We’re All Big Boys

More on Steve Ditko, & the New Cottage Industries

I’ll open today’s installment of this multi-part essay (which will, with its next chapter, move into fresh discussion of the Marvel vs. Kirby judgment of August 2011, and relevant issues) with a statement from The Creativity of Ditko editor/packager Craig Yoe.

Craig (who I’ve known since at least the early 1980s, if not longer) and I had a conversation on Facebook about the first Ditko post this week (below), and with Craig‘s permission, let’s kick off with the following:

“Hi Stephen

I am fascinated by your review–many interesting, thought provoking points. I wish I had time to engage in discussion about many of the aspects, at length even, agreeing with, disagreeing with and asking questions about things raised by you and people who commented. I unfortunately don’t though here are some brief thoughts.

Foremost, I did want to take time to respond to one very important thing: From everything I know, which I explain following, Ditko is not against the existence of my books.

I told Ditko on the phone that I was going to produce The Art of Ditko book. He clearly declined twice in the conversation to have any editorial or financial involvement, was characteristically good natured, even humorous about it as I relate in the brand new book. In the phone discussion Ditko never expressed in any way, shape or form being against the publication of the book.

Paul Levitz told Ditko I was producing this new book, The Creativity of Ditko, and asked him to review and approve his introduction before we went to press. Ditko never expressed during this process in any way, shape or form being against the publication of the book. Ditko approved Paul‘s introduction by mail.

On John Platt‘s comment on your blog where he says, “I seem to recall that one of Yoe’s books – and it wasn’t Art of Ditko, I just checked – reproduced a hand-written note from Ditko that basically said “don’t bother me, I don’t want to participate.” I have only done 2 books on and The Creativuity of Ditko. Neither have any such note. Ditko has never in any way, shape or form told me I was bothering him.

I have only had pleasant experiences with Ditko when he visited me when I worked at the Muppets and I had lunch with him and gave him a tour of the Muppet Creature Shop and introduced him and Jim Henson. There was the same such pleasantry when I accepted his subsequent invitation to visit his studio and when I hired him to draw an issue of Big Boy Comics and when I have communicated by mail and phone with Steve Ditko.

Craig Yoe

Now, before I go any further: thanks, Craig, for engaging; and if you’re ever up for an interview about your work, let me know.

And to you, constant reader,

Now, as I noted at the end of yesterday’s essay, I—like everyone—am guilty of no doubt projecting my own perceptions and concerns onto these issues.

It’s part of being human.

For me, this isn’t all about Craig Yoe‘s new book, The Creativity of Ditko—it’s about a living creator having a growing library of books being published about him and/or collecting his past work, without involvement or income. That’s what I find frustrating and fascinating.

It’s also not about my opinion of the book or books itself/themselves—see Mike DeLisa‘s comment on the last post for an opposing view—but their existence, sans Ditko‘s involvement or earning anything from them.

(Also note, please, Mike DeLisa‘s citation of a French book about Ditko: “Pick up Tristan Lapoussiere‘s recent Steve Ditko: L’Artiste Aux Masques—you’ll have to learn French to read it but you’ll be better served with Tristan‘s work that any pile of dreck emitted by Yoe or Bell.”

For me, it’s in part about how a living artist might be approached concerning such projects. If anyone called me, to paraphrase Craig directly, to tell me they were doing a book collecting my work (Craig wrote: “…I told Ditko on the phone that I was going to produce The Art of Ditko book…”), I’d have to restart the conversation by saying, “shouldn’t you be asking me rather than telling me?”

* Now, take into account, as I should have asserted from the beginning of yesterday’s post, that Craig has a prior working relationship with Steve Ditko (and I have and love that Big Boy #470 comic Ditko drew in 1997, BTW—its writer, Craig Boldman, was a classmate of mine at the Kubert School, part of the second class—class of 1979—that John Totleben was in), unlike those involved with the other Ditko reprint books. This is important, and not to be underestimated.

Craig also constructs his books using text features composed, in part, by others who have had working relations with Ditko: note, as Craig does, Paul Levitz‘s introduction to The Creativity of Ditko (Levitz collaborated with Ditko and the late, great Wally Wood on the 1970s DC series Stalker), and also note Jack Harris‘s contribution to The Creativity of Ditko, discussing and showcasing some of his unpublished collaborations with Ditko.

But still—I have reservations.

Now this gets into philosophical particulars I’ll leave it to others to discuss fully elsewhere: individual vs. collectivism, Objectivism, Anarchism, and the conceit that my reservations ipso facto impose my beliefs upon Ditko and/or anyone reprinting Ditko‘s work, under the present conditions.

(Notice my using the term “conceit” just then? That’s a writerly trick. Sort of like attracting attention to Craig Yoe saying he “told” Ditko he was doing a book about, or collecting the work of, Ditko. If I were really being devious, I simply wouldn’t bring these conceits to your attention.)

I’m just going to state my case, and move on to more pressing matters.

* This isn’t, by a long shot, just about Ditko or Yoe Books; I don’t mean to either pillory or scapegoat anyone in particular, though it’s The Creativity of Ditko (lucky book!) that springboards this whole discussion. It’s about the whole cottage industry so many publishers (Dark Horse, Fantagraphics, IDW, and above all Marvel) is reveling in: reprint volumes, sans payment to creators.

It’s, like, “free money,” right? Only it’s not.

The printers get paid. The licensors get paid. The archivists and those who do the art and color restorations get paid. The editors and packagers get paid. The publisher earns income, or the books wouldn’t exist.

Why then are the creators and/or creator estates, in so many cases, simply written off?

Make no mistake: this is a cottage industry erected on the backs of countless creators, living and dead. 

Asserting “public domain” per se doesn’t resolve or dissolve the ethical issues—and when the creators whose work is being reprinted still live, well—WTF?

I’ve heard it all: “These books pay for the other books we do pay for,” “these books are vanity project, they don’t earn much of anything,” “these books—” blahblahblahblahblah. (I’m often told this by editors who take home a paycheck every Friday, I presume, or I wouldn’t be talking to them.)

In the best of all worlds, I just wish these things were done differently. Really, I do: as a reader, as a writer, as a creator.

* For instance, among the handsome line of Yoe Books are some books that had to have involved a licensing element and fees, like the two Archie books.

(For the sake of this discussion, let’s briefly ignore that (a) Archie‘s publishers collect money for reprints without paying a penny to creators whose work is reprinted, and (b) Archie‘s own reprintings of past Archie works don’t pay a penny to the creators involved, and have one of the most odious work-for-hire contracts outside of Disney I’ve ever laid eyes upon. Let’s ignore that, please, just to keep our little chat here about Ditko on track.)

* What if, as a matter of policy, whatever amount was budgeted, by necessity, for licensing and clearances with a corporate firm like Archie was extended to a living creator (in this case, Steve Ditko) when a book is built around their work?

You know, part of the budget, from day one.

A presumption that it must be done:

A check, cut to the living creator.

You bet your bottom dollar those fees and checks are budgeted in when it’s a syndicate involved, or a legal estate, or a corporate licensor (King Features, Archie Comics, Disney, etc.), on a relevant collection of past comics creations that reprint works by dead creators.

But, yes, Ditko is very much alive, thankfully—so, why these reprint volumes that cost consumers/readers $35 and up, earning nothing for Ditko?

* So, Ditko wants nothing. I go back, then, to the last post, and Rob Imes mentioning the anarchists; I think of the Creative Commons movement, which is opposed in many ways to the economics involved in copyrights and copyrighted works (and I think, “well, then, why should I bother putting pen to paper ever again? All that’s paying my way these days, really, is teaching”)… but I digress.

So, Ditko. If he won’t accept money, and apparently sanctions, or tolerates, or ignores these books—collected editions and biographies alike—what to do?

* I already made one concrete, and quite cost-effective, suggestion:

and if you invest in these handsome reprint books, it’s comparable to the cost (including shipping) of a whole box of the Ditko “packages” Snyder keeps in print.

This in no ways imposes upon Ditko; in no way contradicts his decision to remain aloof and/or tacitly sanction/tolerate/ignore such projects or books; in no way contradicts his personal philosophy.

Couldn’t that be instituted? That costs the writer, the editor, the packager, the publisher absolutely nothing, save a paragraph or two, perhaps an image or two. Hell, if you put in cover images, that’s more “free” Ditko art (and mighty eccentric and current Ditko art at that) you’re publishing—more bang for your non-buck!

* But it’s also the presumption—Ditko wants nothing, so we’ll budget nothing—that galls.

Again, maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’m just projecting.*

A few final points on this, then I’ll move on:

* These decisions impact everyone, in ways that might surprise you. Case in point: when Alan Moore insisted upon his name not appearing on any adaptation of his work (i.e., the feature films), that impacted all of us who worked on those comics with him. No “created by Alan Moore” credit, no “co-created by Stephen R. Bissette, John Totleben, and Rick Veitch” credit on Constantine the movie, and thereafter increasingly “based on the DC/Vertigo comic” or “based on the DC/Vertigo graphic novel” became the new corporate norm.

This does impact more than the individual creator making their own informed decisions. This does impact other creators. This impacts my (now adult) children in more ways than I care to discuss here. This. Does. Matter.

* The sanction/tolerance/ignoring of these reprints without some form of contractual agreement, some form of compensation, for source creators and/or their heirs is feeding and fueling the cottage industry (which grows exponentially every year) of handsome, pricey reprint comics volumes that pay nothing to the creators, their heirs, etc.

When there’s a living creator—Ditko, in this case—arguably sanctioning (per Craig‘s letter to me, above), and/or apparently tolerating, or at best ignoring such volumes, it’s precedent—and it impacts others. And this, too, is maddening.

This encourages the growth of said cottage industry, to the point where editors/publishers presume public domain covers a wide variety of sins, and reprint volumes sans compensation becomes a weird status quo.

Case in point: when creators like myself have had to step up and complain when it’s our work being included in such volumes—sans being contacted, sans contract, sans payment, sans even complimentary copies of the book(s)—we get attitude from the editors or publishers. Then, oh, nasty ol’ us, we’re the trouble. It’s the classic bait-and-switch: don’t blame their presumption we wouldn’t care, wouldn’t want acknowledgement, want compensation, want—if nothing else—comp copies of the $40+ per copy book our work appears in, oh, no, that’s not the “trouble.” No, we’re the trouble, for daring to ask, “hey, what’s up with this?”

“Well, so-and-so had no objection—why should we make an exception for you?” are words that have actually been said to me under such circumstances (by editors who, I presume, take home a paycheck every Friday, or they wouldn’t be answering the phones).

* A creator or their heirs don’t want the money? So, publisher—step up to the fucking plate and send that fee (call it what you will: a license fee, a creator fee, a reprint bundle fee, a “get out of jail free” fee, a “get rid of the creator and/or creator’s heirs” fee, whatever) instead to the Hero Initiative, or offer those creators who don’t wish to be paid or engage to send the check to the Hero Initiative in their name. If they refuse that, then, well, just send the check to Hero Initiative in your own name.

Why, deducting that charitable donation from your reprint volume(s) budget might even help your bottom line.

* As I say, the printers get paid, don’t they?

Without the stories and art, there’s nothing to print, nothing to package, nothing to sell. 

Without exception, THE FIRST CHECK CUT SHOULD BE TO THE CREATORS OR THEIR HEIRS. Period.

Even if it’s a courtesy payment, even if it isn’t cashed and has to be eventually written off… sigh.**

Maybe it’s just me.

