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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays

Always loved this particular Peanuts Christmas Day strip:


And of course, "Biblical scholar Linus" is always a treat:



Friday, December 19, 2008

BEANWORLD HOLIDAY SPECIAL by Larry Marder

Well, this makes it a good year...



It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to anyone familiar with the series that I'm a big fan of Larry Marder's TALES OF THE BEANWORLD. If the name of this weblog wasn't clue enough, the link on the sidebar should seal the case.

So of course I'm very excited to see Marder's creation land a comprehensive publishing deal with Dark Horse, which has already seen a new online short story a few months ago, and will see two hardcover reprints of the original series next year followed shortly by an all-new graphic novel.

But what we get right now is the BEANWORLD HOLIDAY SPECIAL, featuring a new 20-page story "Every Cutie Deserves A Toy!", which fills in a gap just before the last regular issue of the series, #21 back in 1993. It's a great little story for those who know the series well, pretty much seamlessly fitting in with the old stuff in how it builds on past events and gives some hints about where the story is going in the future (with the added comfort of knowing that barring acts of fate a fair chunk of that future should be in front of our eyes within a year). This one has already sent me back to reading several of those older stories, which as always prove to be better with each new reading. I'm sure huge chunks of it will be perplexing to someone not familiar with the series, but that's kind of the point. I came in at a random issue almost two decades ago, and while I didn't understand everything between those covers, I did get enough out of it to know I wanted to read more, and I can see quite a few similar things in this book that I'm sure if a new reader has the inclination to enjoy the series, this will make them go out and pick up the upcoming books, or pick up various back issues if they can't wait.

I should mention, I guess, that most of the series has been black and white to this point, and will be again in the future, while this special is in colour. For the most part I liked the look, wisely sticking to strong solid colours as opposed to the excessive modelling used in an unfortunate earlier attempt at colouring the stories. While I'm glad the future of Beanworld is black and white, I wouldn't object at all if I was told it would be in colours like this, which is something I never thought I'd say.

I'll have a lot more to say about this story, but I'll save that for Gunk'l'dunk and over here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

238 Years Ago Today...




I do like how easy the new large (but not complete) archive of Peanuts strips makes finding these (just click on either one and change the year on the URL).



Friday, October 31, 2008

A few random things

Apparently Jay Hosler put out a new book earlier this year.  I'm not sure why I didn't know about that, but given how much I loved CLAN APIS and THE SANDWALK ADVENTURES, I'm definitely interested. Guess I should pay more attention to what new comics are coming out.

On the other hand, I do know that there's new Beanworld  due to come out in less than two months.Almost to the point that I'm counting down the days (except with my comic buying patterns these days I'll probably get it some number of weeks after it's released).

That also reminds me to check some other stuff.  Hm, a few more volumes of BAREFOOT GEN are coming out next spring, that's good news.  And I really should get caught up on a lot of the Tezuka stuff that's out recently or coming out soon. I loved what I'd read of BLACKJACK before, so great to see it's getting released quickly over the next year. I'm not sure what this DORORO thing is, but I'll give it a look.

And speaking of Japanese comics, I finished reading DEATH NOTE recently, the first modern Japanese comic I've really gotten into enough to finish. Very odd and funny book, I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy it all the way through, after reading several reviews that said it didn't sustain its interest throughout. Have to decide now, since I got it from the library, what version I want to buy.  That box of all 13 books looks great and is a great price, but I'm also tempted by the larger hardcovers they've just started. On the other hand, it doesn't look like they've got a second hardcover scheduled within the next few months, so that would take forever to finish at that rate.  And if they're going to do hardcovers, they should make them a bit thicker, collect the whole thing in 4 or 6 volumes.  So looks like the box set of paperbacks it is.

Caught a few episodes of the cartoon version of DEATH NOTE, too. Interesting, very faithful to the comic, almost to the point of being superfluous, not really enough there to keep me watching. Not sure if I want to try the live action adaptation. Maybe someday.

And on the topic of films based on comics, there's a new short film based on Steve Bissette's very gory 1980s horror story COTTONMOUTH, which I first read in the debut issue of TABOO back in 1988.  Go see it at cottonmouth.tv, where there's also some fascinating behind-the-scenes stuff. Not for the faint of heart. Expect further comments on Bissette's site soon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A reminder from a possum



A timely reminder to any fellow Canadians who may be reading this, Election Day is today (though I have to say, having voted at an advance poll last week that's really the way to go. In and out in five minutes). Unfortunately no Pogo on the ballot, and though I'm not sure I can entirely agree with the sentiment of the poster if you're planning to vote Conservative or some fool thing, high turnout is always good.

And you American type swamp critters, advance voting is apparently available in much of your country.  Try not to screw it up.

POGO © OGPI

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dave Sim on STRANGE AND STRANGER

The following review is © 2008 Dave Sim, and first appeared in DITKOMANIA #67, August 2008, published by Rob Imes, and appears here by permission of Dave Sim and Rob Imes. The original issue is still available from Rob for $2.50 postpaid in the US, and includes a great exclusive original backcover by Dave Sim of Spider-Ham with a Doctor Strange inspired background. See here for more information on ordering, subscribing or contributing. #68 is out now and includes the first reactions to the review in the letter column, and for Sim fans you can expect some more contributions from him in future issues.

On a personal note, while I don't agree with everything in Sim's review, I do think it makes several important points that are largely missing from commentary on the book and on Ditko in general, so I'm glad they've allowed me to share it here. I'll include more in the comments to this post, and I welcome the comments of anyone reading (and Rob will share those comments with Dave, and if he replies I'll add a pointer to the comments section).

Also, ordering info for Ditko's creator owned independent work. You'll see why after you read the review.


STRANGE AND STRANGER
One Man’s View
by Dave Sim

As I told Blake Bell in a phone message, I think that Strange and Stranger is probably the best book of its kind that I’ve read – certainly preferable to the biography of Wally Wood, Wally’s World that came out back in ’06.

It’s pretty thoroughly researched and annotated, for one thing, which means it’s either the definitive Ditko biography for the ages or the foundational work which subsequent efforts will seek to enhance and amend, develop and correct. At the very least it strikes a very successful balance between the invasion of someone’s private life (a generally unpleasant task made more so by the fact of the subject’s scrupulous maintenance of that privacy), an examination of the art styles and approaches of its subject, capitulation to the intended mainstream audience with Big Pop Art Enlargements of Campy Off-Register Colour (er – that is what the mainstream audience wants isn’t it?), a nice selection of black and white copies of originals and stats (for those of us “weirdos” who are interested in seeing what an artist’s art looks like) (go figure) and a clear chronology of what happened when and why.

To me, it seems pretty straightforward as narrative: this is what Ditko proposes to do, this person or company agrees to what he proposes to do, Ditko does what he says he was going to do and the person or company doesn’t. Ditko goes his own way. At the very least the volume seems misnamed. “Strange and Stranger?” Shouldn’t there be something in the title about Integrity? Particularly given Ditko’s sober second thoughts on all forms of supernatural content (to the extent that he eventually was turning down jobs with supernatural elements, let alone supernatural themes). Granted, in the 21st Century there could be few things more unimaginably strange than integrity – but isn’t that more of a comment on what used to be called the lumpen proletariat than on the perhaps solitary individual still making his decisions based on personal ethics (ethics that get progressively more stringent over the years, rather than more flaccid which is the common route in our society)?

There’s a lot in here that I didn’t know and other things that I had forgotten.

How could I have forgotten that there had been the time when Ditko had offered original Mr. A stories to interested fanzine publishers, gratis, with the only proviso being that they publish the work in a timely fashion and return the originals? Could there have been a more fundamental challenge to the Brave New World of anti-corporate, power to the people rebels? They certainly talked the talk in a way that resonated with Ditko’s rugged individualism. All he was looking for was people who would do what they said they were going to do. The experiment failed miserably, of course, but the fault can scarcely be laid at Ditko’s feet. As with most of his experiments he found that those who talk the talk are legion, those who walk the walk are anecdotal.

