Interview with Ditko from Marvel Main #4

Marvel Main #4 cover. Pencils by Rick Howell, inks by Mark Howell.

Marvel Main #4 cover. Pencils by Rick Howell, inks by Mike Howell.

Published in Issue #4 of Marvel Main (October 1968), Btoom! Publications. Interviewers: Mike Howell, Richard Howell, and Mark Canterbury.

(Transcript via Ditko-L mailing list. Thanks to Mike Howell for permission to publish here.)

An Interview With The Man of Mystery…
Arranged Through Mark Canterbury

Actually, anything that I, or any fan could say about Steve Ditko would be a gross understatement. I suppose the two things that strike one most about Steve are his originality and his convictions. Rather than have me try to futilely eulogize this great artist,we are now proud to present an interview with the man himself, Mr. Steve Ditko. (NOTE: Because of the possible inquires as to who asked what, each staffer has his name in front of his question(s)).

MIKE: Your last two or three strips (Question, Mr.A, Creeper) have all dealt with reporters and mobsters type crime. Is this a personal crusade of yours?

SD: Reporters have an easier, more natural way of getting involved with all types of crime. They are not restricted with set routines or limited in their scope of activities. I prefer conflicts that are based on reality rather than based on fantasy. When you get wound up with super villains, super fantastic gadgets and super incredible action, everything has to be made so deliberately that it all becomes senseless. It boils down to what you want a story to stand for.

MIKE: During your years at Marvel, you were only depicted once and that time by your own hand (Spider Man Special #1) whereas you were left out of the Bullpen photos (Marvel Tales #1) and the record (MMMS Kit #l). Was this by your own choice?

SD: Yes.

MIKE: In the 1967 Comics Awards Poll conducted by noted fans Mike Robertson and Ted Silly, you usurped such greats as Kirby, Wood, Frazetta,and Williamson. By a substantial margin, too.(16 over the second place Kirby). How do you feel about this & how do you think it happened?

SD: This is the first time I’ve heard of the poll, but I don’t feel anything in particular because it doesn’t affect me in any way. A poll only means that X number of people prefer one to another. It doesn’t make one a better artist. Good art or anything cannot be decided by a poll, popularity or likes and dislikes. A preference is not a standard for what is good or right. Everything has to be measured with a clearly defined, appropriate standard. People’s likes or dislikes or preferences may change but it can’t affect a proper standard that remains unaltered. I don’t know why each person voted the way he did.

MIKE: Did anyone or anything particularly influence your style?

SD: The biggest thing influencing my style would be that I see things in a certain way and that means handling everything so that personal point of view comes across.

MIKE: When did you break into comics and who did you first work for?

SD: In 1953. A very small publishing company. I don’t even remember the company’s name.

MIKE: Out of all the characters that you have created, which is the best extension of your thoughts and beliefs? Why?

SD: The Question (and Mr. A, I can’t seem to separate the two.) Why? They are positive characters, not negative. They stand for something. They know what they stand for and why they must make that stand. They are not just against something. Every criminal in the world is opposed to himself being robbed or murdered, but do these criminals stand for justice. Being against something isn’t enough.

Every person, whether he wants to be or not, is in a continous struggle. It’s not a physical life or death struggle yet it’s a threat to every man’s survival.

No man has to battle or fear the supernatural, it doesn’t exist. No man has to fight or fear creatures from outer space. No man has to battle foreign armies. The country’s armed forces are prepared for that possibility. A man’s battle isn’t against foreign conspiracies, the FBI & CIA are set up and equipped to deal with that threat. The police are equipped to deal with crime. Health problems are battled by the medical profession. Against any of the above dangers no man has to face them alone. But in that one continuous struggle, man has to constantly face the danger alone. No one can face it or fight it for him. It is the strugglee for his mind! It is the struggle against everyone he comes in contact with. It is a struggle to keep his mind from being corrupted and being ruled by irrational premises.

A man is what he stands for–why is it right to stand for it and to protect and defend for all the time? In the struggle, a man can lose only if he gives in, defeated by self destruction, by accepting the wrong as right to act against himself.

Honest men, like dishonest men, are made. The honest refuse to accept wrong as right the dishonest refuse to accept right as right. Each deliberately makes a a choice.

This struggle is not openly recognized. Accepting lies, dishonesty, etc. or practicing evasions etc, are not criminal acts. Nothing but a man’s own mind can protect him from accepting and practicing the irrational, and suffering from it’s corrupting effects, but a man has to choose to do it.

This is the premise that the Question and Mr. A are based on. Evil is powerless. A mind that refuses to accept or defend the truth, by that act, permits lies to exist, to give them respectability and influence, thereby undercutting and eventually destroying everything that is of real value. Destroyed, not by the power of evil, but by the good’s refusal to protect itself against an enemy that could exist only with good’s permission.

