This is going to be tough. I have posted about Steve Ditko before which you can find as Brave and Bold #3 further down this site but this is something different. My hero has passed away.
Trying to find the words to truly encapsulate the heart break over the loss of Steve Ditko, along with the impact his art has had and shall continue to have may well be one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced. It is hard for people to understand sometimes when one mourns over a person that they have never personally met, but Steve Ditko was no ordinary person. For people like us he was something more, something greater, and his reclusive nature added to that other-worldly air that he and the language in his art possessed.
Many of us never got the chance to meet Mr Ditko in person but as that same collective we have all met his soul. In every page he drew, in every piece of dialogue he wrote, the spirit of Ditko always remains. He had a passion for the craft of comic books rarely seen in the quiet, calculated, and brilliant way he showed it. He did not market himself like Stan Lee does. He let his work speak for him, was always uncompromising in his visions, and he commanded respect with every single piece he created, and every single character he developed.
For many, Spider-Man is seen as Ditko’s greatest work and as it is the one that had the most hold on me and still does it, is the focus I wish to take as this piece continues. Pictured above is a spread from Arlen Schumer’s The Silver Age of Comic Book Art. Schumer inspired me to further pursue work in comic book history and to have a deeper and more meaningful connection with comic books as part of the cultural and social fabric of our world.
In Arlen’s book he took the fantastic artwork of a number of artists, including Ditko and he enlarged their artwork and took their words and made the study of their art into an experience and event. That is what Ditko’s art always was and will be. Every panel is an event. His contortion of the human body, his ability to put beauty in ugly things, the way that he took the weird and made it wonderful is so unmistakably Ditko.
In The Silver Age of Comic Book Art, the fears of the spider-like poses of Spider-Man are highlighted along with a stunning expansion of Ditko’s most popular figure in action. There was a fear that he would be seen as something “non-human” or “a freak”. However, in the eyes of all Ditkophiles the freakish nature of Spider-Man is what made him so special, and this is meant as no disrespect to the art of the great John Romita, but when Ditko left The Amazing Spider-Man in somebody else’s hands, it was never the same again.
Ditko was one of us and he made Peter Parker one of us too. The recluse that was never fully understood and took pride in his work. The intellectual that wanted to be defined by his actions rather than his persona. Ditko made it feel ok to be different, to be strange, he made everything seem ok when around us it wasn’t and I do not think we will ever be able to thank him enough for that. In the context of the Sixties, the introduction of Peter Parker became a identifiable icon for troubled youth.
Peter had family problems, romantic entanglements that went awry, and he never had money in his pockets. He had the same problems many teenagers at the time were facing and was somebody that readers could identify with. He was so identifiable infact that in a poll conducted by Esquire Magazine amongst student radicals to choose the “28 People Who Count”, Spider-Man sat alongside Bob Dylan, Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, and John. F. Kennedy. Parker was real, and whilst Stan Lee wanted to soften the harsh edges of the book and bring in more fantastical elements Ditko insisted that Spider-Man’s stories remained grounded in a teenager’s credible world. His work is timeless, for all of us, and in that one web-slinging superhero I will remember him forever.
Ditko created so many other characters too from Doctor Strange, to Blue Beetle (Ted Kord), to Mr. A, and The Question. His work is ingrained in the very fabric of comic books as a genre and a part of everything that I have studied, Ditko’s work has guided me. He has pushed me forward. Whenever I have felt down, whenever I have felt defeated, his work has made me feel like the man I want to be and he has spurred me on. Against insurmountable odds, there can always be a way out, if you believe in yourself and your ability you will find a way to succeed. I like to think that Ditko succeeded by bringing his work to us all and in doing so he made us all better.
Rest in peace Steve Ditko. You had great power, and a great responsibility and you were, and always will be my hero.