|< Return to Famous Objectivists
The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Artist, Writer
The co-creator of Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and other classic comic book characters
From: Edward Gross, Spider-Man Confidential: From Comic Icon to Hollywood Hero, Hyperion: New York (2002), page 20:
In his later issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Steve Ditko is credited for the plots of the stories and Lee credited for the dialogue. Heavily influenced by the conservative ideology of the writer Ayn Rand, Ditko's world view greatly underlies the early Spider-Man stories. His later work, notably The Question, tends to pit a lone, misunderstood individualist with a strict moral code against a narrow-minded social and political establishment; the conflict between Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson fits the pattern. Nonetheless, Stan Lee's contribution to the Spider-Man series should not be minimized. Lee's dialogue often may seem bombastic , melodramatic, and corny, but it nonetheless endows his Spider-Man stories with sharp humor, incisive characterizations, and surprisingly affecting drama.
At many points throughout his essay "Steve Ditko's Hands", essayist Andrew Hultkrans mentions the influence that Ayn Rand's Objectivism had on the artist. These references are shown collected together below, followed by longer excepts showing these references in context, accompanied by additional details about Ditko and his most famous comic book creations. From: Andrew Hultkrans, "Steve Ditko's Hands" in Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!, edited by Sean Howe, Pantheon Books: New York (2004), pages 209-223:
...Ditko's cultish devotion to the pseudo-philosophy of Ayn Rand (hardly an outing, this: Ditko has spent nearly four-fifths of his fifty-year career promulgating Rand's blinkered views through superhero comics and self-published samizdat)... Steve Ditko, or "Steverino," as cheeky Stan Lee often referred to him in what must have been a good-natured jibe, so impossible is it to reconcile the reclusive, sanctimonious, hard-line Objectivist, Fritz Lang-in-flannel figure of Ditko with this sobriquet... Unlike Kirby (or any other Marvel artist)... Ditko received plotting credit as early as Amazing Spider-Man #25 (1965), an unprecedented concession that was most likely the result of Ditko's contemporaneous discovery of Ayn Rand's Objectivism, with its hatred of creative dilution and unearned rewards... It wasn't until the late nineties that the notoriously private, press-shy Ditko began to lobby for his rightful status as Spider-Man's cocreator, albeit in oblique, quasi-philosophical Objectivist tracts published in small quantities by Ditko... [Peter] Parker's boss and Spider-Man's most vocal critic, newspaper editor and consummate blowhard J. Jonah Jameson, seemed to be a repository for all of Ditko's proto-Objectivist bile as the conniving, hero-hating, tabloid smear artist, heralding Ditko's real-life contempt for the press... As Ditko fell under the sway of Objectivism, his concept of a hero became more and more capital H: unswervingly righteous, generally infallible, unconcerned with Miranda rights or jury trials--Superman as a merciless rightwing extremist, essentially... What's truly strange... about Dr. Strange is his utter incompatibility with Objectivism, the Randian creed Ditko embraced at some point during his Strange Tales run... it's curious that [Ditko would] want to continue with the character after becoming a staunch Objectivist, given that Strange embodied two of Rand's primary betes noires--mysticism and altruism.
Hultkrans, page 209:
Only three years after leaving Marvel, in his hectoring Objectivist strip "The Avenging World," Ditko presents Earth as a beat-up human figure... Two conclusions can be drawn from "The Avenging World"--one, that Ditko's Objectivist agitprop, his most "personal" work, is about as entertaining as Maoist dinner theater, and two, that Dr. Strange, the mystical humanitarian who inspired his best, most creative work, is anathema to the living, post-Marvel Ditko. Both are dispiriting. I blame Rand. It's telling that the Ancient One's description of Stephen Strange's selfish personality in Dr. Strange's origin story reads like an Objectivist ideal: "You were proud, haughty, successful! But you cared little for your fellow men. Money, that was all that interested you, all you cared about. To you the problems of others meant less than nothing!" A = A? Yes. Ayn...
