Strange And Stranger: The World Of Steve Ditko (Blake Bell)

book-coverWhile other comic book fans enthuse over Jack Kirby’s 1960s work, I always prefer Steve Ditko. His art is somewhat on the quirky side and wasn’t always a good fit for the stories and characters, but when they fit (as they did with both Spider-Man and Dr. Strange) the effect was amazing. Although it’s probably too strong to say there wouldn’t be a Spider-Man without Ditko, without Ditko the Spider-Man we know today would not exist.

Much of Ditko’s Spider-Man is readily in print. Every few years Marvel reprints it in some form or another. His Dr. Strange work is somewhat harder to find. His pre-superhero Marvel work is slowly being reprinted; as part of its Marvel Masterworks series, Marvel has been publishing volumes from “The Atlas Era”. Many of these volumes contain Ditko work. And in 2007 it published Amazing Adult Fantasy Omnibus which has almost 50 Ditko stories. Ditko only worked on (art and plot) Spider-Man for a little over 3 of the character’s 48 year history; but his work defined the character as we have him today.

spider-man-sand-manHe created many of the hero’s best known and current villains, including Doctor Octopus, the Sandman and the Green Goblin. In 1966, he stunned fandom by leaving Marvel for reasons at the time unspecified and even today somewhat shrouded in mystery. I’ve heard there were artistic differences between Stan Lee and Ditko about the direction the stories would take. Bell’s book talks about the lack of written contracts and non-fulfillment of verbal contracts between Ditko and publisher Martin Goodman. Before, during and after his time at Marvel, Ditko illustrated comics for other companies, mostly Charlton; there too his work encompassed superheroes, strange fantasy and science fiction stories.

Unfortunately, it seems Ditko’s obsession with Ayn Rand’s crazed ‘philosophy’ along with his demands for strict creative control led him to become virtually unemployable from the 90s onward. This book is an interesting read. It’s profusely illustrated with samples of Ditko’s work from through-out his career. I feel like I learned a lot about Ditko, but I don’t feel like I got to know him. Many sources describe him as intensely private, and I get the feeling very few people actually know him. Ultimately, I was left with a feeling of sadness. Both for the man and, selfishly, for fans who wish there was more of his unique body of to enjoy.

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