the conflicting recollections of those involved.

 

 

From a very general perspective, Stan Lee consistently stated that the initial idea to do a spider-based character was his, and that he rejected Jack Kirby’s initial pages because the ‘heroic’ depiction did not match his vision for the character.  Kirby, on the other hand, asserted that he brought the ‘Spiderman’ name/idea to Lee, and that it was based on work he had done years earlier with former creative partner Joe Simon.  Simon essentially confirmed Kirby’s story while also taking credit for the ‘Spiderman’ name.  Over the years there were instances in which Lee and Kirby each claimed sole creator credit for the character.  There were also occasions, however, in which Lee referred to the Spider-Man as a ‘co-creation’ with Ditko, as well as interviews in which Kirby attributed Spider-Man’s development to Ditko.  (Some further detail is provided in the ‘Endnotes’ section).

 

 

Ditko’s own perspective can be found in his essay entitled “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man”.  In that article, revised several times over the years, he placed the focus squarely on the final, published version of Spider-Man.  This, he declared, was a creation by both Lee and Ditko.  A co-creation.

 

 

In making his case Ditko was aware of Kirby’s claims of having brought the ‘Spiderman’ name to Lee but declined to take a side in any argument between the two, stating that “Who first came up with the specific name, Spider-Man is for Stan and Jack to resolve”.  Ditko also acknowledged that Kirby had been involved in the creation of the pencilled pages for a rejected version of ‘Spiderman’…though he apparently had no interest in finding out what vision Kirby may have held:

“I never talked to Jack about Spider-man, so I don’t know what his ideas concerning the character actually were.”

— Steve Ditko “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man”, ‘Avenging World’, 2002, p 59

 

 

Ditko reasoned that, regardless of the real-life backstory, the ‘Spider-Man’ brought to life by Lee and Ditko in ‘Amazing Fantasy 15’ was sufficiently new/different to be judged an independent and original creation.  In making his point, Ditko noted that the idea of a spider-themed character/hero was hardly a new one:

“There have been earlier uses of the spider “idea” in comics: Paul Gustavson’s Alias the Spider, DC’s Tarantula with his web gun, and certainly many other heroes, heroines, villains and villainesses (such as, in this last category, the earlier Black Widow, before Simon or Kirby or Lee). There was a Spider pulp novel series and a Spider movie serial, all before any Kirby or Lee Spider-Man.”

— Steve Ditko “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man” Avenging World, 2002, p 59

 

 

The fact that the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man had elements/aspects in common with other creations (including the Kirby-drawn ‘Spiderman’) did not preclude it from being something new.  As Ditko viewed it, any creation was “…actually a recreation, a rearrangement of existing materials in a new, different, original novel way.”  When compared to what had preceded it, the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man could still be said to “…have its own unique identity consisting of specific parts (characters, costume), place (setting), qualities (powers and gimmicks), arrangements and relationships (plot ideas), and meaning (the view of man, life, existence, right and wrong, justice)”.

— Steve Ditko “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man” Avenging World 2002 p 59

 

 

Ditko was aware that Jack Kirby had claimed sole credit for the creation of virtually all the characters he had worked on at Marvel, including Spider-Man, and made a point of invoking Kirby’s own logic as part of his argument.  Ditko noted that Jack Kirby had claimed the Marvel Comics character ‘Thor’ as one of his creations even though it obviously followed on from a character of the same name that had appeared in Norse myths:

“If Marvel’s Thor is a valid created work by Jack, his creation, then why isn’t Spider-Man by Stan and me valid created work, our creation?”

— Steve Ditko “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man”, ‘Avenging World’, 2002, p 59

 

 

 

Part Two: 1963/1964

 

 

An Evolving Partnership

 

Ditko’s comic-book assignments underwent a notable shift in 1963, with the majority of his work aligning with Marvel’s emphasis on super-heroes.  The success of Spider-Man’s debut in “Amazing Fantasy 15” (August 1962) led to the character gaining his own series (“Amazing Spider-Man”) with the same creative team; the publication would initially be published bimonthly before switching to a monthly schedule with issue 5 (October 1963).  Ditko and Lee would also work together on other superhero projects, including the “Hulk” and “Dr Strange” comic strips.

 

 

For a time at least, Lee continued to outline his intended tale and plot concepts in written synopses.  In the course of their collaboration, he and Ditko met frequently to review work, design covers and discuss story elements.  Ditko followed directions laid out by Lee, while contributing the necessary additional ideas and storytelling:

“For Marvel’s Spider-Man, Dr Strange and Hulk stories Stan wrote a synopsis, a one or two page brief story outline. His synopsis contained no panel/page breakdown, no specific panel ideas, no captions or panel dialogue, so there was no full story. A synopsis is an incomplete story line. As such it cannot be translated into an equivalent, usable picture story.”

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History “The Green Goblin”, The Comics Vol 12 No 7 July 2001, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

The change in structure from the old ‘five pagers’ did necessitate some refinements to the way they had worked together earlier:

“…our working method was obviously more involved than with the five pages because the ideas were greater. There were more characters, action, drama and complexities. There were continuing characters (main and supporting), all with different personality types, ongoing relationships, personal problems and conflicts. The heroes and villains had various motives and powers to be exploited. All needed consistency, yet development and growth had to be considered.”

— Steve Ditko “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man” essay from Avenging World (2002)

 

 

The Lee/Ditko team would face some fresh challenges as they moved away from their short stories to focus instead on recurring characters and mythos development.  Working together on ongoing continuities would enable them to explore fresh ideas and directions that weren’t feasible in their earlier collaborations, but it would also highlight differences in their respective artistic views.

 

 

 

Launching the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’



The ongoing ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ title debuted with a cover date of March 1963. The origin tale had established the basics of the title character, but significant world-building was still required to transform Spider-Man into a viable, long-term property.  As Ditko recalled, this was implemented in a somewhat free-wheeling manner:

“Stan never worked out a S-m (Spider-Man) ‘blueprint’ upon which S-m could be built. Changes or additions were arbitrary and did not follow some thought out, planned story world.”

—Steve Ditko, A Mini-History 6: Spider-woman/Spider-girl The Comics Vol.13 No. 5, May 2002, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

The premiere issue consisted of two stories.  The first of these introduced important elements to the Spider-Man mythos, with the initial appearance of publisher J Jonah Jameson (and his vendetta against Spider-Man) as well as the introduction of Peter Parker’s role as a freelance photographer.  In the tale’s conclusion Spider-Man rescued an astronaut, the son of publisher J Jonah Jameson, from a malfunctioning space capsule.  It was a premise that Ditko viewed with mixed feelings:

“The space capsule incident involving JJJ’s son may have been a legitimate way to introduce JJJ and his foolish yet interesting relationship with PP. But the story idea undercut the teenage context. It’s like having a high school football player playing in the Super Bowl.”

— Steve Ditko A Mini-History 3 “The Amazing Spider-Man #1’ (The Comics V. 12 No. 11, November 2001) the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

The second story chronicled Spider-Man’s first encounters with fellow super-heroes the Fantastic Four as well as the villainous Chameleon. The inclusion of Marvel’s premiere super-heroes as guest stars would lead to subtle colour changes to Spider-man’s own costume.

“Spider-Man’s cool blue was removed because the color blue was “owned” by the guest stars costume color.”

“Spider-Man’s blue was changed to a warm purple (it gets warmer, redder, in later issues, ruining the better contrast and mood).”

Steve Ditko, A Mini History 3 “The Amazing Spider-Man #1” The Comics! v.12 #11, Nov. 2001) the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Later in the tale Spider-Man tackled a soviet submarine, an element that Ditko felt was as incongruous to Peter Parker’s teenage world as the space capsule rescue in the previous story.  Ditko likened it to “…elevating a local issue onto the international level…” and something that was “…more fitting for Captain America.”

 

 

There was also the introduction of Spider-Man’s famous ‘spider-sense’, a concept developed during a review of the initial artwork:

“That idea came after Stan and I were going over the pencilled Chameleon story/art pages. Stan asked me a very good question: ‘How, in the darkened room, does (Spider-Man) know where the Chameleon is?’

At some point I took a pencil and drew squiggly lines radiating from S-M’s head and said ‘S-M has ‘spider-senses.’ The way bats can detect, sense insects, objects at night. Stan accepted the idea as valid. The ‘senses’ worked for our character. We went over the earlier pages, panels and where we thought appropriate, I added squiggly lines denoting the spider senses around (Peter Parker or Spider-Man’s) heads.”

— Steve Ditko A Mini-History 3 “The Amazing Spider-Man #1’ (The Comics V. 12 No. 11, November 2001) the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

The Chameleon tale concluded with Spider-Man running down a street, sobbing after an awkward interaction with the authorities in a scene reminiscent of the origin’s ending.  Whether this was his idea or not, the notion of a young character who was still learning to deal with the world clearly resonated with Ditko:

“Peter Parker, a teenager becoming a hero, had to learn how to be a hero. He wasn’t even like a rookie policeman or soldier with some experienced Sgt to train him, set him straight. Parker (Spider-Man) could make mistakes a hero like Captain America or Superman could never make. From grade school to college etc. Parker has to learn and grow up to be a hero.”

— Steve Ditko (quoted from letter to David Currie)  David Currie Ditko shrugged p 79

 

 

Another noteworthy aspect of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ #1 was Lee’s addition of regular creator ‘credit boxes’ on the splash pages, something that was rare for comic books of the era.  Within these brief descriptions Lee credited himself for the ‘script’, presumably reflecting his responsibility for providing finished dialogue/narration.  This wording, however, subsequently become a point of conjecture with Ditko.  In his later accounts Ditko asserted that it misled readers into believing that he was an artist working from Lee’s ‘full script’.  His commentaries would therefore make a point of emphasising that no ‘script’ was provided to him beforehand:

“The book contains two independent stories. They were both credited as Script: Stan Lee/Art: Steve Ditko. There was no Stan Lee script. I worked from two synopsis. And I provided rough panel script — dialogue — for the penciled story panels, plus whatever clarification needed when we went over the penciled panels.”

— Steve Ditko A Mini-History 3 “The Amazing Spider-Man #1’ (The Comics V. 12 No. 11, November 2001) the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

 

Incredible Hulk

 

At approximately the same time Ditko and Lee were developing the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’, another Marvel title was concluding its short run. ‘The Incredible Hulk’, a feature produced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a follow-up to the highly successful Fantastic Four, had failed to resonate with readers and was being concluded with the sixth issue (published with a cover date of March, 1963).

 

 

Lee, rather than keeping Kirby on the final issue, brought in Ditko to illustrate a full-length tale that matched the Hulk up against a newly introduced ‘Metal Master’:

“It was said Kirby would be wasted on doing the final issue when he could be put to better use working on something else”.

—Steve Ditko ‘And Lo, There Was a Hulk’ p69 The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays by Steve Ditko 2020

 

 

As Ditko described it, this collaboration was a textbook example of the ‘Marvel Method’ in action:

“Stan provided a brief treatment of the story and he and I discussed the story idea. I worked out the visual story, supplied all the necessary details and fill-in material for the 24 page story.

I pencilled the pages and provided rough script for the panels, captions, dialogue on 24 separate sheets of paper.

I delivered the art and rough script pages and Lee and I went over ever page and panel for clarification, how I followed the synopsis, added to it or changed it and why. Any necessary corrections were made in the page margin to be done after Stan added dialogue and the pages were lettered.”

 —Steve Ditko ‘And Lo, There Was a Hulk’ p69 The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays by Steve Ditko 2020

 

 

 

‘Many Wonderful Ideas’

 

Just as the initial saga of the Hulk was concluding, the Spider-Man strip was entering a period of remarkable creativity.  With the fundamentals now largely established, the Lee/Ditko team would proceed to introduce new concepts/villains at an impressive pace.  The second issue of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ appeared with a cover date of May 1963 month, displaying a new, Ditko-designed corner box to promote the company’s brand:

“I suggested the corner box with a Marvel hero face and drew a face to show Lee and Sol Brodsky how it would look, and more important how and why the Marvel title with a hero face would be quickly seen, recognized no atter how comic books sold in stores were placed in racks.”

— Steve Ditko,  “Martin Goodman/Stan Lee”, The Avenging Mind 2007, (reprinted ’ The 32 Series by Ditko, Vol 1 Overture 2019 p. 44)

The corner box was employed across the growing Marvel line, becoming further evidence of Ditko as a proactive, creative force within the company.

 

 

Amazing Spider-Man #2, like its predecessor, contained two stories.  The first of these introduced the ‘Vulture’ – a villain with the power of flight.  Ditko’s rendition was that of a lean and middle-aged man, which went against Lee’s usual preference:

“Stan believed the most effective villain was the heavy-set one, “He once mentioned the movie villain, Sydney Greenstreet, as a villain model.

So Stan didn’t like my thin, gaunt Vulture.”

“An elephant’s bulk can be frightening and destructive, but it is easier to escape from than the lean, fast cheetah.”

“The bulkier anything is, the more panel space it has to take up, thereby shrinking panel space for other characters and story panel elements.”

—Steve Ditko A Mini-History: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man #2’, The Comics! Vol. 13 #1 January 2002, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

The following tale issue pitted Spider-Man against the ‘Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer’.  The plot, involving common radios being utilised as a tool of espionage by alien spies in their conquest of Earth, could easily have been employed in the ‘Amazing Adult Fantasy’ series.   Aliens had also been a mainstay of Atlas/Marvel and would regularly appear in Lee/Kirby titles such as ‘Fantastic Four’, but their appearance here did not sit well with Ditko.  Spider-Man’s rescue of the space capsule in the prior issue had already clashed with his own, more grounded vision of the strip. An off-world menace was similarly seen as problematic.  Ditko’s view would be succinctly summarised in his later memoirs:

“Space aliens do not fit into a teenager’s world.”

—Steve Ditko A Mini-History: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man #2’, The Comics! Vol. 13 #1 January 2002, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

There is no record of Ditko raising this concern with Lee, but this would none-the-less mark the last time Spider-Man interacted with the Tinkerer (or any other alien) during his run on the title.  And, coincidentally or not, it was during the production of the second issue that Ditko pitched his own suggestion for a more grounded Spider-Man villain:

“…I told Stan about a villain with four mechanical arms. Stan named him Dr Octopus and worked up a legend.”

— Steve Ditko, ‘A Mini-History: “The Amazing Spider-Man #2”, The Comics! Vol 13 No. 1, January 2002, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Although Lee “…worked up the story synopsis…” containing the ‘legend’ (origin) for Ditko’s conception, his outline did not include the introduction of Spider-Man’s belt-mounted ‘spider-light’ (or ‘spider-signal’) that Ditko depicted during an early scene.  For Ditko, this innovation exemplified the ongoing development of their hero:

“The Lee/Ditko S-m involved different ideas, interpretation and continuing free will choices, options and developing possibilities. It was like the manufacture of some alloyed product, needing, using different skills, needing to search, find, discover raw material to develop a method to detach, refine and combine material in new and novel ways to produce a saleable product.

In this case it was the process of making the actual S-m issues published by Marvel.”

—Steve Ditko A Mini-History 5 The Amazing Spider-Man # 3 The Comics Vol 13 No 4 April 2002, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Ditko’s Dr Octopus design would accord with Lee’s preference for bulky super-villains, as he recognised the logic in designing a character who was required to move about with four metallic appendages.

— Steve Ditko, ‘A Mini-History: “The Amazing Spider-Man #2”, The Comics! Vol 13 No. 1, January 2002, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Ditko’s creative input, which from the very start had been so crucial to the creation/development of Spider-Man, was soon openly acknowledged in the letters page of the fourth issue (cover dated September 1963): “Stan and Steve have some many unusual and wonderful ideas for future Spider-Man tales that we don’t want anything to interfere with them.”

 

 

 

Ditko’s Opinions: Ownership of Ideas and Remuneration

 

Steve Ditko’s commentaries provide many examples of the creativity he brought to projects at Marvel and other comic-book companies.  Regardless of any misgivings about how such work was acknowledged, Ditko recognised that the industry was one in which roles and responsibilities of writers and artists were not always clearly defined.  As he succinctly stated to a fan during one correspondence, “There was no strict division of labour” in comics.

— Steve Ditko (in letter to David Currie) David Currie Ditko Shrugged 2020 p 80

 

 

Ditko retained no ownership with respect to his creative contributions at Marvel.  This was the norm in the industry at the time, but it would become a point of contention for numerous creators in later years, particularly as the amount of money generated by intellectual properties became more apparent.  Ditko later referenced the arrangement in a pragmatic manner, noting the benefits he’d also received as an ‘artist plus’:

“The ideas could be mine but I had no real right to them when published. And it didn’t matter. I was getting the experience free lancers don’t usually get”.

