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Steve Ditko: An Independent Man

If you're still reading these little articles about Steve Ditko, you've undoubtedly learned by now that the man had very strong convictions. The sort of convictions that go very well with self-publishing and sure enough, Steve Ditko was involved in the world of self-publishing for more than half a century.

It began with appearances in publications led by others, but eventually Ditko struck out on his own, doing independent work well into the 21st century when he had otherwise retired from mainstream comic book work.

RELATED: How Steve Ditko Defined Spider-Man for a Generation

It's hard to quite conceptualize today just what it was like for a comic book artist to decide to do an independent comic book in 1966. Heck, it was a huge seismic shift when the original Image Comics creators left Marvel to form Image, and they did so knowing that the market was booming and that while they certainly did not know that they would be successful, they also knew that there was a lot of money out there for new comic book content, so they had to be pretty confident that the same guys who just sold millions of copies of Spider-Man, X-Force and X-Men could probably sell at least half a million copies of their own creations.

During the 1960s, however, it was a whole other story. Think about this. Will Eisner was a legend in the field. This was a guy who knew (I mean, he knew) that he could easily launch a comic book company for someone else, since he had done it a number of times in the 1940s. He also started the Spirit comic book supplement in the 1940s. So if anyone could do a self-published comic book series, it would be Eisner. And what did Eisner do? He went to go work for the Army for 20 years doing PS, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly.

Here's one from around the time frame we're talking about here...

In the 1970s, Eisner did then get into self-publishing, but my point is that the idea of self-publishing was a scary concept in the 1960s. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon briefly tried it in 1953 and it did so poorly that it broke up the most successful partnership in comics history!! It just wasn't something that you would do if you wanted to, you know, make a living. Even underground comics were only barely beginning to be a thing by 1966.

It took someone like Wallace Wood to even sort of kind of change things. Inspired by talk from one of his assistants, Dan Adkins, a year or so earlier about his own ideas about doing a self-published magazine (Adkins had actually done a short-lived magazine years earlier), Wood launched the independent comic book magazine witzend in 1966. All the top artists in comics knew and respected the heck out of Wood, so he got a lot of responses when he offered to make witzend a place where his peers could do whatever they felt like. As you might expect, the release schedule was...erratic.

In a fascinating note in the first issue, he mentions that Steve Ditko would be doing something for them in the future.

He also has a great line about how Jack Kirby supported the project but he was so busy that if he ever stopped doing his mainstream work, the whole industry would collapse! It's a fascinating glimpse at the sort of banter these folks made about each other back in the day.

Ditko contributed a one-page story in witzend #2 and then a very important story in the next issue. You will never believe what the first thing he did for witzend was...

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