It's all in the hands. That's what I have to tell myself. How else can I explain my preference for the stiff, cartoonish, wildly inconsistent, occasionally downright bad art of Steve Ditko -- co-creator, most famously, of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange for Marvel Comics -- to that of his erstwhile co-worker and inarguable superior Jack "King" Kirby, the Miles Davis of comics? It's perverse, outrageous -- especially considering how repellent I find Ditko's cultish devotion to the pseudo-philosophy of Ayn Rand (hardly an outing, this: Ditko has spent nearly four-fifths of his fifty-year career promulgating Rand's blinkered views through superhero comics and self-published samizdat).
Hultkrans, pages 215-217:
But back to Steve Ditko, or "Steverino," as cheeky Stan Lee often referred to him in what must have been a good-natured jibe, so impossible is it to reconcile the reclusive, sanctimonious, hard-line Objectivist, Fritz Lang-in-flannel figure of Ditko with this sobriquet, or indeed any grouping of sounds that would result in a word like "Steverino." Ditko qua Platonic ideal is anti-erino, -oodles, -adocious ... all silly suffixes. Which is one of the reasons why Steve and Stan, a silly suffix slanger on the order of Rob Schneider's copy-room guy on Saturday Night Live, were ultimately destined for divorce. Their prickly, or at least unlikely, working relationship was laid bare to fans at the peak of the pair's success in a three-page addendum to Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (1964), titled "How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Create Spider-Man!" At the time. Lee fueled nascent Marvel fandom with his revolutionary blend of self-referentiality and ironic self-deprecation, but this was something else: an uncomfortably frank airing of his credit-grabbing, artist-effacing M.O. that couldn't have made original Spider-fans feel good about their favorite comic book. In the strip, written by Lee, drawn by Ditko, Lee awakes in the middle of the night with a story idea, phones Ditko, then after a late-night story conference, says "How about that, Stevey Boy?!! And just for kicks, we'll do twelve panels to each page!" To which a beleaguered Ditko replies, "Waddaya mean we?? I do the drawing while you practice signing your name all over!"
Hultkrans, pages 217-218:
...[page 217] This sarcastic strip foreshadowed the Great Marvel Credit War of the late seventies, in which Jack Kirby's colleagues and fans waged an ultimately successful campaign to secure for the artist cocreator status on his Silver Age characters and plots and wrest his original artwork pages from the corporate clutches of Lee and Marvel. Although he was subject to the same chiseling work-for-hire contracts as Kirby, Ditko remained silent on this matter until recently. Unlike Kirby (or any other Marvel artist), however, Ditko received plotting credit as early as Amazing Spider-Man #25 (1965), an unprecedented concession that was most likely the result of Ditko's contemporaneous discovery of Ayn Rand's Objectivism, with its hatred of creative dilution and unearned rewards. But because Ditko never owned the copyright on the character or costume of Spider-Man, to date Marvel's most visible trademark, or had any legal rights to their creation, he hasn't reaped the considerable profits that Spidey has generated for the company since his 1962 debut. Nor has he actively sought them. It wasn't until the late nineties that the notoriously private, press-shy Ditko began to lobby for his rightful status as Spider-Man's cocreator, albeit in oblique, quasi-philosophical Objectivist tracts published in small quantities by Ditko fan and collaborator Robin Snyder. This effort eventually resulted in the twin triumphs of 2002, when Ditko was officially acknowledged by Marvel (in the pages of the contemporary Amazing Spider-Man comic) and by Sam Raimi's blockbuster film, which ran Ditko's name along with Lee's in the movie's credits. It isn't known whether this overdue recognition resulted in any monetary compensation for the artist, who, unlike Kirby, is still alive.
