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Steve Ditko (1927)

Stephen Ditko

Type :  

  Summary  

Stephen J. "Steve" Ditko is an American comic book artist and writer best known as the artist co-creator, with Stan Lee, of the Marvel Comics heroes Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.

Ditko studied under Batman artist Jerry Robinson at the Cartoonist and Illustrators School in New York City. He began his professional career in 1953, working in the studio of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, beginning as an inker and coming under the influence of artist Mort Meskin. During this time, he then began his long association with Charlton Comics, where he did work in the genres of science fiction, horror, and mystery. He also co-created the superhero Captain Atom in 1960.

Ditko then drew for Atlas Comics, the 1950s forerunner of Marvel Comics. He went on to contribute much significant work to Marvel, including co-creating Spider-Man, who would become the company's flagship character. Additionally, he co-created the supernatural hero Doctor Strange and made important contributions to the Hulk and Iron Man. In 1966, after being the exclusive artist on The Amazing Spider-Man and the "Doctor Strange" feature in Strange Tales, Ditko left Marvel for reasons never specified.

Ditko then worked for Charlton and DC Comics, making major contributions, including a revamp of long-running character Blue Beetle, and creating or co-creating the Question, the Creeper, and Hawk and Dove. Ditko also began contributing to small independent publishers, where he created Mr. A, a hero reflecting the influence of Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy. Since the 1960s, Ditko has declined most interviews, stating that it is his work he offers readers, and not his personality.

Ditko was inducted into the comics industry's Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1990, and into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1994.

  Biography  

 Early life and career

Stephen J. Ditko was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the son of first-generation Americans of Czech descent: Stephen Ditko, an artistically talented master carpenter at a steel mill, and Anna, a homemaker. The second-eldest child in a working-class family, he was preceded by sister Anna Marie and followed in uncertain order by sister Betty and brother Patrick. Inspired by his father's love of newspaper comic strips, particularly Hal Foster's Prince Valiant, Ditko found his interest in comics accelerated by the introduction of superhero Batman in 1940, and by Will Eisner's The Spirit, which appeared in a tabloid-sized comic-book insert in Sunday newspapers.


Good with his hands, Ditko in junior high school was part of a group of students who crafted wooden models of German airplanes to aid civilian World War II aircraft-spotters. Upon graduating from Johnstown High School in 1945, he enlisted in the U.S. Army on October 26, 1945, and did military service in postwar Germany, where he drew comics for an Army newspaper.

Following his discharge, Ditko learned that his idol, Batman artist Jerry Robinson, was teaching at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City. Moving there in 1950, he enrolled in the art school under the G.I. Bill. Robinson found the young student "a very hard worker who really focused on his drawing" and someone who "could work well with other writers as well as write his own stories and create his own characters", and he helped Ditko acquire a scholarship for the following year. "He was in my class for two years, four or five days a week, five hours a night. It was very intense." Robinson, who invited artists and editors to speak with his class, once brought in Stan Lee, then editor of Marvel Comics' 1950s precursor, Atlas Comics, and, "I think that was when Stan first saw Steve's work."

Ditko began professionally illustrating comic books in early 1953, drawing writer Bruce Hamilton's science-fiction story "Stretching Things" for the Key Publications imprint Stanmor Publications, which sold the story to Ajax/Farrell, where it finally found publication in Fantastic Fears #5 (cover-dated Feb. 1954). Ditko's first published work was his second professional story, the six-page "Paper Romance" in Daring Love #1 , published by the Key imprint Gillmor Magazines.

Shortly afterward, Ditko found work at the studio of celebrated writer-artists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who had created Captain America and other characters and had instituted numerous industry innovations. Beginning as an inker on backgrounds, Ditko was soon working with and learning from Mort Meskin, an artist whose work he had long admired. "Meskin was fabulous," Ditko once recalled. "I couldn't believe the ease with which he drew: strong compositions, loose pencils, yet complete; detail without clutter. I loved his stuff". Ditko's known assistant work includes aiding inker Meskin on the Jack Kirby pencil work of Harvey Comics' Captain 3-D #1 . For his own third published story, Ditko penciled and inked the six-page "A Hole in His Head" in Black Magic vol. 4, #3 , published by Simon & Kirby's Crestwood Publications imprint Prize Comics.

