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:
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.
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,
- I’ll also ask you all extend the courtesy of visiting Craig‘s Yoe Books website before you move on,
- and check out their Ditko video, while you’re at it. Enjoy!
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.”
- Tristan‘s 260-page tome on Ditko is available from amazon.fr, and yes, they do ship to the US—recommended for discerning Ditko devotees, for sure.)
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.)
* 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?
- It would cost an editor/packager/publisher nothing whatsoever to support Ditko‘s ongoing new work by mentioning, and providing information for writing to, Robin Snyder to promote the ongoing, new Steve Ditko material Robin has so honorably published since the 1980s. Here you go, again: here’s the link to give you Robin‘s current backlist of published Ditko work and the mailing address,
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.
- Help the Hero Initiative offset the lack of compensation, living wages, royalties, etc. that continues to impoverish so many aging and/or disaster-stricken creators.
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.
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…
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.
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.