Saturday, 30 March 2013


DitkoMania #77 (2009)
Art by Dave Sim
(from Blake Bell's Blog, 6 May 2012)
...Dave Sim [read his] review of my 2008 Ditko bio/art book, Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko... in a phone conversation that was one of the most emotional comic-related moments in my memory.

I had hit upon Cerebus in 1987, just after issue 105 (of 300) and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Easily moved to my favourite current comic, easily moved Dave into that trinity alongside Ditko and Everett.

Dump me on a desert island with nothing other than Ditko's run on Spider-Man, and Cerebus #11 to #136, and I'd be entertained for life.

And Dave was the 1980s equivalent of Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols: a legit, street-cred, no-nonsense rock star/shepherd. He was the Jack Kirby equivalent of his generation; the "Godfather" of the indie movement, influencing and inspiring too many creators to count. That all changed when Dave let his point of view on gender relations all hang out in Cerebus #186.

I bring this up because the consequences of that POV informed my 2008 phone conversation with him. Dave didn't look fondly upon the Deni Loubert/Dave Sim chapter of my first book, I Have To Live With This Guy!, from 2002. Still, two subsequent meetings had buried the hatchet. That led to various exchanges including what was this whirlwind of a conversation re: Ditko.

Dave felt (correctly so) that Ditko had been consistently belittled, insulted and relegated for his Randian viewpoints mainly because the whole world just wanted Ditko to roll over, do Spider-Man and Dr. Strange again, and have his blood sucked for where "all the bodies are buried" at Marvel.

This 2008 conversation started well. Hey, when one of your heroes says about your book, "I think that Strange and Stranger is probably the best book of its kind that I’ve read," it's tough not to feel a sense of accomplishment. But as the reading of the review unfurled, and Sim clearly was empathizing with the arc of Ditko's career that had been deeply informed by the expression of his philosophical viewpoint, the tone began to change, and my momentary sense of joy sank with each passing word out of Dave's mouth.

When Dave finished reading the review, there was a prolonged silence. Ever been caught in the ocean's undertow, spun upside down? Was I offended? No, not really. Had my balloon burst? Maybe a little, but it certainly gave me pause to think and re-examine my motives based on this new perspective (especially when delivered in such a heart-felt manner).

It was the follow-up that I won't forget. Dave elaborated on how he felt Ditko had been treated by fans, the press, and the industry, and it became increasingly clear that he was talking about himself too. A wave of sadness came over me as Dave became choked up, especially while relating my "tip of the cap" to him in the Acknowledgments section.

I had put in there that my admiration was unending for Cerebus #11 to #136, in a similar fashion to Ditko's Spider-Man run, and he questioned if that was not read as a back-handed complement - similar to how Ditko views people who like his corporate comics vs. that from his own independent mind. I stood up for myself on this point, saying that my love for that part of Cerebus was an objective fact and that it was unfair to categorize my comment as a negative commentary on his personal beliefs that came out in full force in issue #186. Just as I had criticized Ditko's later work for being too didactic, for letting the message overwhelm the story, I believed the same had happened with Cerebus to the extent that my enjoyment, while never stopping me from buying the book to #300, did decrease in a comparative sense. I also opined to Dave that I don't think Ditko would appreciate people buy his Objectivist-heavy work just to support him because "he was Ditko". An acquaintance of Ditko once told me that Ditko had said he'd rather read a review of someone who hated his work than someone licking his boots, and I think that stuck with Dave as an appropriate counterpoint to his argument offered in the review.

I must have been channeling the Holy Spirit because I think the way that I conveyed myself broke through his defenses, in terms of sobering him up to the fact that he was being judged solely on the merits of his work, and not on his socio-political beliefs, and that this was rare for him in the past 10 years. It was clear to me that this had taken a toll on him: going from likely the most "he's my guy" figure in alternative comics to pariah/outsider.

I think we left the conversation with a better understanding of the other person's point of view. What else can you ask for? We've had some interactions since, but none for awhile and I wish I had the time to sit down and re-read Cerebus from start to finish for the first time in a decade. My other "dream book" to write would be Dave Sim and The Rise of the Independents just because I'd get to read those books again and bask in the glow of that era where everything seemed possible if you were an indie creator. We were going to triumph en masse over Goliath. Sim proved you could make it all on your own: a complete artistic vision, and business model, from start to finish, no interference in that vision from anyone (including a dwindling fan base). That's why comics are #1 for me. Can any other medium allow a creator the ability to get their vision across in such an unfiltered manner, from concept to consumer...?

Full details of how to purchase Steve Ditko books can be found at Strange & Stranger by Blake Bell was published by Fanatagraphics Books in 2008. The Ditkomania fanzine has just published its 90th issue and is essential reading for all Steve Ditko fans.

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