new
archives
faq
links
contact
facebook
X
X
by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, from TALES OF SUSPENSE #22, October 1961
X
CHAPTER SIX - PART FOUR
"THE DAY STEVE DITKO CREATED SPIDER-MAN"
According to Stan Lee, "I wanted [Spider-Man] to be an ordinary guy who happens to have a super power. When I saw the first few pages that Jack had drawn, I realized we had a problem. They were too good. Try as he might, (Jack) had been apparently unable to deglamorize Spidey."

"Steve Ditko's style," Stan recalls, "was almost diametrically different to Jack's. Where Jack would exaggerate, Steve would strive for total realism. Where Jack made his featured characters as heroically handsome as possible, Steve's forte seemed to be depicting the average man in the street. I asked Steve to draw Spider-Man." (From "Origins of Marvel Comics" by Stan Lee) .

But Lee didn't like Kirby's version, so he asked Steve Ditko to do the story instead. And he did! Now reader, we're going to take you back in time, and tell you what happened the day Steve Ditko created Spider-Man. I believe that, basically, it HAS to have happened this way. And I'm SURE Steve Ditko himself would agree with me. Right Steve?
X

Uh... yeah! Right. I knew he'd see it my way. Now let's begin.

It's early 1962 -- for the sake of argument, let's say it's February 2, 1962, a day when eight of our solar system's nine planets aligned for first time in 400 years.

Steve Ditko: "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."

The scenes of the boy finding the magic ring that would transform him into Spider-man probably looked a lot like the panels below, from Joe Simon and Kirby's THE FLY
X

Ditko ignored Kirby's version entirely, and set out to create an entirely NEW Spider-Man. It was an assignment of no real import. Ditko had been doing stories with Lee for years, and at the time no one expected the Spider-Man character to become a world-famous icon. Still, Ditko put his all into EVERYTHING he did, and this assignment was to be no exception.

Ditko told the BBC's Jonathan Ross that before beginning the first Spidey story, he studied up on childhood psychology, probably at the New York Public Library. To this day, anyone entering this gigantic library passes under a massive stone inscription designed by visionary DC Xdesigner Ira Schnapp.

Inside, Ditko may have researched periodicals on the subject, and taken notes for future reference. Photos show his studio shelves were overflowing with papers, books, comics and magazines.

With his research concluded, Ditko returned to the small Manhattan studio he shared with Eric Stanton, sat down at his desk, and began to make some sketches of this new "Spider-Man" character.

He started with the costume, apparently drawing inspiration, just as Stan had when he came up with the name "Spider-Man," from pulp star THE SPIDER. In "The Spider's Web" movie serial, The Spider had worn what looked like a ski mask painted with "webbing" lines. The mask didn't cover his face entirely -- there were small openings for his mouth and eyes. Ditko decided to go all the way.

He began to sketch.

X
ABOVE: FROM JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #81, JUNE 1962, ART BY DITKO
BELOW: FROM WARREN'S CREEPY #16, ART BY DITKO

X
Steve Ditko recalls, "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... before I did any breakdowns. For example: A clinging power so he wouldn't have hard shoes or boots, a hidden wrist-shooter versus a web gun and holster, etc. ... 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."
X
Ditko gave unusual attention to even the smallest detail of Spidey's outfit.

"I thought it would make more sense," Ditko said, "If this wall-walking character had soft soles. I’ve always felt that you should be able to identify a hero by a small part of the costume. The best characters have costumes like that: Speedball, The Thing, and Spider-Man."

What, exactly, did Ditko's very first sketch of Spidey look like? Probably a lot like the images pictured below, early Ditko Spidey sketches that appeared on the letters pages of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.
X
Ditko put a great deal of thought into every little part of Spidey's uniform. Spidey's suit is, without question, one of the finest superhero costumes ever designed. They really don't come any better than this. It could easily be called the BEST costume of all time, save for the fact the Superman's uniform must be acknowledged as superior, simply because it came first, and defined the entire genre of superhero uniforms.
X
STEVE DITKO: "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. 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, The Comics, v.12 #11, Nov. 2001)
X
Jack Kirby's version of Spider-Man, like the Fly before him, had used a web GUN. Apparently, so did Ditko's version -- originally. That version didn't last long. Ditko shared his studio with fetish artist Eric Stanton, who was present when Ditko was doing the seminal Spidey sketches.