They’re all here – or most of them are: like a Greek chorus of Ditko caricatures, all with their rationalizations, their self-congratulation and their mystified expressions. The lessons are all the same, as far as they’re concerned, the bottom line summed up best as “We’re very disappointed in you, Steve Ditko.” It seems never to occur to them to ask why that’s their bottom line, given that Ditko always holds up his end of the bargain. Steve Ditko holds up his end of the bargain – it’s the primary recurrent theme of his self-generated work: the holding up of the respective ends of a bargain, reciprocal satisfaction which results when that takes place, misplaced animosity when it doesn’t – and the people he struck the bargain with end up disappointed in him.

Unfortunately the author and the publisher of the book join that Greek chorus at the end. “We’re very disappointed in you, Steve Ditko.” I kept hoping that there would be a plug for Robin Snyder, the only publisher that Ditko has stuck with and therefore (basic logic would inform us) the only person to hold up his end of the bargain over however many years. Just in case there is a mainstream audience for this and they – or a small fraction of them – are interested in seeing what Steve Ditko has to say about himself, you know? Given that everyone else has his and her say for two hundred and twenty-some-odd pages and the author and publisher have, presumably, made a good buck off of Steve Ditko’s name and stellar reputation and artwork knowing that he implicitly disapproves of what it is they’re doing here…

I get the impression that I’m the only person of my own generation in comics (and possibly of all succeeding generations) who sees the situation clearly. Certainly my primary question for myself was “Where was I?” Back in the 1970s I worked on one of the few successful (that is, it actually came out when it said it would) fanzines, Comic Art News & Reviews. Why didn’t we publish a Ditko Mr. A story since Ditko was making it that easy to do so? Politics, basically. We were all extreme leftists back in the 70s and Ditko, of course, with his ethics which were carved in stone rather than situational like our own, was a fascist, a Nazi. The world couldn’t get far enough, fast enough away from the honour and ethics and morality of a Steve Ditko, couldn’t run far enough fast enough in the other direction. And here we are, as far over in the opposite direction as you can get in just about the kind of world you would expect: inhabited almost exclusively by Steve Ditko caricatures – who turn out not to be caricatures at all. Even back in the 60s, Ditko was drawing accurate portraits of what we were all choosing to become.

Even a nice guy like Blake Bell. I can vouch for him being a nice guy because I’ve spent a certain amount of time in his company and you really can’t fake that gut-level of earnest good guy that Blake exudes. But there’s something about actual ethics that makes even nice guys more than a little loopy when they experience them. Blake writes, “Alas, once again the market proved to be a cruel mistress, and Ditko and Snyder would abandon publishing again after the release, in the summer of 2002, of a comprehensive, 240-page collection of Ditko’s Objectivist comics and essays titled Avenging World that sank without a trace (even most Ditko fans are unaware of its existence).”

Well, you know Robin Snyder just published Ditko’s “Toyland” essays in The Comics in the last year and The Avenging Mind in April. I didn’t even find out about Robin Snyder until late 2006 and managed to buy all of the extant 1990s Ditko material at cover price by mail. So there is a “trace” of Steve Ditko – it’s just that it seems that the largely rancourous, largely unthinking, reflexively leftist comic-book field can’t help “playing to type”: that is behaving like the accurate portraits Steve Ditko has been rendering of them for a good forty years now. Having driven him as far out of the field as we can, just by relentlessly not holding up our sides of any bargain struck with him, we now need to act as if his work “sank without a trace” instead of doing something sort of, you know, honorable (just for the experience – we can always go back to the old way if honour proves to be as unsatisfying as most of us are determined to see it as being).

Like what?

Like “People interested in helping to supplement Steve Ditko’s extremely modest income can do so by ordering his various new works which are in print and available from Robin Snyder, 3745 Canterbury Lane #81, Bellingham, WA, 98225-1186 USA, email RobinBrigit [at] comcast.net."

[up-to-date availability, pricing, ordering and contact info for Snyder/Ditko books is available here]

Now that simple paragraph could have been on every bookshelf in every comic book store and Barnes and Noble and wherever else these books are going to turn up. Instead it will only appear here in a fanzine. And will probably rile everyone up and start a new round of Evil Dave Sim talk, no one will order anything – and those same people will cry a river of crocodile tears when Steve Ditko passes from this vale of tears.

Acting just the way he’s been drawing them for close to forty years now.

Sickening, isn’t it?



(Dave Sim is the legendary independent comics creator who wrote, drew, and self-published the groundbreaking 300-issue Cerebus series from 1977 to 2004, which can be found collected in thick trade paperback volumes at the better comics shops and bookstores. His most recent projects are the graphic novel Judenhass, concerning the Holocaust, and the Glamourpuss series, which is both a satire of fashion magazines and an analysis of classic photorealistic comic art. The second issue of Glamourpuss was released in July. Both titles are published by Aardvark-Vanaheim, Inc., P.O. Box 1674, Station C, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2.)




Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Beanworld Returns

The first new Beanworld story in over a decade, the 8-page full colour "? and !" by Larry Marder, is now available at Dark Horse's MySpace page.

Our long international nightmare is over!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

An interminable examination of the Ditko/Stanton contradiction that isn't

As long as we're on the subject of Ditko (and yes, I know there's a whole weblog devoted to Ditko that I run, but things like this don't fit there).

I'll warn you right now that I doubt one person in a million finds this as interesting as I do, and even most of them won't like the long way around I go to get there. For that matter, it's not even so much that I find the topic interesting as I'm tired about the way it's discussed every now and then, and I expect it to get worse. There's a quick summary at the end, and don't worry, you won't miss any bondage artwork, there is none.

Some of you have probably heard something like this about Steve Ditko:

"Ditko denies working on several of Eric Stanton's bondage/fetish comics, despite clear evidence that he did, out of either embarrassment or some later Randian-based philosophical objection to the material"

Overall this is a minor thing, but there there are a few things that never quite seemed right about that version (and that's pretty much how it's always presented, including in the recent STRANGE AND STRANGER, where most of the quotes below are taken from, pages 50-51), and I sometimes see it used to cast doubt on other things Ditko writes, in an "If he'll lie about the Stanton stuff, why trust him on the Spider-Man stuff?" kind of way. Something not obviously related that I read a few years ago pointed me to an alternative way of looking at that situation that seems to match more of the facts and is much more satisfying.

Some background.

You probably know who Steve Ditko is. Eric Stanton was also a comic book artist, who Steve Ditko shared a New York studio with for about a decade (circa 1958-1968, according to Stanton). He's generally known for some pretty raunchy work, featuring frequent themes of bondage and the like, quite different in theme from the work that Ditko produced.

Except that there are a number of Stanton signed and credited stories that feature a strong resemblance to Ditko's work. Apparently there were at times even rumours that "Stanton" was a pen-name that Ditko used, although that's long debunked. Anyway, while I don't think Ditko has ever commented on the record about any of that, Stanton has said a few things, like he "asked Steve Ditko to ink" some of those comics. So, if you care about that stuff, look at the comics, look at Ditko's work of the era, look at Stanton's other work of the era and weigh Stanton's public statements and come to your own conclusions or lack of conclusions.

Whether Ditko worked on the material and how much is actually a side issue.

Upon noticing the visual similarities between Ditko's work and those Stanton stories, some people have asked Ditko about the work, or written about it accepting the premise that it was Ditko's work, and Ditko's reaction has provoked some comments and speculation. Cat Yronwode has said that she "felt that he lied" in his denial of the work when she asked him about it for a checklist she was producing. Other accounts, such as Joe Rubinstein's, are that his denial came in the form of a carefully worded statement that he "dare[d] anyone to prove [he] inked that". Since Yronwode doesn't actually quote what Ditko said, just that she "felt" it was a lie, I think the possibility is strong that Ditko's statement to her was equally carefully worded.

