Saturday, May 06, 2006


The Spiderman movies made $1.6 billion even before you start to count the international toy distribution licenses and TV rights.

But if you strip away the investment bankers, lawyers, production companies and publicity agents, the whole mighty empire began with one lone artist sitting at his drawing board late at night inventing Spiderman while moths flickered around his fluorescent light.

That artist was Steve Ditko. When you look at his drawings, such as the one above, you can appreciate how rich and evocative they were.  Even when muted by crude printing on cheap paper, even without computer graphics, Dolby sound and flashing lights on IMAX screens, Ditko's creations were able to capture the imagination (and loyalty) of young boys.  His battered drawing board is where it all started, the chain of events that went on to make hundreds of people fabulously wealthy (but not, of course, Steve Ditko).

This reminds me of the ancient Egyptian temple of Karnak.

The Egyptians continued building and adding to the temple of Karnak for over 2,000 years. By 500 BCE, the temple grounds covered 200 acres of buildings, sacred lakes and grand courtyards. Karnak's "Sacred Enclosure of Amon" alone is 61 acres, big enough to hold ten European cathedrals.

But at the very heart of this sprawling compound is the Naos, the small primeval mound where ancient people first gathered in the wilderness to worship long before the engineers, builders and armies showed up.  A handful of people found religious inspiration from that site, never dreaming that a mighty empire would arise on the spot where they stood.

If you are impressed by the wealth and power of Karnak's vast concentric circles of courtyards and columns, it is good to remember that they all grew from a small sacred spot at the inner most core of the temple-- the "Holy of Holies."

The place where the original artist's brush touched the paper, that is the holy of holies.


Anonymous said...

Nice post, in every respect. It's worth mentioning, I think, that the piece you selected is not from Spider-Man (or Doctor Strange), but from one of a number of wonderful pieces Ditko did during Archie Goodwin's editorship of the Warren magazines. Having only seen Ditko's four-color work at the time, the power of his wash pieces came as a revelation to me. The Warren magazines featured some marvelous illustrators, but nobody did more powerful work for them than Ditko. It would be wonderful to see all of his Warren stories collected, and well-reproduced.

Anonymous said...

i'm thrilled that you gave a nod to a comic book artist, especially ditko. he often gets overshadowed by kirby and/or stan lee. i wish you started including weblinks where we can see other pieces by the artist. i don't always have the time to do my own google search to see more.

David Apatoff said...

Bob, you are absolutely right-- this particuar drawing is not from Ditko's Spiderman series. I try to scan each drawing from the original art, but the Spiderman pages are now selling for over 100 times what Ditko was originally paid to draw them.

But as you also note, Ditko's Warren pages are "powerful work" indeed. The originals are so much more vivid than the printed Warren magazines, I think there would be a big audience for the kind of "well-reproduced" collection you propose.

Stanman, I think Ditko is one of those "artist's artists." He doesn't have the same popular following as a Jack Kirby or Neal Adams, but he is quite influential among artists with a more sophisticated eye.