Ditko then began a long association with the Derby, Connecticut publisher Charlton Comics, a low-budget division of a company best known for song-lyric magazines. Beginning with the cover of The Thing #12 and the eight-page vampire story "Cinderella" in that issue, Ditko would continue to work intermittently for Charlton until the company's demise in 1986, producing science fiction, horror and mystery stories, as well as co-creating Captain Atom, with writer Joe Gill, in 1960. He first went on hiatus from the company, and comics altogether, in mid-1954, when he contracted tuberculosis and returned to his parents' home in Johnstown to recuperate.

 Marvel Comics

After he recovered and moved back to New York City in late 1955, Ditko began drawing for Atlas Comics, the 1950s precursor of Marvel Comics, beginning with the four-page "There'll Be Some Changes Made" in Journey into Mystery #33 ; this debut tale would be reprinted in Marvel's Curse of the Weird #4 . Ditko would go on to contribute a large number of stories, many considered classic, to Atlas/Marvel's Strange Tales and the newly launched Amazing Adventures, Strange Worlds, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish, issues of which would typically open with a Kirby-drawn monster story, followed by one or two twist-ending thrillers or sci-fi tales drawn by Don Heck, Paul Reinman, or Joe Sinnott, all capped by an often-surreal, sometimes self-reflexive short by Ditko and writer-editor Stan Lee.

These bagatelles proved so popular that Amazing Adventures was reformatted to feature such stories exclusively beginning with issue #7 , when the comic was rechristened Amazing Adult Fantasy — a name intended to reflect its more "sophisticated" nature, as likewise the new tagline "The magazine that respects your intelligence". Lee in 2009 described these "short, five-page filler strips that Steve and I did together", originally "placed in any of our comics that had a few extra pages to fill", as "odd fantasy tales that I'd dream up with O. Henry-type endings." Giving an early example of what would later be known as the "Marvel Method" of writer-artist collaboration, Lee said, "All I had to do was give Steve a one-line description of the plot and he'd be off and running. He'd take those skeleton outlines I had given him and turn them into classic little works of art that ended up being far cooler than I had any right to expect."

Creation of Spider-Man
After Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Stan Lee obtained permission from publisher Martin Goodman to create a new "ordinary teen" superhero named "Spider-Man", Lee originally approached his leading artist, Jack Kirby. Kirby told Lee about his own 1950s character conception, variously called the Silver Spider and Spiderman, in which an orphaned boy finds a magic ring that gives him superpowers. Comics historian Greg Theakston says Lee and Kirby "immediately sat down for a story conference" and Lee afterward directed Kirby to flesh out the character and draw some pages. "A day or two later", Kirby showed Lee the first six pages, and, as Lee recalled, "I hated the way he was doing it. Not that he did it badly — it just wasn't the character I wanted; it was too heroic".

Lee turned to Ditko, who developed a visual motif Lee found satisfactory, although Lee would later replace Ditko's original cover with one penciled by Kirby. Ditko said, "The Spider-Man pages Stan showed me were nothing like the published character. In fact, the only drawings of Spider-Man were on the splash i.e., page 1] and at the end Kirby had the guy leaping at you with a web gun... Anyway, the first five pages took place in the home, and the kid finds a ring and turns into Spider-Man."

Ditko also recalled that, "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...."

Much earlier, in a rare contemporaneous account, Ditko described his and Lee's contributions in a mail interview with Gary Martin published in Comic Fan #2 : "Stan Lee thought the name up. I did costume, web gimmick on wrist & spider signal". He added he would continue drawing Spider-Man "f nothing better comes along." That same year, he expressed to the fanzine Voice of Comicdom, regarding a poll of "Best Liked" fan-created comics, "It seems a shame, since comics themselves have so little variety of stories and styles that you would deliberately restrict your own creative efforts to professional comics shallow range. What is 'Best Liked' by most readers is what they are most familiar in seeing and any policy based on readers likes has to end up with a lot of look-a-like strips. You have a great opportunity to show everyone a whole new range of ideas, unlimited types of stories and styles---why FLUB it!"

