This is part three of a four-part Silver Soapbox series entitled “Ditko Shrugged” that explores the influence of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism on Steve Ditko’s life and work—particularly on the Creeper, a character he created for DC in 1968.
In late 1968, Steve Ditko quit DC after completing only nine comics for the company—Showcase #73, Showcase #75, The Hawk and the Dove #1-2, and Beware the Creeper #1-5. Additionally, he reportedly turned in the first 11 pages of Beware the Creeper #6 when he quit, but the credits for that issue were not listed. However, neither the fifth issue nor the first 11 pages of the sixth looks like it was drawn by Ditko.
The credits for Beware the Creeper #5 have Mike Peppe listed as the inker, and he reportedly inked #6 as well-—making these stories the only work Ditko did in 1968 in which he did not ink his own pencils. Thus, it appears that Ditko must have produced only the rough layouts and that Peppe had to complete the illustrations himself rather than simply ink Ditko’s detailed lines.
In fact, Peppe was probably not brought in as an inker until after Ditko had already walked out. On the first eight issues he did for DC, Ditko may have done only the rough layouts as well. However, he was able to finish the illustrations over the layouts while inking his own work.
One obvious possibility for what might have gone wrong is that Ditko may have submitted his rough layouts to Giordano for approval before he could begin inking them himself. If that’s the case, then Giordano must have not approved something in the layouts and asked Ditko to re-do it.
Since his working relationship would have already been strained after having the plotting duties for both of his series taken away from him and handed over to the writers—Steve Skeates on The Hawk and the Dove and Denny O’Neil on Beware the Creeper—Ditko would have balked at whatever was proposed and walked out (leaving his pencil layouts for the fifth issue and part of the sixth issue behind).
I e-mailed Giordano with some of my speculations regarding why Ditko quit so soon after starting work at DC. He was kind enough to reply and told me:
While your speculation that Steve’s exiting DC was due to his adherence to the Ayn Rand philosophy is mostly correct, I think that you are, of course, unaware of some of the details. I will not speculate further as to the actual events that caused the rift. I was a friend of Steve’s from our Charlton days together and I was sorry to see him leave the titles.
As to your inquiries regarding the art on the final issues, I cannot help you as I don’t have copies of those books handy and my memory of specific events that occurred 40 years ago during a very busy time in my life, is not to be trusted. I don’t think, however, that I would have credited something to Ditko that Ditko didn’t actually do. That would be unethical by both Steve’s and my standards.
Initially, I had thought that Ditko might not have done any work on the fifth and sixth issues despite being credited as the penciler for #5. However, despite the absence of his distinct style, there are indications that Ditko did the layouts for Beware the Creeper #5:
- The way the fists are shown with the knuckles and the proximal part of the fingers pointing out at the viewer.
- The dots or spots that indicate the point of impact where Proteus was struck by the Creeper.
- The finger positions on the hands when Proteus is preparing to unmask in front of the Creeper at the end of the issue.
Those elements—fists, spots, and finger positions—are telltale signs of Ditko’s work even though other illustrators often take the same “shortcut” when it comes to drawing fists. Otherwise, though, the actual lines in the drawings for the fifth issue bear little resemblance if any to Ditko’s work.
However, the main problem with the illustrations in Beware the Creeper #5 is not how much work Ditko did in contrast to how much Peppe did. Instead, the main problem occurs in three separate places in that issue where the style changes noticeably. While not credited, all three seem to have been penciled by Neal Adams.
In 1968, Adams was still a young rising star at DC, and he would become famous only a few years later on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Of course, he was usually teamed on both of those titles not only with Denny O’Neil as his writer, but with Giordano as his inker.
When I was a kid just starting to read comics in the early 1970s, Neal Adams was the only illustrator I cared about. I could identify the style of other illustrators, but I sought out books drawn by Adams.
At that early age, and with my limited allowance, I only bought books that had Batman in them—and that’s how I discovered the work of Neal Adams. I quickly learned to recognize his style. Whenever a new issue ofBatman or Detective came out, I would bypass the credits to see if I recognized it as being drawn by Adams.
Often it was Irv Novick penciling Batman and Bob Brown penciling Detective. I never did learn to recognize Brown’s pencils, but Novick’s were obvious. He wasn’t as good as Adams, though. Every few issues, I would be thrilled to see Adams had drawn a story. His were the first illustrations I was able to recognize the moment I saw them.
