Some Thoughts About Steve Ditko On His Birthday

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Today is the birthday of the late comic book artist Steve Ditko, the co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. (You will be no doubt shocked to discover that he never saw anywhere near the financial compensation he deserved for such a contribution to the world.)

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I’m not really ready to write up a decent overview of Ditko’s work, which impacted a massive who’s-who of classic superheroes from The Creeper to Captain Atom to The Question to Shade the Changing Man to Blue Beetle…but rather to just share a few personal thoughts on the man and how he chose to run his career. (Might I also quickly add that I always preferred his take on the Hulk to Jack Kirby’s, because I felt he infused the character and situations with a bit more interesting humor and drama.)

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After his mainstream comic career was over, Ditko split his career between two things: his commercial work, and his personal work. And his personal work was essentially writing & illustrating comic books based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand—which, as you can quite imagine, made him quite popular.

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the “acceptable,” goofy “Marvel Bullpen” Ditko
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the “unacceptable,” creepy Objectivist Weirdo Ditko

Ditko had a reputation in some circles of being somewhat of a crank and a kook, based quite a bit on his Rand obsession. I always respected him, however, for not only taking his own path, but consistently maintaining a “mundane” career to keep himself afloat. He’d draw children’s books based on toy lines and comics starring WWE wrestlers; before he had created Spider-Man, he had even collaborated with underground fetish artist Eric Stanton (with whom he shared a studio) on a number of adult publications.

(Let me add here, as just a footnote, that even cursory research regarding Ditko’s work with Stanton—and the possibility that the latter made key uncredited contributions to the classic Marvel work of the former—leads to a YUGE rabbit-hole that is grist for another day’s post.)

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It was OK for him to work on these types of jobs: because they were just jobs. They weren’t anything representing him as a person, the real him. (Though for all I know, maybe he really was into the fetish stuff.)

When my bosses sent me across town to hand-deliver a Batman script to Ditko many years ago, I caught a fleeting glimpse of his face through the 3 inches of office door he opened to slip his hand through. Later that day, he called to say that he had to turn down the assignment, because it involved the supernatural and that went against his Objectivist beliefs. (Yes, this is the same guy who co-created Dr. Strange!)

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He wasn’t going to take a job that wasn’t strictly “commercial” (it was for an “artsy” publication celebrating old-time artists and writers) if it was going to not present him and his beliefs in an authentic manner. His Work and Personal worlds had to stay separate.

And I was thinking about this a lot today because I largely feel the same way. I love taking on “commercial” assignments; because I know what’s expected of me, and I just do it. It’s not like being hired to be “myself” and then being told “be less yourself,” you know what I mean?

Anyway,  I’ve always loved this Ditko panel (happy birthday, Steve):

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