Steve Ditko's Personal Copies of His Spider-Man Comics, at Auction

Provenance is one of the most underappreciated aspects of collecting.  Over the years here, we've taken a deep dive into comics once owned by the likes of Lamont Larson, Edgar Church and Bob Kane among others. The former two names are well known perhaps only among serious collectors as the original owners of significant collections, the latter is one of the most famous (or perhaps infamous) creators in American comic book history.  The tiniest detail about the provenance of a given comic book can completely alter your historical point of view about that comic.  In the case of a historically important original owner collection, it might send you on a deep dive into how and where comics were sold decades ago as you uncover the history of a drug store that was established in 1889 and was selling comics in the 1930s and 1940s.  Or in the case of comics owned by a comic book creator, it might make you examine the relationship between that creator and the comics he helped make.  It might make you wonder at the notion that Bob Kane discarded his file copies of Detective Comics #27-45 and Batman #1-3 during one of his life's tempestuous moments in 1957, even though he maintained a lifelong public association with that material and the franchise it launched.  Conversely, it might surprise you to find that Steve Ditko saved his copies of Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 & 2, even though his association with that material through the rest of his life was perceived to be very different indeed.

Amazing Fantasy #15 (Marvel, 1962) featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man, from the collection of Steve Ditko.
Amazing Fantasy #15 (Marvel, 1962) featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man, from the collection of Steve Ditko.

Of course, if there's one thing we've learned since Ditko's 2018 passing, it's that we in the comics industry and fandom understood him even less than we thought we did.  PBA Galleries' Ivan Briggs, whom I know to be an excellent historian, dives into such questions straight away in his fantastically detailed auction descriptions.  For example, the description for Amazing Spider-Man #3 contains insights from Ditko's nephew Patrick Ditko and quotes from Robert Jeschonek's work-in-progress manuscript, Another Side of Steve Ditko: A Life with Family and Friends among other historical detail.

Of Ditko's Amazing Fantasy #15, Briggs says:  "Here it is, Steve Ditko's only copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, featuring the origin and first appearance of the Amazing Spider-Man. Like the other Ditko Collection comics in this sale, this mag has not been cleaned and pressed. It's preserved just as it was when Ditko stashed it away decades ago, still imbued with the enigmatic artist's ghostly fingerprints and DNA, with every crease and flaw, aside from the Marvel chipping, the result of Ditko's own handling. Even the missing page (which does not affect the Spider-Man story) was extracted by Ditko himself, for mysterious reasons all his own."

Briggs continues, "Ditko preferred not to dwell on the past. As he wrote in a letter to a fan named Dan Grozden, 'The one thing in doing comic books is that the past work is irrelevant. As a freelancer, my focus is on — What next?' It's evident from this mag's well-handled condition, however, that Ditko scrutinized this copy repeatedly. Was he basking in the glow of a job well-done, or revisiting his efforts with an eye towards improvement? Did the artist return again and again to his foundational Spidey story as a touchstone to guide his future efforts? Or did he handle it roughly because he considered it useless detritus of the past, unworthy of preservational measures? As with many of the mysteries that swirl around Ditko, it's impossible to say."

Presuming CGC did not count covers but did count interior ad pages, page 16 of Amazing Fantasy #15 which is noted to have been removed here, appears to be the final page of the story "The Bell Ringer" which is also drawn by Ditko.  Unusually for Marvel material of this nature of the period, the story ends on an interestingly hopeful and religious note.  I must admit that I'll be pondering the possible significance of that removal for quite a while.  All of the notes by Briggs here are well worth your time, even if you're not going to be bidding in the auction.

But if you are in the market for vintage Spider-Man comic books, this sale is one of the most unique auction events you're likely to ever see.  As the auction descriptions imply, the lack of high grade copies is in this case a feature, not a bug: "From the Steve Ditko Estate, CGC-certified as Steve Ditko's personal copy, and with a certificate of authenticity signed by Mr. Patrick S. Ditko, Steve Ditko's brother. Not cleaned and pressed in order to preserve all traces of Steve Ditko's handling. Steve Ditko owned from one to three copies of each of the 41 Spider-Man comics that he drew (comprising Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #s 1-38, and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #s 1 & 2). The only complete set of 41 Spidey comics belonging to Ditko is featured in this sale; an incomplete set of 23 Spidey comics was offered last year by another auction house; and a final incomplete set of 19 Spidey comics will be offered by PBA next year."

The complete set of Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 & 2 from the Steve Ditko Collection Part I are open for bidding now at PBA Galleries.  The auction closes on December 8, 2022.

Amazing Fantasy #15 (Marvel, 1962) featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man, from the collection of Steve Ditko.
Amazing Fantasy #15 (Marvel, 1962) featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man, from the collection of Steve Ditko.

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Mark SeifertAbout Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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