Steve Ditko, one of the brilliant minds behind the Marvel Age of Comics, co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange among many others, found dead in his New York apartment on June 29th, 2018.
It is a sad day for comics fans all the world over as news of Steve Ditko’s death spreads. Ditko started working at Marvel (then Atlas) Comics in 1956, a few years following his graduation from the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (later the School of the Visual Arts) in New York under the tutelage of famed Batman artist, Jerry Robinson. As Marvel Comics began to emerge in 1961, Ditko was on hand to create history. When Stan Lee found Jack Kirby’s version of a young Peter Parker not to his liking, he brought the project to Ditko, and as the story goes, the rest is history.
Comics historian, Gerard Jones (Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangters and the Birth of the Comic Book, 2004) writes, “Ditko boiled with emotion, but he didn’t enjoy giving it free rein either in his work or his life; he was a fiercely private man who leashed himself with a steel rationalism, and who responded to the ethical relativism of the Sixties by devoting himself to the ‘Objectivism’ of Ayn Rand. When he took on Spider-Man, he imbued even the most extravagant superhero fights with tension and pain.” Tension and pain would become a major marker for the rise of Marvel Comics, in which heroes were constructed with a higher degree of social consciousness, distancing Marvel from the reigning kings of comics publishing, DC Comics. Later in 1963, Ditko would once again return to pain and tension to co-create Doctor Strange, a surgeon horrifically injured in a car wreck seeking a cure, but instead finding a whole new path to enlightenment.
Ever the creative mind, one of the lesser acknowledged contributions to the foundations of modern comics comes in the mid- to late-1960s, while Ditko worked at Charlton Comics. Although Charlton work often came with a smaller paycheck, the creative control was much more extensive. While working there, Ditko created Captain Atom and The Question, and also reinvented The Blue Beetle as Ted Kord. When DC Comics eventually later purchased Charlton Comics, these characters would become the templates for Alan Moore’s masterpiece, The Watchmen.
Speedball, Squirrel Girl, Shade the Changing Man, Doc Octopus, Green Goblin, Sandman, J. Jonah Jameson, Hawk and Dove, The Ancient One, The Leader, The Lizard, Glen Talbot, The Creeper, The Chameleon, Electro, Nightshade, Ned Leeds, Mary Jane, Aunt May, Uncle Ben… the list of creations by Ditko goes on and on.
Often called the “JD Salinger” of comics, the reclusive Steve Ditko is believed to have never married and has no known survivors. Keeping his legacy alive falls to each of us, now, which seems only fitting, as his influence on our entire culture reaches far and wide. Rest in Power, Steve. Thank you for all the magic. We’ve got it from here, sir.
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