While Steve Ditko will forever be best remembered as the co-creator of
Fancy Dan of the Enforcers Spider-Man, in a lot of ways, it was his work on Doctor Strange for Marvel that was even more personal for the creator and which led to a fascinating interaction with a burgeoning psychedelic movement that Ditko inadvertently found himself influencing.
For a character who would become so influential on the counter-culture and ultimately have his own blockbuster movie, Doctor Strange's origins were rather mundane. Ditko came up with the initial five-page Doctor Strange story by himself and brought it to Stan Lee to see if he would be interested in running the story in one of Marvel's anthologies. Lee liked it and since he planned on using it in Strange Tales, they came up with the name Strange, although there was some initial debate over whether he should be a Mister or a Doctor. Lee wrote into the Comics Reader in early 1963 to promote the new character in strange fashion, "Well, we have a new character in the works for Strange Tales, just a 5-page filler named Dr. Strange. Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. It has sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him. 'Twas Steve's idea. I figured we'd give it a chance, although again, we had to rush the first one too much. Little sidelight: Originally, we decided to call him Mr. Strange, but thought the 'Mr.' was a bit too similar to Mr. Fantastic -- Now, however, I remember we had a villain called Dr. Strange just recently in one of our mags. I hope it won't be too confusing!"
Lee had Ditko whip up another one to run after the initial issue, to give readers a chance of judging whether the strip should continue.
The strip was received favorably, so it became a regular feature with Strange Tales #114. You can tell that it was a bit of a late decision, because Ditko was inked by George Roussos in Strange Tales #114, the only Doctor Strange story that Ditko didn't ink himself.
The following issue was the brilliant origin for Doctor Strange. Now, in a lot of ways, the origin of Doctor Strange is your typical "white guy goes to the Far East, everyone realizes that the white guy is super special and then he becomes the chosen one" story. Not only that, but it is very much just like an earlier character that Lee, Kirby and Ditko had worked on (right around the debut of the Fantastic Four) called Doctor Droom.
However, what this story has that the typical "chosen one" stories do not is that Doctor Strange was a special kind of jerk. Comic book heroes rarely open their narrative by being quite as messed up as Stephen Strange is in Strange Tales #115...
The other fascinating part of this excellent origin story is that it basically is the completion of the traditional "hero arc." Batman is always avenging his parents' murder. Spider-Man is always trying to make up for what he "let" happen to Uncle Ben. Doctor Strange, though, he started as a jerk and became a hero. The traditional journey is over. He's become a better person. He is the sort of grown figure that Spider-Man can essentially never be.
Now that Doctor Strange has been established, Ditko began to mess around with the world around the good Doctor.