So let's grant that Ditko's statements on the work can be described as carefully worded and perhaps agitated non-denials that amount to "no comment".

The trouble I have is when people try to read into his reaction to questions about that work and that reaction's apparent contradiction to statements he's made about "earned credit" and honesty. The reading generally takes the form, as Blake Bell puts it, that he reacts this way "either from adopting the tenets of Ayn Rand's philosophy, or perhaps through some kind of old-school embarrassment". I don't really see the conflict with that work and anything Ditko's written about his philosophy based on Objectivism, or even what I know of Rand's version of it, although some like Yronwode seem to. I guess embarrassment is possible, but again, nothing else really suggests that.

Is there a third explanation that actually does match some other reported Ditko behaviour?


A tangent, if you'll indulge me.

When Ditko left Marvel, he had an incredible workload on Doctor Strange and Spider-Man. 30 pages of plot, pencils and inks a month, plus a cover for Spider-Man, and even some other work, plus he had already started plotting and pencilling the bi-monthly revival of Captain Atom for Charlton. That's impressive even if that work didn't include some of the greatest super-hero comics of all time. And that means when he quit, he had a lot of time open in his schedule, so it's no surprise that his work began popping up all over the place. The work at Charlton continued and increased. His work quickly began appearing every month in Warren's alternating bi-monthly horror magazines CREEPY and EERIE. He did some work with Wallace Wood for Tower's THUNDER AGENTS.

And some work appeared at ACG with the Ditko/Trapani byline. Ditko/Trapani work also appeared at Dell, some signed, some uncredited.

Now, Sal Trapani, I'll quote Mark Evanier on this one:
Often, when one hears that Sal Trapani was the artist of some comic, that would mean one would have no idea who'd pencilled it. Mr. Trapani was a fine inker and he was credited with pencilling a lot of comic books during his career...but his modus operandi was to farm that part of each job out to someone else. Among those who did his work for him at different times were Jack Abel, Dick Giordano, Steve Ditko, Chic Stone, Bill Molno, John Giunta and Charles Nicholas.

Around the time Ditko's last few Marvel stories were appearing, two stories, "The Valley Where Time Stood Still" and "The Way-Out Worlds of Bertram Tilley" appeared in DC's science fiction anthology STRANGE ADVENTURES (#188 and #189, respectively). Those two uncredited stories certainly have the same look as the Ditko/Trapani material of the era, and Ditko had never done any work for DC prior to this, and wouldn't for almost two years (and after some major editorial shifts at the company) when The Creeper launched in SHOWCASE #73 [1968].

So it's not surprising that people interested in such things would be curious, so I'll quote Evanier again, this time from a note that Fred Hembeck quoted in 2005:
That "Bertram Tilley" story in STRANGE ADVENTURES was almost certainly a case of Trapani getting the job and calling on Ditko to help. Somewhere in the files I have in storage, I have a letter Ditko sent me around 1969 in which he responds to a question I asked him about it. He said that the first CREEPER story was the first time he ever worked for DC, and that if he helped a friend out on some job, it was none of anyone's business.
End of the tangent.


So what does Sal Trapani have to do with Eric Stanton? What do some mildly entertaining but staid science fiction comics have to do with some notorious bondage/fetish comics?

Ditko's response to inquiries on both, lacking exact quotes, seems pretty similar. No one's business, can't prove it. Does anything in those STRANGE ADVENTURES stories violate the "tenets of Ayn Rand's philosophy"? Is there anything in them to be embarrassed by?

The (paraphrased) wording that the Creeper story was the first time he "worked for DC" is key. If he did indeed work on those stories he wasn't doing it "for DC", he wasn't contracted to do it by DC, he wasn't paid by DC, he wasn't credited by DC (I doubt that particular editor would have wanted Ditko in his book). He was doing it as a ghost artist for Trapani.

Which seems to be the relationship with Stanton if he did indeed help draw those stories that people identify as having Ditko art. Stories signed by Stanton, contracted to Stanton, if any part drawn by Ditko then ghosted by him, "helped a friend out on some job".

Told you this would be a long way to go for not much payoff. I think it's a plausible statement that Ditko does not comment, for whatever reason, on work contracted by friends that he might have helped out on in any capacity, what would be considered "ghost work" and thus not a credit that he has earned.


So, for those skipping to the end, I think that while it's entirely possible that Ditko does not acknowledge the Eric Stanton work that resembles his style out of some unspecified philosophical objections or out of plain embarrassment, I would propose that a more viable third alternative is that he simply does not wish to acknowledge or comment on any ghost work he's ever done, a policy consistent with a report of his reaction to questions about some possible work with Sal Trapani which does not carry the same "issues" that the Stanton work does.

So look at the work or don't, see what you want to see, weigh the evidence of your eyes, knowledge of art styles and Stanton's words and believe what you want to believe. To the extent that I care, I choose the version consistent with the most facts.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bolshevinks Stolt the State of Georgia

It's probably terribly inappropriate, given the serious nature of the conflict and its long-term geopolitical implications...

But I can't hear about the current Russian/Georgian conflict without thinking of this...







Selections by Walt Kelly from POGO'S DOUBLE SUNDAE [1978], which reprints THE POGO SUNDAY PARADE [1958], which in turn reprints some Pogo Sunday pages from 1953 and 1954, and I'd be able to tell you the dates if those bastards at Fantagraphics would get in gear and give me the COMPLETE POGO series they promised.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Curious Incident of the Cut Artwork

The Curious Incident of the Cut Artwork
A Cautionary Fable
Illustration by Steve Ditko

Whatever one has learned, understands, knows or experienced, is one's personal intellectual property, private property and individual property. Some facts and truths are available as "public knowledge."

Other facts, truths and knowledge belong to the individual who possessed (owns) it and paid the price in time, effort and experience. It is his earned knowledge and intellectual and personal property.
S. Ditko, AVENGING WORLD [2002], page 110


"Ditko cuts his artwork. He was using some valuable classic artwork as a cutting board."

If you care about the kind of stuff I write about, you've probably heard that said. Sometimes in a matter of fact way, sometimes in more irresponsible ways ("I heard Ditko's cutting up all his Spider-Man artwork!!"). Some argue that it's his right to do so if he pleases, others use it as evidence that there's something wrong with Ditko. There's been idle speculation about his motives for years. But almost everyone starts with the premise that Ditko has cut his artwork. Among the people who don't accept that premise, the general belief seems to be that the story (as told by Greg Theakston) is a lie. Theakston's motive for telling such an odd lie never seems to be specified.

Is this a valid premise based on the evidence? Either Ditko used some of his artwork as a cutting board or Theakston lied about it?

Personally, I don't think Ditko cut his artwork. And I don't think Greg Theakston is lying.

Let's step back and take a look.


The story has been around for over a decade. I don't know where I first heard it, but probably the most widespread telling was in this account that appeared in Wizard Magazine in 2002. Transcription copied from here, not independently verified. Please read this carefully.

Take for example, one of [Comic publisher and restorer, Greg] Theakston’s last visits to Ditko’s studio. While embroiled in a conversation, the historian noticed a piece of illustration board leaning up against a wall, slashed to pieces.

“He’d been using it as a cutting board,” Theakston said. “I looked a little bit closer and I detected a comics code stamp on it.”

He asked Ditko to turn the board around, a request met with a deadening gaze from the artist.

“I didn’t think he was going to do it,” the historian recounted. “It looked like a ‘Screw you’ look.”

Slowly, however, Ditko reached out and flipped over the board. It was a page of original art from a late 1950s issue of Journey Into Mystery, a splash featuring a hard helmet diver. Theakston couldn’t believe it. Not only was Ditko not displaying, preserving or prizing this piece of original art, he was using it as a cutting board.

