Another April Fool’s Day has come and gone, leaving in its wake a trail of confusion as comics news sites posted fake news article after fake news article in an attempt to hoax their audiences into believing things that couldn’t possibly be true.
All the same, now that we’ve had a day or two to process, there have been six recent happenings in the comics world that stood out as so weird, so unlikely, that we were completely floored when they turned out to be true. But don’t take our word for it, take a look below.
Stan Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger are teaming up for The Governator, a comic and TV show detailing the adventures of the ex-Governor of California, ex-King of Aquilonia as he teams up with a precocious pre-teen hacker to fight crime. This is a thing that’s going to happen. Not a joke. We couldn’t believe it either. You’d think after Peter Paul and the Clintons Stan would stay clear of politicians.
The highest-graded copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, featuring the debut of Spider-Man from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, has sold in a private transaction for $1.1 million. This is by far the highest price paid for a Silver Age comic book, and is an almost one billion percent increase from the 12¢ cover price.
The CGC 9.6 NM+ copy is the highest grade of the book known to exist, and is the only copy in that grade. The previous best sale for a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 was for $227,000 in 2007 for a 9.4 copy from the famous White Mountain collection.
Blake Bell’s book ($39.99) features hundreds of beautifully reprinted Ditko pages, from his earliest horror stories to his triumph with Amazing Spider-Man run to his eventually paying-the-bills work in cartoon coloring books. This art comes with insightful analysis from Bell, who even gives side-by-side comparisons with art from some of the artists who inspired Ditko.
Yet, I came away from the book disappointed, because as well as it explains Ditko as an artist, it hardly begins to explain him as a man.
Admittedly, that’s a tough task, as the reclusive Ditko hasn’t been interviewed since bell bottoms were cool (or thereabouts), but it’s the task Bell sets out upon. The chapters accompanying the art read more than anything like a more-detailed Wikipedia page, full of facts but empty of story.
We hear about all the important moments in Ditko’s career, often fleshed out through the quotes of his acquaintances, but we hear less than whispers of his personal life or childhood. Perhaps Bell put on a reporter’s hat and tried to find some such information, but if so, he includes neither that information nor an account of how he failed to obtain it.
The few included quotes from Ditko are flatly boring descriptors of his work, overladen with parentheticals. And, again, they only hint at who he is.
For people who come in with a familiarity of Ditko’s story, like ComicMix editor Mike Gold, that’s a pardonable offense. But for any more unfamiliar reader looking to [[[Strange and Stranger]]] as a true biography, they’re sure to find it sorely lacking.
There’s a clear narrative to Ditko’s life; it’s a tragic story of a man who followed the philosophy he thought would make him great, but instead Ayn Rand’s objectivism would prevent him from achieving that greatness. And that story remains untold.
Van Jensen is a former crime reporter turned comic book journalist. Every Wednesday, he braves Atlanta traffic to visit Oxford Comics, where he reads a whole mess of books for his weekly reviews. Van’s blog can be found at graphicfiction.wordpress.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Van Jensen directly at van (dot) jensen (at) comicmix (dot) com.
My column today is not really a review of Blake’s book; it’s a blather about comics’ greatest enigma. Blake is the ultimate Ditko historian, and his book (and website, Ditko Looked Up) reflects his passion. It’s well-written, well-researched, and wonderously designed by Adam Grano. If you’re into Ditko or comics history, it’s a must-have. Kudos to Blake; that’s my review.
Steve Ditko is another matter. I can’t say he’s been denied his rightful place in history – his is always the third name in the phrase “Marvel Comics as we know them was created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and together they brought comic books kicking and screaming to an adult audience.” If he gets short-shrift, it’s because Steve refuses all interview requests, convention appearances, and celebrity signings. He says he prefers to let his work speak for itself, and I’m sure that’s true. He’s also very shy and has no problem with one-on-one (or two-on-one) conversations in his studio, at the publishing houses, or in restaurants. That’s his prerogative.
