Review: ‘Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko’

Van Jensen

Van Jensen is a former crime reporter turned comic book writer. In addition to ComicMix, he contributes to Publishers Weekly and Comic Book Resources. He lives in Atlanta, and his blog can be found at

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14 Responses

  1. BobH says:

    By what definition do you feel Ditko failed to achieve greatness?

  2. Van Jensen says:

    Greatness isn't achieved by earning the reverence of people who live and breathe comics. Among average fans even, Ditko is a relative unknown. He enjoyed a fraction of Kirby's success, though Ditko had a comparable amount of talent. He constantly struggled to find readers throughout his career. None of his efforts, Spider-Man aside, were notable successes.

    • BobH says:

      I can only think of a handful of comic book creators who would have a more impressive resume than one than only read "Created Spider-Man". Ditko's would also include "Created Doctor Strange". "Created the Creeper". "Created Hawk&Dove". "Created Captain Atom". "Created Mr. A". "Created the Question". "Created Shade".And measuring him by the standard of "not as successful as Jack Kirby" sets the bar kind of high. How many comic book creators other than Kirby score higher on your greatness scale than Steve Ditko?

    • Alan Coil says:

      Part of the reason he is not as famous as Jack Kirby is that Ditko had strong moral beliefs that stopped him from working on many projects. That he had to draw coloring books to earn money was related to his not being too busy elsewhere. There have been several publishers who have offered him work over the years, but he chose to decline.

  3. Russ Rogers says:

    Objectivism didn't keep Ditko from becoming great. Ditko IS great! That's just pure objective fact. If Ditko had only created Spider-Man, that achievement alone precludes any argument of his "greatness." And Ditko had many other notable achievements outside of Spider-Man. Objectivism may have kept Ditko from making HUGE bucks. But huge bucks don't determine greatness of character or creation.Objectively speaking, the next Spider-Man movie needs to hire Ditko as a "creative consultant" and give him a taste of the rewards of his creation. In a just world he already is receiving massive, on-going monetary rewards from the Spider-Man franchise. I hope he is. It should be a publicity Nightmare for Marvel if Ditko isn't.Now, I do think you can argue that Ditko's obsessive proselytizing of Objectivism through comics, his seeming compulsive need to turn much of his comics work into Freshman Philosophy Mid-Term Essays, marred the overall entertainment value of his work. There is certainly room for criticism under Ditko's mantle of "Greatness." Just because Ditko is a Great Artist, that doesn't make every piece of Ditko Art equally great.But I'm not sure Ditko's life or work should be seen as a tragedy. And if it is a tragedy, I don't think the tragedy of Ditko is Objectivism. Unless Ojectivism made Ditko SO uncompromising of his personal artistic vision that it became difficult for him to work with others. Comics are generally a collaborative medium. Collaboration invariably involves compromise. Objectivism is Black and White. Compromises are gray tones. Objectivism just states that there is always an objective truth. But it's egotism if you think that you always know that truth.Did Objectivism turn Ditko into a recluse? Is Ditko a recluse or just camera-shy and interview-shy?

    • BobH says:

      I agree with most of what Russ says, let me add a few things.Ditko should be offered a role as a consultant on a Spider-Man movie not to give him a share of the revenue but because he is uniquely qualified as the only person to demonstrably understand what made Spider-Man work. You increase your chances of making a good movie by having his voice.And yes, I certainly hope that every work an artist does doesn't have to be "great" for them to "achieve greatness". I'm not sure who qualifies under that standard.And while there's a laundry list of projects Ditko said "no" to, most of them chronicled in STRANGE AND STRANGER, there's also a huge list of projects he said "yes" to. And does anyone really think his reputation would have been enhanced if he had done a project with over-the-hill rockers AC/DC, or would that be another punchline if it had come out ("OMG, the creator of Spider-Man was reduced to working on an AC/DC comic!!")? I don't think Neil Gaiman leads his bio with the Alice Cooper comic (in fact, just checked, it's unmentioned on the bio on his website).And if Ditko is a recluse, he does a poor job at it. I think I've read more stories about people going to a meal with Steve Ditko than I've gone dining with! Guess he failed to achieve greatness in the field of reclusiveness. Probably Ayn Rand's fault.

      • Mike Gold says:

        There's just no way in the world that Steve would take any part in any Spider-Man movie production. First of all, it's hard for me to imagine him tolerating Hollywood — they operate on standards that he clearly, obviously and overwhelmingly finds objectionable. Second, the previous stories revolved around moral equivocation, as most stories do. That's a no-no; Steve's repeatedly quit assignments over that. Third, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if such offers were made.Steve's not a recluse; as I said in my column this week, he's rather shy and certainly willing to talk with and go out with small groups of people. But he does not give out interviews, period. He hasn't for decades. He doesn't want to, and he doesn't have to.

        • BobH says:

          I don't think Ditko would take the movie job, either, I just think he should be asked (and I hope he was, but I kind of doubt it) out of a genuine belief in what he could contribute to such a project, not out of sense of obligation. If only because I'd hazard a speculation that he would regard the latter as unearned, altruistic, charity and reject it for that alone.