Theakston quickly offered Ditko a deal: “Steve, I will go down to the nearest art supply store and buy you a cutting board that will mend itself-a plastic cutting board that’s so smart that when you cut on it, it mends itself-and you’ll have the finest cutting board on the block.” “Nope,” Ditko replied, twisting the artwork-turned-cutting-board back around.

Theakston pleaded. “Steve, geez. That’s worth a fair amount of money. At the very least-damn, Steve-it’s an artifact. It’s an important piece of publishing history in terms of comics.”

The artist turned and pointed to the drapery-obscured window next to Theakston’s chair. “Lift that curtain up,” he said.

The curtain, the historian estimated, was about 18 inches off the floor. He pulled the drape aside and saw a stack of original artwork from Marvel standing roughly a foot-and-a-half high.

“Can I look at these?” Theakston excitedly asked.

“No.”

The writer was dumbfounded. “I was sitting next to a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand dollars, maybe, worth of Ditko artwork and he was cutting it up without letting people look at it.”

Did you catch it? Probably not. I'll get there. For the record, Greg Theakston has confirmed that the page in question is actually from a Charlton comic, THIS MAGAZINE IS HAUNTED #16 [1958], not Marvel's JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY (and thanks to the various people who helped to find it). A minor point, true, but a good lesson to not believe everything you read. Let's take a look at the alleged victim.


A nice enough page, but I can see why it needed to die.

Just kidding. Man, can that dude draw. Read "The Green Peace" here, by the way.

Okay, so back to the story. I want to make this clear. The artwork was standing against a wall with cut marks on the back. Nowhere in that story does Greg Theakston say that he witnessed Ditko, knife in hand, cut the artwork. No direct account from Greg I have read has ever stated that. Unless Greg comes out now and says he did see that, anyone who reports the story as "Theakston saw Ditko using art as a cutting board" is wrong.

Minor point? Not really. Because I'm going to ask you to read the story again, and notice that at no point does Greg say that Ditko says he was using the artwork as a cutting board. From what I see, it's something Greg assumed, and then spoke from the premise he assumed.

But, you ask, surely Ditko would have corrected Theakston if he was wrong? To that I say, you haven't read that much about Ditko, have you? Not volunteering information is entirely consistent with Ditko's behaviour. Now is the time to go back to the quote that opens this article and figure out why it's there.

Now, I've chosen not to run this theory by Greg before posting, but he's welcome to confirm if Ditko ever acknowledged using the artwork as a cutting board, or just let Greg assume he had.

Okay, now you ask, the artwork was still cut, how do you explain that? Honestly, I don't even want to try. Accidents happen. I cut my finger cutting some onions once. Doesn't mean I don't value at least nine of the little darlings (sometimes that left middle finger bugs me). I once spilled water on some comics, including a comic book I love more than half my family (fortunately not an expensive one to replace).

And one explanation, the one I believe pending further evidence? This was actually easier to make when I thought it was Marvel art, but it works almost as well for Charlton. Those companies, if you'll pardon my language, treated the artwork like shit for decades. They weren't housing the artwork in archival conditions. Professional archivists probably weep when they hear about how the art was treated. Besides the most valuable work being stolen, there are multiple stories of the artwork being deliberately damaged (especially in the Marvel warehouse). Reportedly some of the fraction of his artwork Kirby got back was ripped in half. Steve Bissette has talked about getting new artwork back with a "hole the size of a quarter punched through the dead center" of two pages. If you see a damaged page of artwork, why assume the damage was done by the artist, when it was the company that had physical possession of the artwork for over 90% of the time since it was created.

Or maybe he was using the art as a cutting board, as is entirely his right. Certainly I feel he has more right to do that than people who own Ditko artwork of questionable provenance (a polite way of saying "stolen artwork") have to own that work. My point is not to "prove what happened", it's to show that we don't know what happened, and it turns out we know much less than we thought we did, and when you step back and look at all the facts, strip away assumptions, you might find you can come up with a theory that has fewer contradictions, does not require assuming someone is crazy or someone is lying and just fits the facts better.

So believe what you want to believe, but if I've put even a hint of doubt in your mind, next time you hear the "fact" that Ditko cuts his artwork, politely point out that that might not be true, direct people to this page. At the worst they'll get to see a really good page of Ditko art.

So, this is my theory, which belongs to me.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Jack Kamen, R.I.P.

Jack Kamen has passed away at age 88.

Links below to some comments and samples of a few of his EC stories. "Kamen's Kalamity" is especially noteworthy at this time.

Beyond Repair -- art by Jack Kamen, story by Al Feldstein -- Weird Science #8 [1951]
Loved to Death -- art by Jack Kamen, story by Al Feldstein -- Tales From the Crypt #25[#9] [1951]
A Timely Shock -- art by Jack Kamen, story by Al Feldstein -- Weird Fantasy #10 [1951]
What The Dog Dragged In -- art by Jack Kamen, story by Ray Bradbury & Al Feldstein -- Vault of Horror #22[#11] [1952]
Kamen's Kalamity -- art by Jack Kamen, story by Al Feldstein -- Tales From the Crypt #31[#15] [1952]
Well-Traveled! -- art by Jack Kamen, story by Al Feldstein -- Shock SuspenStories #5 [1952]
Given the Heir -- art by Jack Kamen, story by Al Feldstein -- Weird Science #16 [1952]
Beauty And The Beach! -- art by Jack Kamen, story by Al Feldstein -- Shock SuspenStories #7 [1953]
The Screaming Woman! -- art by Jack Kamen, story by Ray Bradbury & Al Feldstein -- Crime SuspenStories #15 [1953]

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Ditko in 1998

Pursuant to some recent internet discussion, an account of Ditko's visit to DC, written by an anonymous DC staffer and published in some of their April 1998 books (including JLA #17). Unrelated image redacted since I didn't like how it looked.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Kudos to DC - Documenting errors

So, what level of geek does it make you when you come across a notice about this URL in a recent DC publication, go online to check it out and it immediately becomes your favourite page on DC's entire website, if not the whole comics interweb?

For those who didn't check the link, DC has an official "Errata" site, where they document errors in their various publications (and post full credits for the many books which sloppily went out with no table of contents or credits). How cool is that? Okay, to you probably not very, but I love that kind of stuff (especially their promise to correct these errors in subsequent printings). The list they have up now is far from complete, of course (I notice an error in almost every DC book I read, to the point I'm almost disappointed when I don't find one), and the layout leaves something to be desired, especially as the lists will grow.  Anyway, someone is getting a long letter with many corrections from me (I notice they don't have an e-mail address to submit corrections, probably wisely).

My favourite so far:
SHOWCASE PRESENTS: BATMAN VOL. 1
The art on pages 22-36, 37-48, 50-64, 82-93, 94-106, 108-122, 124-135, 136-147, 174-188 and 190-213 was pencilled by Sheldon Moldoff, not Bob Kane.
That's some typo.  Good thing they're restricting this to collected editions, or correcting every instance of "Bob Kane" credits since 1939 would clog up the internet tubes.

So yes, I know my love of this might make me quite a nerd (though I prefer the term "Error Enthusiast"), but so be it.  I think every publisher should be encouraged to do this (Mark Evanier started a corrections page for his KIRBY: KING OF COMICS, but hasn't updated it in a while, can't think of anyone else who even made the effort).

(note, DC never updated the site after the initial entries, so it was sadly a half-assed effort)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Is it wrong that this makes me laugh?

As they say, if the fact that I always get a laugh at this cover (Charlton's SCARY TALES #8 [1976], an early piece by Mike Zeck) makes me wrong, I don't want to be right.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hey, DNAgents returns...

I don't pay too much attention to upcoming comics solicitations these days, other than a cursory look for upcoming Kirby or Ditko reprints, but this was quite a pleasant surprise.