Like filmmaking, superhero comics are, with some exceptions, a collaborative medium, so it's impossible to know who was purely responsible for what unless you were among the involved parties, Even then, memory is imperfect and egos rarely impartial, particularly when the creation is a global smash on the level of Spider-Man. Nevertheless, after digesting the vociferous debates of obsessive fans, the writings of Lee and Ditko over the years, and what is known about Ditko's background, some educated guesses can be floated. Ditko was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1927 to a family of Slavic descent. A shy, nerdy kid, he spent most of his childhood and adolescence in the company of his tightly knit family and between the panels of Will Eisner's The Spirit and Jerry Robinson's Batman, both of which became primary touchstones for his own artwork. According to Cat Yronwode, a Dr. Strange fanatic who researched Ditko over many years for a book project that never materialized, visual aspects of Peter Parker's life and surroundings could be directly tied to Ditko's high-school experience in Johnstown--architectural details of Parker's school building, for instance, and the model for his bullying nemesis Flash Thompson were both clearly present in Ditko's high-school yearbooks. Parker's profile as a bookish, bespectacled, socially ostracized, family-devoted teen also closely matched Ditko's own. The noirish urban moodiness and chiaroscuro lighting of Ditko's Spider-Man comics, as well as their cast of bizarre, grotesque villains (the Green Goblin, the Vulture, Dr. Octopus, the Lizard, Mysterio), owed a great debt to Eisner and Robinson. (When he first came to New York, Ditko studied under Robinson at the Cartoonist and Illustrators School, now known, with an expanded curriculum, as the School of Visual Arts.) Parker's boss and Spider-Man's most vocal critic, newspaper editor and consummate blowhard J. Jonah Jameson, seemed to be a repository for all of Ditko's proto-Objectivist bile as the conniving, hero-hating, tabloid smear artist, heralding Ditko's real-life contempt for the press. Finally, it has never been disputed, even by Lee, that Ditko was solely responsible for Spidey's iconic costume design, which, among its myriad qualities, was unusual at the time for its full-face mask--a crucial element that, along with the concept of the teenager-as-superhero, allowed for broad reader identification.
Hultkrans, pages 218-219:
[Stan] Lee should be credited, first and foremost, for making Marvel Comics possible--by rescuing Martin Goodman's Atlas Comics from financial ruin in 1957 and having the eye to hire Ditko and Kirby; this trio [Lee, Kirby, Ditko], beginning in 1961 with Lee/Kirby's Fantastic Four #1, would have the same impact on comics as the Beatles would on popular music. Lee's contributions to Spider-Man include the name, the concept (based on an undeveloped, pre-Marvel Kirby character) of an orphaned teenage boy with spider powers, the hero's wisecracking fighting style, Peter Parker's adolescent neuroses, his internal conflicts over his secret identity, his difficulties with girls, and all the soap-operatic aspects that humanized and propelled the narrative in a manner unique for the time and unquestionably Lee. And, of course, the self-reflexive, silly suffix-ridden dialogue.
Essayist Hultkrans points out how Steve Ditko's conversion to Objectivism was seeingly in conflict with with the character Ditko was drawing at the time: Dr. Strange. Hultkrans also bemoans the impact that Ditko's Objectivism had on his art and writing. Hultkrans was a big fan of Steve Ditko's art, but he was not at all fond of Ayn Rand or her Objectivism. From pages Hultkrans, pages 222-223:
Although Ditko's role as cocreator has been appallingly minimized over the years, it's safe to say that Spider-Man wouldn't have won such a wide readership without Lee's touch. It was Lee, after all, who initiated a paradigm shift in superhero comics by insisting that heroes not only have Achilles heels--Kryptonite, anyone?--but genuine physical handicaps, a full range of human feelings and failings, and perennial difficulties because of, not in spite of, their powers. As Ditko fell under the sway of Objectivism, his concept of a hero became more and more capital H: unswervingly righteous, generally infallible, unconcerned with Miranda rights or jury trials--Superman as a merciless rightwing extremist, essentially, or Dirty Harry with superpowers. Needless to say, this uncompromising vision was increasingly out of step with Lee's Marvel and its archetype of the imperfect, fallible, neurotic hero. Ultimately, Ditko walked out on Spider-Man (and Marvel) in 1966, reportedly due to conflicts with Goodman over the book's direction (more pretty girls) and Lee concerning the Green Goblin's identity (Lee: father of Parker's friend; Ditko: a nobody). Goodman and Lee would get their way, and increased sales, with the pleasantly smooth, romance-comic curviness of John Romita, Spidey's most popular artist. But enough about your friendly neighborhood cash cow, I'm really here to profess my love for what I always considered to be Ditko's peak achievement. Dr. Strange.
