Spi­der-man cre­ator Ditko dead at 90

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - AROUND THE REGION - By Andy Web­ster New York Times

Steve Ditko, a comic­book artist best known for his role in cre­at­ing Spi­der­man, one of the most suc­cess­ful su­per­hero prop­er­ties ever, was found dead June 29 in his Man­hat­tan apart­ment. He was 90.

The death was con­firmed by Of­fi­cer Ge­orge Tsourovakas, a spokesman for the New York Po­lice Depart­ment.

Ditko, along with artist Jack Kirby and writer and ed­i­tor Stan Lee, was a key player in the 1960s cul­tural phe­nom­e­non known as Marvel Comics, whose char­ac­ters to­day are ubiq­ui­tous in films, tele­vi­sion shows and mer­chan­dise. Although Ditko had a hand in the early devel­op­ment of other sig­na­ture Marvel char­ac­ters — es­pe­cially the sor­cerer Dr. Strange — Spi­der-man was his de­fin­i­tive char­ac­ter and, for many fans, he was Spi­der-man’s de­fin­i­tive in­ter­preter.

Ditko was noted for his cin­e­matic sto­ry­telling, his oc­ca­sional flights into al­most psy­che­delic ab­strac­tion, and the philo­soph­i­cal con­vic­tions that of­ten colored his work. Scrupu­lously pri­vate, he had a mys­tique rare among in­dus­try su­per­stars.

The ini­tial vis­ual con­cep­tion of Spi­der-man did not come from Ditko; ac­cord­ing to Blake Bell’s book “Strange and Stranger:

The World of Steve Ditko” (2008), that im­age came from Kirby, who pen­ciled an ori­gin story for the Marvel ti­tle Amaz­ing Fan­tasy in 1962. When Lee, Marvel’s ed­i­tor, as­signed Ditko to ink it, Ditko no­ticed sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Spi­der-man and the Fly — a Kirby cre­ation for Marvel’s com­peti­tor Har­vey Comics from 1959 — and raised his concerns with Lee. Kirby’s take was re­jected, and the char­ac­ter’s ori­gin was re­vamped to elim­i­nate those sim­i­lar­i­ties. (Out went a magic ring, among other el­e­ments.) Lee gave Ditko a synopsis to flesh out.

Ditko ran with the char­ac­ter. Spi­der-man made his de­but that year in Amaz­ing Fan­tasy No. 15, and the char­ac­ter’s pop­u­lar­ity led to his own ti­tle, The Amaz­ing Spi­der-man, which Ditko pen­ciled, inked and largely plot­ted be­tween 1963 and 1966.

Stephen Ditko was born Nov. 2, 1927, in John­stown, Pa., to Stephen Ditko, a steel-mill car­pen­ter, and his wife, Anna, a home­maker. His fa­ther be­queathed a love of news­pa­per strips like Hal Fos­ter’s “Prince Valiant,” and the young Stephen de­voured Bat­man and Will Eis­ner’s noirish Sun­day news­pa­per in­sert, “The Spirit.”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school in 1945, Ditko joined the Army and was sta­tioned in Ger­many, where he drew car­toons for a ser­vice news­pa­per. In 1950, un­der the GI Bill, he at­tended the Car­toon­ist and Il­lus­tra­tor School (which later be­came the School of Vis­ual Arts) in New York.

Ditko’s first work in print was in early 1953, in a ro­mance comic from a mi­nor pub­lisher. For three months he worked in the stu­dio of Kirby and Joe Si­mon, cre­ators of Cap­tain Amer­ica, be­fore head­ing to Charl­ton Comics, which had its head­quar­ters in Derby, Conn. Charl­ton of­fered low pay and in­fe­rior pro­duc­tion val­ues but creative free­dom, and Ditko would re­turn there of­ten over his ca­reer.

In 1954, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis forced Ditko back to Penn­syl­va­nia, where he nearly died. Af­ter a year, he re­turned to New York, where he ap­proached Lee, at the time a writer-ed­i­tor for At­las Comics, a pre­cur­sor to Marvel. Lee, im­pressed with Ditko’s speed and pro­fi­ciency, hired him.

Cut­backs at At­las brought Ditko back to Charl­ton, where he and writer Joe Gill cre­ated the nu­clear-powered Cap­tain Atom, be­fore re­turn­ing to what was now the Marvel Comics Group. Marvel was in a re­birth, start­ing with the pub­li­ca­tion of The Fan­tas­tic Four in 1961, and con­tin­u­ing with Thor and the Hulk. In 1962, Spi­der­man ap­peared. Kirby drew the cover of his de­but, but for three years the char­ac­ter was Ditko’s baby.

Ditko helped de­velop other Marvel su­per­heroes, in­clud­ing Iron Man and the Hulk. Prob­a­bly his best-known char­ac­ter es­ides Spi­der-man was Dr. Strange, who first ap­peared in 1963.

Marvel Comics via The New York Times

Steve Ditko, an artist who helped cre­ate the ear­li­est Spi­der-man comics, at his desk in the 1960s. Ditko, who is cel­e­brated for his cin­e­matic sto­ry­telling and the philo­soph­i­cal con­vic­tions that colored his work, re­mains for many fans the de­fin­i­tive in­ter­preter of Spi­der-man.

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