Stephen J. Ditko, one of the most iconoclastic comic creators of all time and creator or co-creator of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, the Question, the Creeper, Shade the Changing Man, Hawk and Dove, Starman, Stalker, the Odd Man, Squirrel Girl, and his most personal creation Mr. A, has died at his home at the age of 90.
Famously reclusive (there are less than five known photographs of him) and fiercely independent, Ditko was found unresponsive in his apartment in New York City on June 29. Police said he had died within the previous two days. He was pronounced dead at age 90, with the cause of death initially deemed as a result of a myocardial infarction, brought on by arteriosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
There may be no better way to get a flavor of his impact on the field than the 2007 BBC documentary In Search Of Steve Ditko, hosted by Jonathan Ross:
There is a chance this year that I might again attend the Baltimore Comic-Con next month. This pleases me. It’s a fun show, almost entirely about comic books.
Yeah, there are some movie and television celebrities, and that’s fine. Their presence makes many people happy. They don’t take up a lot of the show floor. For the most part, it’s easy to get around. Similarly, although the cosplay can be brilliant, it doesn’t consume all the available aisle space. Or oxygen.
There is a delightful feeling of cooperation between the folks who run the con and fans and other attendees. Announcements made through the sound system are clear and easy to understand. The pros are accessible, and, in return, the fans don’t maul them. I’m sure there are examples of rudeness and discourtesy, but, unlike at other shows (I’m looking at you, NYCC) they don’t overwhelm the good vibes.
I never thought about a show having a weapons policy before. I mean, every municipality has its own laws about guns, and of course a comics convention within city limits must abide by the laws of that particular city. As cosplay continues to grow, cosplayers will want to look as authentic as they possibly can so they can garner the most admiration possible. This means they’ll want realistic-looking imitation swords, knives, lances, maces, lasers and, yes, guns.
Alas, reality intrudes. Just as we must open our bags before we go into a theater these days and walk through an X-Ray machine at the airport, it’s not unreasonable to expect comics conventions to devise tighter security measures. I would rather be patted down before entering, and possibly even surrender my beloved knitting needles, than fear an attack like the one in Orlando.
A lot of my comrades in the anti-war movement think toy weapons are bad. While I respect their opinion, I disagree. I think all of us, including children (maybe especially children) get frustrated with reality and want to act out our rage and fury, even if only in our imaginations. Children need to be taught to accept themselves and their feelings, even the so-called “bad” feelings, if they are ever to have a chance to learn how to control themselves.
It’s a wonderful thing to dress up in a way that expresses are hopes and fears, and then be admired for our creativity. Although cosplay is not my thing (and you should thank your lucky stars for that), I understand how cool it must feel to walk around in public, costumed as a fierce warrior or an intrepid heroine. It must be fun to flirt with evil, dressed as a villain.
While I love these flights of fantasy, I also admire the way graphic storytelling has, over the last couple of decades, expanded into genres that offer more kinds of heroes to admire. Yes, we have Batman and Supergirl and Thor and the Hulk, and villains like Harley Quinn and Loki and Brainiac. We have dorkier, more human-looking characters like Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel. We have real life heroes such as Congressman John Lewis, who has organized kids at his convention panels into cosplayers who replicate the March on Selma.
Along with pretending to have superpowers and smashing bad guys (or good guys, as the case may be), the good stuff about Congressman Lewis encouraging this kind cosplay in children is that these kids are learning how to accomplish the same results through active non-violence.
One of the things they’ve been doing during this World Series – and every one, really – is comparing them to series contenders of years past. This year, the references to the ’85 Royals and the ’86 Mets have come fast and furious, and while it’s great to talk about Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, and Dwight Gooden again, it’s not like anybody under the age of 30 saw them play in their prime. More to the point, no one is becoming a baseball fan today from watching those guys from back then.
Sadly, to me, I think it’s the same with superheroes.
Nobody is becoming a fan of superheroes today if their first exposures are comics from 30+ years ago. I’m not talking about the characters and concepts, I’m speaking only of the works themselves. There are a lot of young kids who fell in love with Supergirl this week, but if I handed them stories by Otto Binder and Jim Mooney as the first things they read, I’d turn them off to comics forever. I’d hand them a copy of Squirrel Girl or Ms. Marvel or Paper Girls or A-Force or Batgirl or even Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’s Archie.
This is not a knock on the old comics; they’re great after the initial infection has happened. Nor is this a knock on creators who have careers that span decades. And I’m certainly not denigrating fans who are getting on in years – aren’t we all? But there really has to be a feeling of currency, of contemporary creation, and attitudes have changed over the years. There’s no reason new readers today should be caught up by what got us as 10 year olds, whether that was in 1963, 1985, or 2000 AD.