DNAGENTS: INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH EDITION TP
story MARK EVANIER
art & cover WILL MEUGNIOT

MARK EVANIER and WILL MEUGNIOT 's DNAGENTS may well have been the prototype for today's comic book industry. Not only was it released through one of the first independent publishers, not only was it creator-owned, but it was prescient in its use of genetic manipulation to create superpowers and its setting in the halls of an evil multi-national corporation! Award-winning television writer/producer, EVANIER and acclaimed animation producer/director, MEUGNIOT were clearly ahead of the curve and DNAGENTS remains one of the most fondly remembered books of the 1980s!

Now, collected in one volume with extensive notations, never-before published artwork and bonus features for the first time ever!

OCTOBER 15 - 452 PAGES - $24.99

A very fun series, especially this first year and a bit with both creators at the helm.  And maybe this precedes some CROSSFIRE by Evanier and Spiegle...

By the way, I'm seeing conflicting reports on whether this will be in colour or black&white.  Will update as confirmed.  More info, no doubt, soon to be seen here.

Adding, Evanier confirms b&w interiors, threatens possibility of more volumes if sales warrant.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not so Strange

The recent book about Steve Ditko, STRANGE AND STRANGER: THE WORLD OF STEVE DITKO, written by Blake Bell and published by Fantagraphics Books, is a very attractive but problematic book.

The attraction is obvious, hundreds of images drawn by Steve Ditko over a half-century can't help but be attractive, even if picked at random and printed from tracings of second generation copies (you know, what Marvel uses), and this book has a well selected cross-section of his prolific career, with excellent quality reproduction on most of them, whether sourced from printed comics, original art, copies or otherwise. With the high quality paper and large page size in this book, this is probably the best printing many of these images will ever seen.

On the production, though, I should mention that the quality is somewhat crippled by a puzzling design choice to frequently enlarge the images beyond the size of the book and print them with cropped edges. This mars over two dozen of the pages, and a few also have captions or insets over the images, drawing attention away from the content to the design. Combined with an inexplicable absence of an index or table of contents this makes the book a lot less than it could have been.

A few highlights, especially to those overly, maybe obsessively, familiar with Ditko's published work (yeah, I have a copy of his issue of BIG BOY, why do you ask?), include the following new to me, some of which I'd heard of before but never seen, others complete surprises:
- Action figure packaging for Archie's Mighty Crusaders (page 147)
- "Albert Grossman's Ghost" illustration for a music magazine (page 155) (I'm trying to figure out if I can justify saying any of those background faces is Bob Dylan)
- Elaborate pencil sketches for Speedball (pages 160-161)
- Character designs for an unrealized humour series, "Ooky and Zooky" (page 199)

Numerous Ditko illustrations for fanzines and other limited distribution venues are also reprinted, most of which I'd seen before, but it's nice to have them all in one place.

A number of published pages are also reproduced alongside copies (of variable quality) of Ditko's pencils, including pages that would ultimately be inked by Ditko himself (late period AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) or by others, including P. Craig Russell (ROM), Tom Palmer (ROM), Mike Esposito (CHUCK NORRIS, don't ask), Jackson Guice (SPEEDBALL), John Severin (WHAT THE--?!), Art Thibert (ACTION COMICS) and Bill Reinhold (PHANTOM 2040). That provides an interesting look at what Ditko brought to those works, where the finished product roams all over the map. His pencil drawing is very loose compared to his usual final art, and understandably considered "breakdowns" by many inkers (some who chose not to work over them for the page rate offered for inking full pencils), and it's interesting to see the tactics various inkers use, and easy to see why Ditko was always his own best inker. Although I always thought Reinhold did an especially fine job of making inking choices that emulate Ditko's own finishes. I don't know if he was paid nearly enough to justify the work, but if I was an editor picking someone to ink Ditko he'd be first on my list.

Three short stories are also reprinted in full, all of them dating from before 1957. "Stretching Things", the Bruce Hamilton written story that is believed to be Ditko's first story bought by a publisher, opens the book, with some sharp black and white reproduction. A section on Ditko's humour work includes the two stories he drew for Charlton's FROM HERE TO INSANITY, which are more interesting than good, but a nice look at his range.

Of the other artwork, nearly every major facet of Ditko's public career is represented to some extent. Highlights include several pages of his brief period with Warren, a few apparently from the original art, which shows that even the original printings didn't do the work justice, much less the reprints. Hopefully the current owner of the work will do right by it in the upcoming reprints (and hopefully they'll do a collection of just Ditko's 16 stories for Warren, since I don't want to buy six $50 hardcovers to get them all). The closing selection of several 1950s Charlton covers demonstrate his strikingly effective early work and a number of well chosen later-day Charlton pages show that those stories are as under-rated for their visual inventiveness as they were ill-served by their printing.

Depending on your taste there are some things you'll consider serious omissions (seriously, no Killjoy? If I was laying out the book my second day would be spent deciding which specific Killjoy page to use and if I can justify putting it on the cover), but that's inevitable with an artist as prolific as Ditko and a limited number of pages to work with. Fans of his DC work will be especially disappointed, with only three non-cover images.

So, overall, I think anyone attracted to Ditko's art (and if you aren't, would you really be reading this far?) will get at least the on-line discounted price of value from it before they read a single word of the text.

That's where we get to problematic...

I don't think it's any secret that this probably isn't the kind of book Ditko would have wanted written about him, and he wasn't involved in the production of this book at all. That has a kind of limiting effect on the book, which Bell seems well aware of, and he does an admirable job, for the most part, of working within that, keeping his sources of information identified and keeping to the facts. I don't know what specific information Ditko might object to having been included here (probably including the photographs, and I think every known available photo of Ditko is in here), but personally, I don't think that most of the information that was dug up about his pre-professional life presented early in the book are really more than trivially edifying on understanding his life or work, certainly not enough to justify the research that uncovered some of it in the 1980s for an unrealized biography was done. Research that Ditko later termed a "violation", after his participation in the project was secured as an art book (and as his feelings about it are reported in this biography). Don't misunderstand me, I think there's a place for an unauthorized biography of a living person in some conditions, but I'm not sure those conditions apply to Ditko.

So absent Ditko's involvement, much of this is derived from actual publishing evidence, anecdotes from various people who interacted with Ditko and some of Ditko's public statements. That information is carefully sourced, and I suppose it's useful to have it all in one place with the sourcing (I had heard a lot of these stories before but didn't know all the specific sources, and some are new to me), but building on that foundation does leave some structural gaps.

And filling those gaps is I think the big flaw of the book. Ayn Rand. Ditko and his work are often called Randian. I'm not sure that's accurate (it's possible Rand didn't), but it certainly is repeated a lot, and it's a well that Bell goes to often in his attempts to explain Ditko's actions from the mid-1960s to the present day. I think Rand's name is the second most common in this book, and in fact is featured in two chapter titles, and the characters and concepts from her books ATLAS SHRUGGED and THE FOUNTAINHEAD are referenced frequently both in comparison to Ditko's fictional works and the choices of the real life Ditko, and most of his actions are presented through a Randian lens. To switch metaphors yet again, Rand is in effect the Rosetta Stone that Bell bases his interpretation of Ditko's life on, and I remain unconvinced that it didn't all get lost in translation.

I don't question that Ditko read Rand, there's ample evidence of that, and I think it's reasonable to read a considerable influence of ideas that Ditko was exposed to through those readings in both his work and his attitudes, but I can't help but feeling that it's simplistic to think that the fiction and "philosophy" of this woman who, as far as I know, Ditko never met somehow provides the key to unlocking the vault of Ditko (another switch in metaphors), a safe which isn't even as tightly shut as many people believe (and Bell shows admirable restraint in not using the oft-applied misnomers like "hermit" or "recluse" to describe Ditko).

I suspect I'm going to have a lot more to say on this book in the future, as I've raised and will continue to raise specific line-by-line objections with Bell, and suspect that answers will be illuminating, and don't want to comment on some specific conclusions he makes that I currently disagree with until I've had a chance to weigh any responses and do some research. If my objections and those of others are posted publicly with responses I'll update this with a link.