But again, see, then it’s back to being about me. My work. My heirs. And what I see in store for them, down the road. My imposing collectivist creative concerns and views onto an individual, one could (and some would and have) argued.

And that’s not what I’m here to talk about this week.

Ditko.

We’re talking about Ditko.
______________

For me, it’s also in part about Ditko‘s account of his own history being continually ignored—which isn’t an issue per se for The Art of Ditko and The Creativity of Ditko as it is for the biographies and comics histories that continue to ignore Ditko‘s own account of his career.

Yes, yes, we know—Ditko declines all interviews.

He keeps his own counsel.

But he has gone on the record with a full and extensive blow-by-blow account of the topic that most interests (almost) all comics historians.

Steve Ditko wrote and Robin Snyder published a serialized book-length personal account of Ditko‘s relationships with Marvel and Stan Lee in particular, which continues to be ignored after a full decade.

What’s up with that?

Having The Creativity of Ditko arrive in the mail mere hours after I’d finished reading the advanced reading copy of Sean Howe‘s excellent MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY (Harper Collins, 2012) prompted much thought over the whole of Ditko‘s comics career, right up to the present…

To Be Continued…

________________

* Ya, maybe it’s just me.

When I was editing and co-publishing Taboo, there were works I would have loved to have reprinted in that anthology and didn’t—if the original creator or creator’s heirs could not be found or compensated directly, I proceeded no further. I could relate many accounts of these misadventures, but won’t, save for one:

At one point, I entertained, researched, and even spoke to Fleetway folks about including an installment of the infamous Action Weekly serialized comics Hookjaw in either a Taboo special or upcoming issue. The reprint rate was spit—$5 US per page (I kid you not)—so I looked into tracking down the writer and artist as well, and paying additional licensing to them (Taboo paid, without exception, $100 per page for one-time publication rights, so it would have been a nice payday for both creators). When Fleetway got wind of this, and actively discouraged my doing so (“think of the precedent it would set—oh, God, we can’t have that!”), that was the end of pursuing a Hookjaw reprint of any kind. To date, there has been only one Hookjaw reprint volume that I know of, a print-on-demand collection which I tracked down a copy of—good luck finding it online.

If the creators earn nothing, and are discouraged from earning anything for their work, I want nothing to do with such a publishing venture. Period.

** Look—as a publisher, in the past, I’ve written $10,000 US checks to creators who didn’t cash them. Dave Sim. Peter Laird. Dave refused any reimbursement or compensation for his considerable investment in Taboo over the years—so the year I had the money in hand, I just wrote the check and Express Mailed it to him. “I’m tearing up this check, Steve,” he said to me over the phone. “Give the money to your kids, or take a nice vacation with your wife. You’ve earned it.” Others—Kevin Eastman—happily and justifiably cashed such checks. It’s the right thing to do. Send the check. But again, that’s me.

- And, a reward for those who’ve read this whole damned thing—hey, you want to read that Big Boy comic Ditko pencilled? Well, you can, since it has been legally reprinted!

  • The complete story—reprinted with all due legal clearances—appears in Craig Yoe‘s gorgeous Golden Treasury of Klassic Krazy Kool Kids’ Komics, which you can order here from amazon.com (or seek other venues, like your local comic shop)!
  •  

    _____________________

    All images are ©original year of publication, and 2012 their respective creators; all book images ©their respective years of publication, including 2008, 2009, 2012, their respective publishers; all images are posted for archival, educational, and review purposes only.


    Discussion (21) ¬

    1. Roger Green

      I do appreciate your purity (that’ sounds snarky – not intended) about not publishing/reprinting if “the original creator or creator’s heirs could not be found or compensated directly.” As you no doubt know, there’s a lot of orphan art out there, and I’d be more inclined to publish, setting up an escrow account for the creators.

      My concern – and you allude to it – is art disappearing altogether from the marketplace, not being available to future generations. As a librarian, I know well that data disappears over time. Those LPs that don’t make it onto CD or iTunes, or those movies that were once on Beta tape, but were never transferred to some digital format, might as well not exist, and this pains me. I want the creators to be compensated, but I also want the art to survive.

    2. srbissette

      Roger, I’ll be getting into that later in the essay. As a scholar/archivist/historian and teacher, the access to comics history and the comics stories themselves is essential—and in this, the reprint volume boom has been in many ways a welcome development. But, damn—when it’s a living creator, and their work is being reprinted/collected—well, point taken, and I hope you’ll stay tuned. I do get into those tough issues, in coming installments.

    3. patrick ford

      Looking forward to part two. I agree completely in PD situations at least a token payment should be made to creators or their heirs. Hopefully the payment would be made in such a way that in the event a book sold exceptionally well the payment would be more substantial.
      It is pretty incredible those Ditko essays are ignored isn’t it? Forget the fact very few people have seen them, that isn’t the point. What is incredible is they are ignored by the comics press. To my knowledge only you and Bob Heer have mentioned them. Why? Well it’s obvious. There is a protective bubble around Stan Lee which extends from Eddie Campbell to the MMMS message board. What it amounts to is any criticism of Lee invites a scorched Earth reply where people who are thought to be friends will become livid with anger.
      I am curious? Does the Sean Howe book mention the Ditko essays? I know it contains the bogus fantasy in which Ditko uses his original art as a cutting board. That one little story is VERY well known. I see it constantly almost every time Ditko’s name comes up. Why? well it serves several purposes. One reason is the large scale theft of Ditko original art in 1982. It eases the mind of those who played a part in this to tell themselves and others Ditko has no use for his art, that he’d just destroy it if he had it. It’s better that it was stolen, because if it hadn’t been then Ditko would have made confetti out of it. So that little story was hatched in an old fanzine almost no one has seen, but the story is now very well known. A whole series of essays on the very subjects people want to know about. Essays written BY DITKO. They are TABOO.

