• Michael Dooley

Steve Ditko’s Midcentury Comics Art: Stranger Than Doctor Strange

Okay, so Wonder Woman’s CGI can probably beat up Doctor Strange’s. Still, Strange’s spirited, Academy Award-nominated effects easily outshone Benedict Cumberbatch’s less-than-magical performance, still memorable six months after its release. And we should also remember that ILM and Strange‘s other effects studios owe an inspirational debt to Marvel’s dazzling Steve Ditko.


It was Ditko who first gave artistic form to the Sorcerer Supreme and his kaleidoscopic inter-dimensional universe—as well as the contrastingly earthbound, reality-based Spider-Man—well over a half-century ago.


Out of This World, 1958


Former DC Comics president Paul Levitz, who collaborated with Ditko during his DC years, maintains a high regard for this groundbreaking artist’s conceptual skills: “Steve’s Doctor Strange material demonstrated what was, at the time, an absolutely unique ability to visualize worlds that had no apparent laws of physics yet seemed to have internal consistency.”


More background on Ditko can be found in The Silver Age of Comic Book Art, in which author Arlen Schumer details Strange’s “wide-ranging influence on the proto-counterculture that was beginning to use LSD to open new doors of perception into fantasy worlds that were distinctively Ditko-like.”


spread from Arlen Schumer’s Silver Age of Comic Book Art


While 1962’s Spidey and ’63’s Strange are Ditko’s most popular and enduring characters, his professional career lasted another 35 years. Today, at 89, he publishes his own, sketchily-rendered comics zines. And while an enormous amount of attention has been paid to his superhero years, with the notable exception of IDW books such as The Art of Ditko and The Creativity of Ditko, and Fantagraphics’s Ditko Archives series, little has been devoted to his formative era, which began in 1954 with a variety of horror, science-fiction, and crime comics. He worked with Mort Meskin at the Simon/Kirby studio, studied his contemporaries such as Will Eisner, Wally Wood, and Joe Kubert, and established his affiliation with Charlton and then Atlas, which went on to become Marvel.


left: Starman by writer/creator Paul Levitz, penciler/designer Steve Ditko, and inker/embellisher Romeo Tanghal, 1980. right: #9teen page by Steve Ditko, 2014.


Looking back, we see that he’d been conjuring up his hallucinatory images a full decade earlier than Dr. Strange, not to mention him being around 15 years ahead of Jim Steranko’s pseudo-psychedelic Dali riffs in his Nick Fury. And these images are all the more exceptional in their stunning transformations of traditional genre narratives—often hacked-out schlock—into startling, phantasmagoric apparitions.


With that in mind, here’s a journey back into Steve Ditko’s early, under-recognized, cosmic comic book wizardry.


Out of This World, 1957



Out of This World, 1957



Out of This World, 1957



Out of This World, 1957



The Thing, 1954



The Thing, 1954



The Thing, 1954



The Thing, 1954



Unusual Tales, 1957



Unusual Tales, 1957



Strange Suspense Stories, 1957



Strange Suspense Stories, 1957



Strange Suspense Stories, 1957



Strange Suspense Stories, 1957



Outer Space, 1959



Tales of Suspense, 1962



Journey into Mystery, 1963



Journey into Mystery, 1963



#comicbooks #art #JoeKubert #SpiderMan #WillEisner #WallyWood #BenedictCumberbatch #sciencefiction #SteveDitko #counterculture #Fantagraphics #comics #IDW #Marvelcomics #JoeSimon #creativity #ArlenSchumer #DCComics #NickFury #designinspiration #CGI #CharltonComics #horror #JackKirby #superheroes #crime #DrStrange #JimSteranko #SilverAge #SalvadorDali #inspiration #WonderWoman #PaulLevitz #psychedelic #LSD #MortMeskin


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About Michael Dooley

Michael Dooley is the creative director of Michael Dooley Design and teaches History of Design, Comics, and Animation at Art Center College of Design and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is also a Print contributing editor and author.View all posts by Michael Dooley →

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