From 1958 to either 1966 or 1968 , Ditko shared a Manhattan studio at 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue with noted fetish artist Eric Stanton, an art-school classmate. When either artist was under deadline pressure, it was not uncommon for them to pitch in and help the other with his assignment, and the introduction to one book of Stanton's work says, "Eric Stanton drew his pictures in India ink, and they were then hand-coloured by Ditko". In a 1988 interview with Theakston, Stanton recalled that although his contribution to Spider-Man was "almost nil", he and Ditko had "worked on storyboards together and I added a few ideas. But the whole thing was created by Steve on his own... I think I added the business about the webs coming out of his hands".

Spider-Man debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15 , the final issue of that science-fiction/fantasy anthology series. When the issue proved to be a top seller, Spider-Man was given his own series, The Amazing Spider-Man.

Doctor Strange and other characters

After drawing the final issue of The Incredible Hulk (#6, March 1963), Ditko co-created with Lee the supernatural hero Doctor Strange, in Strange Tales #110 . Ditko and Lee shortly thereafter relaunched a Hulk series as a short feature in the anthology Tales to Astonish, beginning with issue #60 . Ditko, inked by George Roussos, penciled the feature through #67 . Ditko designed the Hulk's primary antagonist, the Leader, in #62 .

Ditko also penciled the Iron Man feature in Tales of Suspense #47–49 (Nov. 1963 – Jan. 1964), with various inkers. The first of these debuted the initial version of Iron Man's modern red-and-golden armor, though whether Ditko or cover-penciler and principal character designer Jack Kirby designed the costume is uncertain.

Though often overshadowed by his Amazing Spider-Man work, Ditko's "Doctor Strange" stories have been equally acclaimed, for their surrealistic mystical landscapes and increasingly psychedelic visuals that helped make the feature a favorite of college students. "People who read 'Doctor Strange' thought people at Marvel must be heads ," recalled then-associate editor and former Doctor Strange writer Roy Thomas in 1971, "because they had had similar experiences high on mushrooms. But ... I don't use hallucinogens, nor do I think any artists do."

Eventually, as co-plotter and later sole plotter, in the "Marvel Method", Ditko would take Strange into ever-more-abstract realms. In an epic 17-issue story arc in Strange Tales #130-146 (July 1965 - July 1966), Ditko introduced the cosmic character Eternity, who personified the universe and was depicted as a silhouette whose outlines are filled with the cosmos. As historian Bradford W. Wright describes,


The cartoonist and fine artist Seth in 2003 described Ditko's style as "oddball for mainstream comics. Whereas Kirby's stuff clearly appealed to a boy's sensibility because there was so much raw power, Ditko's work was really delicate and cartoony. There was a sense of design to it. You can always recognize anything that Ditko designed because it's always flowery. There is a lot of embroidered detail in the art, which is almost psychedelic."

Whichever feature he drew, Ditko's idiosyncratic, cleanly detailed, instantly recognizable art style, emphasizing mood and anxiety, found great favor with readers. The character of Spider-Man and his troubled personal life meshed well with Ditko's own interests, which Lee eventually acknowledged by giving the artist plotting credits on the latter part of their 38-issue run. But after four years on the title, Ditko left Marvel; he and Lee had not been on speaking terms for some time, with art and editorial changes handled through intermediaries. The details of the rift remain uncertain, even to Lee, who confessed in 2003, "I never really knew Steve on a personal level." Ditko later claimed it was Lee who broke off contact and disputed the long-held belief that the disagreement was over the true identity of the Green Goblin: "Stan never knew what he was getting in my Spider-Man stories and covers until after Sol Brodsky took the material from me ... so there couldn't have been any disagreement or agreement, no exchanges ... no problems between us concerning the Green Goblin or anything else from before issue #25 to my final issues". Spider-Man successor artist John Romita, in a 2010 deposition, recalled that Lee and Ditko "ended up not being able to work together because they disagreed on almost everything, cultural, social, historically, everything, they disagreed on characters...."

Regardless, said Lee in 2007, "Quite a few years ago I met him up at the Marvel offices when I was last in New York. And we spoke; he's a hell of a nice guy and it was very pleasant. ... I haven't heard from him since that meeting."