    4. John Platt

      I’m glad to stand corrected, Craig. Now I just need to figure out where I saw that damned note reproduced! (Unless I dreamed it. Who knows.)

    5. patrick ford

      John, The note was published by Sean Howe.

    6. Bill Anderson

      Steve, any chance you’ll get into a fuller description of the Robin Snyder-published books? What they contain, which are the most essential, whether there’s any overlap between volumes, etc. I have a couple, and I’m thinking about getting more, but the site is pretty bare-bones.

    7. patrick ford

      BTW: The Ditko note was on Sean Howe’s FB page. I haven’t seen the book.

    8. Henry R. Kujawa

      “oh, no, that’s not the “trouble.” No, we’re the trouble, for daring to ask, “hey, what’s up with this?””

      For several months at the Captain Comics message board (a generally-friendly place) ONE fan named “George” has been making personal attacks against me every time I say something about Stan Lee he disagrees with, or simply praise someone Styan worked with rather than Stan. His “arguments” never make any sense, and always focus on ME, rather than what appears to be obvious hatred of Jack Kirby and contempt for Steve Ditko. Some people just worship the corporate mindset, I suppose.

      My own Steve Ditko “tribute”… enjoy!
      http://professorhswaybackmachine.blogspot.com/2012/02/steve-ditko.html

    9. Rob Imes

      Bill,

      Of the Ditko/Snyder books in print, listed at
      http://ditko.blogspot.com/1990/01/ditko-books-in-print.html
      my own highest recommendation would be:

      - Steve Ditko’s 160-Page Package #[1] [1999] — $12
      which is a collection of then-new Ditko short fantasy tales, hero tales, crime tales, and so on. A subsequent collection of similar material, The 176-Page Package, is unfortunately out-of-print, but if it were available, I’d recommend it highly as well.

      - Steve Ditko’s Static [2000] [160 pages: Chapters 1 to 14 plus] — $15
      “Static” was Ditko’s greatest work of the 1980s, with an erratic publishing history at the time, and finally collected all in this volume. A superhero story with a beginning, middle, and end, with wonderful Ditko art and thought-provoking writing.

      Other strong book collections available from Robin Snyder are “The Mocker” (although the small panel size is a drawback — wish it was tabloid size, or the panels printed larger); “Ditko Package, 2nd Edition” (a reprint of the 1989 Ditko Package, whose strongest story is perhaps the Recage tale, beautifully drawn); and the collection of all of The Missing Man stories (Steve Ditko’s 80-Page Package The Missing Man).

      My all-time favorite collections of Ditko’s independent work remain Fantagraphics’ mid-1980s “The Ditko Collection” Volumes 1 & 2, edited by Robin Snyder, which collects much of Ditko’s 1960s-70s independent, self-copyrighted work. But those two books might be hard to find now. (It’s unfortunate that the series didn’t continue, as apparently there were plans for two more volumes, to collect the rest of Ditko’s independent material, up to the 1980s.) However, Robin’s recent reprints of Mr. A. #1 and Wha? (which are in The Ditko Collection Volume 1 and 2, respectively) ARE still available.

      Of Ditko’s new releases (from 2008 to present), here is some more detail about each issue. (If you want a recommendation for a first-time buyer, I’d suggest “Ditko Continued,” “Ditko Presents” and “A Ditko Act 3.” If you don’t like those, you probably wouldn’t like the others.)

      - The Avenging Mind [April 2008] [32 pages: New and reprint essays, illustrations] — $4.95
      A fascinating collection of new essays by Ditko on working at Marvel, and negative trends in the comics industry in general. Plus a few new illos in an editorial-cartoon style. If you want to read what Ditko has to say, then buy this!

      - Ditko, etc… [October 2008] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      This was the first of Ditko’s all-new comic books, and initially the new looseness in Ditko’s art style was surprising, and not in a good way. In retrospect, it’s better than I originally had thought, but I wouldn’t recommend it as one’s first purchase. It does feature the debuts of his new characters Hero, The Grey Negotiator, The Cape, and The Outline.

      - Ditko Continued… [January 2009] [32 pages; all-new, with Mr. A.] — $4
      A stronger collection than the previous one, more stories and fewer pin-ups. Mr. A. returns for a brief 4-page tale that consists of Mr. A. merely standing in front of a guilty man, as the guilty guy gets progressively more nervous in the presence of the calm, smiling hero. (Ditko has used this visual image before, where a calm Rex Graine, etc. will walk confidently down a hallway while his enemies start sweating, etc. because inwardly they know that they don’t measure up to the example he sets, and they hate him for it.) My favorite tale this issue is “The Partner,” a non-hero crime-type tale which is pure Ditko in its visual expression. Both this story and the Mr. A. tale, as well as the long Hero story, are continued next issue, but that doesn’t detract from their enjoyability.

      - Oh, No! Not Again, Ditko [March 2009] [32 pages; all-new, with Mr. A.] — $4
      The conclusions from the previous issue, plus some funny editorial cartoon vignettes. Perhaps most relevant to Steve Bissette’s postings this week is the one-pager titled “Wah! Ditko Won’t Perform For Us! Wah!” This run of new comics demonstrates that Ditko IS performing, but on his own terms, in his own way.

      - Ditko Once More [May 2009] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      This issue is almost all in the editorial cartoon vein, a continuation of the “Wah! Ditko Won’t Perform” subject Ditko addressed last issue. Ditko answers his critics — again, in his own unique way. However, if full-page editorial cartoons are not what you are after, skip this one.

      - Ditko Presents [Sept. 2009] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      Four stories introducing three new characters: The Madman, The !? (yep, that’s his name), and Miss Eerie. Plus, best of all, a well-told non-hero drama titled “A Crime Story…” that continues next issue (although this first part is better than the conclusion).

