The Strident Hermit King of Comics

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

In reviewing Blake Bell’s Strange and Stranger — about the artist-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange — Geoff Boucher declares Steve Ditko the strident hermit king of comics:

For students of comics history, there are few names that strike the ear and the imagination quite like Ditko’s. In a field defined by brilliant oddballs, embittered journeymen, penniless geniuses and colorful hacks, Ditko is the strident hermit king. He gave the world Spider-Man but then more or less bugged out, deciding in 1969 to stop doing interviews and making public appearances. Now 80, Ditko lives in New York City, and although you can track down his studio, nobody I know who’s done so has gotten past the front step. It’s not that Ditko is unfriendly — he’s willing to talk, apparently (in one case, for more than an hour), but only while standing in his doorway, blocking any view into his home and his life.

If you’re a journalist, however, it’s a different story. Last year, the BBC aired a documentary, “In Search of Steve Ditko,” in which reporter Jonathan Ross, accompanied by Neil Gaiman, sought an audience with Ditko. He refused to speak on camera, which only reinforces the idea of him as the J.D. Salinger of super-hero comics. This, I suppose, makes Peter Parker a wall-crawling Holden Caulfield.

When Ditko drew Peter Parker, he drew him as a nerd — a proto-nerd, I suppose — which made perfect sense for the character, but later artists drew him as just another idealized male. Boucher gives this description of Ditko’s style:

Although Ditko grew up loving the art of Jerry Robinson and Will Eisner, for much of his career, he had a spindly and off-kilter style that rubbed the heroic off the page and replaced it with an odd, anxious ballet of the surreal and the grotesque.

The recent Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme DVD played down Ditko’s “anxious ballet of the surreal and the grotesque” as well as Stan Lee’s impressive-sounding mystic mumbo-jumbo, which always alluded to otherworldly things you assumed someone understood.

Ditko is also famous for creating the Question — and infamous for creating Mr. A — which both inspired Alan Moore‘s Rorschach, from The Watchmen.

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