The Origins of 'Doctor Strange'

Doctor Strange’s very earliest appearance in July 1963 was in the pages of Strange Tales #110. His original run, drawn by his creator, the enigmatic comic book recluse, Steve Ditko arose after August 18, 1955, when Hurricane Diane destroyed the premises of comic publisher, Charlton, in Connecticut, where Ditko was working. Ditko went to Atlas Comics in Manhattan and met Stan Lee. Atlas was soon to become Marvel; Lee was soon to be catapulted to the status of legend, as, a few years later, working with Jack Kirby, he would create the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and the Hulk. With Ditko, Lee and Kirby put together Spider-Man.

According to Lee, though, Doctor Strange was more of a Ditko creation - Lee wrote a lukewarm snippet for a fanzine in February 1963:

Well, we have a new character in the works for Strange Tales, just a five-page filler named Doctor Strange. Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. It has sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him. Twas Steve’s idea.

The ‘origin story’ of Doctor Strange wasn’t told until December of 1963. Obsessed with himself, expert surgeon Dr Stephen Strange loses the use of his hands after a car crash. In search of a cure, he travels to the Himalayas where he eventually meets a mystic known as The Ancient One. Strange agrees to become a disciple of this supreme sorcerer only in order to defend the old man from what he sees as attacks being made upon him by the Ancient One’s other disciple, Baron Mordo. Ditko’s unusual, flowing but detailed style leant itself to the odd, psychedelic worlds of magic and other-dimensional realms of the stories. Doctor Strange, with his sharp, slant-eyed face and Fu Manchu moustache, was unique among ‘superheroes’; worlds in which apparently insane, Escher-like structures and pathways interlinked in impossible ways had never been created before in comic books.

Steve Ditko learnt his trade at New York’s Cartoonists and Illustrator’s School under Jerry Robinson, co-creator of The Joker and Robin from Batman. However, it was the eccentric and controversial pioneer of Objectivism, Ayn Rand, Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter, known for her two best-selling novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, who was to have a more profound influence on Ditko. It was Lee who showed Ditko a copy of Atlas Shrugged around 1960. One of Rand’s central ideas was that the role of art in human life was to transform humans' conceptual understanding of existence by selectively reproducing reality into a physical form—a work of art—which could be comprehended and responded to emotionally. The philosophy around this, Objectivism, stated that reality exists independently of consciousness, and that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception.

Ditko had actually worked on another character, a couple of years earlier, called ‘Doctor Droom’. Dr. Droom was an upper class American physician who overheard colleagues discussing the request of a Tibetan lama for an American doctor. Fascinated, Droom reached the lamasery, high up among the Himalayas, and was put through a series of trials which turn out to have been to find a worthy successor to the lama in his continuing mystical fight against the forces of evil. Droom, agreeing to take on the lama’s task, is physically transformed - he gains Oriental features, a moustache and odd eyebrows, before being trained in the mystical arts.

Ditko had been generating 6 to 8 page science fiction and horror stories for years, but, working with Lee, inspired by Rand, he produced a series of outstanding Doctor Strange adventures which established the look and direction of the character for decades.

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