Friends, writing these types of posts is never fun. We lost Ellison last week and yesterday it was confirmed that Steve Ditko has passed away. An interesting figure in the comic book industry to say the least. Even more so for his self-imposed exile from the public spotlight during his heyday of popularity. We must all remember that Steve Ditko no matter what helped create some iconic comic book characters. Such as Spider-Man, Dr. Strange as well as the Question!
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Ditko’s Early Years.
Ditko upon graduating High School, served in the U.S. Army. Where he worked as a comics illustrator, thanks to his love of the newspaper strip titles of his youth. Prince Valiant as well as comic book heroes like Batman. In fact upon his discharge in the Army he learned that artist Jerry Robinson was teaching at School of Visual Arts in New York City. Thanks to the G.I. Bill he was enrolled and learned to further his artistic skills from the artist he very much admired.
That lasted, according to Robinson about two years. In the 2010 The Art of Ditko book by IDW, Jerry said:
“He was in my class for two years, four or five days a week, five hours a night. It was very intense.”
That most certainly sounds like Steve Ditko had the urge to entertain with his art. As well as of course wanting to break into the comic book industry. Supposedly one of the guest speakers during Robinson’s class was none other than Stan Lee. Although it is rightfully assumed this is where Lee first was able to check out the young artist’s talent. It wouldn’t be until 1956 when Steve first worked on a Marvel Comic. Although at the time it was still Atlas Comics, he did a four page story for Journey Into Mystery #33.
Ditko would work on many titles of the day such as Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales. I feel it’s worth mentioning that with Ant-Man and The Wasp hitting theaters this weekend. The first appearance of Ant-Man was in the pages of Tales to Astonish #35. To be clear however that character was created by Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber and Stan Lee.
A Hero Is Born!
It was of course at Marvel that Steve co-created Spider-Man with Stan Lee. Although it’s been pointed out that Lee originally approached Jack Kirby with the character. Stan felt that the character should be more teenager than hero so he let Ditko take a crack at it. As published in Robin Snyder’s History of Comics #5 in 1990. The first element the artist felt needed to be tackled was the costume:
“One of the first things I did was to work up a costume. A vital, visual part of the character. I had to know how he looked … before I did any breakdowns. For example: A clinging power so he wouldn’t have hard shoes or boots, a hidden wrist-shooter versus a web gun and holster, etc. … I wasn’t sure Stan would like the idea of covering the character’s face but I did it because it hid an obviously boyish face. It would also add mystery to the character…”
The Lee and Ditko partnership really paid off. At least for a while. For 38 issues the duo laid the groundwork for what makes Spider-Man tick. As well as introducing nearly all of the iconic villains that Peter Parker would oppose over the years. During this time the artist would also co-create Dr. Strange…who I have talked about once or twice on the site.
Having said that though, Ditko left Marvel Comics after four years of success. It’s been said that Lee and Ditko stopped speaking to each other before that. In addition their have been many reasons given to the cause. Almost all of them contradictory. It’s sad that such a thing occurred but it did allow Steve Ditko to return to Charlton Comics. There he would create the Question, work on the Blue Beetle, and co-create Captain Atom.
Ditko Heads To The Home of Batman…
In 1968 he would jump to DC Comics. Co-creating the likes of the Creeper and Hawk and Dove. Returning from Charlton Comics in 1975, he would work at DC once again. Creating Shade, the Changing Man and working on a Man-Bat mini-series. Ditko also revamped his Creeper character and provided work for the Demon series as well as The Legion of Super-Heroes. Furthermore Ditko while not being seen publicly or having any desire to be interviewed for the press in later years, still kept working. Whether that be providing artwork for coloring books for The Transformers or his own zines.
As always when speaking of those who can be considered legends. They stood apart from the rest. Many times, just like with Ellison and Ditko, we may not agree with their viewpoints. But we can appreciate their artistry. While we are sorry for their passing we are left with their art. Something that future generations will be able to enjoy for many, many years to come.