I became very familiar with Adams’s lines as well as his layouts—including the poses he tended to favor for the characters. Thus, two panels immediately struck me when I first read Beware the Creeper #5 in the late 1970s after finding it in a back issue bin. Not only did the illustrations not look like Ditko’s work, but two of the panels seemed to be the work of Adams—panel 6 on page 5 and panel 4 on page 20.
In both of those panels, the Creeper is running in a pose that I had seen several times before in Batman stories—respectively, in Batman# 251 (page 22) from 1973 and Detective Comics #404 (page 7 panel 6) from 1970. Through his son, Josh, I asked Adams if he had penciled those two panels in Beware the Creeper #5 (as well as the entirety of page 14).
The response I received through Josh Adams was, “Dad denies any work done [i
n] the stuff in question. The only time he has ever drawn the Creeper has been in Batman stories” (From personal correspondence received Feb. 10, 2007).
Josh Adams also offered, “The other possibility is that Dick Giordano did that work. His style became very much like my father’s when he started inking him, so his work could be mistaken for my father’s” (From personal correspondence received Feb. 6, 2007).
The problem with that theory, though, is that Giordano had only just started inking Adams's pencils at that time. Adams had just become the regular penciler on The Brave and the Bold, and he inked his own work for most of that run (issues #79-86, 93).
The only issue of Brave and Bold that Adams didn't ink himself was his second (#80)–an issue that co-starred the Creeper, and that marked the first time that Giordano inked Adams's pencils. It was while they were working together on this issue that I believe Adams re-drew page 14 and a few of the Creeper figures in the fifth issue of Beware the Creeper.
Despite Adams’s claim for not having worked on Beware the Creeper #5, the figure of the Creeper in those two panels appear to be in his distinctive style. Additionally, he had not yet begun to be imitated by other illustrators—such as Mike Nasser and Bill Sienkiewicz, neither of whom imitated Adams until the mid-1970s.
In Beware the Creeper #5, whoever drew the Creeper in the two panels in question drew the distinctive pose from the back and slightly from the side. Both poses end up looking almost like mirror images of the poses that Adams drew in the Batman stories where the poses are from the front and slightly from the side.
Those Batman poses are distinct not only because they are by Adams but because they also show a knowledge of kinesiology (the mechanics of body motion)—in this case, applied to athletic running. Of course, Adams was certainly not the first comics illustrator to use his knowledge of kinesiology in composing his figures. The comic strip illustrator Burne Hogarth springs readily to mind as someone who preceded Adams in this regard by at least 30 years. However, Adams was one of the few illustrators working in mainstream comic books in the 1960s and 1970s who devoted such attention to it.
In contrast, when Ditko’s characters run, they usually do not look very athletic. They have their legs splayed apart while their arms swing wildly in awkward positions that would reduce the effectiveness of their motion. Most people run that way, so Ditko does create a sense of verisimilitude by capturing the motion of the “common man.”
However, Ditko’s figures are drawn in sharp distinction to those of Adams in this regard—particularly when it comes to drawing a superhero in action. Additionally, Ditko exaggerates the wild running style when he draws the Creeper so as to make him appear all the more as a chaotic Dionysian figure that belies his true Apollonian nature.
In this regard, while the figure of the Creeper on page 5 panel 6 of the fifth issue looks as if Adams drew it, the character he’s chasing (presumably Proteus) is more typical of the way Ditko would lay out a running figure. His left arm is swinging out wildly, and his right leg is splayed out at a slight angle (finished, of course, by Peppe over Ditko’s rough layout).
It would seem, then, that whoever drew the Creeper in this panel only altered that one figure rather than redraw the entire panel. He essentially made the Creeper more athletic in appearance while allo
wing Proteus to remain in the gangly pose that Ditko prefers to draw.
Adams is known to have done this type of “figure repair” over another illustrator’s pencils on at least one other occasion.
In an interview with Daniel Best of Adelaide’s Comics in 2005, Giordano was asked about the rumor that Adams had redrawn most of the Superman figures in Marvel and DC’s 1976 crossover book, Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. Ross Andru, the book’s illustrator, suffered from vision problems that caused him to use a drawing method that slightly distorted figures, and Adams supposedly corrected each drawing of Superman. Giordano replied:
Yes. That’s true.
No one asked Neal to re-draw the Superman figures, but the pages were sent to me at Continuity and were mostly left on my desk or thereabouts when I went home at night or on weekends and Neal took it upon himself to re-draw the Superman figures without telling me that he was going to do it.
Neal changed/corrected all the Superman figures to his own frame of reference. I tried in the inking not to lose too much of the Ross Andru look (and to his credit, Neal tried, as well, to retain the “look” mostly correcting anatomy errors in his re-drawing).