— Steve Ditko (in 2013 letter to David Currie) Ditko Shrugged, David Currie 2020, p 67

 

 

Nor did Ditko seemingly harbour negative views with respect to the financial remuneration he received, at least as it applied to his most famous comic book work.  It is a subject that goes largely unmentioned in his essays, and is explicitly dismissed as an issue in at least one fan letter:

 “What I did with Spider-Man I was paid for.”

— Steve Ditko (in March 2015 letter to David Currie) Ditko Shrugged, David Currie 2020, p 80

 

 

‘A Credible Peter Parker/Spider-Man World’

 

While working on the third issue of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’, Lee opted to engage his partner as a ‘sounding board’ for a potential cast addition. This involved the potential introduction of a female equivalent of Spider-Man.  Ditko recalled that Lee “…did not have any synopsis about Spider-Woman joining Spider-Man…” and there was no indication as how she would fit into Spider-Man’s world, either as an ally or an enemy.  Ditko would successfully argue against it, effectively preventing any further development of the concept.  Ditko’s rationale was that the team had only produced three issues of the title, and “…had not really done much in establishing a credible Peter Parker/ Spider-man world”.

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History: “Spider-Woman/Spider-girl” The Comics! Vol 13 No 5 May 2002 the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

Ditko was already beginning to steer the strip in a particular direction, with the focus firmly on building a relatable, teenage hero who could stand on his own.   From Ditko’s perspective this was not compatible with some of Lee’s more freewheeling/outlandish ideas, nor was it suited to Lee’s tendency to bring in other Marvel characters as guest-stars:

“The gimmick of guest stars and far-out space aliens is not an appropriate way to establish a credible PP/S-m story world. The out of place ideas, inclusions, distract from rather than help build up the supporting characters and the showing, understanding the heroic teenager’s world.”

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History: “Spider-Woman/Spider-girl” The Comics! Vol 13 No 5 May 2002 the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Ditko would later cite the Tinkerer tale in ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ #2 as one which exemplified early differences between his vision and Lee’s:

“The Tinkerer story could be taken as Stan’s ideal way to do a S-m book since the story mostly involves the hero and the alien villains.”

—Steve Ditko “A Mini-History Amazing Spider-Man #2” The Comics Vol. 13 #1 January 2002, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Ditko’s own preference for drawing extended scenes of Peter and his supporting case in early Spider-Man tales drew criticism from Lee, who “…believed the point of a superhero (story) was to show the costumed hero in action” and felt that Ditko’s storytelling was restricting the amount of action that readers expected.  Ditko appreciated this perspective “…up to a point”, but felt his emphasis on personal, everyday elements made the strip a stronger one:

“What is the point of doing a teenage hero if his regular teenage personality, his home life, school environment, etc, is to be just a brief (few panels) interruption between the hero and villain battles?”

“It is important to show how a costumed hero acts in a non-costumed (non-villain) situation. It reveals the consistency or the contradiction in his values in striving to do what is right. Is it the costume that makes the hero or the personality inside?”

— Steve Ditko ‘A Mini-History 4 “The Amazing Spider-Man #2” The Comics by Robin Snyder Vol 13 No. 1 January 2002, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

For a time, at least, such creative disagreements were seemingly resolved by the willingness of both parties to engage in constructive discussion. Their differing perspectives would be reflected in the unique nature of the strip, including some early innovations/compromises.  A specific example of the latter was Ditko’s creation of a visual device in which half of Peter Parker’s face would be depicted with the Spider-Man mask – something that could be utilised when an aspect of his superhero identity was referenced during civilian scenes.  As Ditko explained, it was a direct response to Lee’s concerns that he “…was using too many panels with supporting characters, especially PP’s classmates so any mention of S-m brought on some visual S-m presence.”

—Steve Ditko A Mini-History Amazing Spider-Man #2 The Comics Vol. 13 #1 January 2002, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

 

The Influence of ‘Others’

 

The emergence of divergent views within the Lee/Ditko team would be exacerbated by the attention Lee gave to readers’ opinions.  There is no question that part of Marvel’s rapid rise was attributable to Lee’s active engagement with the target audience.  He regularly encouraged feedback via the popular letter pages that appeared in the magazines, and even utilised some specific reader story suggestions.  It was an approach that had obvious benefits, ones that were recognised by fellow creators like Jack Kirby.  Ditko, however, became concerned that Lee was paying too much attention to feedback from ‘others’ or ‘outsiders’ – a disparaging term he used to describe those external to the Lee/Ditko creative team.  This was particularly so when ‘OOs’ wrote in to express dissatisfaction with certain elements of their work:

“Stan had a tendency to believe complainers, OOs, know best. He granted them some kind of superior insights, knowledge. So they should be given arbitrary authority over the ideas of the editor, writer and artist”

— Steve Ditko, “A Mini-History “Further Complaints and Influences of the OOs” The Comics! Vol 14 No 6 June 2003, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Ironically, one of the first targets of the ‘OOs’ was the visual device Ditko had created to allay Lee’s earlier concerns.  Readers provided feedback to say that both the ‘split-face’ and ‘spider-sense’ imagery were ‘bad’ or confusing, prompting Lee to request that Ditko discontinue their use.  Ditko noted that Lee never followed up on this direction (for reasons that were not recorded) and in a possible compromise the features section of ‘Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1’ included an explanation of the visuals for readers.

 

 

Readership reaction would shape an important narrative involving Peter Parker’s social life in the pages of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’.  Betty Brant, the secretary to J Jonah Jameson, had been introduced in the fourth issue (with “story/art panel ideas…originated from Stan’s 1 or 2 page synopsis.”) and her early appearances resulted in “…some early negative mail” with respect to the romantic implications present in her interactions with Peter Parker.

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History 7: The Amazing Spider-Man #4 The Comics! Vol 13 No 8 August 2002, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Some months later Ditko would push this scenario further with his inclusion of a scene depicting Peter and Betty in the aftermath of a battle with the Vulture in issue 7 (December 1963).  This sequence, while still presumably dialogued by Lee, had not been part of his synopsis:

“Then I added the ending… indicating an actual budding romance. The explicitness proved to be a situation some (or many) S-m followers did not like or want to see continue.”

—Steve Ditko, A Mini-History 8 ‘Others, Outsiders (OOs): Complainers and Complaints Against Betty Brant’ The Comics Vol 14 No 2 February 2003, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Ditko recalled The OOs rationale was that since PP was a high school student and teenager and BB was a working girl she must be an adult and therefore obviously too old for PP.”   This supposed age gap was something that Lee would later address in the letter pages of the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’, but in the meantime he “…wanted something worked out…” to address the complaints.  Whether or not Ditko argued the point is unclear, but he did have his own thoughts as to how the storyline might progress:

“I had the idea we establish a real romance between Betty Brant and Peter Parker and then have her die in some kind of accident – nothing criminal, just the kind of unfortunate tragedy that happens in real life.”

—Steve Ditko, A Mini-History 8 ‘Others, Outsiders (OOs): Complainers and Complaints Against Betty Brant’ The Comics Vol 14 No 2 February 2003 the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

This time it was Lee’s vision of the strip that prevailed.  He rejected the suggestion, convincing Ditko that such a development would be detrimental to the strip’s integrity in the longer run:

“Stan rightly believed that (Betty’s) death would cast a negative pall over (Peter and Spider-Man). They would lose their light-hearted approach to (J.Jonah Jameson)., to action, to life. The nature of (Spider-Man) was a light-hearted form of entertainment, (Peter’s) problems were of no real crises. (He) held his own with his classmates, won more times than he lost with the feuding JJJ, and Aunt May was a source of courage and inspiration, living with health problems and the lone responsibility of bringing up her nephew. Whatever the problems with (Peter and Spider-Man), the feature wasn’t a downer.”

—Steve Ditko, A Mini-History 8 ‘Others, Outsiders (OOs): Complainers and Complaints Against Betty Brant’ The Comics Vol 14 No 2 February 2003, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

The agreed solution involved introducing (and killing off) Betty Brant’s brother in issue 11 (April 1964) in a manner that left Betty with strongly negative feelings towards Spider-Man.  This effectively neutralised Peter’s plans to reveal his identity and pursue a romantic relationship.

 

 

If Ditko had no objection to appeasing criticisms of the Peter/Betty relationship, the same could not be said about the negative commentary Marvel was also receiving in relation to Aunt May:

“Their complaints were that AM (Aunt May) was too old, too frail and, especially, too ugly.”

—Steve Ditko ‘A Mini-History: The OOs and Aunt May’, The Comics! Vol. 14 No. 4 April 2003, the newsletter of Robin Snyder

 

 

Lee’s initial reaction was to suggest the character be given a different look that was more pleasing to the audience.  When Ditko disagreed (arguing that Aunt May’s appearance was justified by her circumstances) Lee thought of another idea: she could exit the strip by dying a natural death, leaving Peter Parker to move on with his life and secure permanent employment with the Daily Bugle.  Ditko responded by asserting that Peter would then be in a scenario reminiscent of the competition’s Clark Kent (who also worked for a major newspaper) making Spider-Man: “a rank imitation, a copycat version, a Brand Echh idea.”   The discussion apparently went no further.

—Steve Ditko A Mini-History 8 “The OOs and Aunt May” The Comics! Vol 14 No. 4 April 2003, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Another major character, J. Jonah Jameson, proved similarly susceptible to reader criticism.  This prompted Lee to ask Ditko to ‘tone down’ some of the Jameson’s iconic aspects:

“Why? Two reasons 1) They didn’t like the way JJJ was always picking on S-m (Spider-Man) and poor PP (Peter Parker). 2). They certainly didn’t like the way I showed JJJ acting – his laughing facial features – at poor S-m/PP’s expense.”

—Steve Ditko A Mini-History “The OOs and JJJ” The Comics! Vol 14 No 5 May 2003, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Once again, the direction was not followed up by Lee, and their discussion apparently moved to ‘other things’.  But in this instance Ditko, who was firmly of the view that “To see JJJ is to have the pleasure of reacting against him”, would actually take the step of exaggerating things further in later issues as he gained narrative control of the strip:

“When I was doing issue 18 (1964), I deliberately drew the ugliest smile on JJJ that I could conceive on the splash page. All through the story I added bits, sequences, playing up JJJ’s facial features as much as I could

—Steve Ditko A Mini-History “The OOs and JJJ” The Comics! Vol 14 No 5 May 2003, the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

 

Crossovers

 

One of the distinguishing aspects of the early Spider-Man stories was their integration into the wider Marvel Universe via character crossovers, a strategy that Lee employed across a range of Marvel titles.  Many readers enjoyed seeing different characters interact, while the blending of various aspects from different titles helped to generate a variety of dramatic story scenarios.  This would become a defining standard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe decades later. It would also form the basis of another difference of opinion between Lee and Ditko.

 

 

In later reflections Ditko would pose a rhetorical question: “What does using guest heroes (GH) and guest villains (GV)…actually achieve in specific story world?”  From his perspective the unique appeal of a strip could be potentially compromised by the use of crossovers, and in later writings he made a point of listing those which had occurred in the pages of the early ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ issues:

“The Fantastic four (FF) were guest stars in The Amazing Spider-Man# 1, 5 and 8. The Human Torch (HT) was a guest star in #s 3, 8, 17-19 and 21. The Hulk in #14, Daredevil in #16. Dr Doom in #5, The Ringmaster and his circus crew in 16 and 22 and The Beetle in #21.
“In AS-m #18 there were guest spots of the FF, Daredevil, The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man and the Wasp, and Captain America – 11 different Marvel heroes.

So the first 22 issues of As-M had guest heroes and guest villains in issues 1, 3, 5, 8, 14, 19, 21, 22. Over fourteen others, outsiders, guested in S-m.”

— Steve Ditko A Mini-History 12: Guest Stars: Heroes and Villains’ The Comics! Vol 14 No 7 July 2003 the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

While Ditko acknowledged the “…economic advantage in using guest heroes/villains to attract buyers…” he didn’t believe their inclusion necessarily helped build a growing readership.  More importantly, he felt they could be detrimental to any focus on building an inspirational, individual hero.  Ditko further noted that guest stars brought contextual elements along with them that could be at odds with the credibility of the main character’s world (citing, as an example, one of Lee’s suggestions that Spider-Man be pitted against Attuma, an underwater foe created for the ‘Sub-Mariner’ strip):

“Those kinds of inclusions make an undesirable package deal of compatible, even contradictory, story ideas, elements. It is like mixing two different recipes or two drug prescriptions in the belief that there must now be an increase or doubling of taste enjoyment or health benefits.”

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History “Guest-Stars: Heroes and Villains”, The Comics, Vol 14, No. 7 July 2003 the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

For Ditko it was important for strips such as Spider-Man to establish and maintain their own integrity/identity, something he felt could be compromised by Lee’s penchant for crossovers:

“Everyone used from another hero’s story-world prevented us from focusing on, creating and developing our own unique story-world of characters and villains like Dr. Octopus, Electro, Kraven, etc. And it affected S-m’s own cast—JJJ, Betty, Flash, Aunt May—such as Johnny Storm’s (HT) relationship with Peter and his classmates, etc. All outside, other inclusions robbed us of our unique potentials.”

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History “Guest-Stars: Heroes and Villains”, The Comics, Vol 14, No. 7 July 2003 the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

 

Ditko’s Opinions: Lee’s Dialogue/Narrative

 

For many readers, Lee’s approach to dialogue and narration added to the unique appeal of Marvel Comics in the sixties.  Rival comic book publishers occasionally attempted to emulate his style during that period, usually with little artistic or commercial success.  One of the reasons it was so different is that Lee was writing his balloons/captions in accordance with stories/images had already been laid out by the artists.

 

Ditko was crafting those same Marvel stories from the perspective of an ‘artist-plus’ (and later, sole plotter) with his own vision of how the characters acted.  He was also creating the panel images and providing rough notes for Lee to explain what he intended them to convey:

  “…I gave Stan typewriting paper showing my rough ideas of what was being said in the story broken down into panels. Stan never wanted me to write any actual dialogue or names. That goes back to our 5 -page days. Writing, editing, dialogue, sound effects, captions, were all Stan’s division of labor at Marvel.”

— Steve Ditko, #45: Why I Quit S-M, Marvel, The Four-Page Series 9, September 2015

 

 

In scripting the actual interactions, however, Lee naturally applied his own interpretation/vision.  This would draw strong criticism from Ditko in later years:

“Stan’s writing style was completely wrong for Spider-Man. He treated teenage Peter Parker as a seasoned veteran with his nonsensical comic dialogue exchanges between a hero and a villain. Creative ideas are no good if not used in a proper way.”

— Steve Ditko, July 2015 letter p 72` Ditko Shrugged. David Currie 2020

 


Ditko would subsequently provide a somewhat more nuanced critique, pragmatically acknowledging the appeal Lee’s writing held for readers:

“Stan’s dialogue style of hero/villain wisecracking, undercut the conflict of hero, villain – but it worked with readers who just wanted to be entertained. I believe Stan loved writing those corny captions. It added to reading appeal but undercut a more serious growth of a teenager in an heroic role.”

— Steve Ditko, July 2016 letter to David Currie, Ditko Shrugged, David Currie, 2020  p 74 .

 

 

Whether this was an open point of contention at the time the comics were being produced remains unknown, as Ditko made no reference to ever raising the matter directly with Lee.

 

 

 

Dr Strange

 

While Spider-Man was finding his direction in the pages of his new monthly title, Ditko was developing another strip without Lee’s input.  This would be centred around a mysterious protagonist skilled in the art of sorcery:

“On my own, I brought in to Lee a five-page, penciled story with a page/ panel script of my idea of a new, different kind of character for variety in Marvel Comics.

My character wound up being named Dr Strange because he would appear in Strange Tales.”

—Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away” (The Avenging Mind, 2007, reprinted in ‘The 32 Page Series’ Vol 1, Overture 2019)

 

 

Ditko’s Dr Strange’, would debut as a back-up story in ‘Strange Tales’ issue 110 (July 1963) and was further evidence of Ditko’s stature as a creative force at the company.  Whether Lee had even requested or given approval for the development of a new feature is unrecorded.  Regardless, Lee recognised potential in Ditko’s submission and announced the character in a 1963 letter to fan (and fanzine publisher) Jerry Bails.  In doing so he indicated that he was not entirely satisfied with Ditko’s take, seemingly in anticipation of reader reactions.  Lee also mentioned an early revision that had already been made:

“Well, we have a new character in the works for STRANGE TALES (just a 5-page filler named DR. STRANGE–) Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. Sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him– ’twas Steve’s idea, and I figgered we’d give it a chance, although again, we had to rush the first one too much. Little sidelight: Originally decided to call him MR. STRANGE, but thought the MR. bit too similar to MR. FANTASTIC– now however, I just remember we had a villain called DR. STRANGE just recently in one of our mags – hope it won’t be too confusing! Oh well…”

— Stan Lee, The Comic Reader # 16 (February 1963)

 

 

The decision to make the character a ‘Doctor’ would prove to be important, as Ditko’s initial story had not provided any background for the character.  When an origin was belatedly presented in Strange Tales 115 (September 1963) the narrative leaned heavily on the medical aspect to establish the sorcerer’s tragic beginnings and motivations.   An introduction by Lee asserted that reader requests had prompted the disclosure of Strange’s origin at this late point.

