The world lost a true artistic visionary when Steve Ditko passed away at age 90. He had supposedly been dead two days before his body was found in his New York City apartment, an ignoble ending to one of comic book’s most unique artists, the man who co-created Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, two characters currently riding high in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That their spiritual father should leave this mortal coil so anonymously is a tragedy, and a crying shame.
Ditko’s work will never be mistaken for a Jack Kirby or Neal Adams, or any of their myriad imitators. His art was deceptively simple, yet so complicated in its execution. He’s all angles and motion, with lots of empty spaces. His was a style all his own, a style that fans loved for its singularness. Ditko, after a post-war stint in the Army, entered the comics field in 1953, working for Kirby and partner Joe Simon’s studio, where he met veteran illustrator Mort Meskin. The two worked closely together doing inks and backgrounds. He also began his long association with Charlton Comics that year, an association that would last on-and-off until the company folded in 1986.
During this period, Ditko also did work for Atlas Comics, where his surreal twist ending short stories for JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, STRANGE TALES, and TALES TO ASTONISH became popular among readers. When Atlas morphed into Marvel and got into the burgeoning superhero business, Ditko and writer/editor Stan Lee created THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, a teenaged superhero filled with teen angst. High school student Peter Parker was a geeky science nerd before getting bit by that radioactive spider, and continued to be plagued by doubt when not in costume. Comic fans had never seen the likes of Spidey before, and he became a huge hit, especially on college campuses during the turbulent 60’s. Ditko demanded and received credit for plotting, and Lee just let him loose and filled in the word balloons. During Ditko’s 38 issue run, some of Spidey’s greatest villains were introduced: The Vulture, Dr. Octopus, The Sandman, Mysterio, and perhaps the greatest of them all, The Green Goblin.
Ditko and Lee also teamed on Dr. Strange in the pages of STRANGE TALES. The Master of the Mystic Arts dealt with the supernatural, and Ditko’s trippy, semi-psychedelic art placed the Doctor in other-dimensional battles against the likes of Dormammu and Eternity. Dr. Strange didn’t have the cultural impact of Spider-Man, but was again a hit with the college crowd, who thought Ditko must’ve been tripping on acid to produce such outre’ adventures! After a brief stint on The Hulk in TALES TO ASTONISH, Ditko left Marvel in 1966, working on Charlton’s Blue Beetle and The Question.
At DC, Ditko created The Creeper and Hawk & Dove, but didn’t stay long. In 1967, he introduced Mr. A in the pages of Wally Wood’s independent witzend. Mr. A was an anti-hero vigilante, based on Ditko’s belief in the Objectivist philosophy of writer Ayn Rand. Mr. A saw no grey area in right and wrong, and dealt harshly with the criminal element to dole out his brand of justice. Ditko would return to the character again and again over the years, doling out his own brand of Objectivist theory.
In later years, he worked for Warren, Eclipse, Pacific, and Dark Horse, returning now and then to Marvel and DC. He released all his new works through an independent publisher from 1998 on, preferring total artistic control rather than work-for-hire jobs. He refused interviews and public appearances at Comic Cons, deciding his work could do his talking. Steve Ditko was an iconoclast, an innovator, and a genius in his chosen field. He may have died alone, but his art belongs to the world.