“Why do you think [Blue Beetle] didn’t sell?”, Rich Howell asked Steve Ditko way back in 1968. (1) Ditko’s response cut to the heart of the real issue: “I think it would be more interesting and revealing to ask comic readers why they didn’t buy it.”
Poor sales and abruptly canceled titles stalked Ditko throughout his career across the wide variety of companies for which he worked; DC, Marvel, Eclipse, to name a few. While a knee-jerk reaction is to attribute all these faults to the individual himself, Ditko, a no-nonsense person, saw the actual problem.
Poor sales weren’t due to his lack of ability. Blue Beetle from the Charlton era had beautiful art and a fascinating story which showcased well Ditko’s ability to masterly handle not only characters of his own creation, like Dr. Strange, but even other people’s characters (as he would go on to do to The Fly, Machine Man, and others). But…
Uh-oh! Poor sales. Canceled.
When you fast-forward to the early nineties, Ditko and Roger Stern teamed up to create “Speedball”, a fun character that harkened back to his work on another and a bit more famous Marvel co-creation, Spider-man. A variety of stories, fun reads, art inked by a neat array of inkers. But…
Uh-oh! Poor sales again. Canceled.
Such odd behavior by these “comic readers” — including self-proclaimed “fans” of Ditko!
Yet Ditko’s situation is even more peculiar. Many didn’t even know that he never stopped doing comics.
Odd considering that nearly every great comic book artist in the industry today would cite Ditko as a major influence on them right before or after Kirby and that there is a massive, world-wide Ditko fan base.
How many know that Ditko never actually “retired from ‘professional comics'”? That he kept creating new work right up to his death in June of last year?
He just happened to have done it outside of mainstream comic outlets.
He was greatly and ably helped in accomplishing this by Robin Snyder who continued in the editor, publisher, and dialog writer seats working with Ditko for an unheard of 30 years.
And I’ll admit that I myself knew of none of this at one time not long ago. The last thing I had seen of his work was Captain Glory for Topps’ foray into comics back in the early ’90s. It wasn’t until 2015 that I “rediscovered” Ditko. Yet his latest work wasn’t filling up a comic rack at the grocery store (which I don’t think exist anymore), or a newsstand, or highlighted in a Previews magazine, or even showcased at the front of a comic shop.
I rediscovered decades of his post-mainstream on Kickstarter. And when I saw the sheer breadth of his work that I had no idea existed, I was shocked. “Why did I never heard about this?!” (I’ve caught up since then.)
Some comic news media these days seems more content publishing unprovable gossip, opinions on Ditko’s thoughts or disagreements about his philosophy or anything else other than the man’s work and his seemingly endless creative genius.
Maybe this short article can be a change; a reminder that there was and will only ever be one Steve Ditko. He was more than just a mere “comic book artist” and his post-mainstream work is just as deserving of attention from fans.
With that in mind, I’ve taken up a friendly challenge to myself: To support each of the Snyder / Ditko campaigns. I don’t do so out of a sense of guilt or obligation or force, but because I know I’ll be getting a quality publication in my hands. Something that won’t be a one-read-and-toss-it-in-the-recycle-bin comic, but something that one can read, re-read, and enjoy for years to come.
(1) Recounted in “Alter Ego” #160, p. 32