      - A Ditko Act Two [March 2010] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      More from the Madman, The Cape, The Grey Negotiator, and the conclusion of “A Crime Story…”

      - A Ditko Act 3 [May 2010] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      A particularly good issue, with stories of Miss Eerie, The Grey Negotiator, part one of a Cape story, and a 2-pager at the end with a nice surprise of two of Ditko’s new characters in the same story. Plus some editorial cartoon pages. A well-rounded package!

      - Act 4 [July 2010] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      A story of The !?, of The Outline, and part 2 of The Cape story from last issue. The last 13 pages are full-page pin-up type editorial cartoon pages, which would have worked better perhaps as a webcomic, since there is a sense of animation & movement to what is shown.

      - Ditko #5-Five Act [Nov. 2010] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      The Madman, Grey Negotiator, The Outline, and The Cape tales, plus a crime tale called “The Wishers.”

      - Act 6 [Jan. 2011] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      Another strong collection, with stories of Miss Eerie, The Cape, Grey Negotiator, The Outline, and the introduction of a new series, “The P Masks” which rates among my favorites of the new work.

      - Act 7 Seven Making 12 Twelve of Ditko’s 32s #12 [May 2011] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      Tales of The !?, Hero (two stories), and “The P Mask.”

      - Act 8 Making Lucky 13 Thirteen Ditko’s 32s #13 [July 2011] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      More with The Madman, The Grey Negotiator, and two wonderfully strange Ditko tales: “E (e) and I (i)” and “…You Won’t Ever Forget…” that I particularly enjoyed.

      - A Ditko #14 [Sept. 2011] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      A solid collection of tales featuring Hero (in editorial cartoon pin-up page mode), Miss Eerie, and The Cape, plus two new series: “The Distorter” and “The Complainers.”

      - A Ditko #15 [Dec. 2011] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      More editorial cartoons, plus The !?, The Cape, The Distorter, and E (e) and I (i). It may be my imagination, but Ditko’s art has seemed stronger in these recent issues, or there is more use of filling spaces with black areas than before. His art still looks a lot looser than it did before the 2000s — or maybe I’ve gotten more used to it.

      #16: Sixteen [Feb.-March 2012] [32 pages; all-new] — $4
      More tales of The Madman, Hero, The Outline, The Cape, and an editorial cartoon type strip commenting on how “The Celebrity” gets his puffy chest deflated when the public demands “He has to perform for us…answer to us… tell us everything” and bombards him with detailed questions (“In 1952, you… page 8, panel 6, you…” etc). In this issue’s Hero story, the villain The Caveman is reminiscent of a Kraven the Hunter type.

      And that’s the most recent issue, #16. Hope that helps!

      Rob Imes

    10. Rob Imes

      The cottage industry (as Steve B. puts it) of reprint collections and tribute books, and the ethics involved of reprinting this public domain material (or believed “public domain”) has become more noticable in recent years as the books themselves have become thicker, handsomer, more expensive and more frequent. Scans of the pages of old comics are now more readily available. The compiler of such a volume need only send out a plea for pages from online contacts, or browse scanned collections on the web, to obtain the material needed to fill a book. It’s already out there to be had, so the thinking seems to be that it’s fair game for publication, regardless of the feelings of the material’s creator(s). Complete stories are printed (both online and in print) under the catch-all phrase of “fair use” or “scholarship.” If a creator was paid poorly by a company such as Charlton for his work, then the result of unauthorized reprints is to continue or compound that unfortunate fact, for the artist might not be paid at all for its republication (both then and now).

      We as fans want to read these old comics. But their creators may not necessarily want them revived, may have a low opinion of that earlier work — or would at least like to choose which ones are presented again. Not every editor or publishing house is willing to give a longtime creator that power — nor would most readers want them to, if it means fewer reprints. Devoted music fans love to listen to bootleg recordings of their favorite artists, and who knows what treasures remain in the vaults, unheard by the most diligent collectors. The surviving Beatles allowed some material to be released (urged on by their record label, who were keen to see “new” material in the marketplace), but were fortunate (depending on how you look at it) to maintain control of the projects (e.g., Anthology and Live at the BBC) and what unreleased songs were finally released to the public.

      When it came to the “Live at the Star Club” album (a live recording of the pre-fame Beatles, released on LP in the 1970s), Wikipedia notes that “The Beatles were unsuccessful in legally blocking the initial release of the album; the recordings were reissued in many forms until 1998, when The Beatles were awarded full rights to the performances.” The 1970s LP “The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl” has never been legally released on CD, despite the fact that the record was originally released by their American label, Capitol Records. The fans may want it on CD, and the record label may want it out as well, but there is someone more important in the equation who clearly does not want it out: The Beatles themselves. So, no CD of the Hollywood Bowl concert.

      However, in this age of YouTube, a plethora of still-unreleased material has jumped from obscure bootleg series like Ultra Rare Trax and Unsurpassed Masters, known only to the most die-hard collectors, to being a mere click away for members of the general public as they go randomly looking for a well-known Beatles song online. The flow of information is hard to stop once it’s put out there so prominently. (As is the flow of misinformation, as in the case of Ditko where the Green Goblin and the cutting-board myths have hopped from tiny mentions in obscure fanzines to the more general chatter, endlessly repeated, of the internet message boards.)

      Every creator has a different response to the news that someone is putting out a book about their work. Some might genuinely be flattered, while others might genuinely be alarmed (with good reason). Collections of work are not merely “about” that work, however; they are the work itself, offered up to the public again. Some creators may not want their name on those books, even if they did the work within. Or at the very least would like control over how that work is presented. In the case of Ditko, we have seen two collections of his earlier work published as Ditko himself approved: The 160-Page Charlton Package in 1999, and more recently The Cover Series one-shot, both published with Robin Snyder. In book collections instigated by others, that choice of story selection of his own work is taken out of his hands. Again, such was usually the case when the material was first published, in cheaply-printed comics, but now the difference is that the comics are not so cheaply printed.

