Steve Ditko is the Thomas Pynchon of the comic book world. He’s a recluse, has rarely been photographed, interviewed or filmed. But his art is something even the most casual of pop culture observers are familiar with: he created, along with Stan Lee, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange and made significant contributions to the continuing sagas of The Hulk and Iron Man, among other comic book heroes.
I’m not a reader of comic books but I did get into Dr. Strange’s trippy alternate realities in the 1960s. With it’s surreal tales and psychedelic artwork, Dr. Strange was a superhero for hipsters. Ditko’s illustrations filled the panels with brightly-colored surreal images that popped off the page and the stories told ventured into the mystical and phantasmagorical. No question he influenced a slew of young artists to expand the realm of comic book content into what would later be known as “head” comics.
In 1965, a San Francisco gathering took place called “A Tribute to Dr Strange.” With music provided by The Jefferson Airplane and party favors by Owsley, this was one of the first hippie happenings. Ironic that Ditko should exert such a strong tug upon the consciousness of the counter-culture when he himself was a social Darwinist with a right-wing slant who probably loathed the touchy/feely, all-is-one, hippie outlook on life. Ditko’s dog eat dog philosophy (articulated in his Mr A comics) was the anti-thesis of the new age group grope.
Jonathan Ross was one of many young freaks who fell under the spell of Ditko’s pen and in this delightful documentary he sets out to find the illusive artist. First shown on BBC television in September 2007, In Search Of Steve Ditko, takes us on a journey into the life of a man who has done all he can to shift the attention away from the artist to the art. Ross seems so enamored of Ditko that he abandons his usual snarkiness and the film becomes a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts. You don’t have to be fan of comic books to enjoy the trip.
Previously on DM: Searching For Steve Ditko