 

 

Lee also provided the character’s first name:

“The name “Stephen Strange” was Lee’s idea. “It was Stan’s little joke,” Ditko said, adding that he never would have used his own first name for Dr. Strange.”

— Russ Maheras ‘Two Visits To STEVE DITKO’s Studio/Sanctum Sanctorum’ by Russ Maheras, Alter Ego 160 p 49

 

 

While the introductory tale was entirely Ditko’s, Lee was soon applying his own plots/storylines (via the use of written synopses) to the new strip, in addition to providing dialogue/narration.  But Lee’s story ideas (strongly reminiscent of the team’s pre-1961 work) as well as the employment of his favoured crossover strategy (this time with the ‘Thor’ feature) proved unpopular with his collaborator.  When recalling this situation many years later Ditko would disparagingly reference Lee’s letter to Jerry Bails, specifically Lee’s assertions about ‘making something’ of the then-new Dr Strange strip:

“And what were some of Lee’s ideas of ‘doing something with it’? We get Lee’s aliens, haunted house, guest star Loki from the Thor series , etc.

— Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away” The Avenging Mind 20017 (as reprinted in ‘The 32 Series by Ditko’ Vol 1. Overture 2019, p34

 

 

Ditko’s dissatisfaction with Lee’s input was further exacerbated by the decision to assign other inkers to the strip – none of whom met Ditko’s standards.  Regardless, Ditko continued to believe in the viability of his concepts:

“Even some poor plots by Stan and others and incompetent inkers, didn’t sink my basic ideas for Doctor Strange.”

“He never fit into Marvel’s world of heroes but starting out as a 5-page filler was a great opportunity to try out all kinds of ideas. I don’t know why Stan had other artists ink Doctor Strange.”

Stan did not really understand the potentials of Doctor Strange. He was used to his usual 5-page ghost, haunted house type of stories.”

— Steve Ditko, quoted by David Currie from letter September 2014, David Currie Ditko Shrugged p 65

 

 

The extent to which Ditko may have expressed his concerns directly with Lee remains unknown.  Regardless, it would not be long before their ongoing creative differences would lead to significant changes in the Lee/Ditko working method.    

 

 

 

“I Rejected Stan’s Idea” – The Green Goblin

 

Amazing Spider-Man 14 (July 1964) would see the publication of a story that was quite different to the one originally envisioned by Lee, as Ditko opted to deviate significantly from key elements of the latter’s story synopsis/direction.  Hence the introduction of a new villain known as the’ Green Goblin’ reflected Ditko’s re-imagining, rather than Lee’s conception:

“Stan’s synopsis for the Green Goblin had a movie crew, on location, finding an Egyptian-like sarcophagus. Inside was an ancient, mythological demon, the Green Goblin. He naturally comes to life.

I rejected Stan’s idea.

Why? For the same reason I rejected other ideas of Stan’s on Spider-Man.”

“A mythological demon made the whole Peter Parker/Spider-Man world a place where nothing is metaphyscially impossible It would open up the story to anything goes.”

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History 1 “The Green Goblin”, The Comics! Vol 12 No 7 July 2001 the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

Ditko’s interpretation of the Green Goblin was in accordance with his preference for more grounded characters in the Spider-Man universe.  A costumed human, his real face was obscured, and his identity would remain a mystery for the remainder of Ditko’s run.  Significant thought was put into Ditko’s version, reflecting the artist’s predilection for planning as well as his tendency for building longer term narratives that would span multiple issues:

“I had to have some definite ideas: who he was, his profession and how he fit into the Spider-Man story world. I was even going to use an earlier, planted character associated with J. Jonah Jameson: he [was to] be [revealed as] the Green Goblin. It was like a subplot working its way until it was ready to play an active role.”

“I knew from Day One, from the first GG story, who the GG would be. I absolutely knew because I planted him in J. Jonah Jameson’s businessmans’ club, it was where JJJ and the GG could be seen together. I planted them together in other stories where the GG would not appear in costume, action.”

“I wanted JJJ’s and the GG’s lives to mix for later story drama involving more than just the two characters”

“I planted the GG’s son (same distinctive hair style) in the college issues for more dramatic involvement and storyline consequences”

— Steve Ditko, “The Ever Unwilling”, THE COMICS Vol. 20, No. 3 [March 2009], the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

Ditko’s accounts of earlier open disagreements with Lee had depicted them taking place during the back-and-forth of creative discussions, and prior to the preparation of any synopsis.  In this instance, however, Ditko made a significant change to Lee’s written direction.  Whether this made any significant difference to their relationship is impossible to verify, since Ditko did not elaborate on Lee’s immediate reaction, but it would mark Ditko’s last reference to working from Lee’s written synopses on the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ title.  And the very next issue would introduce a new villain called ‘Kraven the Hunter’, one of a handful of villains for whom Ditko would specifically claim sole creative credit.

 

 

Lee’s influence on the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ title continued to be felt through the appearances of guest-stars in the following months (including ‘Daredevil’, the ‘Human Torch’, the ‘Beetle’ and the ‘Circus of Crime’).  Even so, the letters page for issue 17 (October 1964) informed readers that Ditko would be solely responsible for the plot of the following issue, an off-beat tale in which Spider-Man would quit his superhero career for the first (but far from the last) time:

“And as for ol’ Spidey, next ish is gonna be real different! The whole plot was dreamed up by Sunny Steve and it was just nutty enough for Stan to okay it! You’ll see Spidey acting differently than ever before! ‘Nuff said!”

Letters page, Amazing Spider-Man 17 October 1964

 

 

The month of October 1964 also saw the publication of the first Amazing Spider-Man annual.  This included a humorous segment titled ‘How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Create Spider-Man’.  Ditko would later acknowledge Lee’s involvement in the conceptual stages of the issue, but made it clear that the synopsis method was not employed:

“We only talked about the ‘ideas’ for the first S-M annual. Nothing was written by Lee.” (p37)

—Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away” Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1. Overture)

 

 

 

Tales to Astonish

 

If Lee had any concerns about the viability of the Lee/Ditko team in the face of creative discussions/disagreements that were taking place in 1964, they didn’t prevent him from approaching Ditko with the offer of working together on a third series.  This would result in the relaunch of the Hulk as a co-feature in the pages of Tales to Astonish, commencing as of issue 60 (September 1964):

“I was interested in working up an idea on my own as I did with Strange, again for the sake of variety. I intended to do a hero in street clothing to avoid special costume changes.

Stan offered me Daredevil. I had already helped with the first issue but I didn’t want to do him because he was too close to Spider-Man – spider senses, blind super senses – and I didn’t like the cane gimmick.  I turned down Iron Man because I didn’t find the character with his weak heart gimmick interesting enough.

Stan had a list of possible old Marvel characters to choose from: Kazar, the Sub-Mariner, Hulk and other oldies.

I shelved my ideas because Stan wanted a character to publish soon. I decided on the Hulk because I could work on the military angle, one that was very different from Spider-Man and Dr Strange.”

— Steve Ditko ‘And Lo, There Was a Hulk’ The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays

 

 

Lee, having recognised the Hulk’s failure to resonate with readers in his short-lived title, was keen not to do “…the same Lee/Kirby-type feature”, which meant that there “…had to be a noticeable difference” with the new Lee/Ditko version:

“There were discussions between us about the 2nd Hulk. A big part centred on what Stan wanted to discard, what we could keep and why.”

“The military context would remain with the supporting cast of General Ross and his daughter.  The aliens, monsters, outsized villains in far-out fantasies, were scrapped as junk material.

The more human type of villain, meaning the less super-powerful in contrast to the Hulk, were in.”  

“So the more possible, logical, believable – a “realism” – was definitely in.”

— Steve Ditko ‘And Lo, There Was a Hulk’ The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays

 

 

There would also be a deliberate attempt to employ the humanising elements that had worked so well in the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ title:

“Since the Parker/Spider-Man type of problem was working successfully, Stan believed that was the direction to go with Banner/Hulk.

So there would be more emphasis on showing the psychological, social problems of Banner and his role as the Hulk and how it affects his relationship with others and with his life in the world.”

— Steve Ditko ‘And Lo, There Was a Hulk’ The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays

 

 

One major element that differentiated this new iteration of the Hulk was the decision to make stress/anger the trigger for Banner’s ongoing transformations.  Although the new stories clearly capitalised on this, Ditko’s accounts made no mention as to who initiated it.  The concept would be introduced to readers in a ‘Giant-Man’ story (which guest-starred the Hulk) appearing in Tales to Astonish 59 (September 1964) – one issue prior to the commencement of Ditko’s run.

 

 

During the course of this series Ditko again operated as ‘artist-plus’ in a working method that involved “…the usual Lee plot synopsis, my working out the story pages/panel breakdown, penciling of the art, rough script and then going over the material with Stan.”  As with the Dr Strange strip, Lee chose to employ a separate inker on the strip, even though (as a co-feature) it required half the pages per month that a full issue would entail:

“It may have been because I didn’t believe I could do it each month along with Spider and Strange.”

— Steve Ditko ‘And Lo, There Was a Hulk’ The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays

 

 

This re-launch successfully re-established the Hulk as a viable property, even though Ditko’s tenure as artist from Tales to Astonish issue 60 (September 1964) until issue 67 (May 1965) was relatively brief (for reasons that remain unrecorded).  It was also apparently a smooth collaboration, with no creative tensions being mentioned by either creator.  Ditko would look back on the strip with a particular sense of pride – contrasting it with the original Lee/Kirby series:

“Setting aside the dispute between Stan and Jack Kirby as to the ‘creation’ of the Hulk, their  Hulk ‘idea’ , ‘creation’, failed.  Stan and I did the sixth and last issue (March 1963) of that Hulk series.

I was instrumental in bringing out the second version of The Hulk with different ‘ideas’ by Stan and me.  The second Hulk went on to continuing success.”

— Steve Ditko, Tsk! Tsk! Examining a “Creator”/”Creation” Claim, The Avenging Mind p 137

 

 

 

Part Three: 1965/1966

 

 

“I took over the plotting, writing stories…”

 

As 1965 commenced the Marvel superhero line was firmly established and performing strongly, with the Lee/Ditko ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ amongst the publisher’s most popular titles.  Ditko was now enjoying a significant level of control over the strip’s narrative, and was largely free to ignore plot/character ideas from Lee that he considered banal or otherwise contradictory to his own vision:

“Stan was willing to go along with my not using his usual monthly plots – like having Spider-Man battle Attuma or introduce a Spider-Girl, a purely monthly episode.”

—Steve Ditko (letter to David Currie May 2015, quoted in David Currie Ditko Shrugged 2020. p 75)

 

 

The creative transition was, at least from Ditko’s recorded perspective, uneventful.  Lee continued to provide dialogue and was actively involved as the strip’s editor.  The two would meet regularly to review pencilled pages, discuss respective ideas/directions and produce cover designs.  But the actual storylines were now effectively Ditko’s, and he viewed the new arrangement as one that worked well for both Lee and Marvel:

“I took over the plotting, writing stories long before any writing credit. It took some pressure off Stan and the titles weren’t ever late in publishing.”

— Steve Ditko Letter to David Currie July 2016 quoted in Ditko Shrugged, David Currie, 2020, p 71

 

 

Lee’s influence in relation to the employment of guest-stars seemingly continued, at least for a while. The Human Torch, whom Lee had utilised as a semi-regular guest-star since the first issue, returned for prominent roles in issues 19 (December 1994) and 21 (February 1965) to help Spider-Man battle foes like the ‘Sandman’ and the ‘Beetle’ (the latter having originated as a foe of the Torch in ‘Strange Tales’).  But these would mark the Torch’s final appearances in the ASM during Ditko’s run, and the plotter/artist portrayed the team-up in a way that reflected his own sensibilities:

“I also deliberately made S-M and the HT ineffective as a “team” in capturing the B (Beetle)…In yet another S-M/HT team up (#19) I had two policemen capture the Sandman.”

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History “Guest-Stars: Heroes and Villains”, The Comics, Vol 14, No. 7 July 2003  newsletter of Robin Snyder

 

 

Crossover characters in the regular Ditko run would finally come to an end in ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ #22, March 1965, with a return appearance from the villainous ‘Circus of Crime’ (featuring characters that had originally appeared in the early ‘Hulk’ strip).  From that point on the focus of the strip was squarely on the titular hero and his homegrown cast:

“The less outside help a hero gets, the more he alone demonstrates his abilities, determination, to overcome obstacles (personal, social etc.) and defeat the villain. It is a greater, real test of his heroic personality, loyalty to real, pro-life values.”

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History: “Spider-Woman/Spider-girl” The Comics! Vol 13 No 5 May 2002, newsletter of Robin Snyder

 

 

 

“I was the only one who understood Dr Strange’s potentials”

 

Similar changes in narrative control also took place on the Dr Strange strip, which continued to attract an audience (albeit a smaller one) in Marvel’s ‘Strange Tales’ publication.  Ditko, dissatisfied with Lee’s story concepts (as well as his employment of guest stars and different inkers), later speculated that the sheer volume of Lee’s work during that period may have been a factor:

Stan may have had too many characters, titles to handle, write for so he needed some formula approach for everything.”

It’s seen with Dr Strange’s early plots, stories about ghosts, haunted houses etc. and losing a consistent look having someone else ink Dr Strange.”

— Steve Ditko, Letter to David Currie p 67, Ditko Shrugged, David Currie 2020

 

 

In other commentary Ditko asserted that Lee was simply incapable of managing a character as unique as Dr Strange, referencing “…Lee’s inability to handle a novel idea that (was) not his usual, typical comic book ideas, powers, such as stretching, flaming, invisibility, monster types, etc.”

— Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away” The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1. Overture p34)

 

 

Ditko believed that Lee had “…a hard time coming with Dr Strange ideas”, and that this was the reason assistance had been sought from another writer, Don Rico.  When the situation reached a point where Lee “…was ready to drop Dr Strange because of his difficulties…”, Ditko saw the opportunity to take control of the stories and implement his own vision: “…I told him that I should be inking and could do Dr Strange because I was the only one who understood Dr Strange’s potentials…”.

— Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away” The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1. Overture p34)

 

 

There is no mention of the tone of this discussion, but Lee evidently agreed to hand over full storytelling duties to Ditko.  The precise point at which this occurred was not recorded, though Ditko did return as the strip’s inker for issue 126 of Strange Tales (November 1964) – a tale that also introduced the arch-villain ‘Dormammu’.  Curiously, Don Rico’s credited involvement as scripter took place a few issues later, in issue 129 (February 1965).  In that same issue the following announcement appeared in the letters page:

“Our second surprise is that Dr. Strange begins a new, different type of series next month!  Just for a change, Stan asked sunny Steve to dream up a real far-out plot, and if you hadn’t guessed before, you’re about to learn that sterling Stevey Ditko has one of the most inventive, off-beat imaginations anywhere!  Don’t say we didn’t warn you!  The next one’s going to be DIFFERENT!”

This was followed by a dramatic change in the storytelling as of issue 130, with the strip becoming one continuous, serialised adventure that was heralded as by Lee on the opening page as “…the greatest black magic spectacular ever presented…”.

 

 

Lee continued to provide dialogue/narrative for the majority of instalments (with credits sometimes referring to him as the scripter, other times as the writer) until Strange Tales 142 (March 1966).

 

 

 

“About half of the Spider-Man stories were mostly mine.”

 

There has been much speculation over the years regarding the precise extent to which Ditko contributed to stories produced in conjunction with editor/writer Stan Lee.

 

While it is evident that Ditko assumed full plotting at some point on both the Spider-Man and Dr Strange strips, any specific analysis is complicated by the dynamic nature of their collaborations, as well as the challenge of determining precisely when particular events occurred.

 

From Ditko’s perspective, however, the answer was a simple one:

The Dr Strange stories were mostly mine. About half of the Spider-Man stories were mostly mine.”

Steve Ditko, 13 April 2018 Correspondence, An Exchange of Ideas, ’32 Page Series Vol V Curtain’ p 222

 

 

 

Cover Conflict

 

Another key development also took place around this time, resulting in further changes to the Ditko/Lee working method.  It may even have marked a significant turning point in their overall working relationship.  In providing the background, Ditko recalled how he and Lee were still meeting regularly to discuss cover designs for the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ series:

“Normally, with Stan, when I brought in an inked S-M issue we would gov over the pages for a cover idea.

