Toward the end of his life, it became somewhat common practice to post a picture of his door. It was an otherwise unremarkable thing, with a mail slot and a metal plate at the bottom. Up top, a large plate read simply, “S. Ditko.”
Most wouldn’t venture beyond that, respectful of not disturbing the legendary cartoonist who’d become something akin to a comic book version of J.D Salinger, or maybe Thomas Pynchon. Those who did invariably had entertaining stories of the great — if somewhat salty — man who co-created such legendary comics characters as Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.
This one from Fantagraphics publisher Eric Reynolds is a delightfully mixed bag:
Either character would have been enough to cement his place in the comic book hall of fame, but Ditko’s list stretched much longer, including key figures in the Marvel universe.
As noted, nearly all of the above were credited to both Ditko and Stan Lee. His early Code work deserves closer examination, as well. It was, at turns, unblinkingly terrifying and bizarre, the kind of vibrant work one could have only created free from the sanitizing force of the Comics Code.
Most of his best known work dates back to the 1960s, but Steve Ditko made comics until the end, even as he sat out of the Hollywood blitzes from film franchises built around his creations. Ditko declined interviews, content to work on his books in private. He seemed to take pride in creating above all else.
After decades of working with the biggest publishing houses in comics, Marvel and DC, the artist self-published his own black and white books. One in particular, Mr. A, stuck with him the longest. The character, which dates back to the late-60s, appeared throughout the decades, directly reflecting the Randian Objectivist philosophy that also pervaded DC creations like Hawk and Dove.
Regardless of philosophical bent, however, Ditko’s work was, above all, uncompromisingly original. It was vibrant and off-kilter, sometimes horrifying, sometime psychedelic and always, unfailingly, well, strange. He was a bonafide, brilliant weirdo in world of superhero comics that could use a lot more of that these days.
The artist was found dead in his New York apartment on June 29. He was believed to have passed away two days prior. He was 90.