For now, I think the book is well worth picking up for the art alone, and the text is very informative as long as you keep two important things in mind. First, consider the source for all information, which Bell does a good job of documenting (do not ignore the extensive endnotes, which also include the details of Bell's personal interactions with Ditko and some of Ditko's reaction to the long-ago announcement Bells intention to do such a book, terming it a "poison sandwich"), and remember that people lie, and so do publishers. Second, take any statement ascribing motives to Ditko and treat them as Bell's speculation, not fact (which I don't feel he always makes as clear as he could), especially if explained via Randian metaphor. What Ditko did at various times is a matter of public record. Why he did them, for now, usually remains with Ditko, to whom we give the last word:

"My work is me. I do my best, and if I like it, I hope somebody else likes it too."
attributed to S. Ditko, circa 1967
Books by Ditko

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Get Well wishes to Ric Estrada

Daniel Best reports that Ric Estrada is in poor health recently. I'm mostly familiar with Estrada from his 1970s work at DC, including the art for many of the Robert Kanigher's Gallery of War short back-ups, and the BLITZKRIEG series he did with Kanigher. I also greatly enjoyed many of his essays about his work in the comics that appeared in Robin Snyder's newsletter THE COMICS back in the 1990s. Details on how to e-mail or send cards over at Daniel's site.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin, R.I.P.

A wholly inadequate farewell to George Carlin. A version of the "Stuff" routine below is the first clear memory of Carlin I have.

"Have you noticed their stuff is shit, and your shit is stuff?"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

EC - Sinking of the Titanic (Wood)

Sinking of the Titanic
art by Wallace Wood, story by Al Feldstein
Weird Science #6 (1951)

No big surprises in this vintage EC science fiction story. A scientist manages to perfect a time machine, and his thoughts go back to the day when he was six years old...



...and lost his parents on the Titanic, only barely surviving himself thanks to a stranger taking him from his mother and putting him on a lifeboat. Yeah, you know at least one of the twists already. He goes back to 1912 and books a trip on the ship, meeting his parents and his younger self. In trying to prevent the crash into the iceberg, he ends up causing it, and just manages to save his younger self before sinking beneath the waves with his guilt. Wow, both predictable twists in one.

Some pretty good work by Wood, especially in the lush depiction of the sunken ship on the title page and the weird "flashback in the head" like in the panel above.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Random cool Lone Wolf scene

Been steadily making my way through LONE WOLF AND CUB through copies from my library. I like a lot of it, but I'm pretty sure I don't want to own 28 little volumes. On the other hand, now that big fat 1000 page comic books seem to be viable in the market, I wonder if a single volume BEST OF LONE WOLF, with the stories that actually advance the storyline, or with notable bits, might be viable. Ideally printed a bit larger than these little books, maybe with the two-page spreads printed on single pages so they can be properly appreciated.

Anyway, the reason I mention it now is because this scene from Volume 8, Chapter 43, "Thread of Tears", just cracked me up for some reason. The moments of levity in the series are rare, but sometimes very effective.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

IN SEARCH OF STEVE DITKO by Jonathan Ross


I had Jonathan Ross's BBC documentary IN SEARCH OF STEVE DITKO sitting on my hard drive for a few months now, but didn't get around to watching it until after I read Ditko's new THE AVENGING MIND. It actually turned out to be quite enjoyable, for the most part. I'm not familiar with Ross, but he was obviously quite enthusiastic about the subject, and it was good to see a lengthy mainstream airing of the issues regarding credit for the creation of Spider-Man. I could quibble a bit with some of the details and chronology as presented, and the whole thing was, understandably but to my mind regrettably, too focused on the Marvel years with Spider-Man and Doctor Strange (Charlton is pretty much only mentioned with regards to the Question, for example, that mostly to lead up to Mr. A, so no mention of Blue Beetle or Captain Atom). Worth watching, to be sure.

A few other quick notes.

It was good to see Jerry Robinson, who taught Ditko in the early 1950s. Flo Steinberg's remembrances about the 1960s "Bullpen" were also a treat. Romita's thoughts on taking over Spider-Man and the changes he brought to the series are interesting.

The interview with Stan Lee was good in that Ross didn't just accept Lee's initial statement about Spider-Man being co-created by Ditko, with its qualifications, but pressed on to find out what Lee's actual view is, which goes a long way to explaining Ditko's recent comments on Lee's tone (not being sure if Ditko actually saw this, since I don't believe he references it directly).

Alan Moore had a few nice bits in here, and definitely the best camera presence of any of the comic creators interviewed. I liked his amusement at the reported reaction of Ditko to Rorschach ("he's like Mr. A, except he's insane"), and his recitation of the chorus to his song "Mr. A" (to the tune of "Sister Ray") is just brilliantly insane. Seriously, I've listened to it a few dozen times.

The perhaps misguided, but again understandable, visit by Ross and Neil Gaiman to Ditko's office (with the camera crew left outside) was a lot less awkward than I expected. Certainly worth it for the reference to Etta Candy and Fight Club.

So, recommended with reservations. Don't take anything in it as gospel, but an appreciated glimpse into a strange tale.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

THE AVENGING MIND by Steve Ditko

THE AVENGING MIND (ordering info here) is a recently published collection of essays and illustrations by Steve Ditko, published by Ditko and Robin Snyder, apparently their first publication of Ditko's work outside of his continuing contributions to Snyder's fanzine THE COMICS since the massive 240-page AVENGING WORLD collection of comics, illustrations and essays in 2002.

This publication is less imposing, weighing in at 36 pages, 26 of them text (10 essays, primarily about Stan Lee and the credits for the creation of Spider-Man) and 10 illustrated (all apparently new illustrations, except for two coming from Ditko's 1992 story "Lazlo's Hammer", oddly from the actual 1992 version, not the revised 2002 "Laszlo's Hammer").

If you're familiar with Ditko's past essay writing, you know what to expect. A kind of oblique style, frequent digressions into sometimes vaguely related analogies and a near constant relating of the issues at hand to the "A is A" philosophy that is central to much of his work, and seemingly his life, for the last few decades.

"Toyland" is the first essay, and is accompanied by the two pages reprinted from "Lazlo's Hammer". Unlike the other essays, it has less to do with the creation of the characters than it does their modern handling, as Ditko was apparently set off by comments by current Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada in this convention panel report. Not surprisingly, Ditko is not impressed with the "These toys are meant to be broken" attitude of Quesada towards the "toys" that he had a hand in creating. He takes a long and not entirely clear way of saying it, and in fact he said it all a lot better years before Quesada ever said those words in the full "Laszlo's Hammer" story. While I have a great deal of sympathy for Ditko's views on this (and don't read very many modern Marvel comics as a result), I just wish instead of railing against such things at length he would go ahead and do some comics about the kind of heroes he thinks should be written about (but more on that later).

Which brings us to the main thrust of the book, Ditko's examination of what Stan Lee has said about their work together, and Ditko's specific objections to both the substance and the tone of what Lee says. That takes up some 20 pages of text and the next seven essays. While sometimes Ditko's style makes them rough going, there are some interesting historical facts and bits of insight buried within them. Some of these may be old news, since I haven't read all of the essays Ditko has written in the last few years.

"Roislecxe", being "Excelsior" in reverse, takes a look at a few choice quotes from the book Stan Lee co-wrote by that name. I haven't read the book, since I've long since found Lee's persona to be grating and his statements about history to be at best suspect and self-serving. The quotes that Ditko chooses to deconstruct back that up. I can't much blame Ditko for being upset at some of that, although when he breaks it down in such detail it begins to appear that he's looking for causes for offence (objecting to Lee referring to Spider-Man as "the webswinger").

"Creator or Co-Creator??" looks at Lee's definition of "creator" and what Ditko sees at some inherent contradictions in Lee's views expressed at various times and with reality.

