Digging Ditko

Vintage Reprints, New Books, Fresh Insights

Over the weekend, I savored some quality time with the brand-new THE CREATIVITY OF DITKO book from vet comics scholar/historian/archivist Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW, 2012), who (per usual) edits, orchestrates, and assembles his projects with attentive love and savvy design. The book, like all the Yoe books, feels terrific—size, heft, and content synthesized into a tantalizing whole that indeed satisfies.

I’ve got pretty eclectic tastes, and past Yoe books have whetted and slaked my appetites in the past, and I’ve reviewed a lot of ‘em online, ranging from collections of comics by

to the kinds of comics most folks tend to associate with my own body of work: namely, horror and monster comics,

(I’ll be writing about more of Craig‘s Pre-Code horror comics collections next month, come October.)

More to the point of today’s post, The Creativity of Ditko is a successor and companion volume to

As with that first volume, this newest Ditko collection from Yoe Books and IDW has a terrific sampler of Ditko original art (including a few choice Marvel and Warren pages from the 1960s) and an intro and four essays—by Mike Gold, Jack Harris, Paul Levitz, Mykal Banta, and an amazing, even revelatory one by the daughter of Eric Stanton, Amber—to spice the mix of four-color Charlton story reprints.

The short essays are good and each illuminating in their way, but Amber Stanton‘s is—well, mind-blowing, as are the photos she contributed to the collection of Eric Stanton and Steve Ditko in their Manhattan studio, circa 1959.

Amber‘s short essay—the meat and gist of which I won’t reveal here (no spoilers from me, and after all Amber chose Craig‘s book, not my lame-ass blog, as the place to share her memories and insights; forgive me, Amber, for sharing one key point, though, below)—the photos, and a couple pages of Stanton/Ditko comics art unabashedly showcased as Stanton/Ditko collaborative work (after years of timid tip-toe steps around that body of work, as if Ditko‘s refusal to talk about it indeed put it off-limits) prompts much thought about the nature of their relationship, their collaborations, and the termination of both.

As noted, Yoe and Amber include some of the Stantoons that Ditko inked, finally folding that body of work undeniably into its historical context; this alone makes The Creativity of Ditko important. Furthermore, Amber candidly cites what her father himself said prompted that relationship ending: according to Amber, when her dad told Ditko he was marrying and having a family, that was it.

This is interesting to me, personally, as I had a close friend and, in my 20s, cartooning companion—the late Mark “Sparky” Whitcomb,

—who also said as early as age 19 that he would never bring children into the world, and that philosophy he adhered to to his dying day—but he didn’t terminate our friendship when I did marry and have children; it never even came up as a possible reason to terminate our friendship, and we were indeed friends to his dying day—but that’s neither here nor there. I’m just noting how Amber‘s essay plucked a very personal chord for me.

and I must add another personal note here: Ditko‘s refusal to discuss any aspect of his body of comics work with Stanton since they parted ways thereafter rings a bell—I mean, in interviews, Alan Moore has pretty succinctly cut me and Taboo out of any and all discussion of our respective decade of work together, since he exiled me in 1996.

I mention this not seeking sympathy, or to project my own situation onto that Amber illuminates between her father Eric and what we know of Steve Ditko‘s work and life, but to caution those who might do so: don’t be too quick to imagine or project a gay relationship onto/into the Ditko/Stanton history. There’s lots of reasons the likes of Steve Ditko and Alan Moore “exile” folks and refuse to talk about them.

Furthermore, given what I’m about to write, let me hasten to add that I also empathize with the position serious historians, scholars, and archivists have been placed in regarding Steve Ditko and his body of work: Craig Yoe, Blake Bell, Sean Howe, and others join a procession of authors and editors who have diligently approached Ditko seeking some sort, any sort of contact to lend Ditko‘s own voice to their projects. Ditko simply doesn’t wish to engage, period. I completely understand about the difficulties Ditko presents for anyone trying to sort out any aspect of his career.

The fact is, I’ve been there myself, in another context, with other creators. When I tried to engage with pros in 1997 about work-for-hire and creator rights, almost all of them shut me out, including then-close friends. Everyone either doesn’t want to talk about the messy particulars of the business, or ache to do so, but only off the record—and those still working in the industry are forever scared about not getting work, or just don’t want to engage with any conversation for the public arena. I got this across the board—it was part and parcel of why I left the American comics environment entirely in 1999—I’d had it.

But I also empathize with Ditko, too.

I mean, Ditko doesn’t want these books to exist (and I wonder if the Amber Stanton material will result in Ditko finally taking legal action)—but like Alan Moore, Ditko has never/will likely never engage legal counsel to prosecute that wish into a legal “cease and desist.”

Ditko is still alive, but it’s my understanding that he profits not at all from these books, or those like them from other publishers (which really bugs me). BUT: Yoe has approached Ditko, repeatedly, to try and work something out, only to be refuted (that’s my understanding, anyway, and Craig says as much in this volume; see pp. 11-13).

