Thursday, 16 June 2016


Mr. A
by Steve Ditko
from 'The Avenging World' (Witzend #7, 1970)

I am a big admirer of the Objectivism Process -- even though, being a monotheist, I can't, by definition, BE an Objectivist -- and I'd always recommend reading Objectivist "primers" at the very least for the challenge of "I disagree with this, but WHY do I disagree with this, SPECIFICALLY"? Talk about sharpening your wits!

One of the things that I learned was "blurt it out". Try to get what you have to say into the most concise form possible and you'll usually hew more closely to objective reality:

Darrell E. came to visit me in the hospital last year. Huge, huge Ditko fan.  I said, "Darrell, I've stopped corresponding with Ditko because he's vehemently opposed to his letters being read by anyone -- and that means in perpetuity -- and they're all in the Cerebus Archive with my replies."

(Complicating the situation, when I would reply, I would quote, often, whole paragraphs of what he had said in my own letters)

"I asked him what he thought my responsibility was and never heard back from him.  I infer that his preference would be that I should destroy his letters because we both know they won't be destroyed after I'm gone.  As a huge Ditko fan, what do YOU think I should do?"

He didn't miss a beat:  "I think you should destroy them because no one EVER does what Steve Ditko wants them to do."

I'm going to make up my own mind, but I welcome any comments on this.

[Thanks to Robin for printing a page from STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND in the latest issue of THE COMICS! and for the Jaw-Dropping cover of what appears to be the FIRST EVER Pro-Ditko book (as opposed to the profusion of "damning with faint praise" Ditko books on the market) now in production. Who? What?  For sure I'll find out in THE COMICS! before I find out anywhere else!]

And now, the always reliable Margaret Liss!


Neil Anderson said...

Well, when I read Kafka, I can't bring myself to regret that Max Brod defied Kafka's deathbed wish and published regardless. But for Ditko, this is a black and white issue.

Anonymous said...

If Ditko says, "Destroy my letters," is this an option you're willing to make available to everyone in the archive? If not, why not? If so, what will that mean to the overall value of the archive as a resource if it is purged?

If, for example, Susan Alston said (or does say at some future date) "Destroy our correspondence" (rather than preparing it for publication), what would you do?

You said a long time ago that you see your written words as entries into a permanent record. In that spirit, it would seem that the extant letters between you and Ditko are part of that record, and thus a critical part of the archive. Your verbal conversations, on the other hand, are by nature transient and thus private.

Are you, at this moment, able to determine with confidence that these letters are not in fact the keys to understanding the totality of your work and putting it all into context, in the same spirit that you sought answers in the works and letters (published and unpublished) of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and their inner circles?

--Claude Flowers

Tony Dunlop said...

I say if Mr. Ditko wants the letters destroyed, they should be destroyed. I hate to put words into his mouth, but it sounds like he wants his work, the work he chose to publish, to be what speaks publicly for him; private correspondence being just that, private, between himself and the recipient. Your "schtick" has always been that the creator have full control over his work. Where's the dilemma here?

James said...

I think private correspondence should generally be kept private, if one of the correspondents would prefer that no one ever see what he wrote, then I think its the right course of action to do what he asks. I think that he should probably make that known up front but if it were me, I'd destroy his letters as soon as he asked.

On the other hand I wouldn't really condemn a person for NOT destroying the letters if he thought they were a valuable resource, but I do think its disrespectful and I absolutely can't fault Ditko for no longer replying.

In the end, its on you, what is more valuable, the letters or Ditko's happiness? I think most would say the letters aren't that important but I suppose it depends on their contents.

Dave Kopperman said...

The Max Brod / Franz Kafka analogy came to my mind as well. The world would have been a much poorer place had Brod followed Kafka's wishes.

If they were truly private letters, there would be a strong case to be made for their destruction, but I suspect they're more of the philosophical debate type.

Let's face it: Ditko is a major historical figure. Never mind his importance as a storyteller and illustrator, but as the man who created the iconic visual for one of the most lasting bits of 20th century culture. He's also a man who has been in a media blackout for close to six decades. Something of his personal correspondence should survive, despite his wishes. Something is owed to future generations, and if the Cerebus archive isn't that place, I don't know where it would be.

Perhaps you can have your lawyer draw up papers that allow researchers to review the letters, but not to directly quote them? Maybe that's a little weasely, but it's history versus a man (well, two men) who can't compromise, and someone has to blink.

Steve said...

I'd say that Ditko is a major figure in comics, but by no means does he have any significant historical importance outside of that slim sliver of American culture.

And so what if Ditko's letters are preserved in Dave's archives - again, at most a few hundred people have any interest in the Archive, only a few of them will ever make it to the Off White House.

