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