Steve Ditko, 1927 – 2018: His Work on Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and the Question Will Endure

It is oddly fitting that Steve Ditko had been dead for a week before the rest of the world discovered word of his death.

Notoriously reclusive, the man who co-created iconic comic book characters Spider-Man and Doctor Strange for Marvel Comics in the 1960s, was found dead in his Manhattan apartment on June 29. He was 90 years old.

Ditko leaves behind no direct survivors, but he is mourned by legions of comic book fans mesmerized by his artistic style and fluid action scenes and forever perplexed by his reputation as the J.D. Salinger of Comics.

As much enigma as icon, Ditko was a rarity in comic books.

He was heralded for his dedication to detail on Spider-Man, but then equally celebrated for his surrealism in Dr. Strange. He was a conservative working in an industry known for being home to outspoken liberals. He was a close confidante of Ayn Rand and would sometimes advocate for objectivism in his art—most notably through his self-published work, “Mr. A” and in its more mainstream version as DC Comics’ “The Question.” Together, these works inspired Alan Moore’s character Rorschach, who was the beating heart of Watchmen.

Ditko openly shunned the spotlight, even as his star rose to levels unheard of in comicdom. But instead of cashing in on his popularity as Spider-Man’s first artist, he opted to leave Marvel for little-known Charlton Comics so that he could have more creative freedom—a move which puzzles both fans and industry professionals to this day.

If fans managed to get hold of his address and write to him, he’d politely thank them for their appreciation of his previous work and say he’d moved onto other projects. He declined all public appearances, interviews, and requests to speak at comic book conventions and believed that his art spoke for itself.

If this seems like an exaggeration, try finding a photo of Ditko dated after 1970.

We’ve grown used to the idea of comic book creators as impresarios—from Stan Lee to Frank Miller to Mark Millar—so much so that you might think that the public persona is part of the job. But Ditko’s life was proof that even in today’s media-saturated culture, it’s the work that matters. Steve Ditko left the world without the public ever really knowing anything about him. And his legacy will endure, just the same.

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