So perhaps the middle ground is to simply mark Ditko's correspondence as 'Not For Publication / Distribution ' or some such.

But, really, it's so fringe as to be essentially insignificant.

(Now, Martha Washington's burning the letters from George, and the burning of Mark Twain's correspondence with his mom - those are two losses to regret.)


Dave Sim said...

Well, Ditko didn't say he WANTED the letters destroyed. That's why I asked him what HE thought MY responsibility was. I can't think of anyone else that I would consider in his league as an ethicist in terms of the extent that his personal and political ethics are absolutist in character and pretty strictly adhered to. I'm not really sure what to infer from his non-response.

To me, the fact that Steve Ditko and I are both pretty close to universally hated in the comic-book field -- with a sentimental love for our earlier work -- factors in. What people think in 2016 is apt not to be what they think in 2066 or 2132.

I often cite the example of Oscar Wilde. If you had told a late-Victorian era Brit that Wilde would be one of the few literary figures of that period to be remembered and (more importantly) still widely read a century later -- and that most of the authors that Brit would consider in the Pantheon would be long forgotten -- he would have called you insane.

Ditko is definitely a prolific letter writer so one of the problems is: what happens if an exhaustive Steve Ditko Letters Archive forms on-line after his passing and -- over time -- people gravitate to this and, a hundred years from now, SPIDER-MAN is a footnote in the life of Steve Ditko, Ethicist?

Then you have a far different assessment of Dave Sim's decision to destroy a hundred or so letters -- many of which run 10 or 12 handwritten pages.

Dave Sim said...

James - You make a good point about personal correspondence. Ditko is definitely an IDEAS guy and that's what he writes about creatively and what he writes about in his letters. I wouldn't describe any of the letters he sent me as "personal" in terms of subject matter. But, then, my letters to him (or pretty much anyone) weren't "personal" either.

But that's at odds with how private an individual he is. Talking face-to-face with someone who hasn't been photographed in sixty years is an interesting experience. That suggests a Darned-Close-To-Entirely Unique-Now-That-J.D.-Salinger-Is-Gone attitude towards "personal" in the 21st century, particularly.

Dave Sim said...

James - I don't think "happiness" is really what we're talking about when we're talking about Steve Ditko. In the same way that I was careful not to say that he was "unhappy" with people reading his letters in the Cerebus Archive.

Whatever his concern and whatever he infers is my responsibility relative to that concern, I don't think it's in any way emotion-based.

Dave Sim said...

Dave Kopperman - That's another element of this: after the Wikileaks situation, does anyone think that ANY "content" is going to be deemed sacrosanct in the future? That's not a rhetorical question. I'm not sure if we're going all the way in one direction or the other.

But, forced to make the call, I would say that however secret you want to make something in 2016, it's not going to be secret for long if there is a general interest on the part of even a small slice of the general public. People Want This is really starting to be the Guiding Principle of our civilization. You have to PROVE a specific harm would result and the threshold is getting higher and higher (or, as I would see it, generally, lower and lower) on that.

It was taken as a given that the Zapruder film was just too horrific to ever be viewed by human eyes and would be confined to the Time-Life vault.

Now it's on YouTube in multiple forms.

Dave Kopperman said...

Dave: it's true that in the age of the internet, even living artists have minimal control over how their own copyrighted works are presented and disseminated, and the historical precedent for correspondence is that it's in the public record, no questions asked. Maybe just seal them in a block of inertron and trust that by the time future scientists figure out how to bore their way through, English will have become a forgotten language and the letters will be enigmatic as the Voynich manuscript.

But seriously, yeah, it's a minor tragedy, but if you respect the man you should probably destroy them. I'm glad it's you and not me that has to make that particular decision.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

One thing that occurs to me is that Ditko might regard Dave's asking him (Ditko) what he (Dave) should do with the letters is an abrogation of Dave's moral responsibility. Ditko has made his wishes known, but he can't impose them on Dave, because to do so runs counter to Objectivist philosophy. It's up to Dave to decide what to do with the letters, and to make the right decision.

That said, I think Objectivism is objectively stupid, and furthermore that the author is not always the best guide, interpreter, or archivist of their own work.

And, as Steve said above, there's nothing in this correspondence of real historical significance -- but for those of us who are interested in comics history, this could be primary source material. Ditko's most potent days are long behind him -- so are Dave's, come to that -- so their current thoughts are likely to best less interesting than their historical thoughts. I'd admit to a small sense of loss at the destruction of any chance to further understand the mind of Steve Ditko (or Dave Sim, for that matter), who so enriched the world of comics.

-- Damian

Anonymous said...

Dave, for clarity, are you saying you did destroy the letters already, or speculating how doing so would be perceived in the future?

--Claude Flowers