Steve Ditko. Wow. It’s hard to process. I only ever met the man once, during my editorial tenure at DC Comics, but I was first introduced to the creator Steve Ditko in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange in the early 1960s. His art was revelatory to a young reader like me more accustomed to the tamer stylings of Curt Swan, Wayne Boring, and John Forte. Ditko took what I thought of as comic book art and twisted it in startling and amazing ways, creating an entirely new way (in my experience) of portraying action and emotion. I was hooked, especially on his originating run on Dr. Strange in Strange Tales.
In 1975, one of the first few scripts I sold to Charlton Comics, a 7-page horror story, “Sleep of Ages” was drawn by Steve Ditko. The odds of his being given one of my scripts was, in retrospect, pretty high; there was probably a Ditko story in practically every issue of every horror title they published in those days, but when I opened the pages of Ghostly Haunts #52 (which cover featured the story with a painted cover by Pat Boyette) and saw the name “Steve Ditko” lettered in the credit box beneath my name, my heart skipped a beat and I still remember the rush I got seeing it. I was waiting at the bus stop right outside the candy store where I’d just purchased the issue for the Nostrand Avenue bus to go to classes at Brooklyn College. (You’ll find “Sleep of Ages” below, at the end of the post.) 
Five years later, I scripted an 8-page back up that Steve would end up pencilling (inked by Dave Hunt) for The Legion of Super-Heroes #267. Another rush. Another brush with this legendary artist.
In the late-1990s, as editor of the New Gods title at DC, Mark Millar pitched me a 5-page back-up story, “Infinitely Gentle, Infinitely Suffering; A Tale of DeSaad.” It was a tidy little story and I happily accepted it. Mark had one request: Did he think I could get Steve Ditko to draw it? The answer to that sort of question was always, “Don’t know if I can get him, but I can certainly ask him!”
So I picked up the phone and dialed. Several blocks away in his studio, Steve answered. I introduced myself, told him it was a 5-pager that featured Jack Kirby’s New God characters, and asked if he might be interested in drawing it.
“The New Gods?” he said. “Okay.”
I told him I would send out the script and paper to him, but he told me not to bother. He was just a few blocks away and could come by and pick it up. Would tomorrow be alright?
Tomorrow came and so did Ditko. It was summer and he was wearing an untucked lightweight short sleeve shirt, slacks, and a trilby hat. I brought him into my office, sat him down in my guest chair and in about two minutes, covered the basics of the assignment, gave him the reference on the characters, and had him sign a voucher. He was all business, very pleasant and relaxed, but no small talk.
Still, I was and am a fan at heart, but seeing that he had a bit of a wall up and knowing his reputation as someone who didn’t like to revisit the past, I tried to keep my inner fan at bay. But once the business was finished, I couldn’t help but say, casually, “I doubt you’d remember it, but you drew one of my stories at Charlton, one of my very earliest, in fact.”
A pleasant but non-committal smile appeared, “Did I?”
I will confess, I had a Sharpie and a copy of Ghostly Haunts #52 in my desk drawer, ready to be whipped out for a quick Ditko signature, but the tone of his “Did I?” stopped me cold.
“Yes,” I said, retreating from my fannishness. “I always thought it was a beautiful job.”
He smiled again and changed the subject, “It should be interesting to draw Jack’s characters.”
And that was it. Two weeks later, he dropped the pages off with the receptionist. They were, of course, spot on. The characters were clearly Kirby’s creations but drawn with that unmistakeable Ditko flair, and there was nothing to do but have it lettered and inked. The story (inked by Mick Gray) would finally see print in the 2008’s Tales of the New Gods trade paperback.
It would have been fascinating to spend even a few minutes talking comic books with a master of the form like Steve Ditko, but he believed that the art and not the artist should take the spotlight and speak for itself, leaving creators free to create, what they wanted and how they wanted.
And now, since he never made appearances or gave interviews, his work is all we have left. Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, The Creeper, The Question, Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Hawk and Dove, Shade the Changing Man, Mr. A…the list goes on, not to mention the many, many hundreds of short stories drawn for Charlton, Marvel, and others. Fortunately, it’s a body of work that speaks loudly and clearly about who created it. We’ll still be listening to Steve Ditko, on his own terms, for generations to come.

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1 Comment on Steve Ditko (1927-2018)

  1. Rolando Rodriguez says:

    Steve Ditko was the best, I’m still in shock and mourning, somehow I thought he’d be with us forever, and in a way he us, through his countless characters, stories and art. R.I.P. Steve Ditko, you will be sorely missed.

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