Empire (UK) - - ON SCREEN -

Steve Ditko is a comic-book legend, but hasn’t been in­ter­viewed or pho­tographed by the press since the 1960s. “It’s not what I’m like that counts; it’s what I did and how well it was done,” the artist said in one of his last on-the-record con­ver­sa­tions, a 1968 ar­ti­cle that billed him as “The Man Of Mys­tery”. Hat­ing attention as much as Stan Lee loves it, he has never been in­volved in a Spi­der-man movie, nor did he have a hand in this year’s

Doc­tor Strange. “Ditko’s like JD Salinger,” says Scott Der­rick­son, direc­tor of the lat­ter. “He’s a fa­mous recluse. I don’t know why I would be the one to change his mind!”

Ditko be­gan draw­ing comic books in 1953. Two years later he teamed with Lee on Mar­vel’s pre­cur­sor, At­las Comics, cre­at­ing spooky yarns for an­tholo­gies such as

Strange Tales. In 1962, Lee asked Ditko to de­sign the cos­tume and ac­ces­sories for angsty new hero Spi­der-man. It was the per­fect match. Ditko spe­cialised in in­tensely ex­pres­sive de­pic­tions of alien­ated heroes and ob­ses­sively de­tailed back­grounds, from mid­town Man­hat­tan to the Realm Of Dark­ness. Watch­men writer Alan Moore praised his “tor­mented el­e­gance”.

But the golden age didn’t last. Ditko quit Mar­vel in 1966, af­ter a se­ries of ver­bal brawls with Lee. Over the next two decades he took on as­sign­ments of vari­able qual­ity (“Boy, could Ditko hack,” lamented a New

York Times pro­file in 2008. “See­ing sam­ples of his Trans­form­ers color­ing book... is like hear­ing Or­son Welles sell frozen peas”), while fo­cus­ing on his pas­sion: ad­ver­tise­ments for Ob­jec­tivism, the stern creed es­poused by lib­er­tar­ian writer Ayn Rand.

Now 88, he lives — and still works — in New York. If you hap­pen to be walk­ing through Man­hat­tan’s Mid­town West neigh­bour­hood, look out for the el­derly gen­tle­man wear­ing a Cloak Of Lev­i­ta­tion.

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