A post from my old Marvel blog concerning Fred Hembeck and Steve Ditko. The image below is not the piece I purchased.
I bought a piece of original art from Fred Hembeck the other day, a drawing he had done for fun and put up for auction on ebay. For those not in the know, Fred was one of the pre-eminent fan cartoonists in the late 70s, who parleyed a regular strip in the Comic Buyer’s Guide into a series of collections, a gig doing a strip for DC’s Daily Planet promo page, and assorted work for Marvel, including a long-running strip in MARVEL AGE.
I’ve been a big fan of Fred’s work for years now–those HEMBECK collections, published primarily by FantaCo, exposed me to all sorts of characters and comics from the dim past of the 1960s that I’d never encountered before, albeit all filtered through Fred’s particular vision. And beyond that, there was something about his viewpoint that I liked. I could certainly relate to his background, also being a comic book reader growing up on Long Island in New York. One of Fred’s favorite runs is the early AMAZING SPIDER-MAN as drawn by Steve Ditko, and this piece seems to be almost something of a take on a pin-up Ditko had done showcasing pretty much his entire cast up till that time. (I’ve included the Hembeck recreation of that pin-up to the left as well.)
Which lead fairly painlessly to a question I’ve been asked a couple of times in the past week: did I see the documentary on Steve Ditko that British television presenter Jonathan Ross produced for the BBC, which aired a week ago, and, if so, what did I think of it? Well, yes, I did see it–a little bit early, thanks to the advance copy Jonathan sent to Flo Steinberg, who was filmed for the show. And I liked it. I thought it did a good job of boiling down the whos and whats of Steve Ditko’s career so as to make them accessible to a mainstream audience that doesn’t have a working knowledge of comic books. Ross’s love for the material shone through throughout. And as I feel similarly about Ditko’s work, it made for a very enjoyable sixty minutes.
The one ill-considered aspect of the production, I thought, wasn’t the fact that Jonathan and Neil Gaiman went up to visit Steve after he specifically told them not to (which is understandable in the larger context of the show), but the fact that they chose to shoot the building in such a way as to make its address blindingly apparent to one and all. And yes, it’s not as though you couldn’t find Ditko’s place by simply looking in a phone book, but showing the address in a documentary dedicated to Ditko (and thus most likely to be viewed by his most devoted admirers) right before the host chooses to crash Ditko’s offices himself feels just a little too much like a road map to disaster for me. Hopefully, Steve won’t be too taken aback by any imitators who may follow suit.