So… great book, essential buy for Ditko scholars/historians/fanatics for the Amber Stanton contributions alone—

—but ethically we’re in Mr. A‘s gray zone here—CORRUPTION, just touching it.

Oh, man… I’m still going to recommend it, and recommend you snap it up fast, just in case the Stanton material does result in an elder Ditko having it pulled off the market (unlikely, but possible?).

But oh, my reservations are strong.

Back in 2008, I shared some of my own views on Ditko‘s career, and how that career has been abused and popularly misperceived (well, to my mind, anyhoot)—

At that time, I wrote about Blake Bell‘s then-brand-new biography Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko (Fantagraphics, 2008):

“The worse abuse in the book, to my mind, remains the assumption that the making of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” (it’s practically a mantra in the last quarter of the book) would justify Ditko subjecting himself to any further contact with or potential abuses from the comics industry.

Given the catalogue of abuses Bell himself has assembled, why would any sane artist put himself through more?

From the top comics publishers to ‘creator friendly’ publisher like Eclipse (God, the description of the abysmal treatment afforded Ditko, from his own work to the terminated biography project, is chilling…) to fanzines, the man was dealt a dirty hand time and time again.

No wonder he ended up trusting only Robin Snyder (who I always got along well with); it’s no different, really, than Alan Moore’s current decision to cease any contact with the American comics industry, save for Chris Staros, except that Staros has considerable resources Robin Snyder never, ever had. Ditko’s retreat and determination to avoid further contact isn’t evidence of ‘erratic behavior’ or extremist philosophy — it’s the reaction of a sane man to decades of ill treatment. Why put up with it for another nanosecond?

Sadly, Blake Bell’s stance in this regard reflects not only our cultural orientation to money (as if money alone could or would drive a man and artist like Steve Ditko), but also a fan clinging to the illusions of some sort of la-la-land fantasy of ‘the industry’ as a promised land.

Blake would have better served his subject had he kept that impulse in firm check, particularly in his concluding chapters, or reached for a metaphor more in accord with Ditko’s realm (e.g., Alan Moore again comes to mind).

Bell’s book spells it all out quite vividly — how did he miss his own point?

To Ditko, comics wasn’t a promised land, except in his youth; once he entered the field, it was his life and career. He gave it his all — hence the book, his legacy, his legend. What has comics given to Ditko? Fame? Fortune? Infamy?”

_____

Above: A delicious Ditko panel from the Charlton comic The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves #12 story “The Ultimate Evil,” reprinted complete and in color on pp. 58-68 of The Creativity of Ditko; circa 1969, this story amply demonstrates that Ditko was still doing work up to the high standards of his celebrated Dr. Strange, and in the same genre and idiom. 

________

If The Creativity of Ditko does nothing else, it will hopefully but an end to the myth of Ditko‘s “decline” at Charlton. The fact is, Ditko‘s continuity of work for and at Charlton flowed to the end of Charlton‘s publishing days, and (like the work of Tom Sutton, Sam Glanzman, and other seasoned pros working for/at Charlton) though Ditko may have streamlined his work to accommodate the necessary budgeting of his time and the page-rates, he rigorously maintained his usual high standards.

Yoe does a service via his editorial choices here, mixing Ditko‘s 1950s Charlton work with his later 1970s work, with a potpourri of Marvel, Warren, and Charlton original art scans betwixt and between: the continuity of Ditko quality, imagery, and clarity is vividly asserted, and Yoe indeed saves the best stories for the latter pages of the book, making this a more satisfying read in and of itself than the earlier Art of Ditko and the Fantagraphics and Pure Imagination volumes. Mykal Banta‘s essay on the later Charlton stories makes a strong case for reassessment, and Yoe as editor provides immediate evidence via the stories framing Banta‘s essay: a perfect synthesis of intent and content.

If I may say so, Banta echoes some of what I wrote here at Myrant back in 2008; continuing the excerpt from my review of Blake Bell‘s Ditko biography:

“The ‘mystery’ of why Ditko stayed on with Charlton from the beginning of his career to the demise of Charlton is self-evident: however low-paying, Charlton respected and valued Ditko and his work. Charlton didn’t fuck with Ditko or his work. The respect was mutual, the working relationship lasted until Charlton folded. No other comics publisher, in any venue, save Robin Snyder offered similar conditions of mutual respect, courtesy, and professionalism.

(Even Jim Warren, for whom Ditko arguably completed his most technically stunning and accomplished comics work, was renowned for habitually messing with artists: a number of former Warren freelancers (including Berni Wrightson) have told me tales over the years, the most consistent one involving Warren’s habit of always leaving one delivered job unpaid for, paying for the previous completed job when a new one was delivered. I would consider this apocryphal, had I not been told the same thing by over five former Warren freelancers, including Archie Goodwin, who once rather sheepishly said to me, “Well, yes, Steve, I’m afraid that’s true.”)