On the other hand, he’s a public figure – even inadvertently. This makes him subject of many an article, long-winded editorial (like this), and Blake’s book. I’m told he’s not happy with the attention focused on him from Strange and Stranger; having known Ditko. I’m not surprised. Maybe a little disappointed, but again, that’s his prerogative.
I think from the commercial perspective Steve Ditko’s role in the success of Marvel Comics and its transcendence to the college-student market has been severely underrated. It was The Amazing Spider-Man that put Marvel on the map and in the college bookstores. It was Spider-Man that became the first comic book character to achieve icon status since Superman, Batman and arguably Wonder Woman. That’s the first in a generation. And, maybe, the last to date.
As the 1960s progressed Steve became more and more political, embracing the values of a form of Objectivism so fundamentalist that it even scared its founder, Ayn Rand, who asked Ditko to print a note saying his work reflected his values and not necessarily hers. Objectivism, for the Google-challenged, is the philosophy that holds “there is no greater moral goal than achieving happiness. But one cannot achieve happiness by wish or whim. Happiness requires that one live by objective principles, including moral integrity and respect for the rights of others. Politically, Objectivists advocate laissez-faire capitalism. Under capitalism, a strictly limited government protects each person’s rights to life, liberty, and property and forbids that anyone initiate force against anyone else.” (Excerpted from The Atlas Society).
Let’s see. Captain Atom. The Amazing Spider-Man. Doctor Strange. Mr. A. The Question. The Creeper. Maxwell Smart. Yup. That’s right. The one aspect all these great characters had in common was artist and demure legend Steve Ditko.
To be fair, virtually every comics artist of the 1950s and 60s did their share of teevee adaptations, but the Spider-Man co-creator was almost an exception. I might be missing a couple, but Steve drew a handful of Get Smart stories published in issues #2 and #3 (Dell, 1966), a total of 66 pages inked by Sal Trapani, according to Ditko biographer Blake Bell. His only other teevee adaptation work on record is an issue of Hogan’s Heroes, for the same publisher.
I’ll let that sink in for a minute. Steve Ditko drew Get Smart and Hogan’s Heroes. Talk about casting against type.
Given his political work (The Avenging World, Mr. A) and the tone of much of his post-Creeper stuff, one might not readily associate humor with the famed artist. Yet these stories show quite a flair for the material while still being Ditkoesque. And I know from personal experience that Steve has quite a profound sense of humor; further, back in his Charlton days he actually had a reputation for being a practical joker.
He’s done it all – sword & sorcery, capes & masks and even….erotic comics. Howard Chaykin isn’t shy about his work and he joins ComicMix Radio to talk – and not talk – about what he has coming up in 2008.
Plus we cover:
• The first Steve Ditko critical retrospective is coming
• American Comics gets Doctor Who, old and new
and we enjoy a trip back to when the song mega-comics fan Gene Simmons hated the most was Kiss’ biggest hit.
Last week, before I so rudely interrupted us, we were discussing the merits of writing comic books using the “full script” method, in which the writer produces a first cousin to a movie script, with visual directions as well as dialogue and other verbal stuff. Now, we should examine he advantages of working in what has come to be called the “Marvel style.” With this method, you will remember, the writer first does a plot and the penciller renders this into a visual narrative. That’s conveyed to the writer who then adds dialogue and captions and, often, indicates where the balloons and captions should be placed by drawing them onto copies of the artwork.
The main one is that, if the penciller is a good storyteller, he can do the writer’s work for him by figuring out pacing and kinds of shots. When Marvel’s Stan Lee adopted this way of operating, he was working with such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, men who were already masters of their craft. Stan didn’t have to worry about such bothers as a boring but vital plot element being eliminated or the pacing of the story being off so that a lot if crammed into the last pages, maybe not leaving enough room for copy. And – when you work with really good artists there’s always the possibility that they’ll improve on your visual storytelling. They will, in other words, make you look good and who doesn’t like that?
When I first worked for Stan in the 60s, our plots were pretty terse, a couple-three paragraphs or even less. But remember, we were usually collaborating with highly experienced artists. When I last left Marvel, in 1986, the plots were generally much longer and closely detailed.
