Remembering Steve Ditko // November 2, 1927 - June 29, 2018
The comics world was recently rocked by the news that one of the comics world greatest creators, Steve Ditko, passed away on June 29th, 2018. While a reclusive and quiet man compared to his contemporaries, it's hard to imagine a world without his influence. From the infamous Spider-Man and Squirrel Girl to lesser-known heroes like Blue Beetle and Mr. A, his work will far outlive him.
In his honor, two of us have decided to share our thoughts and memories of Ditko and his works.
Without Steve Ditko, we’d still have Marvel Comics, but it wouldn’t be the Marvel we have today. Ditko brought a unique design aesthetic to Spider-Man that other artists wouldn’t have. HIs Peter Parker was a slight, skinny little nerd and his Spider-Man was a lanky, lean freak. He was a hero, but he was still a little unsettling. If Jack Kirby would have drawn the book, readers would have gotten a totally different visual interpretation of the character.
Without Ditko, The Amazing Spider-Man would have felt completely different from a writing standpoint as well. As much as Marvel and Stan Lee have played up the myth of Stan Lee, Creator Of The Marvel Universe, Ditko did nearly everything on the book but the dialogue. There still would have been an Amazing Spider-Man, but his adventures would have been totally different.
Without Ditko, there’s no Doctor Strange as he is known today. Ditko’s art captured the psychedelic weirdness of magic, catapulting readers into other realities. His Doctor Strange was an otherworldly figure as far removed from the ideal heroic look as his adventures were from the adventures of other superheroes. Stan Lee on his own with a weaker collaborator never could have pulled off Doctor Strange, because his imagination just didn’t go to those kinds of places.
Without Ditko, there would be no Watchmen. Ditko created the Ted Kord iteration of Blue Beetle, the inspiration for Nite-Owl II, and the Question, the inspiration for Rorschach. Alan Moore pitched the original story using the Charleston characters. There’s still a chance readers would have gotten something similar from him down the pipe, but without Ditko’s creations to inspire him, it wouldn’t have been the same.
Steve Ditko was one of the greatest creative talents of the Silver Age and deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Jack Kirby, another man used and abused by Marvel and Stan Lee. His work suffered later in his life after he embraced Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, but before that, he helped shepherd some of the most important concepts in comics.
Rest in peace, Mr. Ditko. Thank you for everything.
The first time I’d even seen Steve Ditko’s work was back when I was in grade school. I was in the local used book store, and they had a small digest-sized booklet of old Spider-Man comics reprinted inside. While I knew who Spider-Man was, I was not prepared for the insanity of The Living Brain, the pathos of The Return of Doctor Octopus, or the self-doubt introduced by Mysterio. This was not the Spider-Man I had on TV: this Spidey was insecure, frustrated, and actually didn’t get along with his peers. His life was fraught with frustration, and rarely did a single issue have a truly happy ending for Peter Parker, much less his masked alter-ego. It was strange, discomforting, and filled with people who all had their own problems. And I loved it.
I devoured that run of seven comics, issues 7 through 13 of The Amazing Spider-Man. I kept looking for more volumes, but never could find any more. The modern Spider-Man comics scratched that itch, but not well enough. It just didn’t have the same quality… and to be fair, we were also dead in the middle of the Clone Saga. Finding art like Ditko's was basically impossible.
It wasn’t until high school when early comics became easily accessible again through Marvel Essentials and other reprints that I was able to scratch that itch again. It was also the time I was beginning to tell comics apart by writer and artist, not just by hero or company. I fell in love with those early Spider-Man comics, and found his other works too. Blue Beetle, the Question, Doctor Strange… the list seemed endless before me. And I loved every bizarre, uncomfortable, awesome minute of it.
While I would certainly still enjoy comics if I hadn’t come across Steve Ditko’s art, it certainly wouldn’t been as fun a journey to where I am now. You were one of a kind, and the world is lesser for your passing, sir.