The cover was always done last and in this way: I’d take a blank sheet of paper, we’d look over the inked pages and Stan would suggest some S-M/villain action for the cover.

I’d rough out the idea…making changes or adjustments or he’d suggest a different idea- Nd I would rough out, adjust etc.

When the idea was what he liked, wanted, I’d pencil and ink the cover.”

— Steve Ditko “#45: Why I Quit S-M, Marvel”, The Four-Page Series no. 9, September 2015(reprinted in The Complete Four Page Series And Other Essays 2020 p 49)

 

 

These meetings continued after Ditko assumed full plotting responsibilities but apparently not for much longer.  Ditko’s description of their demise was unusually detailed, and suggested a tension absent in many of his other anecdotes:

“…(O)ne day Stan said our past covers weren’t good enough for some reason so our cover collaboration was badly flawed.

The next time to do a cover. I had the blank cover sheet.

Stan suggested some idea. I roughed it out but he really didn’t like it. He suggested another idea and again I roughed it out but it was again not really good enough.

At some point, he asked me for an idea. I told him he said our collaboration ideas weren’t good enough.

Fine. Tell me what you want, I’ll rough it out, you okay it and I’ll pencil and ink it.

Stan couldn’t decide on what to actually do for the cover.

At some point he, he told me to do the cover and from then on when I pencilled a story, I also pencilled the cover.”

— Steve Ditko “#45: Why I Quit S-M, Marvel”, The Four-Page Series no. 9, September 2015 (reprinted in The Complete Four Page Series And Other Essays 2020 p 49)

 

 

The new division of labour was succinctly summarised by Ditko:

 “So it came to me doing the ideas for the whole S-M issue; the story line, villain, continuity and cover and Stan dialogued the material from my page/panel, story/dialogue notes.”

— Steve Ditko “#45: Why I Quit S-M, Marvel”, The Four-Page Series no. 9, September 2015 (reprinted in The Complete Four Page Series And Other Essays 2020 p 49)

 

 

 

“I had to leave without seeing or talking to Stan…”

 

While it is unclear how long this new status quo in the Lee/Ditko working method lasted, Ditko did provide some context for when it ended:

“Then, at some point before issue # 25, Stan chose to break off communicating with me.”

— Steve Ditko “A Mini-History, The Green Goblin”, The Comics, Vol 12, No 7 July 2001] the newsletter by Robin Snyder

 

It was already generally known at Marvel that Stan Lee chose not to communicate with me on anything since before issue #25 of the Amazing Spider-Man” (June 1965)

— Steve Ditko “He Giveth and He Taketh Away” The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1 Overture p 38)

 

 

According to Ditko this major breakdown in his relationship with Lee was entirely unexpected, and it took him some time to recognise what had happened.  He had arrived at the office as usual to deliver his latest pencilled pages:

“Normally when I took in a pencilled S-M or D-S job, Stan and I would go over every panel; he’d note anything he didn’t understand or something needed, wanted, more detail etc.

I’d mark any needed, wanted changes, correction, addition, to fix on the pencilled page I was to ink. Plus, I gave Stan typewriting paper showing my rough idea of what was being said in the story broken down into panels, Stan never wanted me to write any actual dialogue or names.

That goes back to our 5-page days. Writing, editing, dialogue, sound-effects, captions, were all Stan’s division of labour at Marvel.”

— Steve Ditko “#45: Why I Quit S-M, Marvel”, The Four-Page Series no. 9, September 2015(reprinted in The Complete Four Page Series And Other Essays 2020 p 49)

 

 

In normal circumstances Ditko would simply enter Lee’s office area if Lee was otherwise unoccupied.  This time, however, Sol Brodsky (Lee’s assistant) intercepted him and asked for the pages.  Ditko initially assumed that Sol simply wished to look at them, but to his surprise, Brodsky delivered them to Lee himself…leaving a confused Ditko with Lee’s secretary, Flo Steinberg.

 

 

After returning home and receiving a call to pick up the pages, Ditko was again met by Brodsky.  The pages were silently handed back to him for inking.  When Ditko subsequently delivered the inked work at the office it was again received by a still-silent Brodsky:

“I inked the pages, took them in, Sol again took the pages from me and into Stan’s office – came out saying nothing – and I left.”

— Steve Ditko “#45: Why I Quit S-M, Marvel”, The Four-Page Series no. 9, September 2015 (reprinted in The Complete Four Page Series And Other Essays 2020 p 49)

 

 

Ditko returned to his office, expecting further ‘word’ on the next issue (presumably referring to any editorial direction from Lee concerning guest-stars, villains etc).  When this direction was not forthcoming Ditko proceeded to come up with the next issue entirely by himself:

“So, back at my office, I decided on my own to do the next, follow-up S-M with some new villain.

 When done and there was still no word from Stan or Sol about the next S-M issue. I took my S-M story/issue and went through the same Sol/Stan routine.

When doing S-M, D-S, I always wrote down my ideas that came to me about the supporting characters, any possible, usable story idea.

At some point after they had been dialogued and lettered, I got my original, pencilled pages back and inked them.

That became our working method on S-M and DS.”

— Steve Ditko “#45: Why I Quit S-M, Marvel”, The Four-Page Series no. 9, September 2015(reprinted in The Complete Four Page Series And Other Essays 2020)

 

 

Issue 25 of ‘Amazing Spider-Man (June 1965) introduced the threat of the ‘Spider-Slayer’, a robotic menace under the control of J Jonah Jameson. The story ran with the following introductory blurb from Lee: “Sturdy Steve Ditko dreamed up the plot of this tantalizing tale, and it’s full of unexpected surprises! Turn the page and see if you can guess what’s coming next…”

 

 

Of course, as Ditko would emphasise, it was certainly not the first time he had crafted stories with no input from Lee:

“The fact is that we had no story or idea discussions about some Spider-Man books even before issue #26 up to when I left the book.”

— Steve Ditko, letter to Comic Book Marketplace  # 63 September/October 1998

 

 

But with no avenue for any real story collaboration, the Lee/Ditko team could now operate only within the broadest definition of the ‘Marvel Method’:

“Stan never knew what was in my plotted stories until I took in the pencilled story, the cover, my script and Sol Brodsky took the material from me and took it all into Stan’s office., so I had to leave without seeing or talking to Stan.”

— Steve Ditko, letter to the editor, Comic Book Marketplace #63, September/October 1998.

 

 

 

Plotting Credits

 

This final iteration of the Ditko/Lee working method would continue for many months, and coincided with a permanent change to the way Lee’s credit boxes were written.  Ditko received official recognition as the sole plotter of both Spider-Man (as of Amazing Spider-Man 25, June 1965) and Dr Strange (as of Strange Tales 135, August 1965).  This presumably reflected Lee’s complete withdrawal from any story discussions/direction, since Ditko had (in his own words) essentially taken over the actual story construction ‘long before’.

 

Astute readers may have noticed changes to the strips taking place around this time. These included the cessation of crossovers in both ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Dr Strange’, as well as the transition into serialised storytelling on ‘Strange Tales’.  When looking back on this era Ditko would, perhaps sardonically, pose the question:

“Was my material, my run on Dr. Strange, no better or no worse than the standard Lee/Ditko/Bell issues?”

— Steve Ditko, ‘He Giveth and He Taketh Away’, The Avenging Mind 2017 (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1. Overture 2019)

 

 

Regardless of his views on crossovers and the supernatural, Ditko did find justification for bringing both Spider-Man and Doctor Strange together for a memorable team-up that appeared in the second ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ annual (published June 1965):

“A line has to be drawn for what is acceptable and not acceptable for a character. (I even had magic limits on Dr. Strange. Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 2 (1965) featuring Dr. Strange, was, as an annual should be, a special event. It does not necessarily have to connect with the monthly adventures. And Spider-Man was already long undercut with space aliens.)” 

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History 1 “The Green Goblin”, The Comics Vol 12, No. 7, July 2001 newsletter by Robin Snyder

 

 

Ditko’s Opinions: Credits

 

Marvel was one of the first comic book publishers to adopt the use of consistent creator credits, something that was still relatively unusual during the early 1960s when many creators remained anonymous to readers.  Since that time credits have become the norm within the comics industry, and there has been a corresponding expectation that creators be recognised for their respective contributions.  This has led to some conjecture about the accuracy of the early Marvel credits as they applied to the ‘Marvel Method’ of production during the ‘Silver Age’ of comics.

 

Ditko’s commentaries make no reference to him raising concerns about the wording of credits directly with Lee while working at Marvel.  That said, he held strong views on the subject that were expressed in a number of his later writings.  In particular, Ditko was critical of the way in which Lee employed terms such as ‘scripter’ and ‘illustrator’.  Ditko would assert that Lee’s approach constituted a ‘creative’ use of credits that mirrored those of unscrupulous Hollywood producers, and that it was employed intentionally to raise Lee’s profile at the expense of artists:

Stan Lee had his ‘creative’ credit keeping method. Lee’s method served to unfairly upgrade him and downgrade others in what they did, achieved. It was done simply, easily, by his choice, by his way of identifying credit words, using false labels.”

— Steve Ditko “Creative Crediting” The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1.1 Overture 2019)

 

 

Ditko argued that credit boxes which simply labelling him as the illustrator of a tale had denied him (and others) of their rightful recognition as an ‘artist-plus’:

“..every illustrator credit for a needed artist-plus is worse than wrong. It is deliberately denying, rejecting, the need, worth, value of the one person who is actually making, turning, the abstract written ideas into a picture story.

The artist-plus makes the comic book writer’s story idea publishable, able to be brought, seen, read and enjoyed and go into ‘syndication’/reprints with all their future benefits, prestige (residuals).”

— Steve Ditko “Creative Crediting” The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1.1 Overture 2019)

 

 

Ditko did not view Lee’s granting of a formal plotting credit in 1965 as any improvement. For him, the revised credits were no more accurate that the earlier ones:

“There’s a long list of Lee’s ‘creative’ crediting style: ‘Script: Stan Lee, Art: Steve Ditko’, ‘Written by Stan Lee and Plotted, Drawn by Steve Ditko’; ‘Script and Editing by Stan Lee and Illustrated by Steve Ditko.’ None are consistent in fact and actual meaning and so all are non-objective, untrue.”

— Steve Ditko “Creative Crediting” The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1.1 Overture 2019)

 

 

Ditko’s rationale was that the revised plotting credit continued to include terms such as ‘scripted’ and ‘written’ – which (at least in Ditko’s view) suggested the existence of a ‘full script’ prepared prior to the artwork:

“By using such terms and phrases as ‘Scripted by,’ ‘Scripting and Edited by’, and Written by’ (in crediting himself), Lee implied, claimed that he had written not a synopsis but he had actually and factually written a full script.

All of these combinations of Stan’s credits of ‘Scripted by,’ ‘Script and Editing by.’ And Written by etc., are all claiming, implying a full script by Lee.”

 “Lee’s ‘creative’ crediting style implied, claimed, that I was only following what he fully scripted for every panel and that I was only just ‘illustrating.’ All his panel ideas, his fully scripted page/panel ideas, that he had laid out in all the necessary detail.”

— Steve Ditko “Creative Crediting” The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1.1 Overture 2019)

 

 

This perspective explains why Ditko often (though not always) referred to Lee’s writing as ‘dialogue’ rather than a ‘script’ in his writings.  For Ditko, a comic book ‘script’ had a very specific meaning, one that that did not apply to scenarios where a writer was providing dialogue/narration after the completed artwork:

“It is essential to understand what a full script is and means. A full script contains all the needed panels for every page, all the needed panel descriptions, for the type of panel (setting, drama, action, mood, etc.). The script has all the panel captions, all the dialogue, sound effects. The script is a complete comic book word story and is only lacking in everything visual (panel, pictures, illustrations). The illustrator’s to is to put to advantage the script’s specific people, places, action, etc. in a composition, a story panel picture.”

“There has never been a full Spider-Man script by Lee so on one is entitled to any kind of full script (creator) credit or even any implied full credit. That kind of full credit can only be achieved with ‘creative’ crediting.”

— Steve Ditko “Creative Crediting” The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1.1 Overture 2019)

 

 

In his essays Ditko proposed a solution that he believed reflected the division of labour in a more appropriate way.  In doing so he drew a comparison with the elements of oxygen and hydrogen, both essential elements in the creation of water (neither being in itself the sole ‘creative’ element):

 “A more honest crediting could have been ‘A co-creation by writer, Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko’ (where neither one is oxygen or hydrogen ‘creating’ water).” P30

— Steve Ditko “Creative Crediting” The Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1.1 Overture 2019)

 

 

 

Ditko Goes Solo

 

Regardless of the dramas that had been transpiring behind the scenes, Ditko continued to reliably produce new art/stories for Lee and Marvel, with minimal feedback and a large degree of independence:

“When I picked up the pages to be inked I considered or ignored any story/art comments by Brodsky. I don’t know if the actual source was Stan or Sol.”

— Steve Ditko, A Mini-History 1 “The Green Goblin”, The Comics! Vol 12 No 7 July 2001 the newsletter of Robin Snyder.

 

 

The latter months of 1965 even saw a significant development within the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ series under his authorship, with Peter Parker’s graduation from high school and entry into college.  It was a change that had previously been considered back in the more collaborative days, albeit one that was confirmed via Flo Steinberg:

“I remember I once asked Flo to ask Stan if he still wanted P.Parker to graduate from high school and go to college.”

“At some point Flo said ‘yes’. Stan still chose not to see me or to discuss anything about S-M, D-S or anything else.”

— Steve Ditko “Why I Quit S-M, Marvel”, The Four-Page Series no. 9, September 2015 (reprinted in ‘The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays’ 2020

 

 

Ditko depicted Peter Parker’s high school graduation in Amazing Spider-Man #28 (September 1965), followed by the character’s first day at university in issue 31.  The latter event was incorporated within a multi-issue storyline originally intended for the second Spider-Man annual, one that saw Spider-Man pitted against the ‘Master Planner’ (finally revealed as Dr. Octopus in issue 33’s conclusion):

“I was going to use this for the Annual but when Marvel planned so many reprints and only 20 pages or so of available for a new spider adventure and that not being enough to tell the whole story I decided to revise it and use it over a 3 issue spread because it would fit in very well with the issue where Pete goes to College.”

— Steve Ditko, 1965 letter to fan Glen Johnson, The Hero # 37, Summer 2023 published by Robin Snyder (as represented in “58 Summers Ago: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2”, Marvel Mysteries and Comics Minutiae blog by Nick Caputo, August 8 2023

.

 

At this stage Ditko was working two issues ahead of publication on both the Spider-Man and Dr. Strange strips, developing all of the relevant plot ideas and using a large sheet of paper, taped up in his studio, to assist with the planning process:

“The sheet was for me to note any sub-plot ideas for S-M, PP, and the main supporting characters: J Jonah, Aunt May, the school kids, etc.
An example: Aunt May. What kind of problem, concern, would affect her, PP and S-M?
When would be the worst time for a real serious problem affecting her, PP and S-M?
His first day in college.So I slowly built up her heart problem to come to a climax on PP’s first day in college.”

— Steve Ditko, “Why I Quit S-M, Marvel”, The Four-Page Series no. 9, September 2015 (reprinted in ‘The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays’ 2020

 

 

Ditko seemed to embrace his freedom from Lee’s input/directions, leaving any judgement of the outcome to others:

“Is that relevant, any big difference, any real improvement, over turning in an inked job on S-M and still having to figure out a cover and asking Stan “What’s next for S-M (DS)” and getting an answer like “Let’s have S-M fight fight Attuma” or “Let’s introduce a Spider-Woman,” a mythological Green Goblin, have guest heroes: Daredevil, Torch, guest-villains, The Beetle, etc.?

All S-M, DS and Marvel fans are free to decide which method produced the best results for S-M, DS.”

Steve Ditko “Why I Quit S-M, Marvel”, The Four-Page Series no. 9, September 2015 (reprinted in ‘The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays’ 2020

 

 

As for Lee, he was now completely reliant on interpreting Ditko’s pencils and story notes when creating the final script for ‘Dr Strange’ and ‘Spider-man’.  His opportunities for exercising editorial control were also minimal, though (as explained in his 2002 autobiography ‘Excelsior’) his role in providing dialogue/narrative still provided some measure of influence:

“I had the fun of trying to read the little notes he’d put in the borders, notes like ‘Spidey realises he’s out of web fluid’, or ‘Dr Strange can’t find his amulet.’ Sometimes I’d ignore those notes and write copy that would move the story in a slightly different direction.”

— Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away”, The Avenging Mind 2007, (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko, Vol. 1 Overture 2019 p 35)

 

 

This was seemingly acknowledged by Ditko who, being familiar with Lee’s book, would directly reference Lee’s comments when providing his own thoughts on the matter:

“These notes are my page/panel dialogue sheets.  To ‘write copy’ means adding Lee’s captions and dialogue.  And ‘in a slightly different direction can mean what pleases him more.”

— Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away”, The Avenging Mind 2007, (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko, Vol. 1 Overture 2019 p 35)

 

 

While both parties referenced the situation, neither provided specific examples of Lee’s scripting having any impact on Ditko’s storylines.  Ditko presumably considered any instances to be of negligible importance, since he would also state that Lee had “…absolutely nothing to do with my own plotted, drawn and rough dialogue Spider-Man issues.”

— Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away”, The Avenging Mind 2007, (reprinted in The 32 Series by Ditko, Vol. 1 Overture 2019 p 35)

 

 

 

Ditko Departs

 

This final phase of the Lee/Ditko working relationship came to a conclusion in late November 1965, after Brodsky phoned to advise the third Spider-Man annual was coming up.  It was then that Ditko experienced a moment of self-realisation:

“Later, thinking about what I could do for the annual, I asked myself “Why should I do it?”

Why should I continue to do all these monthly issues, original story ideas, material, for a man who is too scared, too angry over something, to even see, talk to me?

“…I decided to quit Marvel, S-M, DS.”  My next visit to Marvel, I told Sol I was quitting Marvel.”

Ditko opted not to explain his reasoning at that point, as he believed the only person who had a right to know was his collaborator.  Brodsky relayed the information to Lee while Ditko was still present.  But if Ditko thought Lee might choose that moment to break the silence, he was mistaken:

“The only person who had the right to know why I was quitting refused to come out of his office or to call me in.”

Steve Ditko “Why I Quit S-M, Marvel”, The Four-Page Series no. 9, September 2015 (reprinted in ‘The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays’ 2020

 

 

One of the first outlets to report this news to readers was a fanzine:

“Late the last week of November, Steve Ditko turned into Marvel the last Spiderman [sic] and Doctor Strange art that he would be doing for them.” 

— Comic Reader 44 (December 1965)

 

 

An acknowledgement of Ditko’s departure appeared on the Bullpen Bulletin page of Marvel’s publications cover dated April 1966:

“It’s hail and farewell to sturdy Steve Ditko! Spider-Man #38 and Strange Tales #146 (both now on sale) will mark his final appearances in any Marvel mags! (Except for the numerous reprints you’ll find in our king-size issues.) Steve recently told us he was leaving, for personal reasons. After all these years, we’re sorry to see him go, and we wish the talented guy success with his future endeavors.”

 

 

Later…

 

Ditko continued to produce work over the course of the following five decades for a variety of publishers.  This included a return stint with Marvel during the late 1970s, with artistic runs on titles such as ‘Speedball’ and ‘ROM’ that lasted into the 1980s, though Ditko chose to never again work with the Dr Strange or Spider-Man characters.

 

 

In 1992 Steve Ditko and Stan Lee almost reunited on a new project after Lee reached out with an offer to collaborate on a new series (‘Ravage 2099’) he was developing at Marvel.  Ditko, for his part, agreed to meet with Lee in person to discuss the project.  This would mark the first time they had seen each other in 27 years.  The event proved to be a mutually friendly and respectful one, despite the circumstances of their prior estrangement.  Regardless, Ditko did not have an affinity for the material and opted not to be involved.  (See the ‘Endnotes’ section for some eyewitness accounts of the brief reunion).

 

 

In the years that followed their final meeting, the Lee/Ditko relationship would again deteriorate, with Ditko taking umbrage at various comments made by Lee that he viewed as purposely misleading or dishonest.  It was a situation that would only worsen during the 2000s as Marvel’s brand became ever more embedded in the mainstream with the success of its movie properties, a scenario that brought Lee even further into the spotlight as the public face of the organisation.

 

 

The circumstances around Ditko’s departure from Marvel in 1965 would prove fertile ground for many commentators for a full five decades, a situation which only ended in 2015 when Ditko finally released an essay explaining the event.  In that same document, he took the opportunity to reference the ‘outsiders/others’ who had been filling the void with their own explanations/speculations over the years:

There have been many claimed knowers of Why I Quite S-M and Marvel. Stan and I were arguing over, disputing Who is, or should be, the Green Goblin, over “not getting promised royalties,” and other known, floating, arbitrary “truths”, the “real” stories, reasons, fantasies, by CBFs and fan publications, historians.”

All such claimers lack first-hand knowledge. All are guessing, creating, their own reasons, fictions and fantasies.”

… Steve Ditko ‘#45: ‘Why I Quit S-M, Marvel’, 2015, The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays by Steve Ditko p.48

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Concluding (and Personal) Thoughts

 

Steve Ditko’s decision to record his experiences at 1960s Marvel was originally prompted in part by the emergence of other narratives that he identified as inaccurate/misleading:

“After I left Marvel (1966) I wrote a rough record of my early involvement with Spider-Man (S-m), Dr. Strange and the Hulk. One reason was because Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were each claiming sole credit as “creator” of Spider-Man (and other Marvel characters)”

— Steve Ditko, ‘A Mini-History “Some Background’, The Comics! By Robin Snyder, Vol. 12 No. 5 May 2001

 

The Ditko version of events may have been generally unsentimental and occasionally even brusque, lacking the professional sheen of most ‘official’ histories, but without it many of his contributions would have remained unknown.  Some of his specific accounts were at odds with those of his fellow creators while others consisted of largely complementary information.  There were strong criticisms of certain actions from Stan Lee, as well as acknowledgements of the latter’s creative input (often with a level of detail that Lee himself never gave).  This balance was consistent with Ditko’s personal views concerning truth/recognition, adding weight to the veracity of his commentaries.

 

The breakdown of the Lee/Ditko relationship remains a topic of particular interest to many.  Ditko’s 2015 essay “Why I Quit S-M, Marvel” is the definitive account of the circumstances behind his departure from Marvel in late 1965, though it is best understood when read in the context of his other commentaries.  Together, Ditko’s writings chronicle how he sought/gained greater control over characters he created/co-created, so as to better apply his own authorial vision.  He seemingly achieved his goal without much resistance, but it is clear something happened along the way that critically damaged the collaborative process.

 

No one knows exactly why, but at some point, Lee opted to avoid speaking directly to Ditko.  Lee never explicitly revealed the reasons behind this; however, he did provide his own recollections regarding the changing dynamics of the Lee/Ditko partnership:

“Steve was a very mysterious character. When he first started he was the easiest character we ever had to work with. I used to think that if everybody was as easy to work with as Steve, it would be great. I would call him in the middle of the night with an emergency ten page script and Steve would bring it in the very next day without a complaint.”

— Stan Lee, ‘A Serious Interview with Stan Lee’, April 1975.  interview with Stan Lee that took place in Fantasy Advertiser International, April 1975 edition.

 

“But after a few years, something happened between Steve and me – and it was all on Steve’s part. I mean, I felt the same, but he got angry.  He was angry about something and I never knew what it was, really. Specifically. He never told me. He came in one day and he did say, “Stan, I don’t like the way you’re putting in all the sound effects. “You’re ruining my artwork with those sound effects.” “Fine, I’ll leave them out. I left them out. A little later, he would come in and say “Stan, I don’t like the plots you’re doing.” “Plot them yourself, Steve. Whatever he didn’t like, I said “Fine, I’ll change it.” But it didn’t help. I could sense he was unhappy about something. Then, one day – I don’t think he told me himself – I heard from somebody that he had said he wasn’t going to do any more Spider-Man. And that was it.”

— Stan Lee p 184 ‘Stan Lee Looks Back: The Comics Legend Recalls Life with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Heroes’ 2000 interview with Will Murray (originally published in Comics Scene, vol 3, no. 1, 2000.  Reprinted in Stan Lee Conversations p 174

 

These quotes align with some very candid comments Lee made during an interview with a New York Tribune reporter that appeared in January 1966:

“I don’t plot Spider-Man any more. Steve Ditko, the artist, has been doing the stories. I guess I’ll leave him alone until sales start to slip. Since Spidey got so popular, Ditko thinks he’s the genius of the world. We were arguing so much over plot lines, I told him to start making up his own stories. He won’t let anybody else ink his drawings either. He just drops off the finished pages with notes at the margins and I fill in the dialogue. I never know what he’ll come up with next, but it’s interesting to work that way.”

— Stan Lee, quoted in January 9 1966 New York Herald Tribune article by Nat Freedland

 

Ditko, when reflecting on Lee’s behaviour, mentioned feelings of ‘fear’ and ‘anger’:

Why should I continue to do all these monthly issues, original story ideas, material, for a man who is too scared, too angry over something, to even see, talk to me?”

— Steve Ditko “Why I Quit S-M, Marvel”, The Four-Page Series no. 9, September 2015 (reprinted in ‘The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays’ 2020

This suggests some awareness of Lee’s state of mind, and Ditko certainly appeared to recognise that tension was present during their final attempt to collaborate on a cover design.  However, if similar emotional cues were present in prior conversations we will never know if Ditko failed to recognise them, or if he simply never recalled them.

 

Whatever his rationale, Lee’s action almost certainly marked the point of ‘no return’ for the creative partnership.  Perhaps he viewed it as the most viable way of avoiding an ongoing and unpleasant clash of personalities.  Ditko was already plotting the stories and designing any covers by himself.  If stressful arguments were indeed a problem, it would have been tempting to avoid personal interactions that weren’t strictly necessary for getting the work done.  Lee was able to continue writing dialogue based purely on the material Ditko had prepared, and it certainly would have been much easier to work that way than to try and replace someone whose unique style was so popular with the readers.  The situation would have been very awkward (and unsustainable in the long run) but Lee did have many other responsibilities/interactions at Marvel, so his life would have continued largely as normal.

 

It is also possible that Ditko harboured grievances against Lee/Marvel that were not expressed openly at the time, but which influenced his demeanor.  Or perhaps Ditko did articulate them but chose to omit such interactions in his commentaries for reasons unknown.  Whatever the context may have been, it is evident that Lee’s silence had a profound impact, ultimately driving Ditko’s decision to leave Marvel in 1965.  At the very least, that is what Ditko chose to record as his official reason.  (And it is probably also worth recognising that, regardless of what other issues may existed at that time, they did not prevent Ditko or Lee from meeting in 1992 to consider working together again.)

 

Ultimately, Steve Ditko recorded what he wanted to say on the matter.  With both him and Lee now gone, much of the speculation from ‘others/outsiders’ about their relationship can only ever be an intellectual exercise.  What we do know for certain is that Ditko’s creative contributions in the realm of popular culture remain as vital and influential today as they ever did.  Just as importantly, his recollections are an essential part of comics history, adding to the enduring legacy of this creator/‘artist-plus’.

 

Rosco M

16 January 2024 (updated)

 

 

Endnotes Section

 

 

Introduction

 

“He avoided official interviews and convention appearances…”  Ditko provided the following explanation for not participating in interviews:

“Some, many believe an interview will address and/or solve a comics problem while evading the fact that it was interviews that created and sustain the “creator” issues.”

“Interviews do not resolve anything more important than recording self-promotional exercises.”

— Steve Ditko ‘A Mini-History 4 ‘The Amazing Spider-Man #2’ The Comics by Robin Snyder Vol 13 No. 1 January 2002

 

Author David Currie also recalled the following words from Ditko during their written correspondence:

“Wanting, needing some public recognition status, being a public celebrity, a false ego-building, pandering to others, fans, crowd with interviews etc. is self-defeating.”

David Currie, ‘Introduction The Last of the First’, Ditko Shrugged, 2020 p17

 

Note: In recent years Ditko’s family has shared a significant amount of information concerning Ditko’s personal life, as exemplified by the ‘Steve Ditko Biographical Interview with Pat & Patrick Ditko by Alex Grand’, posted on youtube (Comic Book Historians Channel)

 

 

 

Part One:      1961/1962

 

“This description falls under what is now often referred to as the ‘Marvel Method’ of producing comic books. ”   Stan Lee provided the following explanation of the ‘Marvel Method’ at the San Diego Comic Convention in 1975:

“The way we worked, for those of you who don’t know, is not they way they work at other companies, where the writer writes the script, and it’s given to the artist, and the artist draws it, and that’s the end of it. With us, it’s a marriage of talents. The artist and the writer will discuss the plots together, then the artist goes off to his little nook where he works and he – without the benefit of script – with only this vague, ridiculous plot that he’s discussed – goes and draws the whole story all by himself…Then , when the writer has to put in the copy, just imagine how much easier it is to look at a drawing and suite the dialogue perfectly to the expression of the character’s face…”

“The artists are great storytellers themselves. They know which sequence to enlarge upon, which to cut short…They’d put in characters I knew nothing about…”

— Stan Lee San Diego Comic-Con 1975 as quoted by Ben Saunders in his introduction to ‘The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko!’ Penguin Classics 2022

 

 

The lack of a hyphenated name was one of many differences between the character appearing in those pages and the ‘Spider-Man’ that is familiar to global audiences today.”   The original artwork for ‘Amazing Fantasy’ #15 has a hyphenated ‘Spider-Man’ title pasted over the original ‘Spiderman’ logo.  This was apparently to reduce confusion with ‘Superman’:

“The only time I ever thought of Superman was after I made a logo for Spider-Man and realised it looked a little like Superman at first glance.  That’s why I have always insisted on having a hyphen between Spider and Man.”

— Stan Lee, Comics Creators on Spider-Man, by Tom DeFalco, Titan Books, 2004  interviewed by Tom DeFalco

 

 

“In an era where the value of original comic art/history was very different to today, those pages would meet a sad fate…”.  Many years later, former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter would recall sighting what was presumably Kirby’s presentation artwork for ‘Spiderman’ in the Marvel offices. The fate of those pages is unknown:

“RE:  Kirby Spider-Man pages: I saw, and held in my hand, exactly one such page. It was a page of design drawings. I remember that his version of Spider-Man had a “Web-Gun” and wore trunks, I think, like Captain America’s. He was far bigger and bulkier than Ditko’s version. There were no similarities to Ditko’s Spider-Man costume. I think he had boots with flaps. There were notes in he margin that described the character, again, nothing like the Ditko version. I think there was something about him being related to, or having some connection with a police official, which was how he’d find out about trouble going on.  It was a long time ago, I can’t swear to that last item, but I can swear to the fact that it wasn’t similar to the Ditko version. I remember thinking, “This isn’t at all like Ditko’s.””

Jim Shooter, ‘My Short-Lived Inking Career’, JimShooter.com, March 21, 2011

 

Ditko later received a number of pages of his own original art back from Marvel:

“From Marvel I received many of the 5-page filler story/art pages I produced…I believe I received most of the Dr Strange story/art pages.  I received story/art pages from 3 Spider-Man issues: 2 complete issues (inside pages) and 3rd which had three pages missing.” 

— Steve Ditko, ‘The Sore Spot Cause and Crusade’ 1993, as reprinted in Avenging World, 1993

None of those pages were found in his estate, and his surviving family have since stated that they believe the pages were destroyed by Ditko (as seen in the ‘Steve Ditko Biographical Interview with Pat and Patrick Ditko by Alex Grand’, video posted on Youtube by Comic Book Historians Channel, 18 October 2023).

 

 

“There is no mention of the synopses being prepared during (or in relation to) any story conference between the two, however there is a specific instance of Lee incorporating a suggestion from Ditko…”  Although the synopses were provided by Lee, it doesn’t preclude the possibility that some of the ideas came from other sources.  For example, it is impossible to say how many of Kirby’s original ideas/suggestions were incorporated by Lee in his written synopsis for the first ‘Spider-Man’ tale in ‘Amazing Fantasy 15’.

It is also important to note that Ditko’s recollections concerning Lee’s written synopses were quite different to those made by fellow Marvel creator Jack Kirby in 1987:

“The only time I was given any kind of written synopsis was after I’d give Stan Lee a story and take it from what I told him.  I was the one creating the story line, the pictures, the story itself.”

— Jack Kirby,  “A Comic Book Artist KO’d: Jack Kirby’s Six-Year Slugfest with Marvel,” Village Voice Vol 32 #49, 8 December 1987 (available for viewing online at the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Site).

 

 

“Stan’s synopsis to me did not mention any (two) wrist shooters, or hidden belt, or any specific costume or specific spider-like actions. Those are my ideas and creation.”  Artist Eric Stanton, who shared an art studio with Ditko during this period, recalled providing Ditko with assistance during a 1988 interview:

“My contribution [to] Spider-Man was almost nil. When we worked on storyboards together, I added a few ideas. But the whole thing was created by Steve on his own. The whole thing was Steve Ditko. I think I added the business about the webs coming out of his hands, and we talked about the characters, and in turn, he helped me with my stuff.”

Did a Bondage Fetish Artist Help Co-Create Spider-Man? (cbr.com)

 

 

“There is a strong implication that, amongst those ‘spider-like actions’, was Spider-Man’s iconic ability to cling to surfaces.”   This is reinforced by further comments from Ditko:

“Stan wrote, “when I first told Steve my idea for a shy, teenaged high-school science student who’d been bitten by a radioactive spider, thus gaining the ability to stick to walls and shoot webs, Steve took to it like a duck to water.”