Then there’s Doug Moench, whose plots for 22-page comic books might run 25 pages and include swatches of dialogue. I once asked Doug why he didn’t just do full scripts and save himself some hassle. His reply was that sometimes art inspired him, gave him a character twist or bit of dialogue he would not have thought of otherwise. And this procedure also functions as a fail-safe mechanism – if something isn’t in the art that needs to be there, or if something is unclear, Doug can write to remedy the problem.
Here, my friends, we have a man who is both conscientious and a complete pro.
For a while some years ago, the Marvel style ruled – or at least would have won popularity contests. Now, I’m told by working comic bookers, the full-plot method is much the favored. I don’t know why. It might have something to do with the fact that now, as in the past, deadlines are a major editorial hair-grayer and the full script method is a tiny bit easier to manage because it involves fewer exchanges of material and maybe a little less paperwork. Or maybe, like so much else, these things are determined by evolutionary cycles I can’t quite wrap my brain around.
RECOMMENDED READING: Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of comic books like Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, and The Shadow, as well as all kinds of novels, stories and articles.
Bummed out because Jonathan Ross’ BBC4 documentary In Search of Steve Ditko isn’t being shown in the US? God bless the internets, we say. Here’s part one:
YouTube has it up in seven parts; here are sections two, three, four, five, six and seven. The documentary also features Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Stan Lee, and a veddy English sensibility throughout; enjoy!
As I type this, it’s still Friday, which was New Comics Day back in my own misspent youth. Very vaguely in honor of that, enjoy this picture of a Milk & Cheese magnet.
Jonathan Ross, British TV personality and famous snogger of Neil Gaiman, has an article in the Guardian about why he loved Steve Ditko. It also serves as a teaser for Ross’s documentary, In Search of Steve Ditko, appearing on BBC4 Sunday night at 9.
Comic Book Resourcesreprints Diamond’s charts for market share and sales for August in the direct market.
That’s a question Marvel creators have been asking ever since Steve Ditko left town with the original Eye of Agamotto. A lot of people gave it a shot over the past five decades, and, to be fair, several did a first-rate job. But they had a hard time recapturing the original magic.
This week, Marvel Studios released its [[[Doctor Strange]]] D2DVD, and, being a self-contained 75-minute effort, they took some liberties with the ever-evolving and sometimes contradictory comics versions. Overall, I think they did a good job.
This D2DVD is not quite a superhero effort; certainly, not as defined by their previous animated movies ([[[Ultimate Avengers]]] 1 and 2, [[[Iron Man]]]). They keep the most basic elements of the various origin stories and they don’t really alter anything of substance: Stephen Strange is still starts out as the egotistical, self-absorbed, money-grubbing surgeon supreme and within and hour and a quarter is fast-tracked to beatific altruistic sorcerer supreme. Which, if you think about it, is not a good thing for Strange’s master, The Ancient One.
Along the way, though, we see Strange’s journey to supremacy, we get to appreciate his frustrations and see him grow past his ego and get redeemed. Oh, and he gets to fight Mordo and Dormamuu and a boatload of demons along the way. Our Japanese friends could learn a thing or two from Doctor Strange’s approach to limited animation: Marvel took full advantage of the fluidity of the animation form to allow for the mystical poop to really pop.
Of course they made Wong politically correct, so I guess my desire for an all-Asian cliché-fest crossover with the Blackhawk’s Chop-Chop isn’t going to happen any time soon. And they even teased us with a sequel set-up.
The supplemental documentary is first-rate. Not as first-rate as the extras on the new [[[Popeye]]] box-set, but damn good. Their “[[[Origin of Doctor Strange]]]” delves fully into the comic book roots, showing off a lot of art, giving Stan Lee and (particularly) Steve Ditko their due, and interviewing the hell out of the always-eloquent Steve Englehart, whose own run as Doctor Strange writer (much of it with Frank Brunner as artist) was among the series’ very best.
Overall, a nice effort from supervising director Frank Paur and writer Greg Johnson. I suspect all but the most anal-retentive [[[Strange]]] fans will enjoy the experience.