Steve Ditko, the artist and writer who co-created Spider-Man, was found dead in his New York City residence June 29. He was 90.
“Steve was one of the original architects of the Marvel Universe, and his creations reflected his unique vision and philosophy,” according to a statement from Marvel.
Ditko, universally respected, also worked for years at Charlton Comics, a publishing company that was based on Division Street in Derby until 1986.
To mark his passing, The Valley Indy reached out to Jackie Zbuska, who is directing and co-producing “Charlton Comics: The Movie,” a documentary about the comic book company, which has developed a cult following over the years. Click here to read more about the production team working on the doc.
Valley Indy: For our readers who aren’t steeped in comic book history, who was Steve Ditko and what was his importance to the art form?
Zbuska: “Steve Ditko is recognized for his co-creations of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. That’s the quick and dirty version. Steve, Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby were the trifecta that caused comic books to explode in the 1960s.
Steve Ditko was an artist, and a writer (although sometimes he didn’t take the credit). He was a person who marched to his own beat, with a unique artist style recognized by many.
You can ask fans why he was so great and receive heaps of different answers. Personally, I think Steve’s artwork was the exemplification of artistic freedom.
When he found Charlton Comics in 1954, Steve, like many others who started at Charlton, honed his unique style BECAUSE he was left alone to do it.”
Valley Indy: Explain his connection to Derby and Charlton Comics, and roughly when he worked here.
Zbuska: “In 1954, Steve began his 32-year career with Charlton Comics, and even though he was a New Yorker, he commuted to Derby weekly, renting a hotel room, where he lived during the week; returning to Manhattan on the weekends.
Anyone who worked in the factory on Division Street knew Steve was a staple there.
He could have easily worked from his Manhattan apartment, as Charlton had a New York drop-off office, but he chose to make the 90-mile commute.
I think in perfect Ditko fashion, that spoke of how he felt about Charlton Comics. He was with them right till the very end when they ceased comic production in 1986. Real fans know that Steve Ditko was part of Charlton’s lifeblood.”
Valley Indy: You’re working on a feature-length documentary telling the story of Charlton Comics. How is it coming along? How many interviews have you completed?
Zbuska: “Our documentary is coming along slow and steady. We survive on donations and that dictates our speed, for better or worse. This has truly become a passion project, and we happily devote any spare moments to work on it, be it research, interviews, comic conventions, or social media blasts.
Currently we have 14 Charlton alumni in our roster and 19 interviews in total.”
Valley Indy: From what I’ve read, Ditko had no interest in discussing his career. Why do you think this was?
Zbuska: “Steve’s principals (as he has written) is to live in “The Now”, and look for “What’s Next.” He believed in moving forward, and “keeping the past in proper perspective.” You have to respect someone who stuck to his moral beliefs that hard. He believed (again as he’s written) that fans meeting him fulfilled an ego trip that he had no interest in. He was a true freelancer and looked to the future and wanted people to do the same.
“I never talk about myself. My work is me. I do my best, and if I like it, I hope somebody else likes it too.”
Valley Indy: How did his former colleagues from Charlton describe him?
Zbuska: “Although we didn’t get to interview Steve, when I met with him on several occasions, he lived up to the description given by his colleagues: He was a nice guy. He was gracious, and he was firm in what he believed in. I have yet to hear anyone who knew Steve say a harsh word about him. He was a hard worker.”
Valley Indy: Did Ditko ever talk to anyone about his days in Derby? If so, how did he describe life at Charlton?
Zbuska: “To my knowledge and from the interviews we have done for the Charlton Documentary, Ditko did not discuss his time at Charlton. Although, if you look, he practically screamed his opinion of Charlton.
He was with Charlton before Spider-Man. This was a company that didn’t pay well, and despite that, when Steve left Marvel, he went back to Charlton.
Somebody who didn’t understand a man like Steve could argue that he went where he was comfortable. Maybe. But, Steve loved freedom, and Charlton gave that to him in abundance.”
Valley Indy: Do you have a target date for completing the doc? When will the public have access to it?
Zbuska: “We are nearing the completion of our interview portion, and the next big hurdle is post production. That process is largely dependent on funding. We’re applying for grants, and will probably run another crowd-funding campaign, but we are always open to donations. From the beginning we took a guesstimate that this movie would take five years from start to finish, and we are currently in our third year.
Once it is done, EVERYONE will absolutely have access to this movie and ALL of the extra footage and information that doesn’t make the final movie cut. Charlton’s history has been lost for too long and it won’t ever get lost again.”
Valley Indy: As an aside, it seems like the documentary market has exploded, thanks, in part, to Netflix and Amazon streaming services. Has this made your quest to get it done and distributed easier, do you think?
Zbuska: “To paraphrase, nothing worth having or doing is easy. We can only hope that a combined hunger for new documentary content and the heavy support from the comic book community will help elevate our chances for distribution. This movie as an entity wants to be made, we’re just the lucky ones that heard its call.”
Valley Indy:How long have you been working on the doc?
Zbuska: “We pitched the idea on August 17, 2014. From there, we got our ducks in a row, devised a plan of attack and on May 18, 2015 we did our first full length interview with artist, Joe Staton.”
Valley Indy: Any chance of a Derby special screening once it is completed?
Zbuska: “How could we NOT have a special Derby screening?!?!? This whole movie is about paying tribute to humble beginnings, and we’d never disrespect the Derby community like that. Derby is Charlton Comics!”