“The error and fallacy is in Stan’s “my idea” about S-m’s ability to stick to walls and shoot webs. (This) is never supported but stated as self-evident, proven, because I drew sticking and web-shooting scenes in the stories.”

— Steve Ditko “Tsk Tsk Examining a Creator/Creation Claim” Avenging World 2002, p 137

 

The ability to stick to surfaces seems like an obvious ability for a ‘Spider-Man’ character to have, but if Ditko’s recollections are correct it seems that Lee’s synopsis had little information concerning the protagonist’s powers (presumably there was also little accompanying verbal direction).  This would mean that various memorable scenes in the origin story were either described in very general terms in the synopsis (for interpretation by Ditko) or added/created by Ditko (in accordance with his explanation that Lee’s synopses were ‘not complete stories’).

 

For whatever reason, Ditko chose not to elaborate on what elements of the origin story were his…though at one point in his writing he stated that:  “…Lee had nothing to do with many, many creative ideas beyond his page-and-a-half synopsis that he claims are his “ideas.”” 

— Steve Ditko, ‘He Giveth and He Taketh Away’, Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted ‘The 32 Series by Ditko’ Vol 1 Overture)

 

 

“One of the first things I did was to work up a costume…”  A Ben Cooper ‘Spiderman’ Halloween costume had been in stores for some time, employing a somewhat similar use of webbing on a predominately yellow background. This would, many years later, prompt speculation that it may have served as some sort of inspiration.  There was even a rumour (unsubstantiated) that Jack Kirby had worked for Ben Cooper in costume design. The question was put to Ditko in writing in 2014 by comic book and toy dealer John Cimino, who included relevant clippings of a 1954 Ben Cooper advertisement. It garnered the following response:

“The burden of proof is on the person who makes the claim, assertion, charge. Some clippings etc, are not rational proof anything but some clippings etc”

— Steve Ditko, ‘Ditko Shrugged’ 2020 as quoted by author David Currie, 2020 p 63

 

 

“The crucial point came after Stan and I went over my pencilled pages…”  Remarkably, the original interior pages for Amazing Fantasy 15 have survived, having emerged from obscurity in 2008.  The pages include various notations that provide further insight into the collaborative process employed by Lee and Ditko.

 

 

“The question of who should actually receive official credit for the creation of ‘Spider-Man’ can be a challenging one, given the circumstances under which the character was brought into existence and the conflicting recollections of those involved.”   There are many excellent articles/publications delving into the creation of Spider-Man and the (sometimes contradictory) accounts of those involved.  The following information is provided only as an initial background.

 

In a 1982 interview Jack Kirby stated that ‘Spider-Man’ could be traced back to The Silver Spider’ – a strip originally conceived in discussions with Kirby’s long-time collaborator, Joe Simon:

 “It was the last thing Joe and I discussed. We had a strip called The Silver Spider. I believe I said this could become a thing called Spiderman, see, a super-hero character. So the idea was already there when I talked to Stan.”

— Jack Kirby, ‘Shop Talk’, Will Eisner’s Spirit Magazine 39, 1982, Kitchen Sink

 

In his memoirs Joe Simon said that he had been unaware of any connection between the ‘Silver Spider’ concept and Marvel’s ‘Spider-Man’ until hearing of Kirby’s comments, however he confirmed the connection.  Simon provided more background, linking the ‘Silver Spider’ to what would eventually become ‘The Fly’, and revealing a number of other creative hands that had been involved.  Simon also stated that he had come up with the ‘Spiderman’ name himself, prior to deciding on the ‘Silver Spider’.  Simon had created a ‘Spiderman’ logo as part of this developmental process that he’d loaned Kirby while the two were still working together.  He recalled phoning Kirby after finding out that his old partner had presented the ‘Spiderman’ concept to Lee/Marvel:

“I called Jack.  He confessed to an old indiscretion that, in the curious biology of comic books, made me responsible for bringing Spider-Man into the world.
“But why, Jack?”, I demanded.
“I had no work – I had a family to support, rent to pay – what else could I do?””

— Joe Simon, ‘The Birth of Spider-Man’, The Comic Book Makers by Joe Simon with Jim Simon, Vanguard Productions 2003

 

In the meantime, Stan Lee had been stating that the Spider-Man’ name/concept was his (e.g.: in the 1974 book ‘Origins of Marvel Comics’ and elsewhere).  He continued to express that view for the remainder of his life::

“I really don’t what to say about (Kirby claiming credit for the creation of Spider-Man).  I honestly don’t understand it.  Years ago, when I wanted to do SPIDER-MAN, I called Jack and told him: “I want to do a character called SPIDER-MAN who sticks to walls, who does this and who does that.”  And I told him I I wanted him to draw it, how I wanted it done, and I told him I didn’t want it done in his usual style.” 

— Stan Lee, interview with David Anthony Kraft, David Anthony Kraft’s Comics Interview Super Special: Spider-Man, 1990

 

Lee’s version of events usually mentioned Kirby’s initial pages, however he never talked about how the original concept differed to the final version.  Nor did he mention Ditko’s concerns about similarities to the ‘Fly’.  Lee’s explanation of why the strip was given to Ditko was as follows:

“Regarding Spider-Man, I told Jack that I wanted to try something different. I didn’t want him to be overly heroic-looking, I wanted him to be just an ordinary guy who happens to have a super power. He was to be not too handsome, not too glamorous, not too graceful, not too muscular – in other words sort of the way I might be if I had a super power…”

“…(W)hen I saw the first few pages that Jack had drawn, I realized we had a problem. They were too good.  Try as he might, he had been apparently unable to deglamorize Spidey enough.  All those years of drawing superheroes must have made it a little too difficult to labor so mightily and come forth with a superloser, or if you will, a supershnook.  Actually, I was almost relieved. Jack was so busy with his other popular features, and I had so many additional new ones to give him, that I realized it might be better to let someone else try Spider-Man rather than give the jolly one more than he could comfortably handle.”

— Stan Lee, ‘The World’s Best-Selling Swinger’, Origin of Marvel Comics, 1974 p 135

 

Although Lee often referred to himself as the creator of Spider-Man (e.g. in the opening credits for ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ 100, September 1971) there were also some instances where he acknowledged Ditko as a co-creator.  In August 1999, following criticisms from Ditko, Lee wrote in an open letter that he had had “…always considered Steve Ditko to be Spider-Man’s co-creator”.  In the same document Lee acknowledged that Ditko established the “…perfect mood and gestalt for Spider-Man”‘, praised Ditko’s iconic costume design and noted that Ditko had eventually assumed (‘most’) of the plotting.

 

However, Lee was not consistent in crediting Ditko as the co-creator during subsequent interviews.  And, in the 2007 BBC Four documentary ‘In Search of Steve Ditko’ (available on youtube) Lee was pressured by the host, Jonathon Ross, to definitively say whether he truly believed that Ditko was the ‘co-creator’ (as opposed to saying that he had always ‘considered’ Ditko as the co-creator).  In the course of the discussion Lee replied: “I really think the guy who dreams the idea up created it”.  He then expressed regret for those words, adding: “…you made me say that in this documentary that you’re doing, and I’m sorry I said it, because I’m happy to say I consider Steve to be the co-creator.”    At the conclusion of his segment Lee reframed his thoughts on the matter as follows: “…If Steve wants to be called the co-creator, I think he deserves to be called the co-creator, because he had done such a wonderful job.”

 

Generally speaking, the Ditko/Kirby/Lee/Simon accounts all confirm Kirby’s initial involvement in the creation of a ‘Spiderman’ prototype.  And both Steve Ditko (who described the original pages) and Jim Shooter (who apparently saw Kirby’s original ‘Spiderman’ presentation piece) provided recollections supporting the substantial differences between that prototype and the published ‘Spider-Man’.  But it is impossible to know how Kirby’s original ‘Spiderman’ tale would have unfolded, or how many of his ideas made it into Lee’s subsequent ‘Spider-Man’ synopsis for the origin tale.  None of the interviews with Kirby himself delve into the contents of his rejected ‘Spiderman’ concept/pages, nor did Kirby ever mention Lee contacting him in relation to similarities between ‘Spiderman’ and the ‘Fly’.

 

Jack Kirby provided many comments of over the years in relation to creation of Spider-Man, though usually with little detail.  A small sample is provided below (noting that this is not an exhaustive list):

 

“I’ve never worked with Steve Ditko; he’s kind of a shy fellow and I saw him rarely. He’s very likeable and very intelligent. I am a real admirer of his work. He’s a very creative man. Actually, Steve created Spider-Man, and the thing caught on because of what he did.”

— Jack Kirby, ‘Jack Kirby Interview’ (transcript of radio interview with Tim Skelly conducted 14 May 1971), The Nostalgia Journal #1, July 1976 (Published by Gary Groth)

 

“I can tell you that I was deeply involved with creating Spider-man. I can’t go any further than that, really, because there’d been so many variations and different things done with Spider-man, but I can tell you at the beginning, I was deeply involved with him.”

— Jack Kirby, Robert Knight’s EarthwatchJack Kirby radio interview conducted by Warren Reece and Max Schmid, WBAI New York, 28 August 1987.

 

“The Fantastic Four is mine.  Spider-Man is mine.  The Hulk is mine.  They’re all mine.  I couldn’t handle Spider-Man because I was handling everything else.  I was handling the entire line.  So Spider-Man was given to Steve Ditko who did a wonderful job on it.  Ditko developed Spider-Man.  Ditko’s style sold Spider-Man.  Ditko’s stories, which were wonderful, developed Spider-Man.  Ditko did the Spider-Man that is popular with everybody today.  It’s Ditko’s Spider-Man that does it.”

— Jack Kirby, ‘Superheroes The Language that Jack Kirby Wrote’, by James Van Hise, Comics Feature, March 1984

 

“My initial concept was practically the same (as the version of Spider-Man that everyone knows).  But the credit for developing Spider-Man goes to Steve Ditko; he wrote it and he drew it and he refined it.  Steve Ditko is a thorough professional.  And he is an intellect.  Personality-wise he’s a bit withdrawn, but there are lots of people like that.  I haven’t seen him for a long time.

Steve developed Spider-Man and made a salable item out of it.  There are many others who take credit for it, but Steve Ditko, it was entirely in his hands.  I can tell you that Stan Lee had other duties besides writing Spider-Man or developing Spider-Man or even thinking about it.  I didn’t present it to Ditko.  I presented it to Stan Lee.  I drew up the costume, I gave him the character and I put it in the hands of Marvel, because Stan Lee had contact with the publisher.  I didn’t.”

— Jack Kirby, interview by Leonard Pitts conducted in 1986 or 1987 for a planned (but unpublished) book, as published in ‘Creators of the Superheroes’ Thomas Andrae, 2011 Hermes Press

 

“I created Spider-Man. We decided to give it to Steve Ditko. I created the character. I created the costume. I created all those books, but I couldn’t do them all. We decided to give the book to Steve Ditko…”

“It was Steve Ditko that made Spider-Man the well-known character that he is.”

— Jack Kirby, Interview with Gary growth, The Comics Journal # 134, February 1990, p 82

 

Note: There are many publications articles that delve into Jack Kirby’s extraordinary career and his contributions and experiences at Marvel.  Ten suggested sources (by no means a complete list) for those wishing to know more on this topic are as follows:
–  Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center (website)
–  ‘Jack Kirby: TCJ Library Vol.1: The Comics Journal Interviews’, by Gary Groth, 2002
–  ‘Kirby and Lee: Stuf’ Said (Expanded 2nd Edition)’, by John Morrow, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2003
–  ‘The Jack Kirby Collector’ – ongoing fanzine published by TwoMorrows
–  ‘Kirby: King of Comics (Anniversary Edition)’, Mark Evanier, Abrams 2017
–  Comic Book Historians (website)
–  ‘Creators of the Superheroes’, Thomas Andrae, Hermes Press 2011
– ‘Tales to Astonish’, Rojin Ro, Bloomsbury, 2004
–  ‘According to Kirby’, ‘Kirby at Marvel – Not the Official Version Vol 1: 1956 – 1963’, both by Michael Hill, Lulu
–  ‘The Comic Book Makers’ by Joe Simon with Jim Simon, Vanguard Productions, 2003

There are also online amateur articles such as Stan Taylor’s ‘Case for Kirby‘ (which attempts to analyse Kirby’s work to find connections with the early Spider-Man concept/plots) and Dusty Miller’s ‘Spidey Rebuttal‘ (which takes a critical look at assertions made in Taylor’s article).  As with other suggestions, both approach the topic with a level of analysis/speculation that is well outside the scope of this document.

 

 

“In making his case Ditko was aware of Kirby’s claims of having brought the ‘Spiderman’ name to Lee…”  Ditko had originally believed that Lee had come up with the name ‘Spiderman’:

“In a discussion with me about Spider-Man, Stan said he liked the name Hawkman but Dc had the name and character”.

“From that I believed that Stan had named the character.”

— Steve Ditko ‘An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man’, Avenging World, 2002, p 57

 

 

“Stan named him Dr Octopus and worked up a legend.”  Editor/writer Jack C. Harris, who collaborated with Ditko on various projects at DC Comics, recalled that “… he never called them origin stories.  He called them legends.

— Jack C Harris, ‘Working With Ditko’ TwoMorrows Publishing 2023

 

 

“What I did on Spider-Man I was paid for.”  Ditko’s statement (which should not be confused with his position regarding creator credits) is consistent with an account by Jim Shooter.

According to Shooter, he was present at a Comic Book Creator’s Guild Meeting in the late 1970s to represent Marvel management.  In attendance were (in his estimate) a ‘couple of hundred’ comic book creators including Steve Ditko.  During the proceedings the meeting’s organiser, Neal Adams, began advocating for ‘justice for old creators’ and attempted to reference Ditko as an example, noting that the latter had retained no ownership to anything:

‘“Steve jumped up…he said “I’m not going to be a poster boy for anything”. He said “I was an adult when I made that deal and I will honour it. If they want to give me money fine…but…”  he said, “…don’t make me into your…’cause celebre’.””

— Jim Shooter Jim Shooter Biographical Interview part 2 by Alex Grand | Comic Book Historians (youtube.com)   37.21

 

 

 

Part Two:      1963/1964

 

“It was an approach that had obvious benefits, ones that were recognised by fellow creators like Jack Kirby.”  Jack Kirby, a legendary comic book creator/artist, acknowledged the benefits of paying attention to reader feedback/suggestions:

“An idea can come from me, it can come from Stan, it can come from a reader. Sometimes we’ll get ideas expressed in letters from readers that we utilize in the comic. We’ll build a plot around that type of story. I feel that Stan Lee is very wise in looking over the letters from the readers, and keeping tabs on the progress that the character is making.”

— Jack Kirby, August 1969: Jack Kirby interviewed by Shel Dorf and Rich Rubenfeld, as quoted by John Morrow, ‘Stuf Said’ p 104)

 

 

“Stan had a tendency to believe complainers, OOs, know best. He granted them some kind of superior insights, knowledge. So they should be given arbitrary authority over the ideas of the editor, writer and artist.”  Ditko had the opportunity to come face-to-face with some of those ‘others/outsiders’ when he attended the first New York City Comic Book convention on July 27, 1964, at the request of organiser Bernie Bubnis.  A very small-scale affair compared to later years (and lasting only five hours) it was none-the-less an interactive experience:

   “…I was continually asked questions about things of which I could never have any kind of knowledge, information: policies of comic book companies, people I never met, arbitrary, scattershot, off-the-top-of the head questions by those wanting some emotional gratification.”

And it helped shape some of Ditko’s views in relation to comic book fans (‘CBFs’):

“CBFs want to know things because they want to know what they want to know for some emotional gratification, for some fan prestige, some bragging rights such as in having someone’s autograph or publishing a private, personal letter.

These self-indulgers have no sensible purpose or need.”

— Steve Ditko, ‘#43: The 1st New York City Comic Book Convention’, The Four-Page Series #8, May 2015, as reprinted in The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays by Steve Ditko.

 

Ditko expressed particular consternation at seeing how fans handled original comic book art that had been brought along by DC representatives, noting that “Some CBFs took art pages and laughingly TOSSED the UP in the air and over their heads” while others “…laughingly joined in the collective FUN.” 

And, although he engaged in individual conversations and even drew illustrations for attendees, he was upset by some of the reactions:

“I gave some CBFs in my talking, writing, that which was private and personal.  They gleefully blabbed, publicly TOSSED, PUBLISHED, the personal material for some prestige or FUN.”

— Steve Ditko, ‘#43: The 1st New York City Comic Book Convention’, The Four-Page Series #8, May 2015, as reprinted in The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays by Steve Ditko.