        • Russ Rogers says:

          Not only do most stories revolve around moral equivocation, most interesting stories revolve around moral equivocation. Show me a story with a morally inflexible character (a character that is unwilling or unable to change) and I say you have the beginnings of a dull story. And you are right, Hollywood REVOLVES around moral equivocation. If Hollywood has standards, they shift more than the San Andreas. Ditko might hate Hollywood. That doesn't mean Hollywood still doesn't owe him buckets full of money. Ditko doesn't have to take it. But it's still owed him, maybe not contractually, but certainly by my shifting moral standards. Ditko could give the money to the Hero Initiative or to the Ayn Rand Memorial! Or the money could be given to the United Way in his honor. Stan Lee was getting $1 million a year from Marvel before they declared bankruptcy and voided that contract. Now Lee's getting much MORE than that. What is Ditko getting? What is Ditko being offered that he's refusing? Yes, Lee took Marvel to court. I'm saying Ditko shouldn't have to go to court, somebody should be embarrassed if they haven't made the offer![Whee! Look at me! Taking a morally superior tone. So callously and casually telling other people that they need to hand over buckets of money!]And Steve's repeatedly quit assignments? How repeatedly? How short notice? What is his reputation? (I would ask Ditko. But I'm told he wouldn't answer. He chooses to let the work speak for itself. SO … what has his work said?) There are ethics and then there is "work ethic." Not everybody on the team gets to be quarterback or coach. Not everybody gets to call the plays. If you don't like Football, it's fine to quit the team, but not in the middle of a game.If Objectivism made it hard for Ditko to be a "team player" then Objectivism was a handicap to creating comics. Because comics is generally a collaborative effort, a team sport.

          • Alan Coil says:

            "Show me a story with a morally inflexible character (a character that is unwilling or unable to change) and I say you have the beginnings of a dull story."Not a dull story, but a tragedy.

  4. R. Maheras says:

    Yeah, I also take exception with Van Jensen’s “great” quote.If the only thing Ditko was ever involved with was Spider-Man, then he would still have earned the mantel of “great,” in my opinion.Think about it. Was Joe Maneely a “great” artist? If so, name one iconic character he co-created or created. The same goes for Joe Kubert. He didn’t create any of his “signature” characters, such as Hawkman, Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, and much later, Tarzan. And besides, none of those characters, other than Tarzan, are iconic to anyone but comic book fans.Personally, I think Kubert and Maneely are both great comic book artists – not based on the number of iconic characters they created/co-created – but because of their exceptional skill and their lifetime body of work.That said, let’s pretend for a second that Ditko never worked on Spider-Man. Would he still be considered a great comic book artist by comics historians? Absolutely! The sheer quantity, quality and variety of his work is staggering. Even some of his secondary creations, such as Dr. Strange, the Creeper and Mr. A were unique and ground-breaking in their own right. Add to that Ditko’s massive body of fantasy and science fiction work; his absolutely stunning wash-rendered horror work for Warren; and his myriad of other unique character creations or unique “Ditko-takes” of existing characters (the Hulk, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Andor, etc.); and you have an artist who has few peers in his category.So when you add the Spider-Man co-creation credit to all of the above, you have an artist who just has to be in the top 10 list of all-time great comic book artists, and one who earned that position despite the “handicap” of an Objectivist philosophy. Finally, no one can convince me that, had Ditko never embraced Objectivism, his lifetime body of work would have somehow been “better.” The fact is, I honestly think Ditko’s unique and rich body of work was created exactly because of his unique personality and outlook on life, not in spite of it.

    • Mike Gold says:

      Kudos for bringing Joe Maneely up. One of the absolute greats, as great an artist that ever worked at Timely/Atlas/Marvel. Sadly, also one of the forgotten greats. Died in an accident at 32. In addition to being absolutely brilliant, he shared another trait with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko: he was one of the fastest artists in the business. He was clocked at seven pages of quality pencils and inks in one day.Most of his work was in anthology books — his western and war stories was on par with Severin and Kubert — and there were very few superhero assignments in the 1950s. Closest he came to a known (and hardly iconic) character co-creation was The Black Knight.

      • Mark Behar says:

        Since he died at 32, I think it's a tad unfair to judge Maneely on the basis of the characters he created. For obvious reasons, Maneely's peers always speak of him with a tragic sense of "what might have been." I vaguely recall an interview with Stan Lee where he states that in the early days of Timely Comics, Maneely's peers viewed him as the most prominent emerging star of the bunch, shining brighter in those early days than even Prince Kirby. 7 pages per day figure is ridiculous!

    • BobH says:

      Yeah, I think blaming Objectivism for any perceived tragedy in Ditko's life is absurd. From his most recent public statements (in THE AVENGING MIND), I'd say his big regret seems to be that he's not publicly acknowledged as the creator or co-creator of some of his major works by the company involved or by his former collaborator (this is my interpretation of his statements, yours may vary). Is the lack of such a credit because he's a nastybad stubborn Cult-of-Rand Objectivist? I don't see Kirby's name on this month's HULK, THOR, X-MEN or FANTASTIC FOUR comics (CAPTAIN AMERICA yes, but I think Joe Simon had to sue to secure that). Was Kirby a Randian? I don't see Don Heck's name in any of the dozen IRON MAN comics coming out. Was he an Objectivist? Len Wein isn't credited as creator in WOLVERINE. Is that just because he's stubborn? Can Marv Wolfman not put down ATLAS SHRUGGED long enough to let Marvel give him a credit for NOVA????? Poor Marvel is trying so hard to do right by these creators, and the ghost of Ayn Rand just won't let them!!!