Comics historian Greg Theakston, who visited Ditko on occasion, theorized Ditko saw The Amazing Spider-Man as semi-autobiographical: "Spider-Man was the culmination of everything Ditko was up until that moment. Ditko had personal ties to the character. When people started to 'manipulate him' into bringing in more romance into the strip and changing the direction, Ditko felt slighted, crushed ... they were telling him how to do it. He wouldn't be told".

Writer and then future Marvel editor Roy Thomas said of that time, "I'll never forget the day I walked into one Marvel office not long after Ditko quit, and here's John Romita drawing Amazing Spider-Man and Larry Lieber drawing the Spider-Man Annual and Marie Severin drawing 'Dr. Strange', and I joked, 'This is the Steve Ditko Room; it takes three of you to do what Steve Ditko used to do'".

 Charlton and DC Comics
Back at Charlton — where the page rate was low but creators were allowed greater freedom — Ditko worked on such characters as Blue Beetle (1967–1968), the Question (1967–1968), Captain Atom (1965–1967), returning to the character he'd co-created in 1960. In addition, in 1966–1967, he drew 16 stories, most of them written by Archie Goodwin for Warren Publishing's horror comic magazines Creepy and Eerie, most of which were done using ink-wash.

In 1967, Ditko gave his conservative ideas ultimate expression in the form of Mr. A, published in Wally Wood's independent title witzend # 3. Ditko's hard line against criminals was controversial and he continued to produce Mr. A stories and one-pagers until the end of the 1970s. Ditko returned to Mr. A in 2000 and in 2009.

Ditko moved to DC Comics in 1968, where he created the Creeper in Showcase #73 with scripter Don Segall, under editor Murray Boltinoff. Ditko created the quirky team Hawk and Dove in Showcase #75 , with writer Steve Skeates. Around this time, he penciled the lead story, written and inked by Wally Wood, in Wood's early mature-audience, independent-comics publication Heroes, Inc. Presents Cannon .

Ditko's stay at DC was short — he would work on all six issues of the Creeper's own title, Beware the Creeper (June 1968–April 1969), though leaving midway through the final one — and the reasons for his departure uncertain. But while at DC, Ditko recommended Charlton staffer Dick Giordano to the company, who would go on to become a top DC penciller, inker, editor, and ultimately, in 1981, the managing editor.

From this time up through the mid-1970s, Ditko worked exclusively for Charlton and various small press/independent publishers. Frank McLaughlin, Charlton's art director during this period, describes Ditko as living "in a local hotel in Derby for a while. He was a very happy-go-lucky guy with a great sense of humor at that time, and always supplied the color separators with candy and other little gifts".

For Charlton in 1974 he did Liberty Belle backup stories in E-Man and conceived Killjoy. Ditko produced much work for Charlton's science-fiction and horror titles, as well as for former Marvel publisher Martin Goodman's start-up line Atlas/Seaboard Comics, where he co-created the superhero the Destructor with writer Archie Goodwin, and penciled all four issues of the namesake series (Feb.–Aug. 1975), the first two of which were inked by fellow comics legend Wally Wood. Ditko worked on the second and third issues of Tiger-Man and the third issue of Morlock 2001, with Bernie Wrightson inking.

 Latter-day Ditko
Ditko returned to DC Comics in 1975, creating a short-lived title, Shade, the Changing Man (1977–1978). Shade was later revived, without Ditko's involvement, in DC's mature-audience imprint Vertigo. With writer Paul Levitz, he co-created the four issue sword and sorcery series Stalker (1975–1976). Ditko and writer Gerry Conway produced the first issue of a short-lived Man-Bat series. He also revived the Creeper and did such various other jobs as a short Demon backup series in 1979, work on Legion of Superheroes in 1980–1981, and stories in DC's horror and science-fiction anthologies. He also drew the Prince Gavyn version of Starman in Adventure Comics #467–478 . He then decamped to do work for a variety of publishers, briefly contributing to DC again in the mid 1980s, with four pinups of his characters for Who's Who in the DC Universe and a pinup for Superman #400 and its companion portfolio.