Reading Bell’s book is reading a testimonial of abuses, past and present, from generation after generation of comics publishers, editors …peers and fans. From Martin Goodman to the ‘creator friendly’ publishers of the 1980s and ’90s, Ditko was almost always ill-treated; and as he grew older, fans-turned-pros didn’t want what Ditko did create, they wanted what their fantasy of Ditko was, or what they thought he “should be.” I don’t need to overlay Ditko’s Objectivist philosophy onto these testimonials to arrive at the conclusion that comics, in the end, had less and less to offer Ditko, and fewer and fewer viable job opportunities and/or venues for self-expression once Charlton ceased publication….

…As one who likewise stepped away from the industry, Ditko’s decisions and behavior seems utterly pragmatic and justified.

What became increasingly irrational to me, personally, by the end of the 1990s, and seems absolutely barking mad to me now, is why any self-respecting professional would put up with half of the horseshit that is accepted as ‘business as usual’ in the comics industry, then and today. It’s astonishing the likes of Steve Ditko and Alan Moore stayed with it as long as they did, and that the Joe Kuberts, Will Eisners and (from my own generation) Frank Millers of the world maintain enough personal will, power and equilibrium to function in such an industry.”

So, yes, I have no problem (as so many seem to) empathizing completely with Ditko.

I completely relate to Ditko‘s frustrations and eventual disgust and refusal to engage with fandom over how his work was presented in fanzines—yes, that was back in the 1960s. “Get over it” modern fandom says, but why? Why should Ditko re-engage, given all the hundreds, if not thousands, of pages written about him since, much of it stating speculation as fact?

I can relate.*

Adding insult to potential injury, the Ditko books to date continue to ignore the fact Ditko has never stopped creating new work. Not even one of these books acknowledges—much less steers potentially interested readers and fans to—the stream of new comics Ditko continues to produce and publish, with packager/publisher Robin Snyder.

Oh, we get a few pages promoting the other (fine) Yoe Books from IDW in the back pages of The Creativity of Ditko—would it kill someone to mention, maybe include an address, of where to get the new Ditko comics? Having collected over 200 pages of Ditko comics, art, and Ditko-centric essays, sans anything to show for Ditko himself, it’s inappropriate/”not the place”/too much to throw a bone to both Ditko and the curious reader as to where to find more current examples of Ditko‘s creativity?

Anyhoot, The Creativity of Ditko is an amazing book; but as you can perhaps tell, I’m still torn, ethically, over even haven purchased the damn thing. As I wrote back in 2009, about The Art of Ditko, “I just want, need to know — was Ditko paid anything for his work appearing in such a massive, monstrous book? What is Ditko earning (as he should) from the Ditko reprint volumes of 2009?” We’re now into 2012, with a number of Ditko reprint volumes from a number of publishers over the three year stretch, and—has nothing changed?

I’ve read (on the comments to my Art of Ditko writeup three years ago, for instance) and heard (including from an IDW editor) the litany: “these are labors of love, these are expensive to print, they’re small print runs, they don’t earn much if anything for the editors/packagers,” blahblahblah. Fuck that. You can bet your ass the printers are paid, or the books wouldn’t exist. The first check cut should go to Ditko, period—whether he cashes it or not is his business.

If you’re not going to do that, at least “donate” a precious page of your book to promoting Ditko‘s current, newly-published work, with instructions as to how to mail-order it. It will cost you nothing. I don’t care if it’s promoting publications from a different publisher: Robin Snyder isn’t IDW. I get that. But he is the only publisher actively supporting and selling Ditko‘s current creator-owned work. Get behind that—help support Ditko—it’s the least you can do after collecting and paying to print 200+ full-color pages of “public domain” Ditko comics and artwork.

and yes, you will have to do it via snail-mail, and yes, please, do tell Robin I sent you.

Robin Snyder publishes the Ditko books Steve Ditko himself wants to exist—including, I hasten to add, some collections of past Charlton work

But back to The Creativity of Ditko and the earlier Yoe volume The Art of Ditko, and this growing cottage industry of Ditko reprint volumes, sans Ditko‘s participation:

This is becoming both increasingly frustrating and increasingly fascinating. The parallels (and there are a few) with Alan Moore‘s situation—above all, both Ditko and Moore stake out distinctive ethical turf, but refuse to engage legal counsel to assert/enforce/defend it—cannot go unmentioned. Well, I’m going there. A bit.

Rob Imes (Ditkomania editor/publisher) and I have been in touch with one another about the book, and Rob gave me permission to share the following with everyone via this post.

Rob notes that some of what the public is masticating over Ditko and Moore, and their refusal to engage with any legal proceedings, does remind Rob “of Fred Woodworth, editor-publisher of the long-running anarchist zine The Match! and the juvenile-fiction zine Mystery & Adventure Series Review …Fred is an advocate of “ethical anarchism…”

Here’s the back cover of The Match #108, Spring 2010:

Rob continues, “…due to his principles, when Fred had some items stolen from his property, he declined to go to the police. Not recognizing the legitimacy of the Constitution, Fred refuses to vote — which to my mind is a way of allowing oneself to be disenfranchised and ensure powerlessness. (Although I admire his sticking to his philosophical principles.)

