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CHAPTER SIX - PART TWO
"DOORWAY TO THE UNKNOWN"

The doorway to Steve Ditko's Manhattan studio is pictured below, right (with the number blocked out). We can't go in there, but we CAN take a look inside his old studio of 1958-1968, the place where Ditko Xcreated Spider-Man.

That studio, which Ditko shared with artist Eric Stanton, was located on one of the the upper floors of a building in Manhattan at 43rd Street and 8th Avenue, an area known as "Hell's Kitchen." It sounds dark and gritty, but it isn't. It's a bright, sunny, nice area that's not a bit like "hell," or its kitchen. That's just a nickname.

Neither Ditko nor Stanton lived in this studio. It had a small sink, and the building had bathrooms, but there was no shower -- however, at times it must have seemed liked they both DID live there. Ditko and/or Stanton sometimes worked continuously for as long as 20 hours, to meet ever-threatening deadlines.

Ditko, who had moved to Pennsylvania while recovering from tuberculosis, had recently moved back to Manhattan. He lived just three blocks away from the studio, on 45th Street.

Eric Stanton, who Ditko met in art school, was impoverished after a devastating divorce in 1958. Stanton lived with his mother in nearby Queens, the largest of the five boroughs that make up New York City. In 1959, Ditko was 32 years old, and Stanton was 33.

The Marvel offices were 17 blocks from the Ditko/Stanton studio, at Madison Avenue and 60th Street. It may look and sound like a long way, but in New York the blocks are short and the avenues are much longer. Seventeen blocks is only about a half-hour walk. Or a one-minute flight for Thor and the FF. Here's Marvel Manhattan...

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We arrive at West 43rd Street and 8th Avenue, take an old but serviceable elevator to one of the building's upper floors, and walk down a small hallway to the studio door. Take a deep breath, reader!

It's September 25, 1959, four years before the creation of Spider-Man -- and we're about to open the "Doorway to the Unknown" and take look INSIDE the Ditko/Stanton studio.

[Door opens.]

WE'RE IN! It's a small rectangular room, about 10 feet by 20 feet, with two large desks and several small wheeled tables full of art supplies, a closet containing three dozen long boxes of comic books, and shelves stuffed with movie stills, and magazines. The floor is black linoleum. The wall opposite the doorway is filled with windows that offer a magnificent view of Manhattan. On the left is Steve Ditko's desk, on the right is Eric Stanton's desk.

Robby's reconstruction of the studio can be seen below! Reader, if you're still conscious, tell me -- when was the last time you saw something this awesome? Can you believe it? Stare at it. Absorb it. CLICK IT! Reader, it's you and me, and we're THERE, in the world famous Ditko-Stanton studio. Not as a FLY on the wall... but as a SPIDER!

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X Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets (pictured right), once visited Ditko in his tiny studio, and gave this description: “Papers were piled high. There were stacks of reference material, ready of Steve to draw upon, and Ayn Randian philosophical magazines, from which the artist drew inspiration.” [Craig Yoe’s The Art of Steve Ditko.]

Jim Starlin (pictured below) visited Ditko’s studio in 1965 and said, "Steve had a formula for doing clothing. It's abstract lines that work oil into the folds. He hadnotebooks that he could go to. If he needed to draw an arm in a sleeve at any position, he had a notebook just for sleeves. The notebooks were his drawings, most times just a few pen strokes.”

Mike Gold former editor of DC's THE QUESTION comic (pictured below, right), wrote in The Creativity of Steve Ditko, "Eventually my eyes drifted over to the closet. It consisted of some three dozen boxes that looked likeyour traditional comic book long box. Most were lettered and arranged in alphabetical order. There were a few that were labeled according to topic: 'BAT' comes to mind."

"What's that?" Gold asked Ditko.

The artist replied, "Those are my reference files. Copies of stuff I've drawn before."

In DitkoMania #45, Bernie Bubnis wrote, "As I entered [Ditko's] private studio, I first noticed a maze of shelves all over the wall to the right... it seems the shelves were filled to the brim with a complete collection of Steve's past efforts in the field."

Wow. If Ditko needed help, he didn't reference a photo, or another artist, he referenced HIMSELF. He had done so many Xdifferent kinds of stories that he had drawn almost everything, and he could use his own work as a massive reference file. Ditko gave us a peek inside his studio in ASM ANNUAL #1. He's pictured over on the RIGHT, utilizing his legendary library.

"But -- what if you need to draw something that's not in the file?" Mike Gold once asked Steve.

"I have a pretty good imagination," Ditko replied with a smile.


