AKA Stephen John Ditko
Birthplace: Johnstown, PA
Location of death: Manhattan, NY
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Race or Ethnicity: White
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Drew Spider-Man like nobody else has or can
Military service: US Army
When the subject is Spider-Man, Stan Lee gets most of the attention, but the webbed one didn't pop out of Lee's head fully formed and uniformed. Steve Ditko is the artist who first drew the webbed warrior, and Lee and Ditko crafted the character's character -- anxiety, angst and troubled social life -- together, in long collaborative conversations.
Ditko studied art at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City, and started his career at Charlton Comics, where he drew horror, mystery, and science fiction series with violence that would never pass muster with today's Comics Code Authority. His work is easily identifiable by his characters' dynamic poses, realistically expressive faces and hands, and natural shadowplay.
Through his long career Ditko primarily worked worked for Marvel, DC Comics, and Charlton. He was also briefly with Eclipse Comics, Red Circle Comics, Topps Comics, and Fantagraphics. Repeatedly, though, Ditko came back to Charlton. Charlton (which no longer exists) was considered an "inferior" house, because its comics were printed on cheap paper, and it paid its staff less than competitors. But Charlton was also cheap when it came to middle management -- and for Ditko, that was a good thing. It meant he could work the way he wanted to work, with minimal supervision, and that means you'll find some of Ditko's best work under the Charlton label.
Ditko also created Dr. Strange, master of the mystic and martial arts. Strange, once a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon, now wears a cloak of levitation which allows him to fly, and uses the Eye of Agamotto to read minds and see through illusions. Dr. Strange and the characters which revolve around him are, to put it mildly, unique and bizarre.
After creating Spider-Man with Lee, Ditko worked on Spidey for four years, then suddenly quit Marvel. Ditko has never explained why he left, and while Spider-Man has only grown more popular, some would argue that creatively the series has been better than under Ditko's hand.
After leaving Marvel, Ditko again resurfaced at Charlton, where he revived Captain Atom and created the Blue Beetle and its backup feature, "The Question". In the late 1960s, Ditko worked for DC Comics, where he created The Creeper, and another noteworthy feature, Hawk and Dove. H&D presented violence and pacifism as two boys' character traits, with guidance from their wise father, a judge. It sounds sorta preachy, and it was, but coming from a major publishing house at the height of the Vietnam war, it was a gutsy series.
In the 1970s, Ditko wrote and illustrated several comic books that were plotted around the concepts of "objectivism", as espoused by author/philosopher Ayn Rand. Ditko's objectivist titles include Avenging World, The Question, and Mr. A. When the professional publishing houses showed no interest in his more political work, Ditko sold them to smaller publishers or released them directly to fanzines.
For years, Ditko and Lee were not on speaking terms. Ditko believed Lee was claiming too much credit for the creation of Spider-Man, and if you've ever read an interview with Lee, you might agree. The feud ended with a handshake as the first Spider-Man movie came toward fruition.
Ditko has been called the "J. D. Salinger of comics". He attended one comics convention in New York City in 1964, but in recent decades he's sat still for very, very few interviews, profiles, or public appearances. Ditko says he prefers to let his work speak for itself, and the work does speak loudly.
Father: Stephen Ditko (carpenter)
Sister: Anna Marie
High School: Johnstown High School, Johnstown, PA (1945)
Conservatory: Cartoonist and Illustrator School, New York City
Risk Factors: Tuberculosis
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