I’m reminded of Ditko-drawn scenarios in The Avenging World (1973) where an individual can choose to go his own way and not cooperate with another person. (Especially their “whims.”) The expectation seems to be that everyone else will honor this choice and go their own way. Being forced to engage with others would be seen as a victory for the ones applying the force against him, making him a victim of their pressure.”

Well, this should provide some food for thought, if nothing else. Unlike Ditko, Alan Moore always has and does identify himself as an anarchist—well, as I say, food for thought. We’ve already seen Moore reprint volumes (including—ahem—Watchmen) and spin-offs (including, need I say it, Before Watchmen) Moore publicly and passionately disapproves of and reviles, but they continue to be published—as do the Ditko reprint volumes, despite Ditko’s refusal to engage.

Rob also compiled a list of the story contents of The Creativity of Ditko, and the respective reprint histories of each story. I offer it here, with Rob‘s approval, to aid in your own decision whether or not to purchase The Creativity of Ditko; I must note, however, the reprints in Craig‘s volume are exquisite and in full-color, unlike earlier reprint volumes Rob cites.

“I got the book’s contents list from the ditkocultist.com website. It looks like 6 of the stories have never been reprinted before (although 2 of that 6 are scanned on Bob Heer‘s Ditko blog).

Interestingly, when a few of the below stories were reprinted in The 160-Page Charlton Package in November 1999, they were copyrighted under Ditko‘s name (except for “Hide and Eeeeek” which was copyright Robin Snyder). Presumably the rights to those stories were purchased by Robin in the mid-80s when he was handling the sale of Charlton‘s rights. Robin would know more if those 1970s stories are still held under copyright.

I compiled the reprint info below from Brian Franczak‘s Ditko Fever website (www.ditko-fever.com).

____

* “From All Our Darkrooms…” (Out of this World #4, 1957) (8-pages)
[reprinted in B&W in Out of This World; Robin Snyder, June 1989]
[reprinted in B&W in The Steve Ditko Reader Vol. 2; Pure Imagination, 2004]
[reprinted in B&W in The Crypt of Horror Vol. 3; AC Comics, 2006]
[reprinted in Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 3; Fantagraphics, April 2012]

Available for free online at http://ditko.blogspot.com/2010/08/unusual-tales-from-all-our-darkrooms.html

* “Director of the Board” (Strange Suspense Stories #33, 1957) (5-pages)
[reprinted in B&W in The Steve Ditko Reader Vol. 3; Pure Imagination, 2005]
[reprinted in Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 3; Fantagraphics, April 2012]
Available for free online at http://ditko.blogspot.com/2010/08/unusual-tales-director-of-board.html

* “The Mirage” (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5, 1957) (5-pages)
[reprinted in B&W in The Steve Ditko Reader Vol. 3; Pure Imagination, 2005]
[reprinted in Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 2; Fantagraphics, Nov. 2010]
Available for free online at http://ditko.blogspot.com/2011/11/unusual-tales-mirage.html

* “Menace of the Invisibles” (This Magazine is Haunted #13, 1957) (3-pages)
[reprinted in Ghost Manor #54, Jan. 1981; Charlton]
[reprinted in Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 3; Fantagraphics, April 2012]
Available for free online at http://ditko.blogspot.com/2010/06/unusual-tales-menace-of-invisibles.html

* “One Way Trip” (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #10, 1958) (5-pages)
Available for free online at http://ditko.blogspot.com/2010/05/unusual-tales-one-way-trip.html

* ‘We Sell Time!’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #21, 1960) (5-pages)

* “Prologue [The Ultimate Evil]“ (The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #12, 1969) (11-pages)
[reprinted by Modern Comics in 1977]
[reprinted in Haunted #50, July 1980; Charlton]
[reprinted in Dr. Graves #74, Nov. 1985; Charlton]

* “The Treasure of the Swamp” (Ghostly Tales #80, 1970) (8-pages)
[reprinted in Beyond the Grave #17, Oct. 1984; Charlton]

* “An Ancient Wrong” (The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #20, 1970) (8-pages)
[reprinted in Scary Tales #23, Dec. 1980; Charlton]
[reprinted in B&W in The 160-Page Charlton Package from Robin Snyder, Nov. 1999]

* “Hide and Eeeeek” (Ghostly Tales #85, 1971) (8-pages)
[reprinted in B&W in The 160-Page Charlton Package from Robin Snyder, Nov. 1999]

* “Dig this Crazy Pad, Dad” (Ghostly Tales #88, 1971) (8-pages)
[reprinted in Ghost Manor #68, April 1983; Charlton]

* “The Mystery of the Wax Museum” (The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #29, 1971) (8-pages)

* “Return Visit” (Ghostly Haunts #23, 1972) (8-pages)
[reprinted in B&W in The 160-Page Charlton Package from Robin Snyder, Nov. 1999]