Greg Theakston once asked Stanton if he was present when Ditko did the first Spider-Man story.

"Yes," Stanton replied, "I know how it was created. My contribution was almost nil."

Ditko must have shown Stanton the Spidey sketches, or at least told him Spidey would use a web gun. Stanton suggested another way to go.

Stanton once told Theakston, "I think I added the business about the webs coming out of his hands.”
X
In the three Toby Maguire/Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, Spidey's webbing abilities were "built in" to his body -- but the Stanton-inspired mechanical web-shooters were reinstated in the Andrew Garfield reboot, Amazing Spider-Man, and its sequel.
X
What about the unique finger positioning that activated the web-shooters? Where did THAT come from?

Hindus and Buddhists use ritual hand positions called MUDRAS to cleanse and renew the spirit. The APAN MUDRA, which closely resembles the "web shooting" position, is supposed to aid in removing toxins from the body. Of course, Ditko's DR. STRANGE was rife with eastern mysticism. Was the APAN MUDRA, seen below center, the source of "web shooting" position?

Then there's the MANU CORNUTO -- an old Italian sign meant to ward off the "evil eye," or bad luck. This gesture, seen below right, is called "the sign of the horned one."
X
But if you look closely at the hand/finger positions above, you'll see that they do NOT match the position Spidey uses to activate his web-shooters. In these two examples, the thumb is on top of the fingers -- but Peter's thumb is usually extended when he hits the webs!

There's another possibility -- one that matches EXACTLY. "Web shooting position" is a symbol in the American Sign Language system. It's sign language for "I LOVE YOU."

Coincidence? Or was Ditko sending a secret message to someone in his life who was deaf? Pure conjecture on my part!

And anyway, it's possible that "web shooting position" may have been meant to signify NOTHING. It may have come naturally from Ditko's X own hands! Top Cow Comics Editor-in-Chief David Wohl told WIZARD magazine in 2002, "Something I thought interesting about [Steve Ditko] was that when he would point to things, his hands would be in the same position that he drew Spider-Man's in! He'd have some fingers sticking out. You know, like when Spider-Man shoots his web-shooters, fingers pointing up, palms pointing down. He would kind of point to pages like that, always describing why he was drawing what he was drawing."
X
Besides the wrist-mounted web shooters, what else did Eric Stanton contribute to Spidey's creation? Nothing. Stanton discounts his role almost entirely. "The whole thing was created by Steve, on his own," Stanton once insisted. So Stanton's contribution, at this stage, amounts to saying something like, "You should put it on his wrists!"

Ditko came to take his creation VERY seriously, as he did with all his work. In Masters of Imagination, Mike Benton said, "Ditko was immersed in the Spider-Man universe and he covered the walls of his Manhattan studio with maps and drawings of Aunt May's house, the Daily Bugle offices, and the campus of Empire State University."

Sounds a lot like this Ditko-drawn panel from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #3...
X
...and LOOKS a lot like Peter Parker's bedroom as depicted in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, pictured below.
X
And so, with the uniform established, the web-shooters in place, and the world sketched out, Steve Ditko sat down to pencil the first Spider-Man story ever, apparently working from Stan's verbal outline. The story was supposed to introduce the character, explain how he got spider powers, and show how he became Spider-Man -- all in just twelve pages.
X
THE RAWHIDE SPIDER KID

Several years before Spidey's debut, Stan Lee revealed how Johnny Bart became "The Rawhide Kid" in Rawhide Kid #17 (August 1960), art by Jack Kirby (pictured below). Guess what? Johnny had an Uncle Ben!
X
When Johnny's Uncle Ben dies, he becomes the Rawhide Kid, and vows revenge -- just as Batman once did at his parents graveside...
X
One of the strongest childhood issues is fear of losing a parent. Another is the onset of puberty, as symbolized by the sudden acquisition of super-powers.

Weisinger exploited these fears in his Superman family stories and "Coming Super Attractions" ad Xcampaign, as chronicled in DBB #601-622. Spidey's origin addressed them in an entirely different way.

