New York City police announced today that Steve Ditko, one of the comic book medium’s preeminent creators, died on June 27th.
His body was found in his apartment two days later.
Best known for co-creating the Amazing Spider-Man with Stan Lee for Marvel Comics, Steve also created or co-created Doctor Strange, The Creeper, Captain Atom, The Question, The Destructor, Mr. A, Shade The Changing Man, the Hawk and the Dove, The Stalker, Static and many others, and drew such other characters as The Blue Beetle, The Hulk, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, The Micronauts, Tiger-Man, Warp, the Paul Levitz-written version of Starman, Machine Man, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Speedball, and countless science-fiction and horror stories for a number of publishers including Warren Magazines, DC Comics and Marvel.
A bold and unique artist – nobody drew like Steve Ditko – and one of the truly great storytellers, Steve was trained by legendary artists Jerry Robinson and Mort Meskin. One of his first published works was in Harvey Comics’ Captain 3-D, where he assisted Meskin on inking Jack Kirby’s pencils. Ditko would ink Kirby many times in the next several decades.
Publicly, his reputation of being a hardline Objectivist overshadowed his clever sense of humor. For example, one day in the mid-1970s I asked Steve if his creation The Question was at all influenced by the classic Dick Tracy villain The Blank. Steve proceeded to give me every detail of that story, and it was one of the longer Tracy continuities at that. He even remembered The Blank’s secret identity, Frank Redrum, which, he pointed out, was “murder” spelled backwards.
Then Steve looked me straight in the eye with a kind and gentle half-smile and said “No, that didn’t influence me at all!”
Ditko also earned a reputation as a practical joker when he was on staff at Charlton Comics, according to then-editor Dick Giordano and art director Frank McLaughlin.
My favorite Steve Ditko tale also was told to me by Steve himself, at the prompting of his frequent-collaborator Jack C. Harris. When he was commissioned to revive The Creeper for DC’s 1st Issue Special, he was given a cover layout by publisher Carmine Infantino. He did not like following other people’s designs and he implied he didn’t think much of Carmine’s layout. But he dutifully followed it: a downshot of The Creeper fighting Firefly in the air over a great metropolitan city. If you looked past the two characters, you would see the street and its sidewalk and curb. If you looked a little bit harder, you saw a small fire hydrant alongside the curb – and a tiny dog with one leg lifted. There was a small pool of liquid outlined next to the hydrant, dripping over the curb.
If you saw it, my guess is that Publisher Infantino did not.
I was privileged to dine with Steve many times, and always found him to be charming and informative. Of course, we did not talk politics. Regrettably, I only worked with him on three stories over at First Comics, written by our mutual friend Jack C. Harris.
I am honored to have had the experience.