Steve Ditko RIP and thank you for providing inspiration and sanctuary during some of my roughest years as a kid.
Ditko left Marvel a year or more before I started reading comics. I was a little kid, and didnít have that much of a conception of the creators behind the scenes at that point, but here and there Iíd run into a back issue or reprint of his, and it certainly made an impression. The rest of Marvel was mostly based on Jack Kirbyís grandeur and power. Ditko was so different it bothered me; made my skin crawl. It was downright weird. Eventually I learned to love it, but I still recall how unsettling I found it at first. Iím reminded of an old teacher who said, the greatest art is often that which at first appears most profoundly ugly.
Yeah, I was buying and reading 10 year old issues when I was 11 through 14. At first I thought his work was rough and ugly but it grew on me pretty quickly.
RIP, Mr. Ditko. As an 8-year old I saw the cover of Spider-Man #4 on the newsstand, a four-panel layout with Spider-Man fighting the Sandman. I was fascinated -- this was pure horror and I couldn't figure out who the "good guy" was. I asked my mother could she ple-e-e-ase buy it and she said no. Eventually I got a subscription and still have a run of about the last 10 Ditko Spider-Man issues. I also have The Hawk and the Dove, The Creeper, and some other oddities from after he left Marvel. Those Dr Strange interdimensional fights with Baron Mordo and Dread Dormammu are pure visual poetry.
I knew he was an Ayn Rand individualist, but somewhere I’d picked up the notion that Ditko had tried LSD with a shrink or as a test subject. This seems to be a myth. Understandable, because his work, particularly on Dr. Strange, is so trippy. Tom Wolfe famously noted Ken Kesey’s fondness in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. To the extent that Ditko contributed to the “set” of aspiring hippies, it’s a case of the artist influencing the drug, instead of vice versa.
More generally about Dr. Strange (including the great Steve Englehart period) this is pretty good.
And speaking of Wolfe, I meant to note his recent death as well. He was reactionary in some ways, but did tend to tell some hard truths. Even though Electric Kool-Aid paints a downbeat picture of where the Pranksters ended up (and that was before Altamont,) he made their high points so appealing that it’s inspired multiple generations of hippie and Deadhead reprisers. In terms of its effect in the world at large, his most important work.