      John D. MacDonald, the creator of Travis McGee, participated in the reprinting of two 1980s collections of his 1940s pulp stories, titled “The Good Old Stuff” and “More Good Old Stuff.” In the introduction of the latter book, MacDonald wrote that he had been approached by two anthology editors/fans about putting out a collection of his early pulp stories. He describes his reaction as “flattered, hesitant and dubious,” but from “the hundreds of my stories published during the nineteen forties and fifties, [they] weeded the list down to thirty. When I reread the thirty I was pleasantly surprised to find that twenty-seven of the thirty seemed to merit revival.” (In other words, MacDonald nixed three of their choices.) Included in the book were tales that had originally appeared in 1940s issues of such pulp magazines as The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Black Mask.

      The 27 stories that he agreed to have reprinted were divided into two: half in the first book, the other half in the second book. At the end of the introduction of “More Good Old Stuff,” MacDonald wrote, “I want to assure them [the anthology's editors] and you, kindly reader, that there will be no additional versions of “More Good Old Stuff.” This is the end of the mother lode.” Although MacDonald died in 1986, apparently his wishes have been honored, although not the wishes of many of his fans. Earlier this year, Ed Gorman wrote on his blog at
      http://newimprovedgorman.blogspot.com/2012/01/remembering-john-d-macdonalds-pulp.html
      that although some of the stories are available to read in the two aforementioned books, “many others remain unreprinted. This is unfortunate, because nuggets of tough-guy gold repose in those now-crumbling pulpwood pages. [....] they deserve better than the impermanence of brittling pulpwood pages.” In the comments section, Gorman writes, “I’m sure a lot of the old pulp stories are now in public domain so an enterprising publisher could probably collect them.” Although clearly this would not have been what MacDonald wanted when he was alive.

      The Wikipedia entry for the Ray Bradbury short story collection “A Memory of Murder” (1984), which collected several 1940s pulp stories that the young author had written, notes that it was published only under the proviso that “the book would appear in paperback only, and that no subsequent editions would be published after the first edition sold out.” A creator with a well-known name, a name-brand to protect, is more likely to be highly selective about what goes out under that name, regardless of whether it will sell or not. If he can stop its publication, or try to control the terms by which it is released (as Bradbury and MacDonald did), he may do so to protect his reputation. However, it may be more trouble than it’s worth to try and stop publication of inferior material going out under your name. For Bradbury and MacDonald, any money received from republication was less important than protecting their reputation as a writer.

      Given that each case is different, it would make sense to approach each creator prior to doing an expensive book about them, to learn what they think of the idea. Yoe says here that “Ditko is not against the existence of my books.” This is not quite the same as “Ditko is in favor of the existence of my books.” My sense, reading between the lines of what Yoe said, is that Ditko is neither for nor against. Unlike MacDonald or Bradbury (or The Beatles), Ditko is not trying to control or prevent the dissemination of that older material that he produced in his younger days, a lifetime ago. Like them, however, payment for their reprinting seems not to be an issue for him. As previously stated, that is something he would have grown accustomed to back when the stories were originally published, and were often soon reprinted without additional payment. In this manner, the new cottage industry of expensive hardcover coffeetable books about comics repeats the exploitative policies of the old comics industry.

      In the case of Ditko, the question of whether he wants to have his name used to sell books for a company for which he has no relationship can only be answered by Ditko himself, should he choose to address it. (If so, it would most likely happen in the pages of Robin Snyder’s long-running newsletter “The Comics,” to which Ditko has contributed since its inception in 1990.) I think that it matters less to Ditko that his older work is being reprinted without compensation or involvement than what words are used to characterize him in the text surrounding his stories (a “poison sandwich”). Other creators may care less about what is said about them than they receive payment and credit. And some may not want such a book out at all and use legal steps to prevent it. It remains to be seen if Ditko himself renders a verdict on this book.

    11. patrick ford

      Rob should take his comments here and publish them in the next issue of his magazine DITKOMANIA.
      MacDonald has a Sarasota Florida connection. He spent a long time here.
      Rob mentions the Green Goblin. Ditko has detailed in convincing fashion he knew from the start Harry Osborne was the Green Goblin. Ditko planned his stories many months ahead (confirmed by Dick Giordano who saw plot story trees in Ditko’s studio). In later years a story circulated that Ditko quit Marvel because Stan Lee decided the Goblin was to be Osborne. Ridiculous, because that was Ditko’s plan since the Goblin’s introduction in issue #13/ So who was the first person to say Ditko quit because Lee wanted the Goblin to be Osborne, and Ditko wanted the Goblin to be a previously unknown hood?

    12. patrick ford

      Norman Osborne.

    13. Bill Anderson

      @Rob: Many thanks for the content description, quite a treasure trove of information (and stories and art, judging from your rundown).

      Lucky me, I have the Fantagraphics collections, and an Eclipse collection as well.

      Since there seem to be quite a few knowledgeable Ditko enthusiasts here, I’ll throw the question out: Does anybody know of any plans for a Ditko-endorsed collection of this material (Mr. A, Mocker, etc) in a more archival format on a level with the books he’s not involved with? I’d surely love to throw my money at something like that.

    14. srbissette

      Bill—

      Well, Robin—like most or many self-publishers (like yours truly)—has limited means and money, and does the best he can.

      While there’s some glorious, opulent, absolutely magnificently-produced and printed self-published books in the field (some of which I’ve covered right here on MYRANT: Peter Marusco’s LITTLE NEMO premiere tome, the definitive RAREBIT FIENDS McCay collection, Tim and Donna Lucas’s exquisite MARIO BAVA: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK), those are the exceptions, not the rule; and most cost $100 and up.

      The fact is, nobody is knocking on Ditko’s (or my) door to do much of anything in “a more archival format on a level with the books he’s not involved with”—and if they knocked, how would Steve answer, if he answered at all?