A man’s refusal to understand the issue changes nothing. If a man doesn’t know why a thing is right or wrong, he has no defenses. He’s vulnerable. He has no standard by which to measure, accept or reject any proposition. The Question and Mr. A are men who choose to know what is right and act accordingly at all times. Everyone should.

MIKE: Did any particular comic you’ve done cramp your style?

SD: Style is not what you do (type of story) but how you handle it (rendering). I could be cramped by the subject. In doing, say, a World War II story whereas in a science fiction tale, whatever I draw doesn’t have to look like anything that ever existed. The rendering (style) wouldn’t be affected, e or more aspects of e will be emphasized, more or less light and shade, detail,etc.

MIKE: You’re referred to around fandom as Steve Ditko, man of mystery. Can you explain why there is a shroud of mystery surrounding yourself. Was this intentional or did it Just happen?

SD: It just happens because I’m a cartoonist in the comic book business not a performer or personality in show business. When I do a job, it’s not my personality that I’m offering the readers, but my art work. It’s not what I’m like that counts what I did and how well it was done. I produce a product, a comic art story.

Steve Ditko is the brand name.

I make no mystery of what I do, and where I can properly explain why I do what I do (like in this fanzine) I’ll do it. If a person knows the what and why’s, he knows all about the “who” that is Important to know.

MIKE: What strip do you enjoy doing the most?

SD: The Question and Mr. A.

MIKE: Most of us are well acquainted with your fantasy stories, which were exceptionally philosophical and created a lot of empathy with the characters. Did you write them yourself? Did you enjoy doing them?

SD: I wish you had listed some specific ones so that I’d know exactly what to comment on.

MIKE: What strip was the easiest you ever did? The hardest?

SD: No strip is easy for me to do for I draw for a tough critic — me. I have to do what I think is right and that has to be done in a way that excites me so it’s hard settle for something that would be easy to do. I believe in telling a picture story so that (1) The panels have to be clear. I have to show what’s going on. I want to know. (2) They have to be interesting. I don’t believe inn borin myself while I draw. The hardest to draw were the Question AND Mr. A because before I drew a line, I had to make them positive characters. To know what they stood for, why it is right to make that stand. And to act the way they did, to have solid reasons so I could prove their position and actions if I was ever challenged. They had to be a man. A hero in the honest use of the word. Strength not because of “super” powers but strength of acting on proper principles. Not a contrived strength of muscle, but a strength of right knowledge. No innocent people can suffer or be abused or penalized because of what the Question and Mr. A stand for.

I’m not a professional writer so it’s difficult to be properly objective about the writing, and to spot and correct mistakes. It’s easier to write or handle fantasy than to put forth a new stand that has to be clearly defined and constantly followed in everything that is said and done. It demands logical progression in thought and deed deliberately ignored in most comics stories.

Most of the art had to be deliberately underplayed. The panel scenes had to be interesting but not overly dramatic. The major conflict was a clash of right and wrong.

The biggest threat and danger was not physical but the destructive effects of spreading and unchallengingly accepting lies, of minds run by irrationality by choice or default. Over dramatized art would’ve undercut conflict.

MIKE: Who, besides yourself, did in your opinion, the best job of inking your pencils.

SD: I couldn’t say who without listing all the others and listing the why’s & why nots.

RICH: Why did you quit CREEPY and EERIE? Will you ever contribute again?

SD: I don’t know the full story of what went on at Warren, so I can’t comment on it. As for the future, I don’t know that either.

RICH: Art wise, do you prefer the regular comics or the Warren line, where you Can do washes?

SD; I like them both. I even like to do stories in just pen and ink without color or wash. All stories are not suited for wash, but those that have the right element and mood are hard to beat in that medium.

RICH: Did you plot the stories you did for Warren?

SD: No, I worked from a script.

Besides yourself, who do you regard as the 5 best artists in comicdom?

SD: That question is too difficult to answer and be fair. You have to set up & give a standard on how you judge the artist and there are too many factors to be considered and they don’t fit every artist the same way. Artists fall into too many categories. Some are pencillers; some are inkers; some do both. Some artists specialize in the type of story they do (romance, war, super heroes,etc.). Some types demand more or less imagination, or draftsmanship (war fantasy) and the artist has to be judged accordingly. The artist has to be separated from the popularity of the strip, personality, etc. He can only be judged by his artwork and that has to be broken down into story telling, draftmanship, composition, imagination, rendering, etc. Some artists are good in some phases, poor in others. You have to weigh the separate parts with the total effect, then try to separate the art (in black and white as the artist does it) from the effects or appeal of coloring (that the artist does not do and is not responsible for.) So it’s much simpler for anyone to pick his own favorites the ones that give him the most enjoyment and let the serious art critics struggle with the burden of deciding who is the better artist.

