Greg H.: Never met the man. He didn’t do conventions and even if he did, I wasn’t going to any until Steve Ditko was well into his reclusive self-publishing phase. All I knew was the work, and my understanding is that’s how Ditko wanted it.
So here’s a sample of the Ditko stories that hit my youthful self right between the eyes. Some famous, some not. These are just the ones where I remember saying, “Whoa.”
My first Ditko was this story, reprinted in Marvel Tales #19. “Spider-Man Goes MAD!”
It was pretty trippy but I loved it.
The next was a Doctor Strange reprint in Marvel’s Greatest Comics, “What Lurks Beneath the Mask!”
That was right in the middle of Ditko’s epic Mordo/Dormammu story and it was hugely frustrating to me at age nine to be unable to get the rest of it. (When Marvel reprinted the story in a series of specials in the 1980s I was all over it.)
I missed all the Charlton stuff and most of the early DC work. But the Creeper origin reprinted in Detective made a HUGE impression on me.
By this time I was getting savvy enough to recognize artist names and styles. When people talk about Ditko’s time at DC in the seventies, they usually mean Shade The Changing Man. But me, I was all about Stalker.
I had just found Robert E. Howard and sword-and-sorcery, and Stalker immediately became my favorite of the DC offerings in that area. It also persuaded me that it WAS possible for someone else to ink Ditko… but only if it was Wally Wood.
It was a great book and I’m still sad it only ran four issues.
That was still longer than Man-Bat, which only ran two issues, and only one with Ditko. Still, Ditko on Batman, even briefly….
Shortly after that I was off to college for a brief and undistinguished academic career. During that time I drifted away from comics. Apparently Ditko had too, at least the Marvel and DC stuff. When I came back to them in the mid-1980s Ditko was self-publishing, deep into the Objectivist/Ayn Rand rabbit hole; and honestly that stuff at best left me cold and at worst creeped me out. It didn’t help when he refused to be interviewed or appear on camera for the documentary Masters of Comic Book Art, but instead insisted on reading a manifesto that sounded kind of deranged; it ran as a voice-over with a montage of his art.
At that point I’m afraid I filed him as another industry casualty, a guy who’d been made crazy by the comic book industry. At least he didn’t self-destruct completely like Jack Cole or Wally Wood. If he showed up on a mainstream book I was interested in I’d give it a look, but it was clearly done just for the check, not a passion project. Even so, the Ditko magic was still there, like in this one-off for Marvel’s short-lived Dracula magazine.
That’s all I’ve got. I don’t have anything profound to say about the man. Just that his work was amazing and though I find Randian philosophy loathesome, I’m glad Steve Ditko found a creative outlet that satisfied him and made him a living. I hope he was happy.
Oddly enough, I first would have encountered Ditko through a GoBots picture book, I think, or else a Transformers picture book.
And after that, the first time I was aware of Ditko was through a Dark Horse one shot from the early ’90s called The Safest Place in the World, about someone trying to smuggle microfilm out of an Iron Curtain country.
Odd places to first encounter him, huh?
Obviously I’ve gotten into more of his stuff, like The Question, and of course the earliest Amazing Spider-Man run is *ahem* amazing. But I still like that those weird early things were where I first encountered him.
Another fun story I heard was from Roger Stern, who worked at Marvel in the early ’80s and Ditko apparently had an office at Marvel as well. Reportedly Ditko called out to Stern and asked him what he was doing, and at the time, Stern was on Spidey and Dr. Strange, so he could and apparently did say to Ditko, well, Steve, I’m doing the books that you started.
Edo Bosnar: Like Greg, I never met the man – although, apparently, few outside of a circle of comics professionals have – and can’t really say anything deep or meaningful about him (and yes, I’m no fan of Rand’s ‘philosophy’ of which he was apparently an adherent), other than to point out that he’s the guy who friggin’ created or co-created Spider-man, Dr. Strange, Captain Atom, the Ted Kord Blue Beetle, the Question, the Creeper, Hawk & Dove, Shade the Changing Man, the Prince Gavyn Starman (still my favorite Starman), Squirrel Girl, etc., and also designed some of the most iconic costumes in superherodom (most notably Spidey’s costume, but also Iron Man’s red and gold armor).
Needless to say, I love the guy’s work, and the epiphany came for me sometime in late 1978 or maybe early 1979. Before that, when I occasionally saw his art the modern comics of the time, I was pretty indifferent to it, finding it less attractive than that of the more popular artists of the time. All that changed when I got my hands on the Marvel pocketbook reprints (about which I’ve written before). I first got the Spider-man book, and the subsequent volumes, collecting the origin in Amazing Fantasy no. 15 and the first twenty issues of Amazing Spider-man.
Not long after that, I came across the Dr. Strange book, and then its follow-up. These collect pretty much the entirety of Ditko’s run with that character in Strange Tales, with the exception of the last two or three stories.
These were a complete revelation to me. I loved the stories and I thought the art was fantastic. Ditko’s mastery of visual storytelling, in terms of both action (esp. in Spider-man) and scenery and mood (particularly in Dr. Strange), are really on full display in these books – I loved them and read them over and again, until they were practically falling apart. After that, and ever since, I’ve had a deep – albeit not uncritical – appreciation for Ditko’s work.
As an aside, I have to disagree a bit with Greg, because in addition to Wally Wood, there was another artist whose inks complemented Ditko’s pencils quite well: John Byrne, believe it or not. They were the art team for Roger Stern’s delightful story in Avengers Annual no. 13. Here’s an example of how that looked:
Even Ditko’s controversial Mr. A stories, while a chore to read, are still worth looking at for the art – although it’s a bit telling that the best of them is the one without any dialogue. In that vein, I wanted to close this by highlighting one of Ditko’s more obscure creations, a character called Killjoy, who appeared in back-up stories in the second and fourth issues of Charlton’s E-man in the early 1970s. His Objectivist views were definitely on display here, but because they are more or less satirical stories, they’re much more palatable than Mr. A and they’re actually rather entertaining, with really well done action sequences. What I like most about them is that you get the impression that you’re reading Ditko’s fever dreams: the irrepressible Killjoy (who never says a word!) swings from one scene to another, stopping criminals, grifters and moochers, who all whine about how he’s depriving them of their right to break the law or otherwise take something to which they’re not entitled.
Rest in peace, sir.