* “Come back… to Tlakluk” (Ghost Manor #4, 1972) (9-pages)
[reprinted in Ghost Manor #38, June 1978; Charlton]

* “Kiss of the Serpent” (Ghostly Haunts #45, 1975) (9-pages)

* “Satan’s Night Out” (Ghostly Tales #120, 1976) (9-pages)

* “The Deepest Cut of All” (Ghostly Haunts #46, 1975) (6-pages)
[reprinted in B&W in The 160-Page Charlton Package from Robin Snyder, Nov. 1999]

* “Werewoods” (Ghost Manor #31, 1976) (9-pages)
[reprinted in Ghost Manor #47, Nov. 1979; Charlton]

* “Doorway into Tomorrow” (Strange Suspense Stories #39, 1958) (5-pages)
Available for free online at http://ditko.blogspot.com/2010/05/unusual-tales-doorway-into-tomorrow.html

* “The Faceless Ones” (This Magazine is Haunted #12, 1957) (5-pages)
[reprinted in Ghost Manor #54, Jan. 1981; Charlton]
[reprinted in Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 3; Fantagraphics, April 2012]

_______________

* I used to do lots of comics fanzine work in the 1970s (my first comics and illustration work saw print in part in zines), until a certain fanzine editor—Craig Yoe, sorry to say—not only didn’t publish a cover piece I drew and painted for him, but then lost the original art. Shortly afterwards, another zine printed a complete comics story of mine, and affixed their own copyright to it (this was the notorious Schuster Brothers). Well, that was that for me, too, with contributing anything to comics zines, except for my writing for horror and genre zines, far from comics.

I can relate, too, with why Ditko doesn’t engage with the biographers and hagiographers. How much has seen print, asserting this and that about Ditko and Stan Lee? Authors have their own agendas; when should one engage? Why? To what end result? Why bother?

I’ve read simply insane speculation and projections (particularly about me and Alan Moore, mind you, and from pros who should know better) presented in public venues as fact. Even friends and former allies have hammered me in print, intentionally or not: Eddie Campbell succinctly satirized and pilloried me in a passage of How to Be an Artist (collected in 2001) and elsewhere—dismissing the years in which I worked as an editor/packager/publisher/co-publisher on Taboo (including worked other jobs to pay Alan and Eddie for their ongoing work From Hell), edited and created work for Gore Shriek and Shriek, pulled together from an initial phone call the whole of what became 1963 (which I co-edited with Rick Veitch, sans credit, while penciling and/or inking over 1/3 of the 1963 comics themselves), wrote Aliens: Tribes and much non-fiction (including a complete book and regular contributions to genre zines and a regular column in the newsstand magazine Gorezone), illustrated a book a year, and continued doing comics for various venues—as a period in which I sat, uselessly, at a drawing board, producing nothing, stalling on Tyrant. In the context of Eddie‘s meditation on his own creative life, I was relegated to a joke, to make a point. Well, OK, I’ll take my lumps, but (a) when Paul Gravett is lionized therein (having not created comics as I did, but portrayed as the busy “Man at the Crossroads,” pulling creators together, editing, and publishing—as I had, too, while writing and drawing!), I wonder “huh, why mock me?” and (b) when that caricature was brought to me by one of my own (now adult) kids as a point of contention, it becomes mighty personalized. You deal with it, and move on.

Even the best-intentioned biographers, sans agendas, have committed errors to print concerning my life and work: in the otherwise excellent, comprehensive Man of Rock: A Biography of Joe Kubert (2008), author Bill Schelly states that I was born in Paterson, NJwhat? I was born in Burlington, VT! Yes, I have a copy of my birth certificate to prove it. Where did that fictional factoid come from? Why? Bill was embarrassed and apologized immediately, but there it is, in print, and sure to be carried into some future something-or-other.

Those who do have agendas are simply toxic. A recent online comics discussion board “memorial thread” dedicated, initially, to Joe Kubert devolved in less than four posts to a vicious, ongoing savaging of anything and anyone connected to Joe, the Kubert School, or anyone defending either Joe or the School—the trolls clearly owned the board. Why would any self-respecting pro engage any longer?

Well, to Ditko, the trolls had taken over around 1967 or so.

And hell, that’s just li’l ol’ me talking—I’m nothing, a zygote, less than a footnote in comics history; Ditko is a seasoned surviving pro of thousands upon tens of thousands of published comics pages, the co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange (two characters we’re told, repeatedly, in The Creativity of Ditko, never to mention to Ditko, should we be fortunate enough to meet him in this lifetime). No wonder Steve Ditko disengaged from the cacophony of the “Madding Crowd” (re Thomas Hardy) decades ago: he’s a sane man, intent upon remaining sane and just getting his work done.

Or perhaps—like everyone else in the world—I’m just projecting onto Steve Ditko that which I relate to and wish to see?

_____________________

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 (20) ¬

  1. Richard Arndt

    You are projecting (I think) a bit but when dealing with Ditko, EVERYBODY DOES. It’s just the nature of the beast.

