Comics’ Greatest Enigma, by Mike Gold

Mike Gold

ComicMix's award-winning and spectacularly shy editor-in-chief Mike Gold also performs the weekly two-hour Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind ass-kicking rock, blues and blather radio show on The Point, and on iNetRadio, (search: Hit Oldies) every Sunday at 7:00 PM Eastern, rebroadcast three times during the week – check above for times and on-demand streaming information.

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14 Responses

  1. Mark Behar says:

    Interesting article, Mike. Makes me want to track down some of Ditko's lesser known material from Charlton Comics. At least it's lesser known to MY generation. For all you Watchmen fans out there, The Question provided Alan Moore's inspiration for Rorschach. Of course, Moore would have killed off the Question if it weren't for the insistence of Comic Mix's very-own Dick Giordano, but that's another story…Did you ever have the chance to interview Steve Ditko, Mike?

    • Mike Gold says:

      I'm quite fond of Ditko's Charlton work. Most of the superhero stuff has been reprinted in two DC Archives volumes, Action Heroes 1 and 2. Well worth the cost, particularly if you get 'em at discount.I've had the privilege of dining with Steve on many occasions, talking with him around the DC offices on many more occasions, and I've been in his studio. But, like everybody else on the planet, I've never "interviewed" him, nor would I repeat anything he's told me in confidence. I've mentioned this before: Steve Ditko has a fantastic sense of humor.

  2. Vinnie Bartilucci says:

    If you can find a copy (it's…accessible, if you know what I mean), Jonathan Ross' "In Search of Steve Ditko" from a few months back was a phenomenal piece of work. Lots of interviews about him from folks like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, and a very good history of the man's work.

    • Mike Gold says:

      But don't bother searching for that office building at the end. That's not where Ditko's studio is.

      • R. Maheras says:

        Yes, it is. He moved it there about 10 years ago. I've been there twice to visit him.

  3. Michael H. Price says:

    Blake Bell's interpretation of Ditko in "Strange and Stranger" works because it makes no attempt to over-explain the artist — some crucial insights, entirely at the service of an understanding of the artistry. Some mysteries are more to be appreciated than solved.If Chester Gould's "Dick Tracy" feature had defined the philosophy of “shoot first — investigate later,” then Ditko distilled such a policy to a deadpan essence with "Mr. A." Less a matter of proselytizing than of taking a provocative stand. Plenty of gumption in Ditko's work.

  4. Marc Alan Fishman says:

    A great article Mr. Gold, for sure. My feelings as a contemporary creator (and a fan) is to acknowledge the fact that the average age of comic book readers matters. The fact that the best stories out there (for kids or teens, tweens, or adults, geriatrics or otherwise…) tell themselves without dumbing themselves down for the sake of their audience. While comics are often left as "kitch" in the lexicon of "artistic pursuits", I find characters especially like the Question exist as a big middle finger to that thinking. Yes, a man in tights leaping tall buildings and firing lasers from his eyes is silly when looked at from the outside… but reading into the character and finding out that he's lonely, adds a layer of depth that usually stops someone long enough to say "hey, this IS more than kids' stuff." As it stands now, I feel like comics could have more of an edge politically… but not in the ham fisted "See How This Is Just Like Iraq!" way Marvel is currently working in, nor "See How Epic It Is When Evil Wins" way in which DC is presenting it's big summer blockbuster. Some great titles like Vaughn's "Ex Machina" deal with politics in an intelligent way, that should be celebrated (as in appropriated) in comics today. I'd like to think Mr. Ditko might enjoy "Ex Machina" in that respect. The fact is as an older (as in NOT a Johnny DC) reader, I do from time to time, want to see a more political or socialogical bend on books. The X-Men were invented out of the civil rights isssues… While we aren't in a segregated world now persay… It's not utopia yet, and I can't wait to see (or maybe I'll just do it myself) creators in comics today use our world to create new books like Ditko and Lee did back in their prime.