Look reader! There's Steve Ditko now, talking on the telephone! Let's listen in...
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DITKO TO CALLER: "You're very mysterious, Mr. Beck. I like that! Maybe I'll use you in the future. But I have to go now. I have work to do!"
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Finishing his phone call, the artist grabs a pen and begins to work. A large "THINK" sign is posted on his black swing-arm lamp. His desk is covered with pages of artwork in various stages of creation, surrounded by bottles of ink, brushes, and art supplies. Like all comic artists at the time and for many years to come, Ditko had to buy his own art supplies.
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Ditko loved to sneak self-portraits into his work. He probably used the photo ABOVE as a reference when he drew himself into "The Blue Men of Bantro" from Charlton's SPACE WAR #6 (1960). Below, a panel from that story showing the black swing-arm lamp, pens and brushes, bottles of ink, and the famous "THINK" sign.
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The Ditko "THINK" photo has become iconic. Pictured BELOW is Drew Friedman's caricature-style interpretation of the shot, from "Heroes of the Comic Books" by Drew Friedman, available in June 2014. To it's RIGHT is another interpretation, by Javier Hernandez.
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The comics pictured below, Adventure into Mystery #7 (May 1957) and Strange Tales of the Unusual #10 (June 1957), were published by Atlas, an early incarnation of Marvel. Both covers were drawn by John Severin, whose style Ditko admired. Ditko was also heavily influenced, initially, by Mort Meskin and Joe Kubert.
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The ORIGINAL ART for the covers of the comics ABOVE can be seen on the desk behind Steve in the photo below. You can tell it's not the comic book by how LARGE the art is. If you'd like to poke around Steve's desk, click the photo for a gigantic version! Nosey. (The photo is from Craig Yoe's wonderful book, THE ART OF DITKO.)
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XReader, did you ever wonder WHY these photos were taken? I believe there was a specific reason. I think Ditko wanted them to use as references for the self-portraits he liked to include in his work.

Sometimes Ditko drew himself as "Steve Ditko," like he did in a story that ran in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 called, "How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Create Spider-Man" (January 1964). One panel from that story, showing Ditko on the phone, is pictured RIGHT.

The drawing has several things in common with the photo, such as the bird's eye view angle, desk, coffee cup, black swing-arm desk lamp, and pile of comics on the table in the background.

Ditko also included himself into more than a few stories as just a random person in the story, often with no name and no X"lines." Many of these "selfies" also show Ditko assuming poses seen in the photos.

For example, pictured on the LEFT is a Ditko self-portrait from a story that ran in Charlton's "Mysterious Suspense" #1 (October 1968). As you can see, there's a random person in the lower right corner, on the phone. He has a receding hair line, and he's wearing glasses. Guess what? It's Steve Ditko!

Pictured BELOW is another photo, from the same "shoot" as the others, that looks like it was taken by someone (Eric Stanton?) standing on Ditko's desk.

This particular shot was used as a model for the Ditko selfie seen in "The Blue Men of Bantro," which ran in Charlton's SPACE WARS #6 (September 1959).
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In "Bantro," the studio of artist "Miles Martin" is an exact duplicate of Ditko's studio, right down to the black swing-arm desk lamp and desk cluttered with pages of original comic book art. See side-by-side comparison below the photo. Ditko even included his famous "THINK" sign -- as seen from the back!
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Where did Mr. Ditko display his work when he was in the process of creating it? Next to the small studio's doorway stood a large sheet of plywood, used as a makeshift bulletin board. Ditko used to clip or tack his work on this board to get a better look at it. Pictured BELOW is a photo of him doing just that! (Note: A small sink is visible in the lower left corner. The photo is from Craig Yoe's THE ART OF DITKO.)
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In the picture BELOW (also from Craig Yoe's THE ART OF DITKO), we can see a newspaper on Ditko's desk. The paper's logo is not visible, but as a New Yorker born and bread, I, Robby Reed, can easily tell that it's a copy of The New York Post. Ditko was, and apparently still is, and avid newspaper reader. He didn't read only the Post, which in the 1960s was not the wildly sensualistic rag it is today. Other studio photos show copies of The New York Times sitting in the same spot The NY Post occupies in the photo below.

Like many New Yorkers, Ditko probably bought a copy of BOTH papers every day. Since he was not a commuter, and thus had no need to go to Grand Central Station daily, he probably bought his papers at a local newsstand. Like all New York newsstands back then, it probably also sold comic books. It may have given the artist great pleasure to buy his daily dose of newspapers and comic books, never once identifying himself as a man who drew some of them.

The paper's headline reads: "COMIC'S WIFE SLAIN WITH LITTLE AUGIE." This is a reference to Anthony Carfano aka "Little Augie," a New York gangster associated with Lucky Luciano. Carfano was killed on September 25, 1959 -- giving us an exact date for this particular photo, the following day, when the news hit the papers: September 26, 1959.
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The photo above also gives us some idea of the great view of Manhattan Ditko had out of his studio windows, a landscape Spider-Man would spend many hours swinging over. Of course, Steve's view wasn't as good as the aerial view seen BELOW, but it was probably pretty great. You can just picture Ditko staring out his studio window and imagining Spidey swinging across the cityscape. Why, if you look close enough, you can almost SEE him!

Pictured BELOW, Manhattan in 1962. Plenty of skyscrapers, even back then!
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It's the perfect cityscape -- although Spider-Man wasn't REALLY swinging through it, of course. What did Ditko use as a model for Spider-Man? What would YOU use? How would you get Spider-Man, plus one of his colorful super-villain enemies, into that cityscape, and make them both look realistic, and dynamic?

Reader, the answer is -- you wouldn't. You can't! But Ditko can. And Ditko DID. As early as AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #2, splash pictured below...
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Ditko created his entire Spider-Man output in the same tiny Manhattan studio, and many of the little things that surrounded him showed up in his work...
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LATER THAT NIGHT...

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So, that's Steve's half of the DITKO/STANTON studio... but what about the OTHER half of the room? The half inhabited by Eric Stanton? The SEXY half! The half where fetish and bondage scenes came alive -- six decades before "Fifty Shades of Grey." Reader, are you ready to take a look over THERE? Warning: It's pretty damn HOT over there, and I'm not talking about the temperature. Please certify that you are of age by clicking the link below!
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