The “Mars Attacks” Circle of Life

One fateful day in 1962, during a trip to a local corner drugstore on Chicago’s north side, a colorful box of garish trading cards on the counter suddenly caught my eye. Prominently featured on its red and yellow pop-up teaser top was a menacing bug-eyed alien flanked by the faux blood-dripping logo: “Mars Attacks.”

Intrigued, I plunked down my nickel, eagerly tore open a pack, and was immediately mesmerized by the most amazing trading cards I had ever seen. I’m sure I walked home in a near trance, thoroughly absorbing the colorful imagery on the front of the cards, and stories on the card backs. The Topps trading card company, in a brilliant bit of marketing savvy, put teaser images in a small box on the reverse side of every card highlighting the next card in the sequence, so if kids like me didn’t have that card, they knew exactly what they were missing.”

Resistance was futile for my eight-year-old brain. Like some sort of inescapable pop culture black hole, “Mars Attacks” had pulled me in — hook, line and sinker. I somehow scraped up another nickel or two – probably by scrounging pop bottles from area garbage cans so I could cash in on the bottle deposit money – and bought some more. But with duplicates starting to pop up, and more and more exciting teaser images tantalizing my brain, I needed some big money if I ever wanted to complete the set.  Continue reading “The “Mars Attacks” Circle of Life”

Steve Ditko: Inside His Studio Sanctum Sanctorum

I wrote my first letter to Steve Ditko in early 1973, while I was still in high school. It was the typical letter, the type a budding fan-artist back then might send to a seasoned professional comics artist — full of effusive praise, capped with a request for some secret kernel of artistic knowledge that would magically transform overnight a fan’s crude artistic efforts into professional-level artwork. Ditko did his best to answer, giving what was, in retrospect, a solid list of advice.

Two years later, I wrote Ditko again, and this time, I asked if I could stop by his studio for a visit when I was in New York City later that year. He politely declined, and I pushed that idea into the dustbin of history – not realizing that 28 years later my request would become a reality.

More than two decades passed before I wrote Ditko again in 1997. In the interim, I joined the Air Force, learned to be an aircraft avionics technician, got married, had kids, opted to be a career Airman, traveled and lived abroad for nearly a decade, earned a bachelor’s degree, retrained into public affairs during the early 1990s military drawdown, kept drawing, and kept publishing my fanzine, “Maelstrom.” In fact, my third letter to Ditko was a request for what I knew was an extreme long shot: An interview for an upcoming issue of my ‘zine. Again, he politely declined.

I wrote a few more letters during the next two years about nothing in particular – including a couple while I was stationed in the Republic of Korea in 1998. In one of them, I included some terrifically supple Korean-made brushes that were ridiculously cheap, but feathered ink like a Winsor & Newton brush costing 30 times as much.

I retired from the Air Force in 1999 and published “Maelstrom” #7, and dutifully sent Ditko a copy. Our correspondence continued off-and-on until 2002, when I started preparing a Steve Ditko article for “Maelstrom” #8 – along with a cover I drew featuring many of Ditko’s more notable characters. When the issue was published, I sent him a copy, and something about it obviously struck a chord as he sent me several letters of comment. Suddenly, the correspondence was a regular back-and-forth, and as my letters got longer, so did his. Some of Steve’s letters were 10, 12, or even 16 pages long.  Continue reading “Steve Ditko: Inside His Studio Sanctum Sanctorum”