 

This experience would mark Ditko’s first and final convention appearance.

 

 

“Stan rightly believed that (Betty’s) death would cast a negative pall over (Peter and Spider-Man).  Further Ditko comments in relation to his proposed death of the ‘Betty Brant’ character are interesting in light of the subsequent decision to kill off Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy during the 1970s:

“The death of BB would have introduced and sustained a heavy negative emotional baggage similar to Captain America’s continually mourning, self-pitying stance over the 20-plus years earlier death of his teenage partner Bucky.

There could be no going back to the “fun and games” as if BB had never existed, never meant anything important to PP’s life. A teenage feature should show a more benevolent view of life and existence. It should show a hope of being able to grow up in a better world and that one should be actively striving for it.”

—Steve Ditko, ‘A Mini-History 8 Others, Outsiders (OOs): Complainers and Complaints Against Betty Brant’ The Comics newsletter by Robin Snyder Vol 14 No 2 February 2003

 

An attempt to explain to readers that Betty was younger than Peter appeared in the letter page of Amazing Spider-Man, issue 11, May 1964.

 

A humorous reference to Betty Brant’s changing hair style that appeared in the ‘Special Announcements’ section of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ issue #12 (May 1964) highlights another point of disagreement between Lee/Ditko:

“By the way, do you like Betty’s new hairdo? Hope so, because Stan had to argue with Steve for months before Mr. D. would make the change!”

 

 

“The decision to make the character a ‘Doctor’ would prove an important one.”  Writer/Editor Roy Thomas provided further details concerning Lee’s contribution:

 “In fact, Marvel editor Stan Lee later revealed the hero was nearly christened ‘Mr Strange’, but instead he got promoted to being an actual doctor, because Marvel already had a ‘Mr Fantastic. “

Roy Thomas on the History of Doctor Strange’ hHttps://crimereads.com

 


“An introduction by Lee asserted that reader requests had prompted the disclosure of Strange’s origin at this late point.”  
Writer Jack C. Harris, who worked with Ditko in later years, recalled Ditko telling him he was simply waiting to see if the character was a success before providing an origin.

“Steve just wanted to wait and make certain the character would continue…”
— ‘Working With Ditko’ Jack C. Harris TwoMorrows Publishing 2023

 

 

“Amazing Spider-Man 14 (July 1964) would see the publication of a story that was quite different to the one originally envisioned by Lee…”  It is impossible to know how much Ditko was contributing to Spider-Man stories at this point, even if Lee was still providing written synopses.  For example, a blurb appearing in issue # 9 (February 1964) seems to reference Ditko as a co-writer for the following issue:

“Smiling Stevey Ditko doesn’t want us to tell you what the next Spiderman will be about! He thinks you’ll get more of a kick out of it if you’re surprised. (If you ask us, he and Stan just haven’t written it yet!)”

— Amazing Spider-Man #9, February 1964

(Issue #10, is notable for the introduction of the ‘Enforcers’ characters, as well as a speech by J. Jonah Jameson in which he reveals the motivations behind his hatred for Spider-Man – in a speech some observers believe is evocative of Ditko’s Objectivist beliefs.)

 

 

“I knew from Day One, from the first GG story, who the GG would be… I absolutely knew because I planted him in J. Jonah Jameson’s businessman’s club…”   There have been various conflicting claims over the years that the identity of the Green Goblin was a source of contention between Ditko and Lee.

 

Ditko asserted that he knew from ‘Day One’ who the Goblin would be, pointing to his early depiction of Osborne in the strip as evidence.  However, the Green Goblin first appeared in ASM #14 (July 1964), whereas the earliest depiction of an unnamed Norman Osborne (the Goblin’s alter-ego) was almost a year later, in ASM #23 (April 1965).

If Ditko did know the villain’s identity from ‘Day One’, that that would mean that he waited almost a year after the Green Goblin was introduced before giving any kind of visual clue to readers. Even then, the audience had no idea who Norman Osborne was until he was finally named in ASM #37 (June 1966).  The connection to Harry Osborne was also a long time coming, as Ditko didn’t introduce him until ASM #31 (December 1965).

 

Various recollections from Lee have him recalling that Ditko wanted the Goblin to be someone readers ‘hadn’t seen before’.  They also suggest that discussions about the villain’s identity didn’t occur until sometime after the Goblin’s introduction, e.g.:

“The ultimate bone of contention was a recurring villain called the Green Goblin, whose identity had always been hidden. When it became time for the long awaited unmasking Lee recalls that Ditko said ‘it should be somebody they’ve never seen before, just some person’. Lee, on the other hand, felt that a startling revelation had been promised. ‘Every reader in America is going to think we’re crazy. They’ll be angry. It’s got to be somebody, Lee said. Ditko left without drawing the story.”

Les Daniels, Marvel, Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, Abrams, 1991

 

Lee goes even further in some interviews, asserting that it was he (rather than Ditko) who wanted the Goblin to be revealed as Osborne, e.g.:

“I had a big argument with Steve Ditko, who was drawing the strip at the time. When we had to reveal the identity of the Green Goblin, I wanted him to turn out to be the father of Harry Osborn, and Steve didn’t like that idea,” Lee explained. “He said, ‘no, I don’t think he should be anybody we’ve seen before.’ I said ‘Why?’ He said ‘Well, in real life, the bad guy doesn’t always turn out to be someone you’ve known.’ And I said, ‘Steve, people have been reading this book for months, for years, waiting to see who the Green Goblin really is. If we make him somebody that they’ve never seen before, I think they’ll be disappointed — but if he turns out to be Harry’s father, I think that’s an unusual dramatic twist that we can play with in future stories.’ And Steve said ‘Yeah, well, that’s not the way it would be in real life.’ And I said ‘In real life, there’s nobody called The Green Goblin.’ And so Steve was never happy about that, but since I was the editor, we did it my way.”

— Stan Lee Stan Lee Reveals Argument With Steve Ditko Over Green Goblin (comicbook.com)

 

This particular version is certainly inaccurate.  Harry Osborne was not even introduced to readers until ASM #31 (December 1965) – six months after Lee had ceased communicating with Ditko.  It may be that Lee was conflating earlier conversations with later fears that Ditko (by then solely responsible for plots) might indeed choose to surprise readers by revealing the Gobin as ‘somebody they had had never seen before’.

 

Roy Thomas, who worked with Lee after joining Marvel in 1965, has recalled Lee being concerned that Ditko might unmask the Goblin as a ‘nobody’.  He has also noted that the precedent was set with Ditko’s unmasking of another villain, the Crime Master, in issue 27 of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ (which was produced soon after Lee and Ditko had ceased talking):

“Stan hadn’t been happy about that…but he’d gone along with it. Stan said they fought over story lines too much, but figured things were working out well – sales of the books were good – so why look for trouble? The unspoken alternative was to remove Ditko, and he didn’t want to do that.”

— Roy Thomas, as quoted by Blake Bell ‘Strange and Stranger The World of Steve Ditko p 90

 

“I know Stan felt the Green Goblin should turn out to be somebody important to Spider-Man.  He didn’t want to repeat that bit with the man in the Crime Master’s mask (Amazing Spider-Man # 27), who turned out to be some nobody. I don’t know if that had been Stan’s idea or Steve’s but I know that as a reader I found it dramatically unfulfilling. Still, I appreciated the realism: just because you take off a guy’s mask doesn’t mean you’re going to recognise him. This shows that Stan and Steve were thinking increasingly differently. Stan was doing quite well editing and writing a whole line of comics, and Ditko was feeling his oats too, because he knew he was doing good work, and people were responding to it. Certainly Stan liked it; everybody liked it. Yet Ditko felt he and Stan weren’t on the same wavelength. He was probably right.”

— Roy Thomas, ‘Rascally Roy Thomas Talks About the 1960s and Early ‘70s’. Alter Ego 50, July 2005

 

Adding to the mystery is an article that appeared in a 1966 fanzine, in which interviewer Bob Sheridan describes his discussion with artist John Romita.  This took place during the very early days of Romita’s run on the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ title, when memories were presumably still fresh:

“In my discussions with Romita, I learned something of why Steve Ditko left Marvel.  It seems that when he started out, Ditko was basically an amateur, with little confidence in himself.  Stan Lee convinced Ditko that he was a good artist, that he should stick it out.  Ditko became convinced.  He began to slack off his direct contact with Lee, until he never came to the bullpen anymore.  Then, when he didn’t feel like doing the story the way Stan wanted it, he did it his way…often making the task of writing an unintelligible story a real task for Lee. That’s how Ditko began getting credited as plotting the stories.

By the way, the choice of Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin was Ditko’s.  Lee was going to have GG revealed to be Ned Leeds, but Ditko was too fond of Ned, so he drew the mags so that Osborn had to be the Goblin.  Lee was finding it extremely difficult to make sense of Ditko’s stories, but the mags were selling well, and Stan didn’t want to fire Ditko.”

— Bob Sheridan  ‘Rambling with Romita’, The Web-Spinner (fanzine) #5 1966

 


No direct quote is presented to support these claims, and in later years Romita would have different recollections that accorded more with Lee’s.  Regardless, this 1966 interview can’t be completely dismissed.  Ned Leeds was introduced in ASM #18 (November 1966), following an anonymous cameo in the previous issue.  This was only a short time after the Green Goblin himself was introduced and was during the period Lee and Ditko were still communicating.  Ned Leeds was certainly a viable suspect for a while, at least up until ASM #23 (April 1965), when a sub-plot revealed that he was in Europe at the time the Goblin was battling Spider-Man in New York. Co-incidentally or not, that is the same issue in which the unnamed Norman Osborne appears for the first time.

 

From a completely speculative perspective, it is possible that Ditko was conflating certain memories and hadn’t decided the Goblin’s identity until he first showed Norman in issue #23. If so, he may have taken that same opportunity to insert a scene discounting Lee’s preference (Ned Leeds) as the villain.  Such a move could have been a flashpoint in the Lee/Ditko relationship, as the Sheridan article indicates.  And, intriguingly, it would only be a short time after this that Lee ceased communicating with Ditko…a decision that would eventually result in Ditko’s departure.

 

 

And the very next issue would introduce a new villain called ‘Kraven the Hunter’, one of a handful of villains for whom Ditko would specifically claim sole creative credit.”   Ditko provided little information with respect to the creation of most of the villains appearing in his ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ run.  However, during one of his open responses to claims made by Lee, Ditko would specifically take credit for creating ‘Dr. Octopus’ and ‘Kraven’ (as well as ‘Dr Strange’) from the period they were actively working together on stories:

“Is Lee claiming the “original idea” for Dr. Strange, Dr. Octopus, Kraven and what “original idea” for the Green Goblin and for all the “ideas” for stories (the lifting sequence) and comic book issues I did on my own?”

— Steve Ditko, ‘He Giveth and He Taketh Away’, Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted ‘The 32 Series by Ditko’ Vol 1 Overture)

 

 

“I was interested in working up an idea on my own as I did with Strange, again for the sake of variety. I intended to do a hero in street clothing to avoid special costume changes.”  This concept would subsequently be employed for Ditko’s post-Marvel creation ‘The Question’, a character that debuted in Charlton Comics’ ‘Blue Beetle’  #1 (June 1967).

 

 

“I turned down Iron Man because I didn’t find the character with his weak heart gimmick interesting enough.”  Ditko completed several episodes of Iron Man in ‘Tales of Suspense’ issues 47 (November 1963) – 49 (January 1964). His involvement was even referenced in Lee’s cover blurb for issue 47:

“Special Super Issue! Lee, Ditko and Heck team up to bring you…Iron Man, greater, more true-to-life than ever, as he battles “The Mysterious Melter!” An 18-page epic!”

 

 

 

Part Three:   1965/1966

 

“Stan was willing to go along with my not using his usual monthly plots…”  Ditko’s recollections suggests an amicable hand-over of responsibilities.  This can be compared to accounts by Lee in the ‘Conclusions’ and ‘Endnotes’ sections.

 

 

The precise point at which this occurred was not recorded…”  A handwritten note from Ditko, in which he references a hardback collection of Dr Strange tales, includes some more comments about the character’s creation, while also indicating the point at which he assumed ongoing control of the storytelling for that series (if anyone has the hardcover Ditko is referring to, please let me know):

“The idea for the character, the 1st story is mine.  The character was named, story dialogued by Stan from my rough page scripts, Dr. Strange because all the stories appeared in the comic titled Strange Tales.  For some unknown reason I pencilled the following stories but the inking was done by someone else.  The stories on page 13, 76, 85, 89,103.  From page 153, all the following story ideas are mine but, again dialogued by Stan from my rough script.”

— Steve Ditko, Letter shown in ‘Steve Ditko Biographical Interview with Pat and Patrick Ditko by Alex Grand, video posted on Youtube by Comic Book Historians Channel, 18 October 2023

 


“At some point before issue 25 Stan chose to break off communicating with me
.”  Lee later denied being responsible for the breakdown in communication:

“He has told other people that he quit because I wouldn’t talk to him.  Can you believe that?  I talk to everybody.  Most people wish I would stop talking.  Why wouldn’t I talk to him?  He was one of our best artists and I loved his work.  I don’t know what he means when he says I didn’t talk to him. I just remember that I was angry over the way he quit.  He left in such a way that I wasn’t tempted to call him back and ask why.  He just showed up one day and announced that he was quitting.  In fact, he didn’t even tell me.  I think he told Sol Brodsky, who was our production manager at the time.”

“I must have done something to offend him, but I swear I don’t know what it was.”

— Stan Lee, Comics Creators on Spider-Man, by Tom DeFalco, Titan Books, 2004  interviewed by Tom DeFalco

 

However, it is clear from various recollections that Lee, at the very least, could have attempted to resume talking to Ditko.  Editor/writer Roy Thomas (who worked for Marvel during the second half of the 1960s) was asked in 2005 about whether it was Lee or Ditko who had initiated the break:

“It probably was Stan, because Ditko didn’t have the authority to do that: he was the artist bringing in to an editor who’s his superior in the company. If it was Stan’s decision, he probably felt that was the only way the two of them could go on working together. Maybe it would’ve worked better if Stan had gone on trying to talk to Steve, but it’s hard to say in retrospect, because nothing had ever existed quite like the working relationships between Stan and Steve and Jack. It was a somewhat different arrangement than comics was used to. I won’t say it had never existed before, but it was a relatively rare one.”

— Roy Thomas, ‘Rascally Roy Thomas Talks About the 1960s and Early ‘70s’. Alter Ego 50, July 2005

 

“Somehow, by some sort of Daredevil radar sense, Stan never walked into Sol’s office while Ditko was there. You’d think It might’ve happened just once by accident, but it never did during those several months I was around.”

— Roy Thomas, ‘Rascally Roy Thomas Talks About the 1960s and Early ‘70s’. Alter Ego 50, July 2005

 

 

“Writing, editing, dialogue, sound-effects, captions, were all Stan’s division of labour at Marvel.”

“I used to create and design all the sound effects that appeared in the strip. I also added the innumerable speed lines which I felt helped to liven up the action scenes. I was real proud of my little artistic contributions and always wondered why Steve never complimented me for dressing up the panels. Well, here’s the punch line – it wasn’t ‘til years later that I learned that he hated speed lines and sound effects. I don’t just mean hated – I mean HATED”

— Stan Lee, “Stan’s Soapbox”, Marvel Age 114, July 1992

 

 

“Ditko’s writings make no reference to him ever raising concerns about the wording of credits directly with Lee while working at Marvel…”  While some have speculated (or even asserted) that the new plotting credit was in response to specific demands by Ditko, no quote from Ditko has surfaced to support the claim.  Ditko frequently expressed strong views on both credits and his relationship/issues with Lee in his recollections, so it would be a curious omission if he chose not to reference such an important incident.

 

It is also relevant to note that Ditko did not view the change to credits (which named him as the sole plotter) as any improvement over what had been done before.

 

There is some second-hand evidence of Lee acting on credit-related feedback from Ditko, though it is unrelated to plotting.  Speaking to author Blake Bell, writer/editor Roy Thomas recalled hearing of an incident in which Ditko was upset with Lee’s original attempt at humour on the splash page for ‘Strange Tales’ issue 136 (September 1965).  Lee had apparently originally written “This series was voted ‘most likely to succeed’ by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko”:

“ “Stan told me”, says Thomas, with a certain amount of puzzlement, that Steve said, “You shouldn’t have said that. I didn’t say that! I didn’t vote for anything!” Ditko’s name was removed and the blurb changed to “By Stan and Baron Mordo,” the villain from Dr Strange.”

