Thursday, June 20, 2013

"My fully developed, reasoned argument need not be told... especially to you!" Thoughts on the Ditko Public Service Package

For as much as I enjoy Steve Ditko's work and claim to prefer creator-owned comic books, I've made little effort at obtaining Ditko's creator-owned material. I find the books Ditko publishes via Robin Snyder to be unrefined, unpolished; the storytelling is sometimes very difficult to grasp and the plots are often little more than an excuse for him to assault a straw man target. Nevertheless, I helped support Snyder's recent Kickstarter to reprint the 1990 book the Ditko Public Service Package and received a copy in return.

It's actually a bit of fun; Ditko takes aim at the comic book industry, leaving no one untouched (not even himself). Although he doesn't grapple with specific people, he does take aim with various parties - publishers, editors, writers, artists, critics, collectors, fans and the press. Part of the book deals with the process of creating a comic book, how new ideas (represented by a light bulb) are often ignored as the creators prefer old ideas (represented by a burned-out bulb) and little effort. Later, the book turns to the idea of a mass hysteria over the state of comic books (demonstrating such a thing didn't begin with internet threads titled "are comics doomed?") as self-serving solutions to the problems facing comic books are proposed and nothing is resolved.

One of the few sympathetic characters is the comic book itself, who at one point takes us through his transformation from a hopeful blank-paged booklet to a thoroughly generic, overdone super hero book. "There's no limit to what glorious, triumphant, awe-inspiring adventures, heroic heights, that can go on inside me." declares the comic book; he dreams of following in the footsteps of great comic books of the past, but the creative personnel have utterly terrible ideas for his pages ("the Cry-Baby: He Drowns Out Crime").

Comic book critics are among Ditko's targets; the critic is seen to have a "perfect model" in his mind which no actual comic book can measure up to. I rather like this caricature, it's not entirely false to suggest critics employ Platonic idealism - it reminds me of Robert Warshow's commentary on Fredric Wertham: "Dr. Wertham is largely able to ignore the distinction between 'bad' and 'good' because most find it hard to conceive of what a 'good' comic book might be." In my own efforts at criticism, I try to make it clear whether I enjoy the work is the only way I can measure the book's success and it means very little to anyone else's opinion (but if something I've said on this blog has led you to sampling the material for yourself... right on).

At one point Ditko seems to target Jack Kirby - at least, I assume the above figure is meant to represent him. I'm not certain what it might be referencing - certainly Kirby was semi-retired from comic books at the time and was always opinionated; if Kirby had been bad-mouthing comics after his retirement, I wonder if he received a similar reaction to the hostility fandom gave Alan Moore for commenting on comic books he wasn't reading. I'm just now realizing while I've seen a few of Ditko's opinions on Stan Lee, I don't think I've read his opinions on Kirby; I wonder how he felt about him?

Although Ditko is an artist, he doesn't identify himself with the artist caricature in this book; here, the artist is just one member of a four-man cabal (with the publisher, editor & writer), each wrong-headed in how they approach comics. Rather, Ditko identifies with the idea, which keeps trying to make itself heard by the cabal; at one point the idea successfully forces itself inside the artist, resulting in a creative piece of art... then the rest of the cabal become involved and the page becomes cluttered with text and meanings changed. It seems to be referring to Ditko's thoughts on the collaborative process he endured in the comics industry... although I'm quick to recall that terrible panel in Eclipse Monthly#3 where Ditko's Static was so cluttered with speech that the art suffered. Even working on his own, it seems Ditko isn't immune to cabal-like thinking.

The Ditko Public Service Package doesn't seem to have been a watershed moment in Ditko's career; he continued to toil in the comics industry for 10 years afterward, employed by virtually every publisher. Although many refer to Ditko as "retired," he's actually still working, regularly releasing new material through Snyder; I've decided it's time to give the Ditko-Snyder material another chance - I don't want to start eulogizing Ditko while he's still with us, but enjoy what he's creating right now.

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