Rita Mizak walked slowly through an exhibit of Spider-Man comic art displayed on gallery walls at Bottle Works in Johnstown.
“It’s fantastic,” she said.
She viewed the art collection while remembering Spider-Man’s co-creator, Steve Ditko, who she grew up with in the West End of Johnstown.
Today, Spider-Man’s ubiquitous popularity continues to grow worldwide, but Ditko’s story is not so well-known.
Many of the characters in the Spider-Man narrative were modeled from people Ditko knew in Johnstown, said Melody Tisinger, operations and advancement director at Bottle Works, 411 Third Ave.
“As a community in Johnstown, we often tell the sadder stories about ourselves, but this reminds us that we’ve been innovative in the past, from the steel mills to artists like Ditko,” Tisinger said. “And I think we are seeing a resurgence of innovation here today with Johnstown’s movement toward arts and outdoor recreation.”
Ditko was a private man, Tisinger said.
He died in 2018 at the age of 90 at his residence in New York.
Ditko’s role in bringing Spider-Man and other characters including Doctor Strange to the world was largely hidden, even to those in his hometown, until 2002 when his name appeared on credits of the first Spider-Man feature film.
An exhibit of his work opened Thursday, and more attractions will follow through Sept. 11. A public reception is planned for July 30 and will coincide with the beginning of Bottle Works’ Folk and Arts Festival.
The exhibit celebrating Ditko is slated to grow with additions of family heirlooms including his art pens and video testimonials by his family, friends and artists influenced by him.
Artist Glenn Klimeck, of Richland Township, served as a guide for visitors to the soft opening of the exhibition Thursday.
“Above all, we get to know the man behind the art,” Klimeck said.
He attributes the perennial popularity of Spider-Man and supporting characters to the their relatability, despite superhuman powers.
Even the supervillains in Spider-Man’s story were people with regular jobs, dealing with heartbreak and coping with deaths of loved ones, he said.
Klimeck stressed Ditko’s innovation at a time when books and television programs were about Western adventures or romance.
“Ditko was one of the artists who started the superhero movement,” he said.