new
archives
faq
links
contact
facebook
X
X
X
CHAPTER SIX - PART SEVEN
"STAN versus STEVE!"
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #28
STAN LEE wanted to create, as he said, "the kind of characters I could personally relate to. They’d be flesh and blood… they’d be fallible and feisty, and — most important of all — inside their colorful, costumed booties they’d still have feet of clay.”

STEVE DITKO wanted Peter Parker to stay in high school, where he could continue to make mistakes on his way to becoming a flawless hero, but Martin Goodman and Stan Lee thought the character would have wider appeal if he graduated from high school and became a college student. In this case, "The Man" won the argument, and Peter graduated in ASM #28.

As Greg Theakston put it, "Spider-Man was no longer Archie Andrews in high school. Now he was Jimmy Olsen working for a great Metropolitan newspaper. Somehow, the innocence was lost."

BELOW: The "graduation" panel. Note that Ditko, because he felt like it, includes a Black family in the scene -- not as protestors, or even as "Black people." They don't have any jive-talkin', psuedo-ethnic dialogue (thank God). In fact, they're not doing anything! They're just parents congratulating their son on his graduation day. LET HISTORY TAKE NOTE! These unassuming pioneers are among the first Blacks ever portrayed in a superhero comic book, and they are in this panel for ONE REASON: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko put them there! More than once. WAY more than once!
X
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #30
By this point, Stan Lee had no input at all into the Spider-Man comic's plot. He didn't know who this issue's masked, uniformed men stealing radioactive matter were supposed to be. So he had one of them say, "Only the Cat could have thought of a scheme like this!" -- but in this story, The Cat was a petty thief with no interest in radioactive material. Who DID have an interest in radioactive material?

The answer, of course, is The Master Planner, who would appear in the following issue, accompanied by henchmen dressed in the very same uniforms. (Hey, he was obviously a master at planning. He even liked to plan things like the uniforms of his henchmen.) Ditko included these henchmen in the CAT story as foreshadowing, but Stan inadvertently wrote them into the Cat's story.
X
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33 contains the legendary "lifting sequence," one of the greatest sequences in comic book history, as discussed in DBB #384...
X
Spidey can't get free in time! He's trapped under TONS of crushing machinery.
X
In 1998, the fan magazine COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE quoted Stan Lee discussing the famous lifting scene. Ditko took issue with Stan's comments, and wrote this letter to CBM...
X
Why would Ditko be so sensitive about this particular sequence? In my opinion, it's because when something is THIS powerful, it has to have come from an equally powerful real-life experience. Perhaps it did. Conjecture time!

When Steve Ditko was a boy, his father was a Master Carpenter in the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Steel Mill, which was four hours (225 miles) from the Ditko family home in Johnstown. The steel mill was a hotbed of activity for decades, as seen below in photos taken during construction of two battle ships in the second world war. The plant was stuffed with tons of heavy machinery.
X
Ditko suffered from reoccurring Tuberculosis, a lung infection. Back in the Fifties and Sixties, the machinery for taking chest x-rays (below, right) was quite large and cumbersome.

XDitko conquered TB in 1955, seven years before beginning his historic run on Spider-Man. Did he rise up from his sick bed in triumph, like Spidey did?

Ditko may also have been inspired by the carnage caused by a flood that wrecked half the town and shut down the steel mill Ditko's father worked at for weeks. On March 17, 1936, Johnstown experienced a devastating flood caused by heavy runoff from melting snow and three days of rain. About two dozen people died in the flood, and 3,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Property damage was estimated at $41 million.

Surely young Steve Ditko, only nine years old at the time, must have seen the desolated town and ruined machinery, once-in-a-lifetime sights that would've made a lasting impression. In a small city such as Johnstown, it's likely Ditko knew someone who had been buried in rubble, or drowned in the deluge, and it's possible he even experienced it himself, first-hand. Conjecture!
X
These things may have combined to give Ditko the idea to have Spider-Man get trapped under a huge piece of machinery, then casting off the weight in a series of increasingly large panels, culminating in what many believe to be the most dramatic full page in the history of comic books.

By the way, just seeing the page doesn't explain WHY that is the case! It has to be read as part of the storyline.

And if you have NOT read this particular Spider-Man story arc...
(1) You have not lived;
(2) You are not a Spider-Man fan;
(3) You are not a comic book fan;
(4) You ought to seek immediate mental help from a trained professional; and
(5) I forbid you to continue reading this article until you read the stories originally presented in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #31-32-33. For the rest of the class, let's continue...