RICH: What inspired the new Blue Beetle? Why do you think it didn’t sell?

SD: I was looking over the first Blue Beetle that Charlton press put out & it was terrible. I began thinking how it could have been handled. The ideas I had were good, so I marked them down, made sketches of the costume, gadgets, the bug, etc.. I put them in an idea folder I have and forgot about it. A year or so later, when CP was again planning to do super-heroes, I told Dick Giordano about the BB idea I had. He was interested in trying it, so it came out of the idea file, and into the magazine.

I think it would be more interesting and revealing to ask comic readers why they didn’t buy it.

RICH: Are there any plans to revive BB and the Question and will you do them?

SD: Only Charlton Press can answer that.

MARK: There is a strong similarity between the Question and Mr. A? Is this intentional? Why?

SD: I had been thinking about a type of character that would be different or that would be a step ahead of what was being done ever since the early Spiderman days. The kind I decided on was the Mr A type.

When Blue Beetle got his own magazine, they needed a companion feature for it. I didn’t want to Mr. A, because I didn’t think the Code would let me do the type of stories I wanted to do, so I worked up the Question, using the basic idea of a man who was motivated by basic black & white principles. Where other “heroes” powers are based on some accidental super element, The Question and Mr A’s “power” is deliberately knowing what is right and acting accordingly. But it is one of choice. Of choosing to know what is right and choosing to act on that knowledge in all his thoughts and actions…with everyone he deals with. No conflict or contradiction in his behavior in either identity. He isn’t afraid To know or refuse to act on what is right no matter in what situation he finds himself.

Where other heroes choose to be self-made neurotics, the Question and Mr. A choose to be psychologically and intellectually healthy. It’s a choice everyone has to make.

MARK: Would you give us some personal data? Age, marital status, children, etc.?

SD: It’s like you said…a man of mystery!

9 Responses to “Interview with Ditko from Marvel Main #4”

  1. Kirk says:

    Wow, he really did keep a lot to his chest, didn’t he?

    Any chance of asking why he choose to leave Marvel and Spider-Man and Dr. Strange when he did?

  2. Ed Gauthier says:

    Okay, we know Mark’s last name, but what were the last names of “Rich” and “Mike”?


  3. Remy says:

    Hearing his voice by the printed words I’ve read in his interview, Steve Ditko definately sounds like The Question in my mind (Jeffrey Combs of the JLU cartoon series), he sounds like Rorschach when interviewed by the psychiatrist in Watchmen. It’s so awesome to read this interview and listen to the voice of the creator who has inspired millions such as myself not only to create but more importantly to not give up in the battle of the mind, the battle of corruption, the battle of right and wrong.

  4. Rider says:

    I like what you said, Remy, a lot.

  5. Stephen says:

    Just saw the Watchmen movie, wanted to do some research on the basis of the Rorschach character and stumbled across this page.

    What leaves me feeling a little uneasy about Rorschach/Question – not to take anything away from the characters as literary/artistic achievements – and what I think Alan Moore manages to highlight in his story – is that R/Q ‘s philosophy/worldview is impractically idealistic. Mr. Moore shows that the basis of the superhero comes from a type of thinking that is dangerously reductionist and simplistic and that that kind of thinking generally leads to tragedy. Luckily, Mr. Ditko who, as Remy (above) points out, sounds (not surprisingly) very much like his creations, was an artist and not a politician, although I seem to remember a certain German Nazi politician who started that way.

    Strangely, for a man who seemed intelligent, Mr. Ditko seems not to have considered that the “problem” with people or characters who cannot or do not choose between “right and wrong” is not necessarily a matter of intellectual analysis but lies more in basic human nature, something the characters of Watchmen also either cannot understand and take into account or try to circumvent, or treat as a joke.

    Human nature which, as far as I can tell, hasn’t changed in thousands of years has seemingly always craved easy answers; they are tantalizingly and universally appealing. I think, unfortunately, for whatever reasons, Mr. Ditko found some beliefs to live by that did not take into account the complexity of human beings and the so-called civilization we have developed which cannot always be reduced to easy formulas like right=good, wrong=bad. In Watchmen Mr. Moore extrapolates this kind of thinking to its probable conclusion and shows that the mind can be a powerful servant or a dangerous tyrant, if not tempered appropriately with emotion or “heart”.

