Noteworthy Connections: A Johnstown Native, Spider-man co-creator was drawn to comics by David Hurst Apr 24,2016 Tribune-Democrat
Steve Ditko might be among the least recognizable of the area’s list of famous faces. But the characters he’s drawn – Spider-Man, his mechanical-armed nemesis Doctor Octopus and the mystical Doctor Strange – have become comic book legends. Ditko is a West End native and 1945 Johnstown High School graduate who has spent most of his 88 years creating comics – spending 11 years at a then-fledgling Marvel Comics, during a period when he helped launched some of the genre’s most beloved characters.
Ditko, who still creates comics from his small Manhattan studio, has lived an almost alter-ego-like private life in recent decades. But his name and work have only become more popular in an era when comic books bring Hollywood blockbusters. “He’s created some of the most memorable comic book characters of all-time,” said Matt Chalich, sitting behind a super hero-covered counter at Bent Wookee Comix in Johnstown’s West End.
Ditko was the artistic mind behind the first 38 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, plotting and drawing Peter Parker’s transformation into a teenage web-crawling wonder. Early Spider-Man comic book covers credit Ditko as the artist behind the first appearances of now-legendary Marvel villians such as Electro, Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin.
Marvel founder Stan Lee, the early issues writer and the man behind modern Marvel movies, and Ditko have been credited as co-creators in recent decades. “What (Marvel founder Stan) Lee and Ditko at that time were doing back then was simply remarkable,” Chalich said. “Some people – like (Harry Potter author) J.K. Rowling – strike lighting once. But these guys were rolling out new, iconic characters month after month. “And these are characters that have lived on for 50 years.”
According to Ditko biographers, the Johnstown native last called Cambria County home in 1954, after he briefly moved back with family while battling pneumonia. Ditko abruptly left Marvel under some mystery in 1966 – for reasons marvel fans have been speculating about for decades. At the time he was both drawing and plotting Spider-Man stories. Ditko and Lee biographies both have noted that there was friction between the pair. Ditko has shot down stories that it was over a planned unmasking of the Green Goblin – but has not offered details on his reason for leaving.
He’d later work for Charlton and DC Comics – creating or co-creating characters including The Creeper, Captain Atom and Mr. A. In the late 1990s, Ditko stepped away from mainstream comics. although he’s continued creating comics and characters and getting them published through various sources, including a former Charlton Comics editor’s publications.
Ditko’s name is listed in the credits of every Spider-Man film that’s been released in recent years – but the Johnstown native hasn’t tried to cash in on it. “If he wanted to, he could make a fortune signing those comics. People would be waiting in line all day long to meet him,” Chalich said. “But he doesn’t. That’s one of the most admirable things about him. He didn’t create all of those characters for the money.”
David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.