BELOW: A Ditko portrait drawn by Bob McLeod that places Steve Ditko on the scene as his alter-ego frees himself.
X
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #35 - APRIL 1966
Ditko's original version of the cover of Spider-Man #35 is pictured below, left, on an Italian edition of L'UOMO RAGNO (Spider Man). The Spidey figure's "up-the-butt" positioning was deemed a bit awkward, so Stan Lee (probably without telling Ditko) had Jack Kirby redraw the Spider-Man figure for the cover of the American edition of the comic, shown below on the right.
X

BELOW: ASM #35's splash page, in pencils with lettering, in ink, and as published.
X
The NEXT ISH blurb at the end of ASM #34 didn't reveal the name of the villain appearing in the next issue -- probably because Stan either didn't know what Ditko had named him, or hadn't yet named him himself!

STAN AT PRINCETON - MARCH 1966
Stan Lee gave a speech at New Jersey's Princeton University in March 1966. During this talk, he announced to the crowd of college students that Ditko had left Marvel. The crowd booed and jeered at the shocking news. You can hear audio from the event by clicking the PLAY button below. There's a full transcript of what Stan said below.
XStan Lee: "We'd love to give everybody a magazine of his own. Especially Doc Strange. We get requests for these things all the time, and we mention it in the books, and I'm sure nobody believes it, but we just don't have the time and we don't have the staff. Now, we've just lost the artist who does Doc Strange -- Steve Ditko -- who also does Spider-Man. (Crowd boos.)

And, uh, I feel as badly about it as you do. He, uh... he's a very peculiar guy. He's a great talent, and um... 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. And one day he just phoned and said, 'That's it.' So that was it.

This is uh... this is the acid test now, because he was such a popular artist. I think that we've managed to find people to replace him so those 'oohs' will change to cheers. I know how it is, you get sentimental about an artist, especially one as good as Steve, and I feel the same way."

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #36 - MAY 1966
X
In ASM #36, we finally learned the name of Ditko's new villain: THE LOOTER! The bad guy's name was inspired by a term used by author/philosopher Ayn Rand, who wrote, in ATLAS SHRUGGED, "Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter."

Steve Ditko met Ayn Rand in person several times. He often listened to Rand lecture at the Nathaniel Branden Institute, and he had regular meetings with her in a room in the Empire State Building during the early 1960s.

Ayn Rand's influence on Ditko's work was discussed in Dial B for BLOG #296-298, "The Secret Origins of Mr. A."

BELOW: A page from
THE MEGALOMANIACIAL SPIDER-MAN
(June 2002) by PETER BAGGE
X
DAREDEVIL #16 - MAY 1966
BELOW: Stan Lee in late 1966, posing with Kirby's original art for the cover of STRANGE TALES #151. On Stan's desk is a copy of THE MIGHTY THOR #136.
X
Early Marvel comics were produced at a frenetic pace. Where DC had Ira Schnapp to create elaborate house ads for hundreds of individual issues, over at Marvel, as a rule, covers were simply inserted into a standard "ANOTHER MARVEL MASTERPIECE" frame. It was very rare to see an ad done just for a specific issue. Why did this particular crossover rate its own ad?
X
At some point, Stan may have begun to get the feeling that either Ditko was planning to leave the book, or he was going to fire him. It was not a coincidence that Stan decided to have Spider-Man guest-star in Daredevil, then being drawn by John Romita, Sr. It was a try-out for replacing Ditko, and Romita has admitted Xthis explicitly.

"What Stan Lee wanted," Romita once said, "was for me to do a two-part Daredevil story with Spider-Man as a guest star, to see how I handled the character."

Daredevil #16 is cover dated May 1966. Ditko's last issue of Spider-Man, #38, is cover dated July 1966, so the Daredevil issue probably went into production before Ditko's final Spidey issue.

Since you don't give someone a "job interview" for a job that isn't open, this can only mean that Stan was anticipating Ditko's departure, and preparing for it -- by testing out Romita.

