While browsing CBR – the comic book mega-site – I discovered a series of articles titled “Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed” and was pleasantly surprised to see Steve Ditko mentioned on six occasions.
Its an interesting series that examines various ‘legends’ (or we would call them stories) about comic creators and their work; determining whether they are mere myths or “true”.
The first of these articles on Steve Ditko features in #17. It asks if Steve Ditko used orginal art as cutting boards, and concludes yes, he did. Although this cannot be proven (we really need to hear from Ditko!) the idea is something I found hilarious! Read and you will see why:
The beginnings of this situation happened back when Marvel was caught up in the whole “not returning art to the original artists,” using the argument that Marvel not only paid for the production of the art for the comics, but for the art itself. In any event, after some time, Marvel eventually relented, under the following condition – it would give the artists back the art, but it would be as a GIFT due to Marvel’s generosity. They still believe that THEY (Marvel) own the work fair and square, but would allow the artists to have the work itself.
Well, Steve Ditko did not like that arrangement.
As a result of this (and other factors I am sure, like not wanting to look to his past and hell, probably some other stuff, damned if I know), Ditko basically just let the art pile up, and actually used some of his old work as cutting boards!!
The story appeared in an issue of Wizard a few years back (thanks to Linda Burns at Ditkoland, for transcribing this last year):
There’s simply no way to separate the fact from the fiction, no way to determine which Ditko is the real Ditko. One story about him contradicts the next, which-in turn-contradicts the next.
Take for example, one of [Comic publisher and restorer, Greg] Theakston’s last visits to Ditko’s studio. While embroiled in a conversation, the historian noticed a piece of illustration board leaning up against a wall, slashed to pieces.
“He’d been using it as a cutting board,” Theakston said. “I looked a little bit closer and I detected a comics code stamp on it.”
He asked Ditko to turn the board around, a request met with a deadening gaze from the artist.
“I didn’t think he was going to do it,” the historian recounted. “It looked like a ‘Screw you’ look.”
Slowly, however, Ditko reached out and flipped over the board. It was a page of original art from a late 1950s issue of Journey Into Mystery [NOTE: This piece was not from Journey Into Mystery, but from Charlton Comics’ This Magazine is Haunted), a splash featuring a hard helmet diver. Theakston couldn’t believe it. Not only was Ditko not displaying, preserving or prizing this piece of original art, he was using it as a cutting board.
Theakston quickly offered Ditko a deal: “Steve, I will go down to the nearest art supply store and buy you a cutting board that will mend itself-a plastic cutting board that’s so smart that when you cut on it, it mends itself-and you’ll have the finest cutting board on the block.” “Nope,” Ditko replied, twisting the artwork-turned-cutting-board back around.
Theakston pleaded. “Steve, geez. That’s worth a fair amount of money. At the very least-damn, Steve-it’s an artifact. It’s an important piece of publishing history in terms of comics.”
The artist turned and pointed to the drapery-obscured window next to Theakston’s chair. “Lift that curtain up,” he said.
The curtain, the historian estimated, was about 18 inches off the floor. He pulled the drape aside and saw a stack of original artwork from Marvel standing roughly a foot-and-a-half high.
“Can I look at these?” Theakston excitedly asked.
The writer was dumbfounded. “I was sitting next to a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand dollars, maybe, worth of Ditko artwork and he was cutting it up without letting people look at it.”
For whatever reason-Theakston feels Ditko may have thought Marvel was wrong for returning the pages-the artist seemed to attach no particular affection to his early work.
“He would rather not have people think of Steve Ditko’s best work as being Spider-Man from 30 or 40 years ago,” the historian said. “He wanted to be represented not by what he had done, but by what he’s doing-he wants now to be his best time.