      The fact is, Robin Snyder seems to be the only publisher standing who doesn’t fuck with Steve’s work, so that Steve is happy entrusting his current work with Robin. Past attempts have failed. Robin soldiers on, and since Robin soldiers on, Steve soldiers on with him.

      Rather than wishing for what isn’t, I happily “throw my money at” that which DOES exist, and DOES feed its creator.

      We’d ALL love to throw our money “at something like that” (and I’d love to have my own work collected in such a format), but it’s not happening. As yet, anyway.

    15. Rob Imes

      The collaborative nature of most comic books, and the lowly status of most comics creators working for comics publishers, does present a difference between the control that a well-known prose writer may have over distribution of his own work, and compensation and credit for its publication. Even with their higher status and power, however, prose writers may still have to contend with the dissemination of their earlier material in an unauthorized manner, which is easier than ever in the digital copy-and-paste age.

      Longtime SF writer Robert Silverberg made his first professional short story sales in 1954, a year or so after Ditko began his professional comics career, and like Ditko, Silverberg is still alive and writing. In March 2010 on his Yahoo Group, Silverberg mentioned the way in which the internet has spread his material: “The Project Gutenberg material was public domain — I deliberately let it go out of copyright, long ago, because I didn’t want to reprint such feeble stuff and
      never suspected that Project Gutenberg would come along and do it. I have asked them to remove my stuff. Audible.com probably has the right to distribute my work. The old radio broadcasts were never owned by me in the first place, and I am amused to find them now available on the Internet — I have a link to them, and wonder whether I can record them on DVD for archival purposes, but I have not given it a lot of thought. All sorts of Silverberg stuff is on line all over the place. A woman in New Zealand liked “The Pope of the Chimps” so much that she posted it on her web site, innocently thinking that listing proper copyright notice was sufficient. She posted a Bradbury story the same way. At my suggestion she has now taken them both down. But for each takedown there are ten new unauthorized postings elsewhere.”

      The rise of e-books has led to many publishers (or “publishers”) creating their own collections of old material and putting them on sale at Amazon. Silverberg has written several reviews on the site warning potential buyers of unauthorized and unwelcome reprints. A few of his reviews are titled “Author Condemns This Pirated Edition” and have the following statement: “This is a pirated edition of a very early book of mine that I allowed to go into public domain, long ago, because I was replacing it with a revised edition. Back then, it did not seem worthwhile to renew the copyright, because I did not intend to allow a new edition of the original text to appear. Even though as a science-fiction writer I’m supposed to predict the future, I had no idea in 1969 that the Internet would arise and many years later so-called “publishers” would find this book and distribute it against my wishes for their own profit. It may be “classic’ science fiction now but it’s also the work of a beginning writer who, in later years, did not choose to offer it to readers, Someone else chose to do so anyway. You buy it at your own risk and with the knowledge that the author did not wish this version of the text, which he wrote when he was in college, to appear again.”

      And another Amazon review of his, titled “Author Says, Don’t Buy”: “Here’s yet another rip-off edition of my very early book for young readers, STARMAN’S QUEST. I allowed the copyright to lapse because I didn’t think it was worth reprinting. Obviously someone else did. I have no idea who “annotated” this version, but it wasn’t me. Save your money.”

      Another, titled “Author Says Don’t Order It”: “This is a very early story of mine, not very good, that I deliberately allowed to go out of print. Some pirate publisher picked it up and has been distributing it all over the Internet. Don’t waste good electrons on this one — if you want to read something of mine, there’s plenty else to choose from.”

      Another, again titled “Author Says, Don’t Buy”: “These are three very early stories of mine. I wrote them more than fifty years ago and I didn’t think enough of them to bother renewing the copyrights when renewal time came around. They have been posted on the Internet against my wishes and so-called “publishers” keep grabbing them and repackaging them in new editions, but they still aren’t very good stories. I recommend that you stay away from them. There’s plenty of better Silverberg material available for you to download.”

      Another, titled “Author Condemns the Book”: “This is a very early story of mine, more than fifty years old, that a pirate publisher has put up for sale without my permission. I didn’t want it reissued. You buy it at your own risk.”

      From the above, it might seem as though Silverberg is against the idea of any revivals of his early work. However, in a March 2011 post on his Yahoo Group, he writes: “One of three reissues of my early books and stories coming from Paizo this year. Plenty of other reissues coming soon from plenty of other places. I’ve been busy signing contracts all winter.”

      The distinction would be that the pirated versions are against his wishes, by people unknown to him, while the authorized reissues are done with his consent, control, compensation and contractual agreement. (I guess that could be simplified to “The Four C’s.”)

      As noted at the beginning of this post, however, most comics involve multiple creators (writers, artists, etc.) and often the copyright is held by the publisher, which further limits any control or say that a comics creator might have. As we have seen in the case of the aborted “1963″ reprint, if one of the creators does not want the material reissued and the other creators honor his wish (in the same spirit that they would want their own to be honored), then the reissue does not happen.

      For a lone creator, such as with Silverberg, the decision and consequences of that decision are his alone, whereas the burden of the decision may impact co-creators to such a work in a negative, even catastrophic, way. (For example, a wealthy co-creator and a financially strapped co-creator are affected differently by a decision to not reprint, or a bachelor co-creator and a co-creator raising a family have entirely different long-term concerns that are affected by the decision to not allow a reissue of older material that they created together.)

      In the case of Ditko and the reprinting of old Charlton stories, I don’t think he is against their reprinting in the way that Silverberg is against the reprinting of some of his earlier stories. In The 160-Page Charlton Package, Ditko clearly writes that “I know Joe [Gill]‘s scripts made my stay [at Charlton] and the work enjoyable and worthwhile. Our efforts are worth saving and still enjoyable in reviewing with a long list of favorites.” A few of the stories in that authorized reprint Package are also reprinted in the new Yoe book. So if there could be an objection raised by Ditko to the Yoe book, it would not be over the quality of those older stories that he drew. Ditko has plainly said that they are “worthwhile” and “worth saving.”