Pictured BELOW, a page from John Romita's DD-Spidey crossover.
X

Then, in the December 1965 issue of THE COMIC READER, the bomb dropped...
X
Now, a shocked fandom knew there would only be ONE MORE issue of Spider-Man drawn by Steve Ditko. Comic book nation held its breath and waited for that final issue -- AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #38.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #38 - JULY 1966
X
XDitko quit Marvel with Amazing Spider-Man #38 (July 1966), featuring "Just A Guy Named Joe," a story whose title was inspired by a 1943 movie starring Spencer Tracy (poster pictured above, left).

According to Roy Thomas, "Ditko [quitting] wasn't a great surprise, because after all, [Stan and Steve] weren't speaking, and one day Steve walked in and just told Sol [Brodsky, pictured right] he was quitting. Sol was sitting there with a memo on his desk to give Steve a raise of $5.00 or so a page, or whatever they could afford, so it wasn't a matter of the money. He just wanted to quit."

His resignation had nothing to do with publisher Martin Goodman failing to give Ditko promised royalties. In The Avenging Mind (2008), Steve Ditko wrote, "I never met Martin Goodman. I may have seen him on the Marvel floor, but that is the extent of my knowing him."

In Comic Creators on Spider-Man, Stan Lee said, "I was angry over the way Steve Ditko quit. He left in such a way that I wasn't tempted to call him and ask him why. He just showed up one Xday and announced that he was quitting. He left his work and walked out. In fact, he didn't even tell me. I think he told Sol Brodsky, who was our production manager at the time."

Yet as we saw earlier, Stan had actually been preparing for Ditko's departure by testing out John Romita -- who tested well and became the new Spider-Man artist!

In Wizard magazine #162 (April 2005), John Romita, Sr. (pictured left with Stan Lee) commented:

"Ditko would come in with one perspective and one attitude, and Stan would change it. By the time he got to ink it, Ditko saw that it was a different story, and I think he just finally got fed up and told Stan he was leaving. Ditko was never one to worry about how he was going to make a buck. He was just interested in doing what he liked."
XIn Ditko's final Spider-Man story (panel pictured right), J. Jonah Jameson's latest secretary suddenly quits the Daily Bugle and walks out the door, screaming, "I quit! I won't work for that old skinflint another second!"

What was Ditko saying here?

According to comic historian Robert Beerbohm, "I had too many conversations with Kirby at comicons over a long time wherein he described to me more than once that, yes, Ditko did try to get him to walk at the same time back in 1966. At first Kirby told Ditko 'yes' he would, then backed out at the last sec. Jack wanted to, but felt he could not as he had kids to worry about, Ditko did not have kids to worry about."

Is this why Peter thinks, "That's the THIRD this week"? If Kirby had followed Ditko out the door, along with another Marvel artist (Wally Wood?), that would have made three.

In the story's final panels, Stan's dialogue has Peter worrying that his life is a waking nightmare, but who knows what Ditko intended? Peter looks glum, but he usually looks glum, and in the final panel, Ditko has him walking UP stairs, usually symbolic of some sort of ascent.

The blurb at the bottom of the final panel, written by Stan and inserted into the "next issue" space, promised that next ish, readers would get "the biggest surprise of the season." For Ditko's legions of fans, it was the most unwelcome "surprise" imaginable.
X
The letters page in Ditko's final issue contained no glowing tribute to the man who had developed the Spider-Man character and shaped him since day one. There was no mention of his name at all. And the letters, which used to begin "Dear Stan and Steve," now started simply "Dear Stan." There WAS no "Stan and Steve" anymore. That entity no longer existed -- if it ever truly had.

Now, there was "a new hand at the artistic tiller ... Jazzy Johnny Romita," and Stan promised that he "was preparing to write the greatest yarns of his career."
X
Here's how the "Marvel Bullpen Bulletins" page that ran in every Marvel book that month broke the news that shocked Spider-Man fans around the world...
X

Ditko always drew his Spider-Man covers last, after he finished the story. He completed the interior of ASM #38, but Ditko did NOT submit a cover for the issue, for whatever reason. So, Stan took panels from the story and had someone in Marvel's production department repurpose them for the issue's cover...
X
STRANGE TALES #131
Ditko had no reservations whatsoever about his decision to leave Marvel. He would walk away happy, and, "with a simple memory block," he would erase any unpleasant memories from his Marvel experience by never looking back, never dwelling on it, and rarely even discussing it.

In my opinion, Ditko depicted his attitude graphically in STRANGE TALES #131, "Eternity Beckons." In it, the mystical Dr. Strange bumps into an "agent of Mordo" who bears a strong resemblance to Steve Ditko.

