Strange and Stranger : The World of Steve Ditko

By BLAKE BELL

If you know Spider-Man, chances are you’re just one of 100 million casual movie viewers. If you know Dr. Strange, it’s likely that you’ve read a few comics, however long ago. But if you know the Question or Mr. A, it’s pretty certain that you’re a dyed-in-the-wool fan of artist Steve Ditko, creator of all the heroes cited above and one of the seminal architects of the comics landscape, and consequently responsible for a myriad hours of viewing and reading pleasure for countless fans. Now even the comics newbie can experience the full range of Ditko’s accomplishments, thanks to Blake Bell’s masterful, copiously illustrated biographical study. With passionate yet unremittingly objective scholarship, Bell chronicles the life and work of this notoriously reclusive and stubborn artist. The shadow of creative tragedy hangs over Ditko’s career: his vast, eye-popping output, from early horror comics in the 1950s to his final Ayn Rand–dominated preachments of the ’90s, was all produced for cut-rate wages at a backbreaking clip. When his work fell out of favor, the financially strapped artist was reduced to taking such projects as a coloring book for the Transformers franchise. Bell is forthright on the myriad sins of the comics industry but equally tough on Ditko’s own failings, mainly an insanely unswerving dedication to the Objectivist creed that sabotaged every effort to help his cause. The author trains his keen eye on just what made Ditko’s talent unique and groundbreaking; his analysis puts weight behind fellow artist John Romita’s estimation, which placed Ditko in rarefied company: “They are what I call creators. The rest of us are illustrators.”

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