One of the Library's many outstanding comic book holdings is the 24 original drawings by Steve Ditko for Amazing Fantasy No. 15 in August 1962, including the Spider-Man origin story. The iconic images were donated to the Library by an anonymous donor in 2008. They are included in the opening exhibit of the David M. Rubenstein Treasures Gallery.

This is a guest post by Sara Duke, a librarian in the Prints and Photographs Division, originally published in Timeless: Stories from the Library of Congress. It also appears in the May-June issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, which is devoted to the June opening the David M. Rubenstein Treasures Gallery.

In 2008, the Library became even more aware that “with great power there must also come great responsibility!” The Library received the 24 original drawings by Steve Ditko for Amazing Fantasy No. 15, including the Spider-Man origin story.

The intact stories permit artists, historians and fans an opportunity to study the art, the nuances between penciling and inking and the use of opaque white to alter images and text. They also benefit from the evidence of artist and writer interaction. The real super hero of this acquisition story is the anonymous donor, who kept the art together and donated this priceless treasure to the Library for generations to enjoy.

With writer Stan Lee, Ditko created this classic of the comic book’s “Silver Age” (1956-1969), an era of superheroes’ resurgence in the mainstream comic book industry, following the genre’s decline after World War II. In this August 1962 issue, Ditko’s clean, eye-catching design pulls the viewer into the scene and sets the suspenseful tone for the eleven-page story.

Pen and ink artwork of comic book panels, showing Peter Parker sensing that he has new powers.
Two panels from the Spider-Man origin story in Amazing Fantasy. Image: Courtesy of Marvel. Prints and Photographs Division.

Some changes in the Spider-Man! art occurred after inking and remain visible on the art but are invisible in the published version. In the lower right panel on the third page (shown above), writer Stan Lee asks Ditko to alter both the appearance of a vehicle and its passengers. Lee wrote, “Steve. Make this a covered sedan — no arms hanging. Don’t imply wild reckless driving. S.” The altered roof support is not visible in the published version.

On the sixth page, Peter Parker dresses in the costume he has made, and for the first-time readers can see the intricate webbing and fussy cape-like filigree under Spider-Man’s arms. Readers learn that the bookish Peter, with his knowledge of science, has invented web shooters and experimented with their use. It is not until a major change occurs at the end of the story that Parker becomes a super hero and learns the lessons of responsibility.

Additional Resources:
  • “Celebrating Comics’ Champion Stan Lee,” Headlines and Heroes.
  • “With Great Responsibility: The Spider-Man Origin Story in Art and Comic Books,” National Book Festival 2021.


Treasures Gallery: Spider-Man’s Origin Story