[GoH] Creators of horror: Steve Ditko

“Gutter of Horror” is a Brazilian column from Dinamo Studio website that talks about horror comics.
This is the translated version of the article.

A recluse man with strong personal values, Steve Ditko is most known as the co-creator of Spider-Man and creator of characters like The Question and Doctor Strange. But the artist also left his mark in horror comics and his work on the genre is, until today, remarkable.

Steve Ditko was born on November 2, 1927 in Johnstown, Pensilvânia. Son of two Ukrainian immigrants, a carpenter and a housewife, and one of the four children in a typical American working class family, his interest for comics came really early because of his father, who was a fan of newspaper comics – particularly Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant. But it was the arrival of Batman and Spirit that his love for the medium really grew.

Even in his young age, Ditko was sort of a hero in his own right: in high school, built wooden models of German airplanes to help civilians who watches them; after college, he enlisted in the Army and serve in post-war Germany, making comics for an army newspaper.

After the Army, in the 1950s, Ditko move to new York so he could have classes with his idol Jerry Robinson (most known for his work on Batman). This was possible thanks to a law that help facilitate veterans to return to life after service. Robinson frequently took people from the industry to talk to students and one of them was Stan Lee, at the time writer-editor of Atlas Comics – that later would become Marvel, more on that here.

His first work in comics was a horror story, but it would be published later, in issue #5 of Ajax/Farrel’s Fantastic Fears. So while the first work he did was a horror story, the first work published was a romance story from the first issue of Gilmor magazines’s Daring Love.

It didn’t took long for Ditko to find job at Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s studio – the duo that had created Captain America one decade earlier. He started inking the backgrounds and worked beside one of his idols, Mort Meskin. Among the titles he worked while in the studio was a horror and suspense comic called Black Magic.

In 1953, Ditko began a long partnership with Charlton Comics that lasted until the end of the company in the 1980s. His first work there was to draw a story for The Thing, a horror anthology comic. But soon he would also be working in titles like This Magazine is Haunted, Tales of the Mysterious Traveler, Space War and Out of This World.

Ditko started to work at Atlas when titles like Journey Into Mystery, Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish e Strange Tales were still mystery/horror/fantasy anthologies. He also worked on Amazing Adventures and Strange Worlds and continued to work there when the company become Marvel Comics.

Of course, the most celebrated creation from Ditko was a certain webhead in 1962. According to the account, Stan Lee got authorization from editor Martin Goodman to create a superhero based on a spider for the last issue of Amazing Fantasy. He looked for his habitual partner, Jack Kirby, but the results didn’t pleased Lee, that decided to ask Ditko to take a shot at it. Lee liked the visuals created by Ditko and the rest is History. Ditko also collaborate with Lee on creating some of the classic Spider-Man villains like Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Lizard, Electro and Green Goblin.

After Spider-Man, Ditko went to work with Lee on Incredible Hulk and when that title was cancelled he created Doctor Strange for Strange Tales. With this character Ditko showed all his versatility and design abilities with an strong and weird aesthetic with pints of surrealism and maybe anticipated the psychedelic culture that would come next.

After 1966, Ditko left marvel over internal issues –  that I won’t talk about in this article, but there’s plenty about it on the internet – and kept working for Charlton, which paid less, but his artists had more creative freedom. There he worked with Blue Beetle, created The Question and co-create Captain Atom. Ditko also worked in Charlton's horror/suspense/fantasy titles Ghostly Tales from the Haunted House, The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves, Space Adventures and Ghost Manor, but also drew war and romance stories for the publisher. At that time, Ditko worked for a short period of time for DC Comics (National Comics at the time) to co-create Creeper and Hawk and Dove.

In 1967, Ditko create Mr. A for Witzend, an independent comic title from artist Wally Wood. Personifying his beliefs in Objectivism, the stories followed a reporter who also fights crime with the identity of Mr. A, a vigilant wearing suit, tie, hat, gloves and a metallic mask. He kept making Mr. A stories independently here and there until the end of the 1970s, returning shortly to the character in 2000 and 2009. Ditko said that “The Question” was just a more acceptable version of Mr. A in times of Comics Code – if you compare the two you will understand why.

In the end of 1960s, Ditko also worked for Warren Publishing, drawing 16 stories that many considered his best works at the time: “The Spirit Of The Thing”, “Beast Man”, “Blood Of The Werewolf”, “Second Chance”, “Where Sorcery Lives”, “City Of Doom”, “The Sands That Change” e “Collector’s Edition”, published in Creepy, e “Room With A View”, “Shrieking Man”, “Black Magic”, “Deep Ruby”, “The Fly”, “Demon Sword”, “Isle Of The Beast” e “Warrior Of Death”, published in Eerie.

The first half of the 1970s he worked almost exclusively at Charlton, dividing his time just with a few small and independent publishers. In 1975 Ditko returned to DC and stay there for a little more and created Shade – which was featured in John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad and later was remodeled for the Vertigo Imprint, without his involvement. For DC, he also made the Stalker miniseries with Paul Levitz, brought back forgotten characters like Creeper and Etrigan, drew a Man-Bat miniseries and was a guest artist in Legion of Superheroes and Adventure Comics. In 1979, he returned to marvel to replace Jack Kirby in Machine Man and also drew Micronauts and Captain Universe. After that, he worked as occasional freelancer for Marvel until the early 90s.

In the 1980s Ditko kept working freelance for small publishers: for Pacific Comics he worked on Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers introducing the character Missing Man and in Silver Star, where he created the character The Mocker. He also worked on Eclipse Monthly (Eclipse Comics), Warp (First Comics) and The Fly (Archie Comics’ short-lived superhero imprint).

In 1992, he worked as a writer with Will Murray on one of his last original characters for marvel: The Squirrel Girl, in marvel Super-Heroes vol. 1 issue #8. In the 1990s he also worked for Dark Horse in the one-shot The Safest Place in the World and Defiant ComicsDark Dominion. In 1998, Ditko officially retired from mainstream comics. His last work for big publishers was a 5-page story for New Gods at DC – which was supposed to be published in an Orion miniseries at the early 2000s, but it was only published in 2008.

After his retirement from mainstream, his work became intermittent. Always rejecting public appearances believing his work should speak for itself, Steve Ditko isolate himself from the world in his studio, without never really stop making comics. People closer to him said that, at 90 years old he was still doing comics at his studio, where he was found dead in June 29, 2018. In 2007, BBC aired “In Search of Steve Ditko” special in which journalist Johnathan Ross, with the help of non other than Neil Gaiman, tries to find the artist and interview him. The special is available on YouTube, but I’ll post here the part where they go to Ditko’s studio.

Steve Ditko is decease but not gone, since he left an incomparable legacy, not just for his unmistakable style but also for his design and graphic narrative creativity and the unique characters created along the years.

Rafael Algures is a Bachelor of Philosophy specialized in Neurosciences of Language. He is also a copywriter, content and science writer, and a comic book creator. His latest work, “Gutter of Horror: Transition”, is available at Amazon – digital and paperback.

Further reading: Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, by Blake Bell
                         Marvel: The Untold Story, by Sean Howe.