"Creative Crediting" is about how Ditko feels that the printed credits on the comics of the early 1960s were misleading, implying to an outside observer that Lee did more than he actually did, since he never got a full script from Lee before drawing a story. Fair enough, although I don't see his model of a more honest credit, "A co-creation by writer, Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko", as much of an improvement to how that hypothetical outsider would see the division of labour.

"He Giveth and He Taketh Away" turns the focus to Lee's tone in discussing these matters, in particular his joking manner, and how Ditko feels that the Lee uses various tricks to undermine what credit he does sometimes give to the artists he worked with. As I said, I've found Lee's persona an irritant for a long time now, and it's interesting to see Ditko's analysis of some aspects of that persona and his interpretation of the reasons for it. Also, a very interesting aside in this section, Ditko states that he drew the first Doctor Strange story on his own (plot and pencils), without any prior discussion with Lee on it. Of course we're all familiar with the Lee "'Twas Steve's idea" 1963 letter about Doctor Strange, but this is the first I recall reading Ditko's claim that the whole story was pencilled before Lee's involvement. A lot of potential follow up lines of enquiry seem to be called for based on Ditko's wording there.

"Lifting and the Lifter" turns to what appears to be a particular point of irritation for Ditko, Lee's claiming credit for the famous sequence in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33 where Spider-Man struggles to throw off the debris he's buried under, despite the fact that Ditko was plotting the book with no input from Lee for over 9 issues by that point. What I find most interesting about Ditko's recollections of that period is that Ditko always stresses the point that "Stan Lee chose not to communicate with me on anything". It's an interesting point to stress, especially since most accounts (presumably coloured by Lee's version of events) seem to imply the opposite.

"Revealing Styles" is more on Lee's tone, including Ditko's famous objection to Lee's use of the word "considered". As much sympathy as I have for Ditko's view, though, I have to say that current news shows that analogies to the Munich Accord and the 9/11 attacks might not be the best way to make a point about comic book history.

"Martin Goodman/Stan Lee" closes off this series, with a point that Ditko had been building up to for a while. It's hard to tell with him, but I think this is Ditko's attempt to make a reductio ad absurdum argument, that if you take Lee's positions at face value, Marvel publisher Martin Goodman has a more valid claim to "creator" credit than Lee.

Two more short essays follow. "They Are The..." seems to be about how Robin Snyder doesn't get enough positive feedback for publishing Ditko's essays, which I guess is fair enough, although I never got the impression that Snyder was in danger of not publishing them without more feedback, and Ditko is enigmatic enough that it's not exactly clear he wants feedback.

"The Mark and the Stain", I'm not completely sure what this is about, it seems to refer to people unnamed and events unrecounted. The underlying metaphor is rather vivid, which I liked, and it also seems that Ditko's not a big fan of zombie covers on recent Marvel comics, which is a cause I can get behind.

Now, the eight pages of new Ditko art, a bit of a mixed bag. A few of them are pretty much just variations of stuff Ditko has done better in the past, and others seem to be making straw man arguments (although with some nice art). There is one nicely designed, if historically questionable, cartoon with some cavemen and a dinosaur, which nicely pokes fun at Lee's definition of creation, and shows a sense of humour that Ditko would be well advised to integrate into his text more. The backcover shows a pair of new creations by Ditko, unnamed characters in the noble hero and pure villain mode, which it seems are planned for publication in a book later this year. News of more actual comics from Ditko is always good news.

Now, I've gone on about this book at length, mostly for my own future reference. Is it worth getting? It depends. A lot of it is frustrating, but worth it if you make your way though it all. Certainly Ditko has some interesting views, and it's welcome that he's somewhat more willing to engage in comics history than he has in the past. Not for everyone, but if you're curious than it probably is for you.

What's most frustrating is that, after reading all of this, I can't answer the simple question "What does Ditko want?", either because I'm too dense or Ditko is too oblique. Not that I think it would be in my power to give it to him, but you'd think publishing this thing there would be at least a clue to what he thinks the path to resolving this to his satisfaction would be. He tends to be dismissive of comics fandom as believing everything Stan Lee says, which I have to say is not my experience at all. Maybe it depends on who you talk to, but as I said I don't find Lee's act that amusing, and have long decided to take everything he says about his past and his collaborations as suspect. My general impression of other fans has been that they find his persona more charming than I do, especially those who have met him personally (I haven't, although I was once about three feet from him), but the suspicion about his accuracy is there to some degree in anyone with more than a casual knowledge/interest in the subject. The problem doesn't seem to be fandom swallowing Lee's version whole, but that Lee's version is all they've had for so long, and it's frankly pretty amazing that the view of Ditko as the co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange (and in the view of many the more important co-creator) manages to be as widespread as it is despite Ditko's prior refusal to engage the issue in a widely available forum (and his still enigmatic and round-about way of engaging in it now).

Well, anyway, this is too long by half, even with me mentally cutting out a lot of other stuff I wanted to say, and the odds of anyone getting all the way down here are slim. If you did, let me know and maybe we can discuss it further.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Will Elder, R.I.P.

Comic book artist Will Elder passed away earlier today. I've posted before about some of his work at EC, both the solo humour work (here and here) and inking John Severin on the adventure work (here and here). He was an incredibly talented humourist, especially in his skill in mimicking different art styles and adding an insane level of background gags.

Here are a handful of great pages from his pen. First is a collaboration with John Severin from PRIZE COMICS WESTERN, before their EC work. Several pages from the comic book version of MAD follow, showing some of his range. The loose adaptation of Poe is a great example of his own style. The parody of the Howdy Doody show is probably the first Elder story I read, in the Smithsonian reprint book. The Gasoline Alley and Disney parodies are just line for line perfection in how they capture their targets. The "L'il Melvin" page is from PANIC, looking back on the preceding story and making fun of Elder's own hidden detail style, as well as the anti-comics hysteria of the era ("These... are phonographic pictures!" cracks me up every time). And the two page spread from the magazine version of MAD shows that everyone was fair game.

      

Monday, May 12, 2008

Get Well wishes to Gene Colan

Sad to hear that Gene Colan is ailing. I'll try to write a few words about his work in the next few days. In the meantime, keep an eye on Daniel Best's blog for more info, including an address for cards in that first link, appreciations of Colan and news on an upcoming auction to help with his medical costs.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Scott Roberts online and other delights

Here's something that came as a delightful surprise. Scott Roberts has a whole bunch of comics and illustrations posted up on Web Comics Nation! All sorts of different categories, showing off his full range. A lot of Patty Cake, of course ("All That Glitters" is especially good), plus an ongoing new sci-fi series, various one shot comics, single panel strips, sketchbook pages, parodies (the "Lulu Meets Lulu" comparison of the Marge Little Lulu and the Stanley/Tripp version is neat) and even some caricatures drawn in a pretty good mimic of Al Hirschfeld's style. A lot of fun stuff.

Other comical things that have thrilled me lately? Steve Bissette talking about working seriously on some long-form comics again, including dusting off some bog monster related stuff. That's going to be good.

Larry Marder firming up publishing plans on Beanworld, including the all-important new stuff.

A collection of the full black and white run of ZOT! just around the corner.

Joe Kubert doing a new TOR series? Yeah, that'll brighten my day.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Tintin, his own worst enemy

There's no question that Tintin can hold his own in a fight...




But he's definitely not the most surefooted guy around, and seems to do more damage to himself than any of his enemies can manage.




Seriously, perfect deathtrap for Tintin? Just leave him alone with some sharp objects for a few hours.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Happiness is a Good Right Cross



I'm not sure I'd buy a book made up of images of Lucy hitting Linus, but I know I'd like to see one.

All images from Charles Schulz's Peanuts, of course, between April 1961 and March 1962.

Alternate titles for the post, "Lucy's Greatest Hits" and "How to Deliver a Punchline".