What's truly strange (sorry) about Dr. Strange [the character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko] is his utter incompatibility with Objectivism, the Randian creed Ditko embraced at some point during his Strange Tales run. Even more than Spider-Man, Dr. Strange was Ditko's baby. As in Amazing Spider-Man, Ditko began to receive plotting credit in 1965 with Strange Tales #135, but Lee, Ditko, and comic historians all acknowledge that Ditko was largely left to his own devices on Dr. Strange from the character's inception to Ditko's departure from Marvel in '66. There's no mystery to why an idiosyncratic stylist like Ditko would be attracted to the concept of a master magician operating in abstract, alternate dimensions, but it's curious that he'd want to continue with the character after becoming a staunch Objectivist, given that Strange embodied two of Rand's primary betes noires--mysticism and altruism.
Gross, pages 8-9:
Only three years after leaving Marvel, in his hectoring Objectivist strip "The Avenging World," Ditko presents Earth as a beat-up human figure--arm in sling, leg in cast, angry globe head wrapped in bandages--who barks, "The state I'm in was caused and there's a lot of people working hard, knowingly and unknowingly, to make sure my condition gets worse! I'll show you some types of people and the stupidity they practice that always leads to more misery!" Three of the culprits? The Mystic (a religious leader), the Enlightened (a psychedelic New Ager, surrounded by a miasma of "corrupt" concepts like "occult," "black magic," "mysticism," "visions," and "spirit world"), and the Humanitarian (an absurdly overwrought bleeding heart: "To HELP HUMANITY, the COMPETENT MUST BE FORCED TO SACRIFICE THEMSELVES to the INCOMPETENT NEEDY!" he bleats). Two conclusions can be drawn from "The Avenging World"--one, that Ditko's Objectivist agitprop, his most "personal" work, is about as entertaining as Maoist dinner theater, and two, that Dr. Strange, the mystical humanitarian who inspired his best, most creative work, is anathema to the living, post-Marvel Ditko. Both are dispiriting. I blame Rand. It's telling that the Ancient One's description of Stephen Strange's selfish personality in Dr. Strange's origin story reads like an Objectivist ideal: "You were proud, haughty, successful! But you cared little for your fellow men. Money, that was all that interested you, all you cared about. To you the problems of others meant less than nothing!" A = A? Yes. Ayn = A--hole. It's a shame about Steve.
Originally, Jack Kirby, who together with [Stan] Lee had created the Fantastic Four and the Hulk, was to be the Spider-Man's artist, and indeed it was Kirby who drew Spider-Man on the cover of Amazing Fantasy #15 [the comic book which featured the very first appearance of Spider-Man]. But Kirby drew muscular, dynamically powerful heroic figures, and Lee intended to cast Spider-Man in a different mold altogether. "Jack did a couple of pages," Lee told Comic Book Marketplace, "and I said, 'Jack, I don't want Spider-Man to look like Captain America. I don't want him to be a handsome, muscular guy, I want him to look like an ordinary kid--a little bit puny if anything.' But everything Jack drew was so heroic and wonderful and I think maybe he hadn't really been listening to me, so he drew the first experimental pages of Spider-Man like a real hero. You know, big and strong-looking."
Gross, pages 13-14:
As a result, Steve Ditko, the master of drawing angst-ridden everymen and gritty urban environments, was brought in to illustrate this new, experimental series. In the end it would be ditko who would define the look and feel of Spider-Man that in many ways prevails even to this day.
Steve Ditko's philosophy about drawing Spider-Man was that he did not want the character to seem larger than life. In fact, those issues often seemed uncomfortably close to reality. New York was never gloomier or grittier than when drawn by Ditko. No one could deny that these characters lived in the real world. Each panel failed to flitter with some slick new look such as Jack Kirby had given his books, and it was an approach that made perfect sense. After all, the Fantastic Four were wealthy, while Peter Parker lived with his aunt. Stan Lee's stories, coupled with Ditko's art (as well as his plotting and a lot of uncredited writing), drew us into the world of Peter Parker. Its earthy, straightforward approach, along with the stories, made the strip much easier to identify with than any other work being done. Other comics may have been flashier and prettier, but Spider-Man had reality on his side.
Gross, page 15:
As previously noted, during the first four years of The Amazing Spider-Man Lee and Ditko set the tone and style of all the hundreds of Spider-Man stories to come and created the majority of the primary supporting characters who have populated the series for four decades.