Though I have focused on the two panels in which the Creeper is in a pose that Adams often used in his comic book work, there are actually several other panels in the issue in which the Creeper is drawn differently from the way Ditko would style his layout of the figure. However, other than the appearance of the drawings in question, I have no evidence that Adams re-drew the Creeper in the two panels I’ve focused on.
As for how Adams might even have had the opportunity to re-draw some of the Creeper figures in the issue, the answer would seem to be contained in page 14 of the issue.
Oddly, page 14 is the one page in the issue that is the most reminiscent of Ditko’s work on the first four issues when he inked his own pencils. Yet, I’m convinced it’s also the one page in the issue for which Ditko’s original layouts were not used.
If Peppe inked page 14 (and I have no reason to think he didn’t), then he inked over pencils that were more fully rendered on that page than they were on any of the other pages in the issue—except, of course, for the more fully rendered figures of the Creeper in several of the other panels.
I have no proof, only speculation, but I believe Giordano may have rejected Ditko’s original page 14 when he submitted his layouts for approval. Giordano may have told Ditko to redraw the page—perhaps in accordance with how O’Neil had stipulated the scene for that page in the script. If that’s the case, I suspect Ditko refused to redraw the page and walked out—leaving his layouts for the issue (and the first 11 pages of the next issue) with Giordano.
This scenario would also explain Vic Sage’s diatribes about how to work with co-workers when Ditko wrote and illustrated the Question story in Mysterious Suspense #1 immediately after leaving DC. The question is, of course, what didn’t Ditko like about page 14 that might have made him draw it differently from what O’Neil had written.
On page 10 of Beware the Creeper #5, Proteus (who has the ability to assume the appearance of anyone he chooses) disguised himself as Jack Ryder and accosted Ryder’s boss, Bill Brane—all in an attempt to implicate Ryder in his own (Proteus’s) crimes. Proteus flees the scene after Brane recovers and takes away Proteus’s gun.
Then, on page 11, the real Jack Ryder is surprised to hear on his police band radio that he is “wanted for questioning” in the Proteus case—and that he “should be considered extremely dangerous.” While driving, he suddenly reasons out where Proteus will strike that night—he is, after all, still an Apollonian figure despite Ditko’s removal from the plotting credits.
On pages 12 and 13, Ryder (as the Creeper)
confronts Proteus and is rendered unconscious by the release of a gas that temporarily paralyzes him—allowing Proteus to escape. The Creeper recovers from the effects of the gas just in time to switch back to Ryder just as the police appear on the scene. They draw their guns and take Ryder into custody.
As published, page 14 shows Jack Ryder in jail and the caption reads, “It is 3 A.M. before Jack Ryder is arraigned and delivered to a cell” (panel one). Remember, though, the police radio call on page 11 only said that Ryder was “wanted for questioning”—not that there had been an arrest warrant issued for him.
In his jail cell, Ryder has a conversation with his boss, Bill Brane, who wants to know why Ryder attacked him. Ryder convinces Brane to have the police check Proteus’s gun for blanks. Then, “after a quick ballistics examination,” the police determine that there were indeed blanks in the gun—so Brane bails Ryder out of jail.
There are several reasons for Ditko to have not liked this scene as it was written. First and foremost, Ditko is likely to have objected to the idea of showing Ryder (the Objectivist hero) in jail at all—remember his problem with O’Neil’s script note about another character having been an “ex-criminal” and Ditko’s claim that there is no such thing as an “ex-criminal.” Ditko has very strong beliefs about not only how criminals should always be depicted but also how heroes must always be depicted. Showing his hero in jail might not have set well with him.
Additionally, Ditko might have pointed out that Ryder should not have been arrested since he was only “wanted for questioning” and Brane would have had to have pressed charges. Finally, once the “ballistics report” showed that the gun contained blanks, Brane should not have needed to bail Ryder out of jail. Instead, he could have simply asked that the charge against Ryder be dropped. (Of course, there’s also the problem of why a “ballistics report” was needed to show that the gun contained blanks.)
Finally, on the next page (15), Ryder is shown asleep in his apartment—in the midst of a nightmare. Essentially, page 14 serves no real purpose in the story—which would have been yet another reason that Ditko might have balked at drawing the page as O’Neil’s had written it.
Given the last panel on page 13 where the police took Ryder into custody, I believe Ditko might have drawn page 14 with Ryder avoiding arrest in some way—perhaps by reasoning his way out of the situation and presenting a rational argument to the officers. If so, Ditko’s version would not have altered the rest of the story in any way. Of course, all of this is once again speculation on my part since whatever Ditko might have originally drawn for the page is either in his possession or has long since been destroyed.
