Usually a Friday night hails the end of the week and the beginning of a weekend of fun with friends. However, tonight was not as fun. I had learned that Steve Ditko had passed away a week earlier on June 29th. He had been found dead in his apartment. It is believed by authorities that he had died two days earlier.
Stephen J. Ditko was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on November 2nd, 1927. He found his love for comics from issues of Prince Valiant at the time, along with such darker charcters as the Will Eisner’s The Spirit and Batman. Just imagine, Ditko was there for the publication of Detective Comics #27, the first appareance of Batman! Not only on the ground floor of the beginning of superhero comics, but also was part of the ground floor team for modern day superhero greats!
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In the 1950s, Ditko studied art under Batman artist, Jerry Robinson. When Steve Ditko moved to New York to become a professional comic book artist, he worked for the same studio which gave us Captain America, working with the likes of creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Ditko would go on to meet Stan Lee and work for the original Atlas Comics, which was the publisher name of Marvel Comics before Marvel existed. It was here he developed an excellent working relationship with Stan Lee, which would later turn a bit sour.
Steve Ditko may not sound like someone you know or anyone famous, but he changed the face of comic books forever in 1961 when he and Stan Lee created the Amazing Spider-Man. It’s well-known Stan Lee came up with the idea of the character, but Ditko added all the trimmings which defined Spider-Man as an icon, from the color scheme of red and blue, his web shooters, right down to the whole costume…all came from Steve Ditko. As their new character became such an overnight sensation it was obvious that Spider-Man was destined for his own series! That was when The Amazing Spider-Man was born! Steve Ditko helped create such memorial villains we know and love today; Doctor Octopus, Sandman, the Lizard, and Green Goblin all of which went on to see the fame of being on the big screen. It was sadly the use of Green Goblin which led to his leaving Amazing Spider-Man after issue number 38.
He went on to draw issue six of The Incredible Hulk (my personal favorite, Hulk vs the Metal Master!) and in 1963 also gave us another hero who has become sort of a spotlighted character in recent years, Doctor Strange. From issues 110 to 146 of Strange Tales, Ditko drew the magical character.
Both he and Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics in disgust of how Stan Lee was more concerned with self-promotion over the managing of creativity and character use. For Kirby, it was the lack of a fair wage they wanted to pay him for his new characters (The New Gods) and for Ditko it was how his already-existed characters were being represented and used.
Like Kirby, Ditko went across the street to DC Comics where he would create such memorable characters as The Creeper, as well as the team duo of Hawk & Dove. Due to unknown circumstances, Ditko’s stay at DC was short-lived. It was at this point where he ventured on to work for a lesser-known company named Charlton, where he worked on such characters as The Question, Blue Beetle, and Captain Atom; ironically, all would become DC properties within the next 20 years.
Ditko had even lent a hand to former Marvel publisher Martin Goodman who wanted to reboot the Atlas Comics (a former Marvel Comics company name) imprint. Ditko worked on a few issues of the some of the short-lived series from co-creating The Destructor to working on the second and third issues of Tiger-Man.
By 1975, the enigmatic and silent creator returned to DC to give us Shade, the Changing Man. He gave us the Prince Gavyn incarnation of Starman from Adventure Comics. He also revived his creation of The Creeper, plus gave us new series in the form of Stalker, a very sword-and-sorcery type of series, as well as the popular two-issue Man-Bat series.
In the 80s, Ditko returned to Marvel and worked on such books as Machine Man, Captain Universe, and even Micronauts. However the man was not done giving to the fans. He created Squirrel Girl and Speedball in the 90s, both of whom went on to become popular characters in their own right.
Steve Ditko even delved into independent work, having drawn for Dark Horse Comics and for Valiant Comics, drawing such books as Shadowman. It was from his time at Valiant that he was brought on-board for Jim Shooter’s Defiant Comics, drawing the book Dark Dominion.
Ditko’s final mainstream work was completed between 2000-2002 for the DC Comics series Orion, however it never saw the light of day until the release of the 2008 Tales of the New Gods trade paperback. Other instances of his unpublished DC work from the 1970s started seeing print in later DC trade paperback collections.
Needless to say this is not the extent of Steve Ditko’s contribution to the comic book industry. It seems that all he ever did was leave a trail of created characters, all of who would go on to become memorable characters. His work is forever remembered as we now see his creations come to life on the big screen.
Sadly, it is unknown if Ditko enjoyed the Spider-Man films or the Doctor Strange movie, as by 2012 and on he refused to give interviews. He had become dubbed by a few as the “J.D. Salinger of comic books.” Salinger, who after his ever-popular book ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ did his best on an amazing level to avoid the public spotlight for years until his death. Ditko followed the same formula to just live a private life never attending comic book conventions or giving interviews.
“Mr. Ditko, is it true that when you and Stan Lee worked on Amazing Spider-Man that you would simply draw pages of various actions with a plot in mind and Stan would later add the dialoge? Thus making the earlier issues of Amazing Spider-Man much more wordier with dialoge and narration as opposed to when John Romita took over from you?“
The man had kindly responded with a handwritten letter. He explained that while the process was not necessarily that simple, it was, in a nutshell, like that. It was why he went on to receive plot and art credit in later Amazing Spider-Man issues before issue 38.
Sampling of Fan Letters Responded to by Ditka
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the relationship between he and Stan Lee and just what tore him from the book he had helped create and turn into a mega-success. More than likely we will never know, as we have lost the second of the industry’s Marvel Trinity. The Trinity being Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko.
It saddens me when one of the greats, one of the would-be founding fathers of comic books dies alone. My heart simply goes out to him and I hope he is at a dual desk in the afterlife with Jack Kirby churning out page of page of divine adventure for the denizens of Heaven. Steve Ditko has no known surviving relatives and had never married. He died alone, a bachelor, but he is forever immortalized with his wonderful creations and fantastic artwork for his time.