Tag Archives: Steve Ditko

Growing Up On Italian Comic Books

Some of the most memorable and influential comic books of my youth were bought during my childhood trips to Italy.  I’m fortunate enough to return to Italy every couple of years for a vacation and each trip to a newsstand in Rome or the countryside brings back memories of me and my brother plunking down a few hundred lire (courtesy of my father) here and there on a copy of Sergio Bonelli’s classic long running Western comic book Tex.

Tex #216 (October 1978)

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Tex is regardless of which decade I was buying the black and white digest, the art and writing has always been consistent, which is refreshing to see compared to books and characters that go through radical changes just to drum up sales.  Tex is a testament to how a publisher respects its characters and more importantly, its loyal fan base.

But our favorite Italian comic books were the super eroi, particularly L’Uomo Ragno and I Fantastici Quattro, who were none other than Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four!  Sure, we had been reading Spidey and FF prior to our first trips to Italy, but the Italian reprints we read in the late 70s were from Marvel stories originally published ten to fifteen years earlier and gave us our first exposure to the Silver Age artwork of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby.

Lucky for us, the Silver Age was in full swing in late 1970’s Italy.  The Italian language seemed to add more drama and gravity to the dialogue, and the characters names even sounded cool when they were translated into Italian.  Dr. Doom was Dottore Destino!  The Thing was La Cosa!  The Human Torch was Torcia Umana!  The Eternals were Gli Eterni.  I wasn’t able to read Italian very well back then, but it didn’t matter because the clarity of the storytelling in Kirby and Ditko’s artwork allowed me to follow the stories without relying as much on the dialogue.

I wish I still had those old comic books.  I see a few issues of L’Uomo Ragno in eBay once in awhile, but I can’t afford the prices listed.  On my recent trip to Italy I was happy to still see Tex at all of the newsstands.  But when I stopped in a Hudson News in Milan’s Malpensa airport, I was even happier to see my old Silver Age Marvel favorites in the Italian language Marvel Masterworks.

Like 35 years ago, I was reading classic Lee and Kirby stories with Italian word balloons.  And a new generation of Italian comic book fans could now appreciate the art of Ditko’s L’Uomo Ragno, Kirby and Colletta’s Thor, and be blown away by  La Visione on the cover of I Vindicatori (The Avengers).

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My Amazing (Fantasy #15) Visit to the Library of Congress

In honor the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962, I wanted to write a post about my trip to see the Holy Grail of the Silver Age of comic books.

In November 2010 I took a weekend trip to Washington D.C. with my girlfriend.  It was my first time in D.C. and the long weekend was packed with seeing the sights along the mall.  I enjoyed every monument, memorial and museum we visited, but by Sunday I was slightly preoccupied with the thought of our plans for Monday morning’s visit to the Library of Congress.  I wasn’t there to admire the architecture or take a tour, I had some research to do.  About a month earlier I had contacted curator Sara Duke of the Prints and Photographs Division in order to schedule our appointment, and from that moment I was counting the days.

If there’s one thing I’m passionate about it’s comic book art, as both an admirer and collector.  Each published page of original art is a piece of history, with a select few pages fitting into the category of monumental.  When I think of the most culturally significant comic book stories, the first few that come to mind are the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27, Fantastic Four #1 ushering in the Marvel Age of comic books, and of course the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15.

In 2008 an anonymous donor had donated all of the original pages of art from Amazing Fantasy #15 to the Library of Congress.  How this anonymous donor had originally acquired these pages has not been made public.  Considering how much artwork from the Golden and Silver Ages has been destroyed, lost, or stolen, it’s a miracle that every page from this issue was saved.  My mission, with my trusty (and extremely patient) sidekick, was to schedule time to see the complete Spider-Man origin story in its original drawn form.

I woke up at 7:00 AM that Monday morning.  Anyone who knows me knows that I never get up at 7:00 AM.  Ever.  But that morning was different.  We had a short window of time that began at 9:30 AM sharp and we had to make the most of it.  After all, this is the first appearance of Spider-Man and there’s probably a list of folks lined up after us to see it, so I was going to make the most of every minute.

We arrived a little early, checked our backpacks with the security desk and signed up for our research cards.  By the time we made it up to the research room, my spider-sense was tingling.  Sara met us when we arrived and wheeled out a cart with several large folders.  Not only did she pull the original Spider-Man pages from Amazing Fantasy #15 for us to view, she was also kind enough to pull the original comic art to the other three stories that comprised the issue, twenty six pages in all.

I opened the first folder, and there was the opening splash page of Peter Parker standing in the background, ostracized by Flash Thompson and the cool kids.  One thing that struck me right away was how much detail there was in Steve Ditko’s inks.  Every reprint I had seen growing up was a copy of a copy and lost a lot of the detail in Ditko’s brush work.  Seeing the original art allowed me to actually feel the disappointment and angst in the expression on Peter Parker’s face.

At the top of the page is a paste up of the Spider-Man logo that covers Ditko’s original hand drawn logo.  I wish I could have been in the room in 1962 to hear the reason for changing it.  And if you look in the margins, Stan Lee’s original hand written notes “direct” some of the scenes in Ditko’s panels.

I took a lot of pictures, but unfortunately rights restrictions keep me from posting them.  Thumbnails are available here at the Library’s website and you can order scans, but if you’re a fan of comic art I highly recommend seeing them in person.

We had a good hour to see all twenty six pages and were never rushed.  Sarah sat with us the entire time and pointed out details that I never would have noticed.  I thanked Sarah for her time, and mentioned that I would love to come back to see the pages again one day.  I chuckled when I realized my tax dollars made me a part owner of them.  By my calculations, which I won’t bore you with, I estimate that my personal portion of these 26 pages of original art is .000035 square inches of a page.  Hey, I’ll take it!

This was a Bucket List moment for me, ranked up there with seeing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and statue of David (next up is Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper).  Prior to reading that article in 2008 about the LOC’s acquisition of the Amazing Fantasy #15 pages, I didn’t think they even existed.  And now I saw them.

God Bless America.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Prior to our bus ride back to New York, my faithful (and patient) sidekick surprised me with a copy of Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1, complete with scans of the original Spider-Man pages we had just seen that morning.  She never ceases to amaze me.

These original pages to Amazing Fantasy #15 were featured on the History Channel back in 2009.  That clip can be found here.

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