Comic book artist Steve Ditko has died at the age of 90, the New York Times reports. Ditko was best known for his work creating Spider-Man, who debuted in the Marvel comic book series Amazing Fantasy in 1962. Although Spider-Man was initially conceived by artist Jack Kirby, Kirby’s version was similar to another character he’d created, and after Ditko raised concerns, Stan Lee revamped the character. When Spider-Man became a hit, Ditko penciled and inked the first 38 issues of the character’s own series, The Amazing Spider-Man, on which he and Lee shared plot duties,
Ditko hailed from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and began his career as a cartoonist at a service newspaper while stationed in Germany during a stint in the military. After attending the Cartoonist and Visual Illustrator School in New York—now the School of Visual Arts—and worked for Jack Kirby and Joe Simon before settling at Charlton Comics, a Connecticut-based publisher that was legendary for its low pay. There, he worked on horror, crime, and science fiction stories, before returning home and dropping out of the field for a year while recovering from a bout of tuberculosis at his parent’s home in Pennsylvania in 1954.
In 1955 Ditko returned, working for Stan Lee at Atlas Comics before bouncing back to Charlton, where he created Captain Atom with writer Joe Gill. Atlas, which had renamed itself Marvel Comics Group while Ditko was elsewhere, rehired him for a legendary early 1960s run during which he helped develop Iron Man and the Hulk, was instrumental in creating Spider-Man, and created Dr. Strange. Ditko’s art, particularly for Dr. Strange, was characterized by the use of abstract and psychedelic images, making it a hit with Eastern-mysticism-curious young people of the 1960s. As sort of a one-two punch with the pop mysticism, Ditko also used his work to explore Randian Objectivism, inventing a Spider-Man villain called the Looter.
After leaving Marvel in 1965, Ditko went deeper into the world of Ayn Rand, creating Objectivist superheroes The Question and Mr. A, the latter of whom was named for “A is A,’ a slogan from Atlas Shrugged. Mr. A would occasionally directly address readers with monologues like this:
Only fools will tell you that money is the root of all evil! Money is the tool of exchange, a tool that must first be made before it can be begged, stolen, or earned! And it has to be made by the productive abilities of men! Is that evil? … Beggars and thieves exchange nothing for their wants and demands of someone else’s unearned wealth … and that is evil!
The Question and Mr. A—whose debut ends with him allowing a juvenile delinquent to fall to his death off a building—were huge influences on the similarly unforgiving superhero Rorschach in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. Although the Question was eventually softened into a non-Objectivist character at DC comics, Ditko owned the rights to Mr. A himself, and never toned him down; in 1968, Ditko said Mr. A and the Question were his favorite characters.
In the late 1960s, Ditko headed to DC Comics, where he created Hawk and Dove and the Creeper before falling ill again. Already known for being reclusive by the mid-1960s, Ditko dropped out of the public eye entirely as his output fell in the 1970s and 1980s. He briefly reentered the mainstream in the early 1990s when he created Squirrel Girl for Marvel. In later years, Ditko self-published comics with editor Robin Snyder, further exploring the Objectivist ideas that always fascinated him. Ditko was found dead in his Manhattan apartment on June 29.