    Your comments on comics biographers getting it wrong hit a little close to home, since I’m one of those fellas who HAS done a bit on your history, but it’s one of the worries that I have–that of getting something important wrong and then someone picking up on the error and CONTINUING it as though it were correct–that is almost nightmarish in nature. It was a real unsettling moment for me when I finally realized that people were actually reading my interviews/articles and assuming that I knew what I was talking about. It may seem nonsensical to the reader but as a writer as a “comics historian”–whatever that it–I often work in a near-complete vacuum and it can come as a shock when you realize that someone, somewhere, is reading your stuff and not necessarily always enjoying it. Most of the folks who’ve contacted me over the years (and to be honest, it’s most comic professionals) have been entirely supportive and reasonable, there’s always a few that are vicious or bug-fucking nuts. One old pro refused to talk about anything but his JFK conspiracy theories, some anonymous soul attempted to sabotage my working relationship with one publisher by sending false emails to said publisher from what looked like my email account, just recently I was scolded for “bashing” Jim Shooter for accurately reporting that the ‘fun’ days of the Marvel bullpen ended when he became editor–the writer apparently unaware of the dozens of interviews (some with myself, most with others) conducted with respected pros–some very big names–who’ve discussed this previously.

    With Ditko, I suspect (but don’t know) that any attempts by publishers (with the exception of Robin Snyder) to “do right” by him would probably be rejected out of hand. This has the effect of Ditko appearing to be even more remote than he probably actually is and that the publishers, no matter how well-meaning (and within their legal, if not necessarily ethical, rights) will appear to be brutes, profiting off the long-ago work of a comics genius. Does that mean that all of the old, out-of-copyright Ditko material should stay out of print, leaving younger readers with no idea who the hell Ditko was (is) and why his work is important? I would also note that Ditko is probably receiving royalties from the Ditko Omnibus volumes from DC that you didn’t mention among the many Ditko centered volumes of the last three years.

    Anyway, I liked this essay and thought it was thought-provoking.
    Best–RA

  2. John Platt

    Various reactions to this:

    1. 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 think it’s a shame that wants to let his work speak for itself and yet he controls so little of it. These books, all or mostly public domain material, are a way to celebrate a great artist, and yes, a living artist should participate in the profits of reproductions of his work (even if their copyright has lapsed), but what can you do with someone whose beliefs and philosophies are so solidly stated?

    2. Ditko’s intractable philosophies are, arguably, his greatest asset as well as his greatest weakness. How lonely it must be to be Ditko – unless he lives a truly awesome, satisfied, happy, emotionally and creatively fulfilling life. I guess that’s the one thing I’d like to know about Ditko the man today: did the way he lived his life work for him, despite the bridges he burned along the way?

    3. Ditko’s new comics are must-reads – and a total pain the ass to acquire. On more than one occasion I have emailed Robyn Snyder about ordering; I have never received a reply. I did order several books from Bob H at the Steve Ditko Comics Weblog, but the postage fees make it inefficient to buy one or two comics at a time. I want more, but in this economy, every dollar counts.

    4. That said, if I’m going to order the Creativity of Ditko, and I certainly am, I need to make an effort to buy more of Ditko’s new comics. So I will.

    5. Despite the difficulty acquiring newest Ditko comics, I respect his choices. Having been burned by more than one publisher, I can understand the desire and personal need to control one’s own work and have it published in a way that compromises nothing. But there are honorable folks out there who could get Ditko’s work to a broader audience and do right by him. Sigh.

    6. Maybe, like you suggested, it’s the audience itself that keeps Ditko away. You mention the toxic agendas, and they certainly pop up amidst almost every discussion of Ditko. If I had to deal with more fandom trolls, I’d consider toiling away in self-imposed exile, too.

    7. Not Ditko, but I think Eddie Campbell’s characterization of you in his books is both funny and unfair. It fits into his slightly fictionalized narrative and creates some nice beats in the story, but it’s also the point where fiction and reality meet in the most jarring of ways and it leaves the reader wondering what the hell the truth really is. It’s the most glaring example, I think, of the discomfort I get reading some of Campbell’s otherwise magnificent work: what responsibility does he have to reality and the people who become his characters when he’s writing stories that are slightly fictionalized?

  3. Thad

    Definitely a lot of food for thought in here.

    I ran across a used copy of Art of Ditko at my local independent bookstore a few months back — just lovely. But it’s impossible to engage it without thinking about Ditko’s lack of participation or compensation — even if by his own choice.

  4. patrick ford

    Stephen, Any mention is Sean Howe’s or Yoe’s book of the constantly brought up assertion that Ditko uses his original art as a cutting board? Bob Heer shined the light of common sense on that bit of nonsense a couple years ago and yet there are those eager to discredit Ditko who have taken up that bogus story as a mantra. It comes up constantly, and there is always a reason for things like that. Also any mention of the extensive series of essays by Ditko which you covered in a previous MY RANT!? While Ditko doesn’t seem to have much to say to reporters (he did recently confirm he get’s nothing from Marvel), he was presenting a pretty detailed history of the period in essay form only to be shouted down by offended Lee Loyalists. Even stranger the essays ought to be widely known considering their importance, but almost no one dares mention them.

