‘In Search of Steve Ditko’ ***** Movie Review 102407

The Work = *****
Here is a documentary that I can almost guarantee you will love if you are a comic book fan. Even if you are not you may just find yourself wrapped up in this often funny, always entertaining, documentary from British entertainment personality Jonathan Ross. Directed by Peter Boyd Maclean, and narrated by Ross (often in a self depreciating tone) ‘In Search of Steve Ditko’ moves along at a quick pace as it explores a little known artist, so eccentric that there are supposedly only a handful of photos of the guy. This hour long dock brought forth the inner dork in me (truthfully, something that is not hard to do) and I am giving it my highest recommendation.

If you have seen any of the Sam Raimi helmed ‘Spider-Man’ films there is a credit at the beginning of each one you may or may not have noticed. It reads: “based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko”. I was in the “not noticed” category and if you were to ask me who created ‘Spider-Man’, I would have said “Stan Lee”. To be fair, super hero comics were not my favorite genre of the medium but let’s face it, even I knew a bit about the web slinging superhero.

Part of the reason I had not heard of Ditko is the same you may have not: for many years he went un-credited. Oh sure, he has always gotten a credit as illustrator for the first 30 or so issues of ‘Spider-Man’ but as Ross and Maclean show his contributions to the character of ‘Spider-Man’ (including what he looked like) made him the icon he is today. Ditko also created the less famous but also noteworthy ‘Dr. Strange’ and was at his most popular when working on both characters for ‘Marvel Comics’. At the height of his popularity Ditko walked into the ‘Marvel’ offices, turned in his work, and announced his resignation. 

The documentary tells that Ditko has never taken any of the profits from the massive amounts of royalties spun from his work. Ross even ventures into a store to look at some superhero toys and comes across a ‘Dr. Strange’ toy that has a Ditko comic cover on its box. Ross and co’ argue that Ditko’s departure from ‘Marvel’ was a part of his rather rigid personal code. Through the interviews with those that admired Ditko and those that worked with him, an image of a driven artist who would not comprise his values takes shape. A man who’s works became more and more eccentric as he drifted farther and farther into obscurity.

Throughout the documentary there are a variety of interviews with the likes of Stan Lee, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Jo Quesada, who all speak fondly of Ditko (although Lee also has some frustration when speaking about the stubborn Ditko). If there is a shortcoming to ‘In Search of Steve Ditko’ it is that despite the input of those that knew him, there is an overall lack of biographical information about Ditko himself. No doubt hampered by the reclusive Ditko’s nature, a lot of the man’s personality is extrapolated from his work.

Short but sweet, ‘In Search of Steve Ditko’ is a great documentary that might remind some viewers of the equally great documentary ‘Crumb’. Ross and co’ shine a light on an underappreciated artist and do so in an entertaining manner. What results is an entertaining look at an eccentric through his work, those that knew him, and those that love what he has created. Made for, and airing on the BBC, I can only hope this gets a wider release. Here’s hoping for some sort of special edition DVD. Check this out, if you can. Highly, highly, recommended.


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