However, I believe it’s clear that the published version of page 14 was not drawn by Ditko—-not even in rough layout form. While there are attempts at capturing Ditko’s style that go beyond what Peppe attempted to do with his inks on the other pages, the figures also retain some of the appearance of Neal Adams’s style-—particularly in the last two panels where Ditko's work from Showcase #73 seems to have been used as a reference.
In the last two panels on page 14 of Beware the Creeper #5, Ryder’s tie is shown sticking up slightly. It has the dotted pattern that is typical of Ditko’s style for clothing, but it’s slightly wider than the way it’s drawn in all of the other panels in which Ryder appears in the issue.
Additionally, Ryder is shown reclining in the last panel, but with lines that are more reminiscent of Adams’s style than Ditko’s. Yet it’s clear that whoever drew this page referenced similar images from the final two panels of Showcase #73 in which Ditko penciled and inked Ryder in a similar fashion-—reclining back with his hands behind his head and his spotted tie bowing outward from his chest.
The differences between these two images of Ryder reclining in a similar way may be subtle, but they are there. In the picture that I believe was drawn by Adams, the tie that bows outward is drawn more accurately in accordance to the way ties actually behave when clasped with a tiepin.
In Ditko’s picture from Showcase #73, Ryder’s tie is still tight around his neck-—which means that tie would actually have a difficult time bowing out from his chest in that manner. However, in the picture that I believe was drawn by Adams, Ryder’s tie has been loosened around the neck and the collar has been unbuttoned. These details are not only more typical of the type attention that Adams gives his drawings, they are also very accurate in showing what would cause a tie to bow outward in that fashion.
Additionally, while Ryder’s legs in both pictures are similarly crossed, Adams’s picture shows the position more accurately—with the side of the calf of the right leg resting on the thigh of the left leg. In contrast, Ditko’s picture seems to show the back of the thigh of the right leg resting on the thigh of the left leg—which would be difficult enough on its own, but practically impossible given how high the right knee sticks up.
There’s nothing “wrong” with Ditko’s picture. It’s well suited for the gangly postures that Ditko often prefers, and it looks appropriate within the context of Ditko’s overall style. However, the picture that I believe was drawn by Adams is simply more accurate in the way a tie would actually appear and in the anatomical rendering of Ryder as he reclines.
Essentially, it’s more in keeping with the attention to the behavior of clothing and the anatomical details that Adams focused on when he illustrated the “Ben Casey” newspaper strip from November 1962 to July 1966.
What I believe happened was that Giordano told Ditko to draw page 14 of Beware the Creeper #5 the way that O’Neil had written it. However, due to one or more of the problems with the page that I already mentioned, I believe Ditko refused. At that point, Ditko left his layouts with Giordano and quit.
Adams had only recently arrived at DC and was looking for work—mostly in the form of eight-page stories in the anthology titles or as back-up stories in the company’s major books. Giordano could have then offered Adams the opportunity to draw just the one page, but gave him Ditko’s layouts for internal continuity reference. Adams would also have Showcase #73 for reference as well. Then, in the process of going through Ditko’s layouts, Adams may have taken it upon himself to “fix” the anatomy on the figures of the Creeper throughout those pages—the same way he would later do with the Superman figures drawn by Ross Andru for Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man in 1976.
Of course, this is all simply my own speculation based on my careful study of the illustrations of both Steve Ditko and Neal Adams—and my close examination of Ditko’s Objectivist strips that he published in various underground comics in the late 60s and early 70s after he had stopped working for both DC and Marvel. (He would eventually come back to work for both companies, of course—but never for Giordano after 1968).
Side Note: I proposed my theories to Giordano. In turn, he asked to see the initial draft of part three of this “Ditko Shrugged” series (this part) as well as the scans of the pages that I believe to have been drawn by Adams. He was worried that people would accept my speculations as Gospel despite my emphasis that these are only my speculations based on my close examination of the materials available to me.
As this goes to “press” (relatively speaking about Web publishing), I have not heard back from Mr. Giordano. I do, however, understand his concerns about my conclusions, and I will be happy to write a follow up piece to this series that presents his remembrances and notes from what happened 39 years ago that caused Ditko to end their friendship and walk away from DC so soon after joining the company. p>
Part four of “Ditko Shrugged” will provide a brief history of DC’s publishing of the Creeper after the initial 1968 series—concluding with a review of the recent series written by Steve Niles.