Gross (pages 15-19) describe a number of the important supporting characters created by Lee and Ditko: J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy. They then discuss some of the villains who make up Spider-Man's rogues gallery, which "surpasses that of any other superhero except for Batman himself, which is why it's important to discuss the Lee/Ditko issues in some detail" (Gross, page 16). The villains created by Lee and Ditko which Gross mentions here are: the Chameleon, the Vulture, Doctor Octopus (Dr. Otto Octavius, "Marvel's most popular villain, next to Dr. Doom"), the Sandman (Flint Marko), the Lizard (Dr. Curt Connors), Electro (Max Dillon), Mysterio, the Green Goblin (Norman Osborn), and Kraven the Hunter.
Gross, pages 19-21:
By the mid-1960s, Stan Lee was editor and principal writer of over a dozen comic book titles each month. As remarkably prolific as Lee was, he could not have written so many books in the 1960s had he not devised what became known as the Marvel method of doing comics. At DC, for example, writers did full scripts, complete with descriptions of the action in each comic panel and dialogue--all before the artist began work.
Essayist Andrew Hultkrans explained the difference between Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, from: Hultkrans, pages 210-211:
Stan Lee, on the other hand, started by formulating a plot, usually in a conversation with the artist. Lee would leave it to the artist to break the plot down into individual panels, to pace the story, and to fill in many of the details. Once the artist had penciled the story, then Lee would write the dialogue. This method made Marvel stories more visually dynamic, since it was the artist who decided how to visualize the plot. Moreover, artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were highly imaginative and talented in their own rights in terms of plotting stories and in creating concepts for characters. Hence, Lee increasingly left much of the work of plotting stories to Kirby and Ditko. For example, Kirby is said to have plotted a four-issue story from a three-sentence outline Lee gave him...
As time went on, Ditko grew increasingly restless and resentful at collaborating with Lee, and he finally quit Marvel to pursue other projects at other comics companies. Issue #38, dated July 1966, was Ditko's last: he had drawn the series for just short of four years. Although Ditko would go on to create minor classics like the Creeper and Shade the Changing Man at DC, none of them would ever prove to be as commercially successful or artistically important and influential as Spider-Man, or his other collaboration with Stan Lee, Doctor Strange. Furthermore, although Ditko has continued to work for Marvel from time to time over the years, he has steadfastly refused to draw either Spider-Man or Doctor Strange, claiming he does not want his current art to be compared to his past work. While his co-creation, Spider-Man, continues to grow in popularity and commercial success, Ditko's style, unfortunately, long ago fell from favor with the majority of the comics audience. Although comics professionals and longtime comics aficionados recognize the greatness of his achievements in the medium, he seldom has new work published anymore.
When Ditko left Amazing Spider-Man, Lee made a surprising choice to replace him: John Romita...
"I didn't think I was on it permanently," he said. "Stan had asked me, 'Would you mind doing Spider-Man for a while?' I took that literally. I thought that Ditko would go away, relax, and then come back and want it back again. I never dreamed I'd be on it for six or seven years. So the whole thing was a shock to me, because I never really felt at home on that strip. I always felt like it was Ditko's book."
It probably would have been impossible at that time to find a comics artist who could work in Ditko's unusual style. But perhaps Lee saw in Romita a way of taking Spider-Man to a new level of popularity. Ditko's idiosyncratic art style could really only win a cult following, but Romita's style, with large, open panels and conventionally attractive human faces and figures, had much more mainstream appeal.
If Ditko had been a director, he would have turned out nervy, attenuated film noir, moralistic sci-fi miniatures with ironic twists in the mode of The Twilight Zone, paranoid black-and-white horror reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead, and, stay with me here, the Salvador Dali sequence in Hitchcock's Spellbound. Mostly, though, a 1960s Ditko comic resembles a Joseph Lewis or Phil Karlson noir -- The Big Combo, say, or Kansas City Confidential, and let's throw in Rudolph Mate's D.O.A -- low-budget yet highly stylized, mingling stiff civilians in street locations with lemon-sucking grotesques in expressionist shadows.
Webpage created 9 October 2005. Last modified 9 October 2005.
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