  5. Mike DeLisa

    Here is my view on “The Creativity of Steve Ditko”.

    Once again Yoe presents a random selection of Ditko stories and artwork. Nearly
    all are public domain and easily an cheaply available elsewhere.

    But where he really fails is the presentation of Amber Stanton’s essay, which
    asserts her father co-created Spider-man.

    Yoe calls his book “The Creativity of Steve Ditko,” then publishes an
    unsubstantiated claim that attacks Ditko on a key creation!

    Yoe goes on to make the idiotic comment that Ditko can’t draw attractive women
    an that “the world of Ditko is populated by ugly people.” Yoe questions whether
    Ditko sees the world as ugly. (I suppose Yoe’s self portrait at the back of the
    book gives us his idea of an idealized man.)

    IIn sum, Yoe’s book attacks Ditko’s creativity and his craft under the guise of
    honoring him.

    Ditko deserves better than such archivists and would-be biographers such as Yoe
    and Blake Bell.

    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.

    – Mike D

  6. Craig Yoe

    Hi Mike, that’s not a self-portrait of me in the back of the book, it was drawn by the the great Mad cover artist Kelly Freas–he obviously draws ugly people, too–me f’instance! ;) Best, Craig “What Me Worry?” Yoe

  7. Peter Urkowitz

    Great post, Steve, lots to think about. I don’t know if I’ll be getting the new Yoe Ditko book, as I’m not a fan of Yoe’s past work, though more for vague aesthetic reasons than any real moral objections.

    Thanks for the link to BobH’s Ditko Weblog. I’m sure I’ll be buying stuff from there soon.

  8. James Robert Smith

    Your essays always amaze me. This one is a bit more subjective than most, but still solid.

    To my way of thinking, Ditko is the weirdest cat in all of comics. I find his politics and his philosophies to be utterly and completely disgusting. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. His personal moral codes and the adamant positions he has taken over the years have given us an amazing body of work the equal to that of the best artists who have worked the form.

    I completely understand his position to not engage the publishers and the fans. What’s the point? At some time they’re going to try to fleece him or bleed him. To hell with that.

    Think of what has been taken from him. What he created as a craftsman has earned–quite actually–billions of dollars. For others, though. Not for Steve Ditko. In the face of that kind of treatment, why would he bother to connect with the users who have endlessly sucked the blood from him?

  9. Richard Caldwell

    Brilliant article, and I especially agree with the ideas of cutting Steve a check first, as well as giving up a page or three to his current works. That would have added some strong validation.

    It is a swell book though. I’m almost tempted to do a mini-comic with all of the various horror hosts he drew united in something madcap.

  10. Henry R. Kujawa

    I decided to follow your example, and posted a link to the Ditko Comics In Print at my blog (on the “Ditko” pages, natch).

  11. Mike DeLisa

    Craig — I stand corrected. I’ve always enjoyed work by Kelly Freas. I guess you and i both have a face perfect for radio! Best, Mike

  12. John Platt

    A correction to my earlier comment: the Ditko non-forward was not in a Yoe book. 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”. I apologize for the mix-up.

  13. Christopher Woerner

    The trolls on the Joe Kubert discussion were defending Alan Moore’s creative rights (i.e. with “Before Watchmen.”) It’s not intrinsically different from defending Steve Ditko’s creative rights, in that the creator doesn’t want your help and is quite happy distancing himself from your distasteful approach, whoever you are. In the Kubert-Moore discussion, I’m pretty sure that if Moore was asked about Kubert’s legacy, it would be about Sgt. Rock, Tor, Hawkman, PS Magazine, etc. Even if Kubert’s specific contributions to “Before Watchmen” (whatever they were) were shoved in Alan Moore’s face, it’s probably safe to say that Moore’s negative responses would be directed at the provocateur, instead of automatically condemning Enemy Ace, Fax at Sarejevo, Tales of the Green Beret, etc. over a few pages drawn in a fifty year careert. “Oh no! He’s drawing Nite Owl without Alan Moore’s permission!!! That’s like being photographed with Trotsky!”

    That’s not an agenda. That’s a desire to tear things down with no higher goal than destruction for its own sake. Much like Steve Ditko wrote about in my favorite ‘solo’ story of his, Laszlo’s Hammer. A typical objectivist rant – not an insult; I agree with Ayn Rand more than most people you’ll ever meet, but Ditko’s solo work is text-heavy enough that I’ll qualify it as a rant, regardless of the topic – punctuated brilliantly with interruptions about Laslo Toth destroying Michelangelo’s Pieta in 1972. There is no agenda. Just a madman with a hammer who must smash something someone else built. [And by the way, the scene of Thor vs. the Hulk alone was worth the price of admission to "The Avengers." Jus' saying...]