Monday, April 28, 2008

Random readings

I should post here every now and then, shouldn't I...

The Update-A-Tron seems to be working well, with about 130 weblogs on the main list, and starting to get some decent traffic. Thanks to those who have linked to it. If you have a site (your own or one you read) that you'd like added, let me know. I'll try to add them as soon as possible, and otherwise the site pretty much runs itself, so it should be there as a resource until such time as Blogger breaks it in an attempt to "improve" the feature.

Been reading a varied bunch of stuff recently, including a lot of stuff from the ever trusty library, letting me try a lot of stuff I was mildly interested in but figured I'd only read once, and I've got enough clutter.

For instance, I can get a complete run of LONE WOLF AND CUB from there. I had gotten the first three Dark Horse books way back when, liked them well enough, but didn't really see myself getting 28 of those little things. But a chapter of it is an entertaining enough read, so I've been going through them at a steady pace, up to volume 6 so far. There's usually a clever enough hook to distinguish each chapter, but it can get a bit repetitive, so I'll probably take a break of a few months after each third.

A few other Japanese comics I'd heard good things about. PLANETES started off well, I really liked the first two books. Unfortunately it really didn't keep it up, and having just finished the second last book, it's not much more than a mild desire for closure that's going to make me read the finale. A shame, that set-up was great, and the art is really good.

I'd also heard good things about DEATH NOTE, and based on the first book, I agree (though most comments I've heard suggest it doesn't hold up this quality for the full dozen volumes). That first book is just pure gold, inventive and funny and bold. I was surprised how much I liked it (especially with it being, with PLANETES, one of the first backwards Japanese comics I read. Most times I tried it previously I'd screw up a reading order at least once every two pages, PLANETES I did a little better, DEATH NOTE I don't recall ever getting it wrong). And while I'm trying to read these things slowly, a chapter a day at most, I read the whole first book in one sitting. Unfortunately, it's a bit more popular than most of these things at the library, so it'll be a few weeks before I get more, but it's cheap enough and entertaining enough that I might just buy it before then.

I also just finally got around to getting the last few volumes of Tezuka's PHOENIX (including the book reprinting some 1950s pre-cursor work with similar themes). It's been so long that I decided to go back to the beginning, and the whole thing probably deserves a longer post when I'm done. It might even get one.

That's Japan accounted for. From Europe, I'm re-reading the ASTERIX and TINTIN stuff, in order for the first time. Both series were a major part of my childhood, and at the time I read them in pretty much random order (and in fact I think they were published in semi-random order). TINTIN, I have to say, starts off pretty weak (and I'm not even counting the early LAND OF THE SOVIETS and CONGO books, which I plan to read for the first time along with the unfinished ALPH-ART when I'm finished with the proper series). Some great art, and a few great scenes in the early books, but I'd have to say that THE BROKEN EAR is the first one I really liked, and I'm getting really impatient for Haddock and Calculus to show up. ASTERIX starts off much better, thankfully, and is pretty much near peak form by the second book, although knowing what's to come does leave a bit of a hole where you wish the later supporting cast would do something. Pretty much just Asterix, Obelix and Getafix in the first three books.

Also from Europe and other foreign shores, the Humanoids line that was published through DC a few years ago is surprisingly well represented at my library (much more so than I ever saw it represented in stores). I'd been curious about them. First stuff I tried was the two-volume SON OF THE GUN by Alexandro Jodorowsky and Georges Bess. That was pretty disgusting, and slightly insane, both in good ways. Jodorowsky and Fran├žois Boucq on THE BOUNCER: RAISING CAIN, was less effective. Trying some Enki Bilal next, I was completely and utterly confused by THE BEAST TRILOGY, and I doubt having the third chapter would help. And the less said about Yves Chaland's FREDDY LOMBARD, the better. So not a great track record with me (though some gorgeous books), but maybe I'll try a few more in a few months.

I've also been reading those odd little books by Jason that Fantagraphics has been putting out. I'm not sure what I think of them, really. Always quick reads, sometimes a few clever bits of storytelling or unexpected laughs. Of the seven books I've read I'd say MEOW, BABY!, a collection of short little gag stories involving mummies, werewolves, vampires, zombies, aliens and Elvis, is the more entertaining.

Let's see, what else... Lots of Vertigo collections available. Been reading Y THE LAST MAN, already through six books. Maybe the last one will be out around the time I'm up to there. It's pleasant enough reading, although extremely fast to get through an issue, with not a lot of depth in either the writing or the art to slow you down. But fun while it's in front of you. Also reading LUCIFER, which can be a bit hard to follow, and a bit uneven. Right now it's about 50/50 if I'll decide I need to buy a set of the books for my own collection or stop before the end.

Well, that's enough for now. It's just a fraction of what I've been reading. Hopefully if I get back to regular posting I'll put down some thoughts on the other stuff, for my own future reference if nothing else.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Update-A-Tron

Hey, anyone else miss the old Comic Weblog Update-A-Tron site? I noticed the new Blogger "My Blog List" has just about everything I liked about the old Update-A-Tron (sites listed by most recently updated, each site only listed once regardless of how often updated, links direct to the main page). So I started a new site to make use of it. I'll be tweaking it and adding new sites for the next little while to decide if it's actually functional. Let me know what you think.

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Adding, I'm not sure it's working quite how I want. I'll have to play around with it some more.

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Adding, I think I got the right set of options picked from what's available now. There seems to be some minor issue with the page staying in the cache. Thanks to Neilalien for the link and confirming that others did like the set of options from the old site that I'm trying to emulate. Anyway, feel free to comment on the site here, or suggest blogs to add here or over on the site.

One question, is the "recommended" list useful? I plan to use it to mark three or four posts a day that tickle me. And do people like having the professional/group blogs, those that average 5+ posts per day, segregated over on a sidebar? If I don't they tend to dominate the "above-the-fold" area more than I'd like.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Jim Mooney, R.I.P.



Mark Evanier has posted that comic book artist Jim Mooney passed away yesterday.

Here's an interview from COMIC BOOK ARTIST #7 from a few years ago, focusing on his Marvel years but touching on the other stuff as well, with some nice artwork.

The first place I'd have seen Mooney's art is probably when he was one of the main artists on various Spider-Man titles in the early 1980s, usually as the inker or finisher over a variety of artists, bringing a consistency to the line. Later on I became familiar with his earlier stuff through some back issues and reprints, including his long run as the artist on Supergirl's solo feature in the 1960s and other work on features like Tommy Tomorrow and Robin and Dial H For Hero. By the time 1990 rolled around, I normally wouldn't have been interested in a comic based on the Superboy TV show of the era, but the fact that it was drawn by Mooney and Ty Templeton was enough. Later on in his retirement years I enjoyed his run inking Claypool's SOULSEARCHERS AND COMPANY over various artists, especially his work with Dave Cockrum.

More recently I've been picking up some of the recent reprints of his work, like the SHOWCASE PRESENTS SUPERGIRL volume and some Marvel books of the 1970s like OMEGA THE UNKNOWN and enjoying them immensely. I'm glad he lived long enough to see a fair amount of his work reprinted and enjoy some conventions and meeting his fans.

A selection of Jim Mooney illustrated pages spanning over a half-century:
       



Wildfire, some early Mooney work for Quality Comics from SMASH COMICS #28, 1941 (scan from here)

BATMAN #56, 1950 (inks by Ray Burnley, original art scan from here)

Tommy Tomorrow from WORLD'S FINEST #113, 1960

Supergirl from ACTION #263, 1960

Dial H For Hero from HOUSE OF MYSTERY #166, 1967

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #1, 1976

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #51, 1981 (over Marie Severin)

SUPERBOY THE COMIC BOOK #1, 1990 (Ty Templeton inks)

UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN '97 ANNUAL, 1997

SOULSEARCHERS AND COMPANY #28, 1997 (over Dave Cockrum)
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