  6. DrCruel says:

    The guy is quite a bit like Mr. A/The Question, but not at all like Rorschach (the latter sounding more like a nasty lampoon of his opinions and work). The bitter, cruel, callous attitude of Rorschach is what I imagine lurks in Alan Moore himself, what essentially motivates him when he rails out against the US government, or the Thatcher or Reagan administrations – this sort of self-apponted lone crusader, who feels entirely justified by his own warped internal politics to say or do anything he pleases in the pursuit of his agenda, no matter how unfair or absurd or untrue. Just as Rorschach, despite everything, remains a sympathetic character, someone who is even likeable and worthy of a certain respect, but has clearly been driven a bit batty by his varous demons, so also I imagine Moore is driven by his own petulance and longing for his hippie childhood to whing and rant against the powers-that-be, making something of a fool of himself in the process. You can still like and respect Moore for his art, for his steadfast stances – but still realize and pity the fact that he’s a bit tapped in the head, with an irrational and unmovable fear and loathing of Republicans, Tories, business people, large comic publishers, comic-to-film adaptations, capitalists, Christians, barbers, the occasional duck, etc.

    Moore himself admist to anarchism being a “romance” – something that is “impractical” and “idealistic”, but wortthy of fighting for just the same. He then frequently goes on anti-US riffs that sound like something out of a Chomsky monologue. He seems to fit comfortably into the intellectual faction that likes to compare people they don’t personally like or agree with to Hitler (such as Bush=Hitler, Thatcher=Hitler, Reagan=Hitler, Ditko=Hitler, so on). He even once did a collaboration with the Christic Institute (Brought To Light), something like Rorschach’s Journal – except that it’s a riff against the US and CIA, and the stuff in it is untrue (In fact, Alan Moore at one point imagined that the CIA was after him about it).

    Alan Moore’s stuff tends to be touted as “genius” by people who happen to agree with his wacko worldview – the sort that tend to be found amongst the Leftists and radicals on the political spectrum. Like Rorschach (and Alan Moore), they seem to be unaware of how ridiculous they sometimes sound to everyone else, or oblivious to teh general bankruptcy of their proto-Marxian ethics. It’s sometimes sad, despite Moore’s talents, to see him become so ignorant, petty and cruel, despite himself – just as sad as seeing Rorschach sadistically torturing some innocent in the pursuit of his own idealized goals. I’ve never felt the same about Ditko’s writings – someone who seems much more comfortable with his own worldview, and who doesn’t feel the need to “prostelyze to the masses” as if he were annointed by God (or Glycon, as the case may be). Unlike Moore and Rorschach, Ditko does not feel the compulsion to impose his ideas and impulses on the general public – whether they want them or not. He’s just making a living.

    This kind of lunatic Leftist pontification is what really ruined Watchmen for me (or practically any of Moore’s other works, especially the exceptionally nasty “V for Vendetta”). I think I’ve had a lingering antipathy for the man ever since he ruined Swamp Thing (at one point, turning it into an envirponmentalist diatribe agianst “capitalism” and American urban life). With the film adaptation of Watchmen, I was able to appreciate Moore’s storytelling skills without his own stupid Left-oriented ideological riffs getting in the way – this probably being why he so hates movie adaptions, I think, as most every moviemaker that sees his stuff cuts his more wacko political crap out. In any event, unless you like Leftist politics and the neo-Marxian anarchist worldview, I’d skip his awful Watchmen graphic novel and go see the much better movie.

    As for Ditko, he’s better straight from the comics. He’s a much more mentally stable guy, which apparently shows through in his writing. He’s certainly not as much of a crackpot as Moore. But you’d be better off reading any of the Savage Sword of Conan stuff, especially if it’s an original Howard story and John Buscema did the art. Really great classic stuff, without so much as a hint of neo-Bolshevik propaganda.

  7. NYJ says:

    I actually feel that Rorschach is the only hero in Watchmen…

  8. Super I.T.C.H » Blog Archive » Still Makin’ Ditko Links (Makin’ Links # 123) says:
  9. Yortlebluzzgubbly says:

    @ drcruel: wtf is a neo-marxian anarchist? isn’t that a contradiction in terms?
    also, radicalism is not exclusively the province of leftists, see ayn rand for a good example. or, indeed, adolf hitler.
    ditko did plenty of proselytizing in the question and mr a.
    he subscribes to the philosophy of “objectivism” which is a radically idealist and dangerously elitist worldview.
    but then, what else would you expect from someone who created superhero stories for a living?
    i believe mr moore has good reason to criticise dc comics, the hollywood system and the american neo-conservative cabal.
    he’s not harsh about everyone, just liars con-artists and those who would farm humanity like sheep, fleecing the less mentally athletic and herding them by means of fear and craving.
    the key to all of moore’s work is compassion, not anger.
    drcruel, the irrational, reactionary, hooey you have spluttered onto this web-page makes you sound like one who has been in the sheep-dip a bit too long.
    you poor thing.

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