THE SHADOW MAN
HOW DOCTOR STRANGE CO-CREATOR STEVE DITKO MADE COMIC-BOOK HISTORY, THEN VANISHED
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.