I’ve spent the last hour surfing the Web like a fiend because I didn’t want to fall for yet another Internet Death Hoax. When it comes to dead celebrities, I seem to be infinitely gullible.
When I saw that Steve Ditko had passed away, it didn’t surprise me. The same way it wouldn’t surprise me to read the same thing about Stan Lee. These guys are old now, and most of their contemporaries are deceased. As far as I know, Stan Lee is still among the living. Sadly, however, it appears that Steve Ditko passed away a week ago, on or around June 29th.
I haven’t seen an official cause of death, yet. I’m not sure that’s even necessary. I doubt it was a zipline accident or a heroin overdose.
In my title to this piece, I said Ditko was the “visual” creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, mainly because Stan Lee is always listed as the co-creator, as the writer. I love Stan, but it was always apparent to me that Ditko was the driving creative force behind both of these successful Marvel characters. His weird visual storytelling style permeated all of those early stories. And, frankly, there was always a creepy undercurrent to whatever project Ditko was involved in, whether at Marvel, DC, Charlton, or elsewhere.
Like the late Jack “King” Kirby, Steve Ditko is one of the giants in the world of superhero comics to me and to countless others. Aside from Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, characters created or co-created by Ditko include Creeper, Hawk and Dove, Captain Atom, Mr. A, The Question, Shade the Changing Man, Starman, and Squirrel Girl. This list doesn’t include all of the memorable villains and side characters he was involved in creating, from J. Jonah Jameson and Aunt May, to the Dread Dormammu, Eternity and Mysterio.
Among my pantheon of all-time favorite comic book artists, Ditko is easily in the Top 10. Today, if I were asked, I’d even give him Top 2, edged out just barely by Kirby. Ditko’s style was always a bit softer and more cartoony than Kirby’s blocky, dynamic work. This difference was most evident to me when Ditko took over the artist duties on Machine Man after Kirby left the title. The fact that two such dissimilar artists rank so high on my list surprises me a little. It’s that hard-to-define factor in Ditko’s work, that underlying weirdness, that creepiness, that strangeness, that makes him memorable.
By all accounts, Ditko took some of that weirdness home with him as well. He was a reclusive J.D. Salinger-type, apparently, who shunned interviews, awards and the limelight. He was reported to be a follower of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, which is reflected in some of his creations, including Mr. A and The Question.
Very little is revealed about Ditko’s personal life on-line. It is assumed that he never married or fathered any children, but even that isn’t a certainty in what I’ve read.
The artist preferred to let his work speak for itself. It did. It still does, and will continue to do so, I’m sure.
Today, I pay tribute to the man and his work. And offer my gratitude.