When the original schedule for SDCC 2018 came out, there was nothing scheduled to remember Steve Ditko, who passed away June 29th, 2018, at the age of 90. Ditko, best known for being the co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, spent most of his later life as a recluse at not quite the level of J.D. Salinger, as Ditko would continue to put out work with longtime collaborator Robin Snyder on 20 successful Kickstarter campaigns, with the last one ending five days after Ditko’s death. Somewhere between the release of the schedule and the Con itself, Scott Dunbier stepped in, like he did last year with the Bernie Wrightson Tribute Panel, and cut the IDW Artist’s Edition Panel down to 15 minutes so the rest of the time could be used as a Ditko Tribute Panel instead.
The panel was moderated by Dunbier, and included Paul Levitz, David Schwartz, Nick Lowe, and Steve Leialoha.
Dunbier shared that he never met Ditko face to face, but had a number of phone conversations with him. Stalker was one of the first comics that Dunbier saw of Ditko. Levitz was at DC Comics at a time when Julius Schwartz was looking to put out more books. Levitz pitched an idea and Ditko was assigned to work with him on it, with Wally Wood doing the inks. Levitz and Ditko co-created Stalker. Levitz said the series was cancelled before the first issue even came out. The book can be found in The Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 1. Levitz said he still spoke to Ditko on occasion, with the last time being about six months ago.
Dunbier talked about how first IDW Artist’s Edition book, The Rocketeer, as there was a split covered that was half The Rocketeer and half Ditko’s The Missing Man. So Dunbier called Ditko, as Ditko had a listed number, Dunbier wanted make sure that Ditko was okay with the art being published in the book. Dunbier said that Ditko said, “Yeah, send me a copy.” When Dunbier started planning to do an Artist Edition Spider-Man book of Ditko’s Marvel work, he called Ditko again. Ditko said, “Whoa, whoa, this has nothing to do with me, nothing to do with me at all.” Dunbier replied, “But, hear me out. I feel that it would not be ethically right for me to do a book like this and at least not talk to you about.” Dunbier said that to his surprise, Ditko said to go on. IDW had at that point already published Ditko Unleashed, for which Ditko was sent copies and received royalties for the book. Dunbier told Ditko this would be the same, he would receive royalties and would be sent 25 copies, to which Ditko responded, “Just send me one, I’ll put it next to the other one.”
David Schwartz talked about his correspondence with Ditko, which began in 1978. He would call Ditko every year that Schwartz made a trip to New York, and ask to see him. And each time, Ditko would answer the phone saying, “Yeah!” In 1985, Schwartz was surprised when Ditko invited him to his studio. They spent three hours chatting, talking philosophy the entire time, and never sitting down.
Nick Lowe shared a couple stories. First he talked about when Brian Michael Bendis started doing Ultimate Spider-Man, and how he wanted to talk to all the biggest creators who had done Spider-Man over the years. He called Ditko to ask for an interview. Ditko said he didn’t do interviews. Finally, after much haranguing, Bendis asked Ditko if he could ask him one question. Ditko said yes. Bendis asked, “Why won’t you do interviews?” Ditko said, “Sounds a lot like an interview question”, and then Ditko hung up.
The second story took place when Sony was planning the first Spider-Man movie. They had Ralph Macchio, Marvel editor, call Ditko because they wanted him involved in the planning of the movie as a consultant. Macchio called Ditko and told him everything Sony wanted to do with him. Ditko said, “That all sounds great. That sounds wonderful, I only have one condition. Only one person can play Spider-Man in the movie, me.” To which Macchio responded to the then 75-year-old Ditko, “I don’t know if they’re going to go for that. Steve, imagine walking the red carpet, getting your picture taken, imagine how amazing it would be for you to go and see this movie and sit in the theater.” Ditko responded, “Ralph that would be pretty amazing, but I don’t think they’d like it as much when I got up halfway through the movie and walked out.”
The panel was asked about Ditko having attended only one comic convention. Levitz said that was correct, Ditko attended the first con in New York in 1964. George R.R. Martin bought the first ticket to the show and this was the only time he met Ditko.
Having attended the Len Wein Tribute before this one, and then closing out SDCC attending the Harlan Ellison Tribute, the Ditko Tribute was very strange by comparison. While Wein and Ellison’s panel were filled full of stories being told by people who loved both of them, and many a tear fell to the ground at both, the Ditko Tribute had neither of those. It was a panel about a man that people kind of met or happened to work with, but no one really knew. No tears fell, and there wasn’t what I would call a love for the man in the room.
I stand by what I sent in for the Things We Learned at San Diego 2018 article — Harlan Ellison and Len Wein will be missed for not just their work, but also because of the people they were. Steve Ditko will be missed because of his work, because people didn’t know him, which it seems is the way he wanted it.
For further musings from Joshua Stone you can follow him on the Twitter @1NerdyOne.