I am sorry to report our loss of the great Steve Ditko, one of the most talented and original storytellers in comics.
When I was first exposed to Ditko’s art, I didn’t like it. I was a dumb teen who was much more used to and admiring of the slickness of my DC Comics art heroes, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and my favorite inker of their work, Murphy Anderson. Steve’s work seemed really cartoony in comparison.
It didn’t take long for me to change my mind. The quality of his work on Spiderman improved exponentially (more importantly, I got used to Ditko’s unique style). And then he started drawing Doctor Strange. Steve used a very standard panel grid for his Marvel superheroes work. But within those plain squares and rectangles Ditko produced for Doctor Strange, a fully-realized exotic netherworld lived and breathed. It was as though Ditko was able to tap directly into his own spinal cord to create a world weirder than anything else that has ever been drawn for comics. I don’t think any subsequent Doctor Strange artist came even close to matching the eldritch nature of Ditko’s work, no matter what they did with the shape of the panel borders.
In 1972 Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder asked me to venture back east to assist them on “Little Annie Fanny” for Playboy. It was my first time in New York. On the very day of my arrival, the first thing I did was to walk into a phone booth and look up Steve Ditko in the telephone directory (something I don’t think you can do anymore — are there still phone booths in New York? If so, do they still have attached phone books?).
I found him. It read “Ditko, Steve – Artist”.
I didn’t have the huevos to call him. I was just simply thrilled and gratified to see published proof of his existence in the very city I was standing in.
I continued to follow his work, both in the past and in the future to that moment. I was crazy about his Amazing Adult Fantasy comic book stories and tracked them all down. I savored every story that ended with an alien or monster pulling off a rubber mask, drawn in a way by Ditko that made me think I could hear the rubber as it was stretched off the character’s head.
I followed the black-or-white (no shades of gray) Ayn Rand-ian rants of his character Mister A. I even looked at Steve’s well-drawn S & M indulgences. In researching Ditko’s artistic history, I marveled at how similar his work in the early 1950s was so similar to the work of Joe Kubert at that same time, and where their different artistic paths led them.
I was lucky enough to find and pick up the original art to my favorite page of my favorite Ditko Warren (Creepy and Eerie) story. It’s an ink and wash job that depicts a man screaming himself into insanity within a series of eerily disturbing panels, something I feel that only Ditko could pull off with such spine-tapping depth.
My friend Jonathan Ross made a terrific documentary, Searching for Steve Ditko (which also features Neil Gaiman). Track it down; I highly recommend it. Those two share the same reverence I hold for Mr. Ditko, his work and his privacy.
I never wanted to violate Steve’s privacy by contacting him. Like I said, for me it was enough to know that he existed — that the man who wove such mesmerizing images before my eyes was real.
Bless You, Steve Ditko and your superb body of work. May it haunt us all forever.