The comic book world is reeling from the news that Steve Ditko—genius, visionary, giant of the industry—has passed away. What Ditko, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created in the 1960s was the foundation not just of the Marvel Universe but of a good part of our current popular culture. And of course Ditko’s contributions to DC Comics—Hawk and Dove, Shade The Changing Man and the Creeper, to name three—still have vitality and importance today.
I worked with Ditko twice in my early days at DC, the first time on the short story “The Dimensions of Greed,” which appeared in the science-fiction anthology Time Warp. (Could a writer new to comics ask for anything more? I knew I was lucky then, I know it more now.) I’ve often wondered where the surreal visual language Ditko created—on display in the “Greed” page below and at its peak during his extraordinary run on the Doctor Strange feature in Strange Tales—came from. Comics had never seen anything like it and we’ve all been echoing that work ever since. (One of the most overused words in my scripts is “Ditkoesque.” The other, unsurprisingly, is “Kirbyesque.”) It’s no wonder folks in the 60s thought Stan and Steve were dropping acid!
Without Steve Ditko there would be no Ted Kord, which means no Blue Beetle and Booster Gold anchoring JLI. Without Steve Ditko there would be no Kraven the Hunter, which means no Kraven’s Last Hunt.
We build our careers on the backs of giants.
Rest well, Mr. Ditko.
Addendum: I’ve shared this before, but here’s the story of the one and only time I met Steve Ditko:
Steve Ditko was 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.
©copyright 2018 J.M. DeMatteis