Ditko returned to Marvel in 1979, taking over Jack Kirby's Machine Man, drawing The Micronauts, co-creating Captain Universe, and continuing to freelance for the company into the late 1990s. In 1982, he also began freelancing for the early independent comics label Pacific Comics, beginning with Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #6 , in which he introduced the superhero Missing Man, with Mark Evanier scripting to Ditko's plot and art. Subsequent Missing Man stories appeared in Pacific Presents #1–3 (Oct. 1982–March 1984), with Ditko scripting the former and collaborating with longtime friend Robin Snyder on the script for the latter two. Ditko also created the Mocker for Pacific, in Silver Star #2 .

For Eclipse Comics, he contributed a story featuring his character Static in Eclipse Monthly #1–3 (Aug.–Oct. 1983), introducing supervillain the Exploder in #2. With writer Jack C. Harris, Ditko drew the backup feature "The Faceless Ones" in First Comics' Warp #2–4 (April–June 1983). Working with that same writer and others, Ditko drew a handful of the Fly, Fly-Girl and Jaguar stories for The Fly #2–8 (July 1983 – Aug. 1984), for Archie Comics' short-lived 1980s superhero line; in a rare latter-day instance of Ditko inking another artist, he inked penciler Dick Ayers on the Jaguar story in The Fly #9 .

Ditko and writer Will Murray co-created one of Ditko's last original characters for Marvel Comics, the satirical superheroine Squirrel Girl, in Marvel Super-Heroes vol. 2, #8, a.k.a. Marvel Super-Heroes Winter Special .

In 1993, he did the Dark Horse Comics one-shot The Safest Place in the World. For the Defiant Comics series Dark Dominion, he drew issue #0, which was released as a set of trading cards. In 1995, he pencilled a four-issue series for Marvel based on the Phantom 2040 animated TV series. This included a poster that was inked by John Romita Sr. Steve Ditko's Strange Avenging Tales was announced as a quarterly series from Fantagraphics Books, although it only ran one issue due to publicly unspecified disagreements between Ditko and the publisher.

The New York Times assessed in 2008 that, "By the '70s he was regarded as a slightly old-fashioned odd-ball; by the '80s he was a commercial has-been, picking up wretched work-for-hire gigs. ...following the example of Rand's John Galt, Ditko hacked out money­making work, saving his care for the crabbed Objectivist screeds he published with tiny presses. And boy, could Ditko hack: seeing samples of his Transformers coloring book and his Big Boy comic is like hearing Orson Welles sell frozen peas."

Ditko retired from mainstream comics in 1998. His later work for Marvel and DC included established superheroes as the Sub-Mariner and newer, licensed characters such as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The last mainstream character he created was Marvel's Longarm in Shadows & Light #1 , in a self-inked, 12-page Iron Man story "A Man's Reach....", scripted by Len Wein. His final mainstream work was a five-page New Gods story for DC, "Infinitely Gentle Infinitely Suffering", inked by Mick Gray and believed to be intended for the 2000–2002 Orion series but not published until the 2008 trade paperback Tales of the New Gods.

Since then, Ditko's solo work has been published intermittently by Snyder, who was his editor at Charlton, Archie Comics, and Renegade Press in the 1980s. The Snyder publications have included a number of original books as well as reprints such as Static, The Missing Man, The Mocker and, in 2002, Avenging World, a collection of stories and essays spanning 30 years.

In 2008, Ditko and Snyder released The Avenging Mind, a 32-page essay publication featuring several pages of new artwork; and Ditko, Etc..., a 32-page comic book composed of brief vignettes and editorial cartoons, introducing such new characters as the Hero. In January 2009 Ditko Continued was released, featuring, amongst other material, the first part of a new Mr. A story, followed by Oh, No! Not Again, Ditko!, Ditko Once More, Ditko Presents, A Ditko Act Two, A Ditko Act 3 and Act 4 in the same format. In late 2009, Ditko and Snyder published a reprint of the 1973 Mr. A comic.

Two "lost" stories drawn by Ditko in 1978 have been published by DC in hardcover collections of the artist's work. A Creeper story scheduled for the never published Showcase #106 appears in The Creeper by Steve Ditko and an unpublished Shade, the Changing Man story appears in The Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 1 .

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