— Blake Bell, ‘Strange and Stranger, The World of Steve Ditko’, 2008, p 91

 

Ditko claimed that the longstanding lack of a satisfactory, consistent approach to comic book credits (which were often not utilised at all by companies during the early 1960s) was something that enabled Stan Lee to take advantage of the process at the expense of others:

“And the ‘creative’ crediting stunt was not done by the front office. Regrettably the ‘creative’ crediting was done by one who was a working story/art partner (like hydrogen and oxygen).

A more honest, just crediting, showing the actual division of labor used in publishing comics, was needed from the very start. That shortcoming, error, shows, demonstrates, that what is not made explicit is not in conscious control. So whoever has any advantage can try to make the most of it at another’s expense.”

— Steve Ditko ‘Creative Crediting’, Avenging Mind 2007, (as reprinted in ‘The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1.1 Overture’ p 32)

 

 

As for Lee, he was now reliant on interpreting Ditko’s pencils and story notes…”  Few examples of Ditko’s notes appear to have survived, but some have been found and published in fanzines such as the TwoMorrows publications, or on Facebook pages such as ‘Founding Fathers of Marvel’.  This example shows Ditko’s rough dialogue for six panels (from ‘Strange Tales’ 143, April 1966) alongside the published version (scripted by Roy Thomas):

 

The lack of communication between Lee and Ditko sometimes resulted in confusion.  In ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ # 30 Lee’s script has a member of costumed gang wrongly refer to their leader as ‘The Cat’ (the name of an unrelated cat burglar shown in the same issue).

 

In issue 36 (May 1966) Lee interpreted a pencilled figure for Spider-Man and dialogued it accordingly, only to find that Ditko had delineated the character as the villainous ‘Meteor Man’ when the inked pages came back. A frustrated Lee then had the panel redrawn by artist Carl Hubbard to match his script.

‘Rascally Roy Thomas Talks about The 1960s and Early 70s’, Alter Ego 50, July 2005

 

Although he was exercising a large degree of independence, Ditko’s creative choices were made with the full knowledge that Lee retained the power to replace him:

“Since I was a freelancer, Stan Lee could have taken me off Spider-Man anytime he wanted – he did it once for a Spider-Man story pencilled by Jack Kirby, I inked it.”

— Steve Ditko quoted from letter dated July 2016 by author David Currie, Ditko Shrugged 2020, p 71

 


“The only person who had the right to know why I was quitting refused to come out of his office or to call me in.”
  Ditko’s account differs slightly from that of Roy Thomas, who was in the office at the time and recalled it this way:

“Steve walks in and turns his work to Sold Brodsky and walks out.  Sol gets up and trots into Stan’s office and comes back a minute later and tells me Ditko has quit.  He said Ditko just came in and said he’ll finish up the Spider-Man and Doctor Strange he was working on now, and then that was it.  He didn’t give Sol or Stan any kind of reason.”

— Roy Thomas, ‘True Believer – The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee’, Abraham Reisman 2021

 

 

One of the first outlets to report Ditko’s subsequent decision to quite Marvel…”  Lee would provide some further detail during a talk to students at Princeton University on March 10, 1966, for which audio recordings still survive (and remain available on youtube):

“Now we just lost the artist that does Doc Strange, Steve Ditko, who also does Spider-Man. I feel as badly about it as you do. He’s a very… peculiar guy.  He’s a great talent, but he’s a little eccentric. “Anyway, I haven’t spoken to this guy for over a year. He mails in the work, and I write the stories, and that’s the way he liked to work it. One day he just phoned and he said, ‘That’ll be it.’ So that was it.

–Stan Lee, Princeton University on March 10, 1966,

(Note: Lee is incorrect here in stating that Ditko was only mailing in his work during that period.  Other first-hand accounts, including interviews with Lee himself, confirm that Ditko continued visiting the Marvel premises to deliver at least some of his work until he quit).

 

Roy Thomas provided this additional perspective:

“The next memory I have is of Steve coming in one day to drop off and/or pick up pages from Sol, breezing in and out as usual while Stan, utilizing some kind of radar sense that would’ve made Daredevil envious, as usual managed to remain in his office until the artist had left, so that in all my life I never saw the two of them together. As my wife Dann likes to point out to me, as far as I knew, they could’ve been one and the same person, leading some kind of perverse double life! But on this occasion, I quickly learned—after Stan did, from Sol—that Ditko was quitting, that he’d informed Sol he would complete the “Spider-Man” and “Doctor Strange” stories on which he was currently working, and that would be it for him and Marvel. Apparently he gave no particular reason that day, or any other time, to either Sol or Stan, as to why he was quitting. (I knew it wasn’t over a page rate, since Sol had at that time, on his desk, a memo he had intended to mention to Steve that gave him a $5 a page raise, not a totally inconsiderable sum in those days. It was probably a 10% increase or thereabouts.)”

Roy Thomas Alter Ego 160 p3 Vol. 3, No. 160 / September 2019

 

Thomas would have the opportunity to talk to Ditko just a short time later:

“I saw Steve only a few weeks after he quit, at a party at Dave Kaler’s new place on the Upper West Side.  I said to him, “I’m not spying for Stan, and I won’t tell him what you say, but why did you quit?”  All I remember from Steve’s vague response is a sentence fragment: “well, you know, when a guy’s working against you…”  I doubt if he meant Stan was consciously working against him, just that he felt Stan should leave things to him since he was plotting the book.”

–Roy Thomas, ‘Rascally Roy Thomas Talks About the 1960s and Early ‘70s’. Alter Ego 50, July 2005

 

It would be half a century before Ditko finally explained his reasons for leaving Marvel.  In the meantime, he would continue to interact with a variety of individuals in the comics community.  Various theories would arise with respect to why Ditko resigned, and there would also be much speculation as to what events had occurred prior to that decision.

 

Bob Beerbohm, a well-known comic book historian and retailer who was publishing a fanzine titled ‘Fanzation’ in the late 1960s, was in contact with Ditko in the late 1960s and had this account:

“Back in early 1969, my friend Steve Johnson and I called up Steve Ditko on the phone… and he tells us a tale of WHY he left Marvel. He put it forth plain and simple. He had been promised royalties if/when Spider-Man took off, which it did. Martin Goodman made promises of royalty sharing through Stan Lee—the latter acting as conduit for his boss.”

— Bob Beerbohm, Aug. 31, 2011. The Comics Journal website (as reproduced in ‘Stuf’ Said’ (2nd Edition), TwoMorrows Publishing by John Morrow

 

“On the 2nd call he asked us not to publish any thing about the royalties he said were promised to him by Marvel’s publisher. We complied – he sent this letter on creativity for us to print instead.”

— Bob Beerbohm, Facebook posting on the ‘Steve Ditko Letters’ group, 15 September 2023

 

Comic book creator Dick Giordano, who became the Executive Editor of Charlton Comics in 1965, visited Ditko’s studio near the end of Ditko’s run on ‘Amazing Spider-Man’.  There he heard Ditko’s frustration with the way Lee was writing the credits (presumably Ditko’s dissatisfaction with Lee’s use of the word ‘script’).   In later years Giordano came to believe that this was the central reason for Ditko quitting Marvel:

“The dispute was he thought he was writing Spider-Man, but Stan was getting the credit.  As proof he showed me a chart he had up on the wall that said when certain things were going to happen for the next six issues…plots, sub-plots, and how they were going to interact over that six-issue span.  Stan would dialogue it when the pencils came in, shouldn’t Stan be considered the writer?  You can argue the point, Steve argued that it wasn’t.  And because of his new philosophy or social order, he felt it was criminal for someone to take credit for something he didn’t do.  That’s what led to the break-up with Marvel and Steve Ditko.”

— Dick Giordano, Interview in Comic Book Artist #9, interviewed by Jon B. Cooke (2000).  As reproduced in ‘Stuf’ Said’ by John Morrow, Two Morrows publishing

 

In 1970 another prominent comic book creator, Mark Evanier, had his own opportunity to visit Ditko’s studio.  Years later, he recalled Ditko outlining a range of grievances relating to his earlier time at Marvel:

“…(Ditko) believed Marvel’s then-owner was reneging on certain promises about sharing in the revenues of the characters Ditko co-created, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. He was upset with the way his comics were then produced, feeling that he was doing most of the writing work on the comics he did with Stan Lee, but that Lee — as dialogue writer — was getting too much of the credit and money. (Marvel’s two other best artists of the period, Jack Kirby and Wally Wood — both good friends of Ditko’s — felt the same way.) There were also personality clashes between Lee and Ditko — they didn’t speak for the last eighteen months or so of their “collaboration” — and Ditko was displeased by many of the creative choices Stan was making, treating Spider-Man as a morally-confused, troubled protagonist. Ditko…didn’t like heroes who didn’t rigidly adhere to his own interpretation of good and evil, black and white.”

Noting that Ditko had told others similar things, Evanier went to say: “(Ditko) may write things like “My reasons are my own (for quitting Marvel) and I’ve never divulged them to anyone” but we don’t have to believe that. Besides, what other reasons could there have been?

— Mark Evanier, ‘Ditko Doc Posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 12:12 AM’, News from ME blog

 

Ditko was evidently aware of the stories that were circulating.  However, when he finally released his own, official explanation in 2015, he had this to say:

There have been many claimed knowers of Why I Quite S-M and Marvel. Stan and I were arguing over, disputing Who is, or should be, the Green Goblin, over “not getting promised royalties,” and other known, floating, arbitrary “truths”, the “real” stories, reasons, fantasies, by CBFs and fan publications, “historians.

All such claimers lack first-hand knowledge. All are guessing, creating, their own reasons, fictions and fantasies”

… Steve Ditko ‘#45: ‘Why I Quit S-M, Marvel’, 2015, The Complete Four-Page Series and Other Essays by Steve Ditko p.48

 


In 1992 Steve Ditko and Stan Lee almost reunited on a new project.”  Ditko was offered the role of artist for Lee’s new series, ‘Ravage 2099’.  Despite the circumstances of his original departure from Marvel in 1966, Ditko met with Lee in person to discuss the job further.  This would mark the last known meeting between Steve Ditko and Stan Lee.

Marvel writer Tom DeFalco (who had himself worked with Ditko) was present during this historic occasion and later described what he witnessed:

“Steve came in, very flattered to be asked. The guys started to shake hands, then gave each other a big hug. It was a very warm reception between the two of them, and it was obvious these were two guys who really liked each other and really respected each other.

“Stan laid out his ideas for the series, they had a really terrific discussion going back and forth. A lot of Steve’s discussions had been fiery, but this one was just so warm and friendly.”

— Tom DeFalco, WIZARD magazine #124 (2002),

 

Jim Sacrilup, a Marvel editor during the 1980s/1990s, recalled that Lee suggested Ditko revisit the Spider-Man character during that same meeting:

We set up a meeting, we met in then-Marvel President Terry Stewart’s office (Stan’s old office), and it was a lot of fun. The two men clearly still had great respect for each other, and I think if I wasn’t planning to leave Marvel myself shortly, I could’ve got them to do a project together again.

Steve explained to Stan why he didn’t want to do Ravage — he didn’t want to do a negative version of the future, he wanted to do something with a more positive view, like the original Star Trek TV series.

Stan then made a pitch to do a Spider-Man graphic novel with Steve (“Think of all the money we’ll make!”), and again got turned down, with Steve saying he could never care about the character as much as he did originally.

Stan was truly disappointed, and Steve, I believe, would’ve been willing to do another project with Stan, but unfortunately, it was not to be.

— Jim Sacrilup ‘The LEE-DITKO Spider-Man Graphic Novel That Never Was’, 13th Dimension website, posted By Dan Greenfield on Nov 14, 2018

 

In an article for Wizard magazine (issue 124, January 2002) Ralph Macchio (who had worked as an Editor at Marvel) also recalled discussing the possibility of another Spider-Man story by Ditko during the 1990:.

“I said, ‘Steve, you can do something really different,’” Macchio explained. “‘Go back to where you left off and do that next story that you wanted to do.’

“He was saying, ‘Well, I was thinking about doing Peter Parker…what he did during that summer. What happened after he graduated? What did he do with his life?”

“Unfortunately, it didn’t come off, but we really were getting close with it.”

— Ralph Macchio, Wizard (#124, January 2002)

 

In 1996 Marvel published ‘Marvel: Heroes and Legends’ number one, a special issue that utilised the talents of many silver-age Marvel artists including Gene Colan, John Romita and Steve Ditko.  The story (plotted by Fabian Nicieza) was based on the 1964 ‘Fantastic Four’ annual (originally produced by Lee and Kirby). Lee provided the final script, making this the last time any new Lee/Ditko material was produced.

 

 

“In the years that followed their final meeting the Lee/Ditko relationship would again deteriorate.”  Ditko would express frustration with Lee on numerous occasions following their 1992 meeting, often in relation to the issue of creator credit. This situation was likely aggravated by the abundance of interviews, articles etc. that accompanied Lee’s growing fame as the public face of Marvel in the 1990s and 2000s.  For example, Ditko took Lee to task for his tendency to describe himself as ‘creator’ rather than ‘co-creator’:

And Lee earlier said, “I like to say that I co-created these characters” meaning all Marvel heroes and villains.  Yet, Lee’s paper trail interviews reveal him rarely saying ‘co-created’ even when and where it is really needed.  It’s actually very, very rare that Lee ever used the term ‘co-creator’ and actually named who the co-creator actually is.”

— Steve Ditko, ‘“He Giveth and the Taketh Away’, Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted in ‘The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1 Overture, p 29)

 

The following comments provide further insight into Ditko’s views.

“Lee’s real, authentic achievements are not good enough for him. He wants more. His ‘idea’ to gain more, even gain all, had to involve denying all others their authentic achievements from Goodman down.

The full, objective reality “script” of what actually happened inside Marvel is rejected by Lee for his “synopsis” version, for his “idea” of being the sole cause, “creator”, of the creation of Marvel’s success excluding all others.

“Lee rejected his authentic and, in justice, his earned and deserved achievements for the status of the only one who really made Marvel’s success possible for the popular, public, celebrity benefits.”

— Steve Ditko, ‘Creative Crediting’, Avenging Mind 2007 (reprinted in ‘The 32 Series by Ditko Vol 1 Overture, p 29)


Readers are encouraged to refer to the original essays for a full understanding of his criticisms.

Some of Lee’s views on the matter can be found in the Jonathon Ross documentary ‘In Search of Steve Ditko’

 

 

Some Concluding (and Personal) Thoughts

 

“This balance was consistent with Ditko’s views concerning credit and recognition, adding weight to the veracity of his commentaries.”   Lee didn’t comment directly on Ditko’s articles, though Roy Thomas was evidently reading them in the mid-2000s and provided this opinion:

“…I’m glad he wrote the articles he did, even if they must be taken skeptically just like any other recollections forty years after the fact.  I suspect that much of what he says is true…and that all of it is sincerely stated…but he’s not the possessor of the final word on the subject.”

— Roy Thomas, letters section, ‘The Comics!’ Vol. 15, No. 4, April 2004, the newsletter of Robin Snyder

 

 

“However, he did occasionally provide his own recollections regarding the changing dynamics of the Lee/Ditko partnership…”: More from Lee’s 1975 commentary is provided below:

“Steve was a very mysterious character. When he first started he was the easiest character we ever had to work with. I used to think that if everybody was as easy to work with as Steve, it would be great. I would call him in the middle of the night with an emergency ten page script and Steve would bring it in the very next day without a complaint. He was just beautiful.  But, little, by little, he became tougher and tougher to work with. After a while he’d say to me, “Gee, Stan, I don’t like those plots you are writing for Spider-Man.” So I’d say okay, because I couldn’t have cared less, Steve was so good at drawing stuff, I said, “Use your own plot, I’ll put the dialogue in.” So he’d do his own, and I’d switch them around, and I’d put the dialogue in and make them conform to what I wanted. Then he’d say “I don’t like the sound—effects you’re putting in:” So I told him to use his own, I didn’t mind. I’d bend over backwards to accommodate him, because he was so good and the strip was so successful. But it was like Chamberlain giving in to Hitler, the more I appeased him, the harder he got to work with. Finally, it reached the point where he didn’t even come up to the office with his artwork —he’d just mail it in. Then one day he said he was leaving.”

— Stan Lee,  A Serious Interview with Stan Lee, April 1975.  interview with Stan Lee that took place in Fantasy Advertiser International, April 1975 edition.

 

 

“…his recollections form an essential part of comics history, adding to the enduring legacy of this creator/‘artist-plus’.”  A frail Stan Lee, in the final months prior to his own death, acknowledged the passing of Steve Ditko in a youtube video posted on July 14, 2018 (‘Stan Lee Remembers Steve Ditko’, Marvel Studios Movies).  In this video Lee praised Ditko’s artistic talents and referred to his former colleague as “…one of the most important creators in the comic book business.” 

Stan Lee remembers Steve Ditko – YouTube

 

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Use of images are not intended to infringe on copyright, but merely used for academic purpose.

Images used ©Their Respective Copyright Holders

 

 

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