Saturday, November 2, 2013

THE ELUSIVE MR. DITKO

Today is the 86th birthday of one of most influential artists in the history of comics, Steve Ditko:  the visionary creator who pushed, some might say shattered, the boundaries of 60's mainstream comics with his work on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.  I can't think of another artist of the era—aside from the King of all boundary-shatterers, Jack Kirby—whose work was more revolutionary and influential.

Ditko illustrated a couple of my early stories—including a Legion of Super Heroes issue that's considered one of the worst Legion tales of all time (my fault, not Steve's!)—back when I was starting out at DC Comics, and one day, when I wandered into the office of editor Jack C. Harris, there he was, the legend himself: an unassuming middle-aged man, dropping off his latest batch of pages.  Ditko is notoriously reclusive, the J.D. Salinger of comic books, so I was delighted—and perhaps a bit awed—to be standing in the same room with him, making (very) small talk.

Now imagine my excitement when I discovered that Ditko was leaving the office at the same time I was.  We hopped in the elevator, walked out of the building together, and headed off, side-by-side, in the same direction.  We talked a little (perhaps about the story we'd just worked on, I can't say for sure) and the twelve year old inside me was doing cartwheels.  Me and Steve Ditko, strolling down the avenue and chatting?  By the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, I was in Comic Book Heaven.

I didn't stay there long.

We'd gone, perhaps, half a block, when I said something to the effect of, "So...ah...do you ever think you'll go back and draw Spider-Man again?"  In my defense, I don't think I realized that the subject of Spidey, of Ditko's Marvel work in general, was verboten—but I found out soon enough:  Within seconds of opening my ignorant mouth, Ditko wished me a good day, crossed the street and vanished into the crowd.  I felt like an idiot, but a lucky one:  I'd had my moment, however brief, with the elusive legend.  And, all these years later, I still treasure it.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Ditko—and thanks for all the brilliant work. 

©copyright 2013 J.M. DeMatteis

8 comments:

  1. The equivalent of a mic drop! Good going, young DeMatteis!

    (Great story, by the way). Yes, Steve Ditko is one of the shining stars of comics. Nuff said!

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    1. Thanks, Javier! Ditko is indeed a shining start: absolutely one of a kind. There's never been anyone else like him.

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  2. Dear, J.M.,
    As a great (brazilian) fan of your work and Ditko's, I can only thank you for sharing this nice story.

    Cheers.

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    1. My pleasure, André! Glad you enjoyed it!

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  3. Funny, I would think that a young Dematteis would ask about him returning to ol' Doc Strange.

    It's interesting though, for someone who was so interested in Ayn Rand, he never seemed all that comfortable with the business side of comics.

    I do very much respect Ditko's reclusiveness. I can certainly understand were he is coming from, however it seems in recent years he has expanded his views. I gut who lives in Pennsylvania once said he was invited to talk to Ditko, the catch is that he could not mention comics. Any comics.

    Ditko is an original. He is talented. He is a weirdo, but that is absolutely a compliment. And in a world were so many seem to crave fame, it is good o know a man can stick to his guns. Lets up that he isn't the last of that breed, though maybe dialed down a bit.

    Jack

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    1. Absolutely a unique talent, and a unique man, Jack. Don't know why I didn't ask about Doc Strange; Spidey was the first thing that popped into my head.

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  4. Ditko is certainly one of the true, genuine geniuses of the comic book field. It's really cool that you got to work with him on a couple of occasions early on in your career. I just wish that you'd had a subsequent opportunity to collaborate with Ditko later on in your own career, after you had honed your craft. I can only imagine how awesome it would have been if he had illustrated some of your Spectre stories.

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    1. Very early in my career, Benjamin, I got to work with talents like Ditko, Gene Colan, John Buscema, Don Heck—and I would have loved to have written better stories for ALL of them. I was young, I was new, I was learning, but I had so far to go before I could even get close to mastering my craft. That said, I'm so very grateful that I had the opportunity to work with these men whose work nurtured and inspired me while I was growing up. What an honor!

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