Steve Ditko (American, 1927-2018)
Also known as: Stephen Ditko; Ditko, Stephen; Stephen J. Ditko; Ditko, Stephen J.Birth Place: Johnstown, PA
Steve Ditko (American 1927-2018) was an iconic comic book artist and writer. He was most well-known for co-creating Spider-Man and Doctor Strange at Marvel Comics. Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and Stan Lee were a comic super-team that heavily influenced the Silver Age of comic books. During his incredible career, he was responsible for creating and co-creating a plethora of eccentric superheroes for multiple different countries. He was a creative powerhouse as well as a gifted technician when orchestrating subtle emotions in the many panels he was a part of.
Even though he is generally regarded as one of the best artists in the comic industry, Ditko was a very reserved individual, and because of this, little is known about the man behind the pen. Stephen J. Ditko was born on November 2, 1927 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania to a talented carpenter and a stay-at-home mother. Early on, Ditko showed interest in comics by reading the daily comic strips in the newspaper, as well as developing a love for Batman comic books and Eisner’s The Spirit. He joined the military in 1945, and was assigned to help in postwar Germany. During his service Ditko drew comics for the army newspaper.
After his discharge, Ditko enrolled at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City with the hopes of learning from the artist behind Batman, Jerry Robinson. Robinson described Ditko as a hard-working student who worked well with others. In 1953, Steve Ditko began his professional career, when he drew for Bruce Hamilton’s Stretchy Things, which was later published in Fantastic Fears #5. Ditko’s first published work was the first issue of Key Publications’ comic book, Daring Love. During this time, Ditko had his hand in fantasy, romance, and westerns, no genre was off limits. In 1954, Steve left Crestwood Studios, beginning his successful collaboration with Charlton Comics. At Charlton, Ditko worked on horror and fantasy titles, such as Strange Suspense Stories, The Thing, and Unusual Tales.
In 1956, Steve Ditko began working with Stan Lee at Atlas, but he didn’t start doing a lot of work with the company until 1959. Here at Atlas, he became an established writer/artist on huge titles, including Journey into Mystery, Mystery Tales, Tales of Suspense, and Tales to Astonish. It was during this time that Ditko and Lee created the web-slinging high-schooler from Queens, Spider-Man, in the final issue of Amazing Fantasy. Jack Kirby was initially supposed to draw Spider-Man, but Ditko was given the reigns by Lee. Steve Ditko did a re-work of the character, and made the Spider-Man that we know and love today. In fact, he was so passionate about Spidey’s story that he demanded writing credits, which he received from issue #25 until he left Marvel in 1966, but this wasn’t Ditko’s only monumental comic creation.
In the summer of 1963, Strange Tales #110 featured the sorceror, Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange, which would become Ditko’s second most beloved co-creation. During a 17-issue story arc, Strange Tales #130-146, Ditko and Lee took Strange into an abstract and psychedelic realm. It was during this time that the character Eternity was created, which challenged the accepted view of reality. Doctor Strange also challenged what it meant to be a superhero. The character was extremely unique and surreal, and the wizard quickly became a huge hit with college students. Regrettably, Ditko’s creation of Doctor Strange is often overshadowed by Spider-Man, but this creation highlights his creative ability.
Once Ditko’s time with Marvel came to an end, he could pursue more illustrious undertakings with more artistic freedom at Charlton. He returned to Captain Atom and was also in charge of rebooting Blue Beetle, the popular golden age title. He also began doing supernatural titles again, including Ghostly Tales, Ghost Manor, and Haunted. It was during this period in the late ‘60s that he created even more idiosyncratic characters, such as Mr. A and The Question. He was influenced by Ayn Rand’s Objectivism philosophy, which called into question the theory of good vs. evil. He also bounced around from Dell Comics, Tower Comics, and DC Comics. Ditko’s first creation for DC was The Creeper, an eccentric superhero with weaponized laughter. He followed this creation up with the duo Hawk and Dove, which symbolized the internal American conflict regarding the Vietnam war.
In the ‘70s, Ditko focused on morality and other philosophical questions. He worked for smaller comic book publishers and was considered by many to be a peculiar individual in the mainstream comic industry. He was a part of unique titles, such as The Destructor series, The Avenging World, and Tiger-Man.
The artist came back to mainstream comics in the mid ‘70s with the series Stalker and Shade the Changing Man, which were both published by DC. During this time, he did some stories for House of Mystery, Detective Comics, and The Legion of Super-Heroes. Ditko also returned to Marvel in 1979 to do freelancing work, which he would do until 1998. His work in the 1980s and 1990s typically revolved around toy lines, movies, and TV series. These titles include Transformers, Micronauts, and The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones. In addition to his mainstream work during these two decades, Ditko continued doing independent work for smaller publishers, such as Pacific Comics and Columbia Comics.
After his mainstream career ended in 1998, Ditko continued to publish small press comic books. In place of interviews, he released essays to share his views and experiences. For example, he released an essay where it claimed that it wasn’t just Stan Lee that created Spider-Man, but that it was co-created by both him and Lee. In response, Lee announced that Ditko did in fact help create the Amazing Spider-Man.
Ditko’s career is beloved by almost everyone in the industry, and he is viewed as a key influencer to the younger comic book artists and writers. Steve Ditko has received several awards to verify his distinguished career. On top of winning eight Alley Awards from 1962-1965, he was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1990, as well as the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 1994.
Steve Ditko passed away on June 29, 2018, but his legacy continues to impact the entire comic book industry.
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