Luckily, we also have one other gateway for people to get into superhero comics, and it’s our old frenemy television. From the days of The Adventures Of Superman in the 50s, more people got into comics from superhero TV over the years than any other medium. The Green Hornet, Super Friends, Shazam/Isis, Spider-Man (with or without his amazing friends), Plastic Man, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Electra Woman, and the more recent Swamp Thing, Batman and X-Men animated series, Lois & Clark, Smallville, Human Target, and Heroes. Yes, much as comic fans are loath to admit it, even the Batman series in ’66 brought in new readers.
And with the current explosion of TV shows based on comics (what is it now, twelve?) that are targeting whole swaths of audiences across demographic lines (to say nothing of the movies and webcomics) we might finally be able to say that we are getting new comics readers from anywhere and everywhere. Across all ages, races, and genders.
Yes, they aren’t sparking to the same things you latched onto when you started. Maybe an ex-boyfriend gave them Sandman, or they heard something about this Ra’s Al Ghul fellow. That’s cool. You get to show the world of comics to today’s 10,000. And that keeps you young.
But remember: with great power comes great responsibility.
We’re seeing a lot of titles ending with short runs lately, both at Marvel and its Distinguished Competition. The good news is at least a bunch of new things were tried. DC has tried a lot of really interesting, even risky books in the New 52, and a lot have failed, but at least they’ve tried. And that deserves some credit.
The desire now is to pump out number one issues – the argument is they provide an easy jumping on point for readers, and collectors are drawn to them like Wimpy is drawn to free hamburgers. We see more and more series relaunched with new numbering, we see new spin-off titles, and not a lot of them last. We’ve already heard about two new Spider-titles, and one of the characters hasn’t even appeared yet. There’s no real way to know if a continuing Spider-Gwen book will sell, but here it comes.
It got me thinking… maybe the way things used to be done in comics wasn’t such a bad way.
Back in the day, TV shows didn’t always start as TV shows. They’d do a TV movie as a glorified pilot, to test the water. The Love Boat and Fantasy Island both got several TV movies before they went to series. Even today, popular shows like Sherlock and Doctor Who get a limited number of episodes in a series – 13 episodes a year for Doctor Who, three every so often for Sherlock. No chance for the characters to get tired, the stories are kept tight, no padding needed.
Likewise, comic books used to get new characters tried out in an anthology book like Showcase, and a series would get greenlit after the sales (and the fan letters) were tabulated. In the 80s, we’d see mini-series for those new characters. Robin got, what, three minis before he finally got a title. Lobo got an endless run of minis and one-shots before the regular book. There’s a lot of characters who started with a mini, and went on to long-lived regular titles
The point was, they’d try out new ideas, but in a smaller way, see how the sales did, and then pull the trigger on a regular series. And it gave them the same number of new numbers one issues that they like to put out there.
So I wonder, might a return to testing the water with mini or maxi-series “With an option” be worth a look?
The latest She-Hulk series is ending with issue 12. But say She-Hulk were originally sold as a 6 or 12-issue series instead of a continuing, It’s possible more people might have been enticed to try it, especially if it’s made clear that sales would add weight to making it a regular series. By the time issue six or seven came along, they’d probably have enough data to decide if a continuing series could sell. They could make the announcement in the last issue of the series, get people excited about the continuing, and get a solicitation out shortly after.
Of course, I expect there would be people who’d think “Meh, it’s only a mini-series” and skip it as well.
Heck, perhaps there are some characters who would work better just in minis, albeit a regular number of them. The Great Lakes Avengers worked (IMHO) better in small doses, a single storyline at a time. As much hope they put on Alpha in the Spider-titles, he got a mini-seres, and save for one or two cameos, we’ve not seen anything else. The mini was a good test of the waters.
As much fun as a Squirrel Girl title could be, I’m not 100% sure the title will hold long-term. Like She-Hulk, I fear we’d get maybe 12 issues. But a six-issue mini, maybe one a year? I think it’d work well. I think there’s a lot of characters who could carry a short run with a one-and-done story.
They’re a good opportunity to test out new talent as well. See how long a new penciller needs to get six issues in the can, see how well they could handle a regular series, or if the “when it’s finished” model works better. Some of Joe Quesada’s earliest work was The Ray mini-series at DC.
Who do you think would make a good character for a mini-series, as opposed to a regular run?