(Above Image of Steve Ditko courtesy of Marvel.)
Even if you’re just a casual follower of current events, you might have heard comic book creator Steve Ditko has passed away at age 90.
If you’re a Marvel or comic book fan, you likely know Ditko was co-creator of Spider-Man and creator of Doctor Strange.
If you’re one of those super comic geeks (a group of which I am proudly a part) you know Stan Lee himself appointed Ditko to help with the creation of Spider-Man, and Ditko was instrumental in the look of Spidey’s red and blue costume as well as Spider-verse characters like Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. You might also know Ditko’s Doctor Strange brought psychedelic weirdness into comics in the 1960s before it was cool.
Even his final creation in the early 1990s — Squirrel Girl — continues to grow in popularity. My own daughter just purchased a young reader’s chapter book based on this feisty hero with a fluffy tail. Ditko also worked with DC comics, and continued to work and create in his studio in Manhattan throughout his later years.
He was an amazing talent.
Ditko was found dead in his apartment on June 29, but his death wasn’t widely publicized until a week later. I heard about it on July 6, and I follow much of the comic buzz pretty closely.
Unlike Stan Lee, who still in his 90s has a knack for embracing the spotlight, Ditko had no desire to be in the public eye. He rarely did interviews and had no desire to be part of the mega hype surrounding Marvel’s big screen offerings, including Doctor Strange for which Scott Derrickson said in 2016 he hoped he paid “homage to his work.”
I love Stan Lee and have no desire to see him go anytime soon, but we all know when he does, it will be well covered, and people will have many interviews and appearances of him later in life from which to draw.
Ditko, on the other hand, died quietly and alone. I read a couple of comments from writers who said he might have been dead a day before his body was found. The cause was unconfirmed, but I’m going to offer a guess that at 90 it was just time for his body to peacefully say goodnight.
I could look at the news of Ditko’s death and be saddened he didn’t die surrounded by friends and family members. Instead it had me thinking of how we live versus the legacy we leave behind.
Ditko lived a reclusive and quiet life, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t filled with thoughtful beauty and creation. Ditko was called in a couple of obits the “J.D. Sallinger” of comics. He didn’t like to be photographed or quoted. His work was his legacy, not his image.
Now that he is no longer with us in this life, his legacy is being held up front and center, despite the fact he never asked for it to be. Writers, filmmakers, artists, actors, and collectors have filled social media and news stories with comments on how much Ditko did for the industry, and how much he influenced their own visions.
Lee, in contrast, continues to live a highly-visible celebrity-filled life, but I certainly don’t have any problem with Lee’s choice of being in the spotlight. He deserves every bit of attention he gets. In addition to his place on the Marvel Universe throne, Lee has shown us all that you can do more past the age of 80 than some people do their entire lives. He’s a perfect example of how not to squander the time we have on this earth, regardless of age. Long may you reign, Mr. Lee. "Excelsior!"
Yet, when all is said and done, both Lee and Ditko will leave behind their legacies. They will leave their characters, their stories, and their worlds.
For those of us who write, those of us who draw, or just those of us who read and appreciate the comic book medium, thank you Mr. Ditko for leaving a legacy in which we can escape in countless adventures to amazing worlds, times and parallel dimensions.
No matter how we live our lives — under the bright spotlight of publicity or in the quiet shadows of solitude — the work we do, the creations we concoct, and the future generations we influence through them will be there for everyone to see for years to come.
It doesn’t matter if that legacy extends only to those in or along the branches of our family tree, throughout out communities or around the entire world, we all carry with us deeds or creations that have the potential to speak louder to others through the memories of us than the words we utter (or refrain from uttering) in this life.
We will leave a legacy whether we asked for that attention or not.
Make sure it is one of which we can be proud.