Steve Ditko was one the Silver Age’s Holy Trinity. A man who, along with Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, utterly transformed the entire genre of superhero comics which in turn have become such a bedrock of the new global culture.
Born in Pennsylvania, Ditko studied his craft under legendary Batman artist Jerry Robinson, before working under Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
While his work lacked the polish, bombast and classicism of his Kirby, Ditko excelled in body language and naturalism and had a peerless skill in crafting visually memorable characters. His Spider-Man is a masterpiece of eye-catching, instantly iconic design. But Ditko’s contributions were by no means purely visual. Ditko, who made his bones in romance comics, understood that it was the man (or boy, really) behind the mask that made Peter Parker so compelling and pushed for the inclusion of the many soap-opera elements of the book, often over the wishes of Stan Lee who would berate his artist to get Peter into the costume and throwing punches as quickly as possible. To get around this, Ditko created the classic “Spider-Sense Half Face” where Peter’s Spider-Sense was visually represented by half of his face becoming his Spider-Man mask, a cheeky way of meeting Stan’s imposed quotas for number of panels where he was in costume. It is largely thanks to Ditko that Spider-Man has arguably the greatest supporting cast in all of comics, with even supporting players like J. Jonah Jameson, Mary Jane and Aunt May being household names, something very few superheroes can boast.
Although any assessment of Ditko’s life must begin with his seminal run on Spider-Man, that was neither the beginning nor the end of his output. Ditko worked for virtually every major American comic publisher, creating characters like the Creeper for DC and the Question for Charlston comics, a character that continued Ditko’s winning streak of stunningly original, unforgettable designs. Ditko’s admiration for Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand often led him to use characters like the Question as mouth-pieces for his beliefs, which memorably led to Alan Moore’s savage satire of the Question in Watchmen, where the Question’s analogue, Rorschach, is a mentally disturbed itinerant fascist.
Always shy, in his later years he became the Salinger of the comics world, retreating into virtual isolation and refusing any interviews, saying that his work spoke for him. It did that.
He was found dead in his apartment on June 29, and it is believed he died of a heart attack two days earlier. He leaves behind one of the most significant legacies in the history of the comic book medium, and quite possibly literature as a whole.
And of course, that’s not even mentioning his greatest creation, Squirrel Girl.