  5. Russ Rogers says:

    Ditko is fascinating. His drawing style is unique and expressive. He's created some of comics most enduring characters, most notably Spider-man, but also, Doctor Strange, The Creeper, Hawk and Dove, The Question, Mr. A, Static (not the snarky, black kid, but the overly dry, talking and talking and talking white adult). There is no question that Ditko has some kind of tap into Society's Collective Unconscious. But I think that most of Ditko's creations have seen their best days in the hands of other creators.I would like to be a fly on the wall, listening to a conversation between Ditko and Denny O'Neil about morality, philosophy and "The Question." "The Question" has always been about exploring and illustrating philosophical ideas. I just have a feeling that Ditko must get very frustrated seeing his work reinterpreted again and again, to greater success, while seeing his original philosophies, ideals and objectives for the characters seemingly twisted and perverted.I don't understand Objectivism. I've never read Ayn Rand. I've read Ditko books that were supposed to be graphic illustrations of Objectivism and came away more confused than before. There is no questioning Ditko's genius. But his obsessive need to inject his philosophy in his work, at times, mars it. There is an obsessive/compulsive/insane quality to Ditko's art and Ditko's work. His lines are SO clean and yet the sum of them can be SO … disturbing. Steve Ditko reminds me of Dave Sim. Sim is another creator who got it into his head that his philosophy was more important than engaging the reader. Maybe that's the part about Ditko and Sim that irks me, the pedantic and pressured nature of writing. I can't deny the genius there. I can't deny the talent. I have a grudging admiration for artists who are willing to push everything aside (especially their own monetary success) to make a point. But I feel like both Ditko and Sim's work suffered. Philosophy didn't color their work, it made it obtuse. It seems self centered, like, "I'm going to tell you how it is and I don't CARE if you enjoy what you buy." Philosophy subjugated the entertainment value and made it their bi-otch.I went to "The Atlas Society" and did a search for Steve Ditko. They briefly mention him in an article about Celebrities influenced by Objectivism and Ayn Rand. I wanted to SCREAM at the page when I read this phrase, "Moving from the lowly comic book, we find admirers of Rand’s ideas and fiction in the highest echelons of the mainstream media." The writer, Robert James Bidinotto, then goes on to describe how Ayn Rand influenced Hugh Hefner and Rush Limbaugh. I had trouble reading this and without thinking that Bidnotto must have been joking. But he wasn't. The comic is LOWLY, while the HIGHEST ECHELONS of the mainstream media are embodied by Hugh Hefner and Rush Limbaugh! Please, spare me. If that's Objective thought, I don't want to be subjected to it.Here's a nice bit: Alan Moore reciting the lyrics to a song inspired by Steve Ditko.

  6. BobH says:

    Is there a source for Rand asking for statement distancing her views from Ditko's? I'm not sure why Ditko would have to, as he rarely mentions Rand by name or refers directly to her work (interestingly, one anecdote in Bell's book has Rand's estate signing off on an adaptation of ATLAS SHRUGGED as long as Ditko drew it). I'm still processing my reaction to the text of Bell's book, but one of my major criticism's is that he goes to the Rand well a bit too often in an attempt to explain Ditko's actions, in the absence of any statements from Ditko about them.

    • Mike Gold says:

      If I'm not mistaken — and, today, that might be a first — a notice was published in one of those underground comix format publications that featured Mr. A. Or maybe The Avenging World.

      • BobH says:

        Wow, that was quick. Thanks, Mike. If anyone can identify that more exactly, and provide the exact wording, I'd appreciate it.

        • BobH says:

          For those curious, I've been informed at least one such notice appears on the first page of "Violence: The Phoney Issue" in GUTS #5 [1969], but is absent from reprints of that page. I still need the exact wording, as I'm curious if there's any evidence that Rand herself requested it.

  7. BobH says:

    Quick request for clarification, Mike. The following disclaimer was tracked down:"While accepting Objectivism as my philosophical base: I am not a spokesman for Objectivism and I alone am responsible for the views expressed here! S. Ditko" GUTS #5 [1969]However, someone has pointed out that this is consistent with a general request that Rand made in both published and possibly spoken statements circa 1968. So are you sure that Ditko's work actually scared Rand (or that she was even aware of it), and you didn't misinterpret an "Ayn Rand requested a disclaimer" comment meaning the universal request as a personal request?Note that if answering this would in any way violate what you consider to be something Ditko told you in confidence, please disregard.

  8. Anonymous says:

    This is the first I've heard of Rand wanting to distance herself from Ditko. The "standard disclaimer" theory makes more sense, since there is nothing in Ditko's work that spefically names Rand or Objectivism. It was the ideas that were important to Ditko, not the labels.