Comic Legends: Was Steve Ditko Really a Recluse?

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and eighty-eighth installment where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.

As always, there will be three different posts for each legend this week!

NOTE: The CSBG Twitter page hit 10,050 followers, so I did a bonus edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed earlier this week. We'll keep the bit going, though. Every 1,000 followers of the CSBG Twitter page, I'll do a bonus Comic Book Legends Revealed that week.


Steve Ditko is a recluse.


I'm Going False

After Steve Ditko's death was announced last week, a common theme emerged in many of the obituaries and articles written about the famous comic book artist, who created and co-created Fancy Dan, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, the Question, Captain Atom, Hawk and Dove, Squirrel Girl and more. That theme was about how the late artist was a "recluse."

Now, let's be clear, Steve Ditko did not grant an interview with anyone after 1968. Check out this bit from the letter page of Creeper's first appearance in Showcase #73. This is 50 years ago, and he won't give an interview for a simple "Meet the Creators" page in a comic book.

It is fascinating, then, to see how much the media portrayal of someone dictates how we view that person. If they don't give interviews for the last 50 years of their lives, then they are, effectively, viewed as reclusive.

However, in the matter of Steve Ditko, that just wasn't the case. Yes, the guy wouldn't give interviews and yes, he wouldn't let people take his photographs for official publications. Heck, Dave Sim noted that Ditko even asked him to destroy their correspondence. That, though, fits into his belief that his work should speak for itself.

That is nothing to do with the man BEYOND his work. Outside of that aspect of his life, Ditko sure seems to be a pretty darn normal guy. As my buddy Abraham Riesman noted in this excellent piece for Vulture, "For a recluse, Steve Ditko is surprisingly easy to locate." The guy's address and phone number were listed in Manhattan phone books for decades!

He would frequently stop by Marvel's offices when he worked there in the 1980s. He would chat with people all the time. He would do the same when he worked there in the 1960s.

Here is Jim Shooter telling a funny story about Ditko and Robert Kanigher arguing at Marvel's offices when they ran into each other in the mid-1980s:

One day, at the end of the day, Steve Ditko was in the office, probably delivering an issue of ROM. Bob Kanigher and Steve Ditko ran into each other in the hall. Somebody, probably Larry Hama, introduced them. I guess in all their years they’d never met, or maybe it had just been a long time. They started chatting.

On his visits to the office, Steve would never even have a cup of coffee before he accomplished whatever was the purpose of the trip. “Production before consumption,” he’d say. But once the “production” was done, he often hung around and talked with people, the kids, the vets, the old timers, he didn’t care. Anyone who thinks he’s totally a lone wolf, nah, no way. He seemed to like being around us. He tolerated our cast of crazies, including me, pretty well, I think. And as far as I know, everyone treated him with great respect.

Anyway, the meeting between Ditko and Kanigher took place right outside my office, and my door was open, as it always was, and I was working late, as I pretty much always did.

After a few moments of more general chitchat, something Kanigher said strayed into liberal philosophy. Steve immediately challenged the statement.

And, they’re off…!

Those two stood there for hours arguing. In gentlemanly fashion, mind you, but fiercely nonetheless. Kanigher was…hmm…I guess it’s okay to say he was a liberal. An intellectual progressive, maybe? Whatever. Don’t make too much of that assessment. I don’t mean to label the guy. The point is that his position was miles away from Steve’s.

Shooter also mentioned another incident when Ditko got into a long argument with Chris Claremont and Ann Nocenti at the Marvel offices.

Shooter also told a story about Ditko visiting Valiant's offices for a party (he wouldn't let his picture be taken).

Check all over the internet and you'll find countless stories of people meeting Ditko and it just being, you know, just like meeting some guy (a guy who just happened to have created Spider-Man). Kurt Busiek made an interesting point about it on Twitter the other day and I felt even more comfortable about writing this legend when I saw Kurt make a lot of the same points I was planning on making here. I have even seen stories of fans just showing up at his doorstep and (once it was clear that they were not reporters), Ditko being extremely pleasant with them. TOTAL STRANGERS, PEOPLE!

Now, as he got older, was he more reclusive due to poor health and being, you know, a 90 year old man living alone? Sure, but it sure as heck seemed like he was an otherwise normal guy who just was really into his work speaking for itself. Not a recluse at all.

Check out some legends from Legends Revealed:

Was the Jean-Claude Van Damme film Cyborg Originally Meant to Be Two Films, Including a He-Man Film and a Spider-Man One?

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this week's legends!

And remember, if you have a legend that you're curious about, drop me a line at either brianc@cbr.com or cronb01@aol.com!

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