    This isn’t a defense of Ditko – except in a weird ‘creator’s rights’ sense. Or Alan Moore, or Joe Kubert. But effort is required to build twenty or fifty or three hundred issues of a comic book series, even if Alan Moore doesn’t approve. Whatever Steve Ditko disagrees with – and your guess is as good as mine on that – I don’t think he’s against Spider-Man being a multi-billion dollar franchise. He’s certainly not filing nuisance lawsuits demanding his share.

  14. skellngtn

    With the proposed Phase 3 of Marvel’s cinematic onslaught already being discussed, the inclusion of Dr Strange makes me want to dig into his inital creation…how much was Lee, how much was Ditko. If Ditko co-created, co-plotted and at some point was the only plotter, will the old Marvel work for hire issue bubble up again and Steve will see nothing from a Dr Strange movie?

  15. M Kitchen

    When I opened up the box that had my Ditko Mega Pack a few years back, I was about as excited as I’ve ever been, going through a giant stack of new comics!

    http://www.ultraist.net/journal/2011/08/17/steve-ditko-mega-pack/

    Money well spent.

  16. Henry R. Kujawa

    I long ago concluded that the ONLY Steve Ditko epiasode of DR. STRANGE that Stan had anything to do at all with the plot of was the Origin. It’s clear by studying the evolution of the art it was created about 9th, but it was published 4th (because Stan insisted on origins). The plot heavily borrows elements from both the film LOST HORIZON and MANDRAKE’s origin, and several Kirby fans have pointed out it also has similarities to the origin of DR. DROOM. I figure, if anything, Kirby was doing a Frank Capra and/or Lee Falk tribute, and Lee swiped from Kirby (as usual). It’s notable that Ditko never referenced that origin again. Details of it were never mentioned in the series again until after Ditko left.

    Sure enough, years later, I find Ditko had said in an interview MANY years ago that he created DR. STRANGE entirely on his own, with no input from Lee whatsoever.

    Lee did “contribute”, but not to the plots. 4 different writers did dialogue during Ditko’s run– Lee, Rico, Thomas & O’Neil. Lee blows the other 3 guys totally out of the water! (Later on, O’Neil managed to totally murder Bill Everett’s stories. Later still, however, he finally managed to write dialogue for someone else– Dan Adkins– and do a readable job of it. Roy Thomas was the 1st non-artist to write the series. And he’s said in interviews that for at least half of that run, he had no idea what he was doing. Sheesh.)

  17. Allen Smith

    Well, I’m late to the party, but having gotten a copy of Craig Yoe’s The Creativity of Ditko a couple of months back, I’m throwing in my two cents worth. I enjoyed the volume, I thought it was well produced. The images seemed to me to be printed a bit larger than the usual comics reprint volume, which showcased the art (is that in fact the case, the dimensions of the book are larger than the “average” archives edition?) And the coloring was very nice also. The only thing that I didn’t like was Amber Stanton’s essay, didn’t agree with it although I understand that she was just expressing her point of view. As far as Yoe’s criticism that Ditko can’t draw attractive women, that’s his opinion, I disagree (I thought Ditko’s portrayal of Gwen Stacy showed her as being very attractive.) But, nothing wrong with that. I don’t hold that artists are above honest criticism, if that’s what Craig thinks, then that’s what he thinks, if all I ever read is praise for someone, I tune out mighty quickly. I want commentary that challenges my views, then I respond, either by saying why I disagree or I stop and consider whether the person has a point. Certainly some Ditko drawings of women are unattractive, but I think that’s because he made a conscious choice to draw them that way, not because he’s incapable of drawing attractive women. And on and on. And, yes, the stories in the volume might well be obtained elsewhere. But not without going to some trouble to get to them, so having them in one volume is handy, and they are well produced, as I stated. Have a great day, folks.

  18. Allen Smith

    And, Henry, agree with your comments re: Dr. Strange.

  19. Henry R. Kujawa

    It seems to me Ditko was drawing “specific” women, while Lee wanted “generic” pretty women.

    It hit me one night watching THE BIG SLEEP… it was her! Right there on the screen– Gwen Stacy! I never liked Lauren Bacall… but why not her, after all, Dr. Strange was based on Ronald Colman. Young fans (and most young artists) have no clue as to many of the source inspirations.

    Watching MURDERERS’ ROW a while back, I finally figured out that Mary Jane Watson was probably inspired by Ann-Margaret. (It was the “disco club” scene that did it.)

    Of course, around ASM #50 or so, at the urging of Lee, Romita “recast” Gwen… but I forget who someone said the “nice” Gwen looked like. (A few decades later I might have said Melissa Joan Hart.)

    Now if I could only figure who Clea might have been based on… (C’mon, any ideas?)

  20. Christopher Woerner

    I agree that Ditko could certainly draw attractive women. Gwen and (once they’d changed their hair) Liz Allen and Betty Brant were certainly attractive. It arguably began the unrealistic body type that women in superhero comics are known for, but they were definitely cuties.

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