Your Friendly Neighborhood Doctor Ditko
To lovers of the medium, there are only two figures whose mystique surrounding them is as enduring as the legacy of their creations; we’re here to talk about one of them. Steve Ditko, the legendary artist that gave the world characters like Peter Parker and Stephen Strange, has for the most part successfully lived a life away from the public eye ever since he left Marvel in the 1970’s. Now, we could all spend our time trying to speculate the exact reason for his departure, but that won’t get us anywhere. We could, however, tell you that it’s now common knowledge that one – again, not the singular motivation – of the reasons is that the immensely talented illustrator decided to leave the publisher was because of the company’s failure to give him the proper credit and compensation for his contributions; it’s one of those sad truths that have, and still to this day, permeates the whole industry. And, as with Jack Kirby, he has Stan Lee in part to claim responsibility for this.
We know, we know. And this is more than likely to be an unpopular opinion, but it’s true nonetheless: Stan Lee isn’t really that jovial, divine figure whose feet every fanboy kisses. Like it or not, Smiling Stan isn’t pure; he has some degree of responsibility in the maltreatment of artists (particularly when it came to creator credits) during the House of Ideas. In any case, he’s a figure who is as important to the medium as the artists he scripted for, and we’ll give him that.
Now, let’s go back to Steve Ditko, the man whose skill and mastery of the medium more than compensates for his less than prolific output compared to his contemporaries. Despite this, though, the work he put out is on par with the greatest creations in all of comics. Whereas Jack Kirby has a whole shelf of lasting characters in the mainstream, the reclusive and mysterious Ditko primarily has two: Spider-man and Doctor Strange. That is not to say, though, that those are all the ones his talented hand ever graced; we’re simply talking about the ones that are most visible. In truth, he’s also made leaps in bounds for Marvel’s rival publisher, DC Comics, after he left the former. There, he would go on to draw characters that may not be as popular as the web head and the Sorcerer Supreme but are no less enduring, such as the Creeper and Shade the Changing Man, among others.
Perhaps one of the reasons that make Steve Ditko such a distinct figure in comics is how he was able to separate his very style from that of his peers. With Jack Kirby, you have these illustrations that emanate power and energy, not to mention that the poses his characters take on always tend to show the reader this sense of cosmic grandeur. Ditko, on the other hand, tended to lean more toward a grounded place where characters don’t necessarily have to look idealized or classically handsome or beautiful. Apart from that, his work exudes a vibe that’s less cosmic like Kirby’s than it is otherworldly, like it’s ripped straight from the human subconscious.
So, before we go, wherever you are and whatever you might be doing right now, Steve, we just want to thank you for all you’ve given the world.