      Ditko’s response to the reappearance of his old Charlton stories might be similar to Robert Silverberg’s aforementioned reaction to hearing again the old radio shows based on his stories, that “were never owned by me in the first place, and I am amused to find them now available.”

      With Ditko, as I posted previously, I suspect any objection would be over the text pieces accompanying the reprinted stories, or how they are cast in the overall package, to create a positive or negative impression on the reader about the man who drew them.

      With another creator, payment for the reprinting of stories — and the prominent use of his name to sell copies of a book of his work — might be the main concern or objection raised to the appearance of such a book.

      Another thing that I touched upon in my previous post: “Collections of work are not merely “about” that work, however; they are the work itself, offered up to the public again.”

      The new cottage industry of reprint books often seems to be “about the work” while at the same time being “the work itself,” which has the effect of being an unauthorized reprint that can hide behind the cloak of scholarship and fair use if an objection should be raised.

      There are popular websites out there like “Diversions of the Groovy Kind” which blatantly post scans of 1970s comics stories in their entirety, with some fine print at the bottom of the webpage saying “All images are presumed copyright by the respective copyright holders and are presented here as fair use under applicable laws.” (As if “fair use” covers posting 1970s Marvel and DC stories in full.) Often such sites have little in the way of accompanying commentary to even justify a scholarship or fair use claim — just page after page after page of scanned comics presented in full. This mentality is like the woman in New Zealand that Silverberg mentioned, who “posted it on her web site, innocently thinking that listing proper copyright notice was sufficient.”

      Only one wonders how innocent of their actions some of these webmasters are — I would call the behavior of some “defiant” rather than “innocent.” There is an impression out there that if it was published by Charlton, it must be public domain now — that Charlton did not register copyrights. This may have been true of some 1950s-60s Charlton comics, but is this true for all? And if so, then what was being sold to interested buyers in the mid-1980s when Charlton was selling its rights?

      The two “Killjoy” stories that Ditko wrote and drew as back-ups in “E-Man” later appeared in the mid-1980s under Ditko’s own copyright. Both the character and those stories are owned by him now, even though they were first published in a Charlton comic. And yet, Charlton is now seen as freebie material for any and all to redistribute at their whim, which leads to the “Diversions of the Groovy Kind” blogger posting those two Ditko-owned Killjoy stories on his blog, in their entirety.

      If there is to be a lavish hardcover edition of such material, for which the creator of that material benefits, how is that to happen when this material is being spread far and wide in such free-for-all fashion? How likely is a publisher going to be willing to put out an authorized collection of Ditko’s work when the marketplace has already seen that work shared online or published in book form already by others (two by IDW alone). Or that already existing books from the authorized publisher (Robin Snyder), with Ditko’s approval and involvement, are ignored and not stocked on bookstore shelves?

    16. patrick ford

      Kim Thompson did briefly comment on TCJ message board that he (Fantagraphics I guess) would like to publish Ditko’s recent material in a format which would be likely to sell in bookstores and to libraries.

    17. Bill Anderson

      @ Steve: Well, my intention was to ask if anyone knew if Robin Snyder himself had any plans to publish any of the Ditko material in a sturdier format (though I guess I didn’t phrase it that way) which would eliminate concerns about what Ditko would say to such a proposal.

      As I said in my first comment, I would like to get more of the Snyder-published collections. I don’t have a problem with the collections as they exist (I’m assuming they all have the stripped-down look of the collections I do have) it’s just that I found the lack of descriptions online to be a significant obstacle, which Rob’s exhaustive post will go a long way toward overcoming (perhaps the webmaster of the site he linked to should request his permission to use his descriptions on the pages for each item).

      @ Rob: Do you know if Snyder solicits to the DM, or has a distributor? I haven’t looked at a Previews in a decade or so, so I’m completely clueless as to whether Diamond stocks any of his books (I know I’ve never seen them in a comic book store). I think that, coupled with his lack of a website (I think, unless I missed something) and no Amazon listings (other than jacked-up prices on used copies from resellers, as far as I could see) might account for the books being ignored, at least to some degree.

      That’s not an attack on Snyder, by the way, I know how difficult Diamond is to deal with, and how prohibitive Amazon’s terms can be. But a well-constructed website, that threads like this one can be riddled with links to, might be worth pursuing.

    18. Richard Gagnon

      If anyone’s considering ordering Tristan Lapoussière’s book, you’d be smarter to do so through Amazon.co.uk instead, as it’s much cheaper, faster and friendlier. Amazon.fr (and most of France, frankly), has not adapted itself to the possibilities of international commerce. Shipping is pretty mind-bogglingly expensive and slow, and service nearly always a headache. Meanwhile, ordering from the UK (to Canada, anyway) is much faster and affordable than ordering from the US, let alone France.

      Oh, and does anyone else wonder why scholarly books on such a gloriously visual medium as comics end up, for the most part, with such incredibly drab cover art? Craig Yoe is, of course, a splendid exception.

      Is that even a Ditko Spider-Man on the Lapoussière book?

    19. Craig Yoe

      richard you made my day. can’t wait to show clizia your comment! thank you!

    20. Garrie Burr

      I would second the motion on this: if you’re reprinting Ditko’s work, send in an order to Robin Snyder for a purchase of Ditko’s new work in an amount equivalent to what you would’ve normally paid for the reprints.

    21. John Platt

      I finally — two-plus months after the fact — figured out where I read that Ditko non-forward. It was in the first volume of Mark Arnold’s history of Cracked magazine – “If You’re Cracked, You’re Happy: The History of Cracked Mazagine, Part Won”

    Comment ¬

    NOTE - You can use these tags:
    <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>