Saturday, July 05, 2008

Strange Tales

Just finished Blake Bell's excellent biography, Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko. I've been a Ditko fan since those pre-superhero Amazing Adult Fantasy days, and have always wished that this innovative, distinctive talent had continued to create comics of the caliber that he produced in the 1960s and early 1970s. I now know why he didn't--and while I regret his absence from the field, I have to accept the fact that for whatever reasons he might have, Ditko's decisions are deliberate and principled.

Bell was forced to produce a biography with virtually no input or guidance from Ditko, who has maintained his reclusive nature for years. Even in the halcyon 1960s, when he was a core member of the Marvel bullpen, he was the isolated talent who wouldn't play with others--as is evidenced by the joke about him jumping out the window rather than speak on tape for the recording of the Mighty Marvel Marching Society flexidisc.

When I was talking to Brett about Ditko's Ayn-Rand-influenced objectivist philosophies and how the led to his virtual abandonment of comics, Brett summed it up by saying, "He's just insane." I have to disagree: I think Ditko is a man who is so principled that he refuses to compromise. His values are, in their own way, more important than his art--and if he has to choose between one or the other, he will choose values. There are few willing to do this; it goes against the whole structure of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. But I suspect that Ditko would reject much of Maslow as well...

Anyone who reads this book will agree that it's crime that Marvel has never adequately compensated Ditko, in finances or recognition, for his seminal role in the creation of their flagship character. The man deserves prominent credit, a stipend suitable to support him for the remainder of his life, and apologies for the way he has been shunted off to one side over the years. But they'll also agree, I think, that it's a crime that Ditko's Randian viewpoint left him unwilling to consider any sort of compromise that might have enabled him to continue to shape Spider-Man as the character Ditko created.

I think the saddest news is the confirmation that Ditko was offered the opportunity to do a massive comics adaptation of Ayn Rand's work, but chose not to; just think what a career-defining comic that could have been!

Finally, I am left wishing that DC would assemble a Showcase volume focusing on Ditko's work for Charlton's Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves; there's some wonderful material in here that hasn't been seen by many fans, and it would be wonderful to see it compiled in black and white!

If you've ever wanted to know more about the people behind the comics, then Strange and Stranger is a must-read.

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