Although the Doctor Strange storyline seemed wrapped up in Ditko's final story, according to Marvel artist/editor Carl Potts, "When Ditko quit Marvel, he didn’t turn in two Dr. Strange stories that he’d plotted and penciled."
X
In 1991, Ditko wrote this letter to Steve Duin, who had asked Ditko to contribute to a book on the history of comics:

STEVE DITKO: "My not being interested in the history of comics has an unstated corallary (sic): I'm not interested in the history of Steve Ditko. I have a routine. Early in December I get all the work that I had published that year and spend some time during the month reviewing, reflecting on the work. Near the end of the month I put the material in a package and on a shelf. I am free to start the new year without any baggage from last year."

"I know why I left Marvel, but no one else in this universe knew or knows why. It may be of mild interest to realize that Stan Lee chose not to know, or hear why, I left." (The Comics! A Mini-History: Some Background," by Steve Ditko, May 2001).
X

ROBBY'S OPINION: WHY DITKO QUIT MARVEL
Why did Steve Ditko quit Marvel? It's not all that hard to figure out. After all, there are only so many reasons one quits a company. Usually it's about money, sometimes it's about working conditions, often it's about personal issues. In show business, people often part due to "creative differences," or "personality issues." And, at times, it's about "personal reasons."

So, which was it for Ditko? We can also strike out working conditions, since Ditko worked in his own studio. What about MONEY? The average salary in 1964 was $6,000. From what I understand, Ditko was making about $30.00 per page at Marvel. If he did 30 pages a month, that would total $900 monthly, and $10,800 annually (before taxes).

In inflation-adjusted dollars, that's about $82,000 -- a healthy salary! And when Ditko quit, Marvel had been preparing to give him a modest (perhaps insultingly modest) pay raise.

XAt this time, Charlton Comics had a top rate of $20 a page, but Charlton editor Dick Giordano arranged a deal with the company where he could pay certain artists less, and others up to $10.00 more.

Ditko was almost certainly one of the artists Giordano paid more to, meaning at Charlton, Ditko got $30.00 per page, equal to his Marvel rate. So Ditko's Charlton page rate was probably EQUAL to his Marvel page rate.

Finally, what about "creative differences" and "personality issues"?

In Alter Ego #50, July 2005, Roy Thomas said, "I saw Steve only a few weeks after he quit... 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...' "

Stan Lee's approach, as headlined in the infamous Herald Tribune newspaper article, was to create "Superheroes With Super Problems." Ditko, inspired by Ayn Rand's conception of heroism, came to believe strongly that heroes cannot have any flaws, because their purpose is to exemplify what is good about humanity.
Certainly these two views do not mesh, and cannot co-exist. They are polar opposites, and, of course, a thing IS what it IS, and nothing else. A is not B, and A can NEVER be B, because -- A is A!

Ditko had allowed the character of Peter Parker to grow and mature. In the Sixties, an age of "non-conformists" who dressed and spoke very much alike and marched in lockstep ideologically, Ditko had allowed Peter Parker to grow from a science nerd into a GENUINE non-conformist. Now Ditko was being pressured to reverse course, and recast Parker as a "typical college student" of the time.

Time to conjecture. Reader, if it was YOU, what would you do? You believe the company owns the character you created, and owns the art they paid you to draw. Do you now "adjust" your principals for fame and money? That would be the "normal" thing to do. But what would YOU do? Who would you turn to for advice?

Perhaps you would find a sympathetic ear, a person who knew exactly what you were going through -- someone like a Flo Steinberg -- who would help you understand that because your work is such an all-consuming obsession, you can never lead a "normal" life. That if you stay with Spider-Man, you'll never be "happy."

You might realize she's right. And once you finally realize this, its...
X
Reader, click the play button below and watch a clip from the movie version of Ayn Rand's THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1949). In my view, if you understand the clip, you might understand what happened next -- more than ever.
So that's it. What would YOU do, reader? Stay or quit? If you stay, you might gradually give in to pressure to homogenize and soften the beautiful characters you created -- to please the mob. You might convince yourself that enslavement is true freedom, which would mean the death of the artistry in your soul, the only thing that makes life worth living. But if you ignore all that and stay anyway, you might make a pile of money!
X
What would YOU do? Would you STAY, take the money, and cry all the way to the bank?

You might! And I might, too.

But Steve Ditko couldn't.

And Steve Ditko didn't!

X
X
X