Friday, July 6, 2018

Steve Ditko - the Passing of a Titan

   The death of Steve Ditko at the age of 90 was confirmed today, and it's sad news for any fan of comics.

   A unique figure in comics, Ditko hated the limelight and preferred to let his work speak for him - and it made his point loud and clear.

   He worked virtually his entire life in the industry, working for almost every company and in almost every genre. 

   But it was his work at Marvel Comics with Stan Lee that marked him as one of the industry's all-time greats. After years of creating clever and visually stunning mystery / science fiction / fantasy shorts for Marvel's "monster" comics, Ditko teamed with Lee to create a unique superhero and changed the industry. 

   That character was Spider-Man, and it was perfectly suited to Ditko's quirky, down-to-Earth style. If Jack Kirby's art had the impact of a hammer, Ditko's was all about finesse, combining acrobatic action, lots of humor, clever plot twists and a surprising amount of heart.

   Spider-Man became a phenomenon, and it also became a great showcase for Ditko's writing ability. By issue 25, Ditko was credited with the plot (the first artist to get such a credit), and he continued to mold the character until his sudden departure with issue 38.

   At the same time, he created Dr. Strange (Lee stated at one point that the character was Ditko's idea, though it obviously benefitted from Lee's scripting - and owed a bit to Lee and Kirby's short-lived Dr. Druid). It was an amazing, surreal and psychedelic creation by an artist rooted firmly in the real world.

   And then, at the height of his success, Ditko left Marvel for reasons no one seems to understand (though there are lots of theories, of course). But he never stopped working.

   At Charlton, he worked on heroes such as Captain Atom, Blue Beetle and the Question. At DC he created Hawk and Dove and the Creeper. He drew adventures for Thunder Agents and horror tales for Warren and on and on.

   He created another distinctive creation, Mr. A, an unusual hero who preached an Ayn Rand-inspired philosophy, focusing on good vs. evil with no gray area allowed in between.

   I still think his finest work was Shade, the Changing Man for DC - but before it could catch on, it was washed away (along with his Odd Man) in the DC Implosion.

   He even returned to Marvel to draw the adventures of ROM and Machine Man (among many others), but refused to draw Spider-Man or Dr. Strange again.

   As he continued into his senior years, Ditko mostly worked on self-published projects - but while he apparently refused to take part in the modern movies based on his characters, he was adamant that he should be considered the co-creator on those heroes, and was quick to pipe up with a reporter neglected to provide proper credit.

   Everyone has their own "Mount Rushmore" of great artists who should be honored, and Ditko is on mine, next to Kirby, Will Eisner, and whoever the fourth artist might be (I'm still debating on that one - Wood? Kane? Toth? Kubert? Anderson? It's a tough call.)

   For his staggering body of work, for his amazing artistic skill - a completely unique and stunning style - and for his contributions to raising the level of storytelling in comics, Ditko deserves to be honored as one of the industry's all-time greats. 

   We may never see his like again.




Disneymarvel said...

Beautifully written tribute! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Maybe the 4th spot on your "Mount Rushmore" should be left open and rotating. All the names you mention are worthy of inclusion!

Sam Kujava

Kevin Findley said...

Mt. Rushmore is impossible, you need to use a Round Table of Artists. Then another one each for colorists, writers, etc.

Chuck said...

Yeah, my choice for the fourth spot changes from day to day. And yes, there'd have to be a separate one for writers, inkers, colorists and editors - and maybe one for writer/artists! So much talent out there to choose from!

Dwayne Takeda said...

Neil Adams. Besides his art which was revolutionary in the early 70's, his work getting credit / money for Shuster and Siegel changed the industry in so many positive ways. Just my humble opinion.