Both Lee and Ditko must have been familiar with Batman's 1940 origin, a creation of writer Gardner Fox (pictured right). Batman's origin story added a new depth to his character by "plausibly" explaining Bruce Wayne's motivation for fighting crime in a bat suit.

It must have occurred to Gardner Fox, a rather brilliant former lawyer, that in real life, these superhero types who put on colorful costumes to fight crime would probably be viewed as mentally unbalanced. Fox rewrote the entire genre by explaining how and why the hero originally LOST his mental balance.

Addressing one of the deepest fears of any child, the loss of a parent, Fox had young Bruce Wayne witness the sudden murder of BOTH his parents by a petty criminal. It wasn't hard to believe that such an event would drive a child slightly crazy. And from there, it wasn't so hard to believe that the child's craziness could be channeled into fighting crime. Especially if the child became RICH as a result of the trauma.

And a trauma it certainly WAS, for what could possibly be MORE traumatizing?

In the brief synopsis he gave for Ditko to work from, Stan Lee came up with an answer.

Peter Parker wouldn't merely witness the death of a parent -- he would inadvertently CAUSE the death of his own parent. And, to be different, it wouldn't be an actual parent, but a father-figure. This would provide the psychological motivation for him to Xspend the rest of his life fighting crime, as it did for Batman before him.

But where Batman had a huge bat-bank-account to draw money from, Spider-Man wouldn't be rich, or even comfortable -- he'd be constantly struggling to make ends meet. Like most teenagers in the "real world."

Spider-Man would also have strong echoes of Superman. Both characters worked at a newspaper, for gruff senior editors, while (when Superman was Superboy) being raised by older foster parents, and trying to balance their teenage love lives with their superheroics.

It was a gourmet recipe cooked up for a single serving, for one night. No one suspected it would feed the imaginations of millions -- billions! -- for half a century (and counting).

Character designed! Story plotted! Now... it was time to DRAW the thing!

Steve Ditko generally did fairly loose, sketchy pencils that looked like outlines, then he filled in the details and blacks in the inking stage. As a rule, he always inked his own pencils.

BELOW: A page from Ditko's LASZLO'S HAMMER that gives us some insight into the artist's creative process.

Pictured BELOW are Robby's Photoshopped RECREATIONS (they ain't real!!) of Steve Ditko's original PENCIL ART for two pages of the first Spider-Man story ever, which was scheduled to run in AMAZING FANTASY #15, the August 1962 issue.
X
X

Ditko didn't pencil all twelve pages of the first Spider-Man story in a single day. No way! He usually completed about one or two full pages a day, producing around 30-40 penciled and inked pages every month. Sometimes, he pitched in to help out in deadline crunches.

Once, when Stan rejected Joe Orlando's art for a Giant Man story in TALES TO ASTONISH #61, Steve penciled a new 14 page story in just a few days. In the issue's credits, pictured in the blue box over on the LEFT, Stan diplomatically referred to rejecting Orlando's work as "circumstances beyond our control," and, characterically, gave Steve Ditko his sincere thanks for "penciling his script." He also said George Bell inked the story seconds before deadline time, which was probably no exaggeration.

Ditko usually worked from around 9:00 in the morning until he got tired (see panel pictured below, showing Peter Parker, from ASM #31). XHe penciled faster than he inked, so penciling a 12-page story probably took him about six days, more or less. Maybe! A guesstimate.

Remember, the first Spidey story was by no means Ditko's first comic story! At this point, the man had produced hundreds (if not thousands) of finished pages of comic book art. He was a seasoned pro at the top of his game. He could, and probably DID, pencil pages in his sleep.

When the pencil art for all twelve Spidey pages was completed to Ditko's satisfaction, he (probably) packed them into a large leather portfolio case and set off to hand-deliver them to Stan Lee at the Marvel Comic offices. It was about a half an hour walk from his mid-town studio -- a ritual that was destined to be repeated many times in the months to come.

Hey reader, look! That's DITKO HIMSELF in the panel BELOW! He's got his portfolio! He's on his way to Marvel! To give Stan the first Spidey Story! OMG! There's only one thing to do!

Let's follow him!

X
X