In 1999, comic book hero Stan Lee wrote an open-letter confirming Steve Ditko’s role as co-creator of Spider-Man. The letter was in response to some public niggling between Ditko and Lee over who did what in the creation of the character.
The controversy came about after Lee “reminisced in Comic Book Marketplace about his inspirations for writing an acclaimed late 1965 issue of Amazing Spider-Man.” This led to artist Steve Ditko breaking his long silence on the subject, as told in Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics—The Untold Story:
“Stan never knew what was in my plotted stories,” the artist wrote to the [Comic Book Marketplace] editors, “until I took in the penciled story, the cover, my script and Sol Brodsky took the material from me and took it all into Stan’s office, so I had to leave without seeing or talking to Stan.”
A few months later, after Lee was identified in TIME magazine as the creator of Spider-Man, Ditko popped up on that magazine’s letters page, too:
“Spider-Man’s existence needed a visual concrete entity,” Ditko wrote. “It was a collaboration of writer-editor Stan Lee and Steve Ditko as co-creators.”
This time Lee picked up the phone and called Ditko, for the first time in more than thirty years.
“Steve said, ‘Having an idea is nothing, because until it becomes a physical thing, it’s just an idea,’” Lee recalled.
“And he said it took him to draw the strip, and to give it life, so to speak, or to make it actually some- thing tangible. Otherwise, all I had was an idea. So I said to him, ‘Well, I think the person who has the idea is the person who creates it. And he said, ‘No, because I drew it.’ Anyway, Steve definitely felt that he was the co-creator of Spider-Man. And that was really, after he said it, I saw it meant a lot to him that was fine with me. So I said fine, I’ll tell everybody you’re the co-creator. That didn’t quite satisfy him. So I sent him a letter.”
In the letter dated August 18th, 1999, Lee wrote:
To Whom It May Concern:
I would like to go on record with the following statement…
I have always considered Steve Ditko to be Spider-Man’s co-creator.
When I first told Steve my idea for a shy, teenaged high-school science student who’d be bitten by a radioactive spider, thus gaining the ability to stick to walls and shoot webs, Steve took to it like a duck to water.
Steve’s illustrated version of Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his coterie of supporting characters was more compelling and dramatic than I had dared hope it would be. From his very first panel, Steve created and established the perfect mood and gestalt for Spider-Man.
Also it goes without saying that Steve’s costume design was an actual masterpiece of imagination. Thanks to Steve Ditko, Spidey’s costume has become one of the world’s most recognizable visual icons.
Nor can I forget to credit Steve with the many, many brilliant plots he furnished as the strip continued to increase in popularity with each passing month. So adept was he at story-telling, that Steve eventually did most of the plotting and illustrations while I, of course, continued to provide the dialogue and captions.
I write this to ensure that Steve Ditko receives the credit to which he is so justly entitled.
Nuff said?! Perhaps not: Ditko was apparently upset that Lee used the word “considered,” as Lee explains in the clip from Jonathan Ross’ BBC documentary In Search of Steve Ditko embedded below.
Check out more of Sean Howe‘s on-line supplement to Marvel Comics: The Untold Story here. Below, Stan Lee’s original letter, plus a selection of Steve Ditko’s artwork for Spider-Man.
Below, Lee discusses Steve Ditko’s role in the creation of Spider-Man with Jonathan Ross from the BBC documentary In Search of Steve Ditko: