“Just Pay Ditko!” Part One : Where We Are And How We Got Here

Posted: August 4, 2013 in comics
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Very few photos of the man above are known to exist, but the product of his creative genius is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He is Steve Ditko, co-(at least) creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange; the Green Goblin and Electro;  Gwen Stacy and Flash Thompson;  The Question and Shade, The Changing Man; Mr. A and Hawk And Dove — and too many more classic characters to mention.

And he’s been mercilessly ripped off by the very industry he helped build. Which, sadly, hardly makes him unique — one could argue that in purely financial terms, Jack Kirby, Bill Finger, Siegel and Shuster, and Joe Simon, to name just some obvious examples off the top of my head, have been fucked over even worse than Ditko has, but this series of posts is going to have a much narrower focus for a couple of reasons — one being that Ditko is very much alive and it’s not too late for those of us concerned with him getting his due to step up to the plate and help make it happen; and the second being that about a week ago I stepped into this in a fairly outspoken way and have had a very interesting experience navigating the waters of the various issues swirling around the comics industry’s treatment of this towering creative dynamo.

The world at large knows damn well who Stan Lee is — he’s seen to that. But very few outside the comics community know Ditko’s name, and that’s perhaps the biggest shame of all.

But back to the specific business at hand here —for those who missed it, I had some rather biting critiques of Dark Horse Comics and a publication outfit called The New Comic Company, which owns the rights to CreepyEerie, and other publications formerly put out by the late Warren Publishing, in my review of the Creepy Presents Steve Ditko hardcover collection,  and some of what I said has proven to be completely and utterly inaccurate, while some of it has been proven to be true. What I got right and what I got wrong will become more clear in the days ahead as I continue this series, but let me state in no uncertain terms and for the record that I am profoundly sorry for the statements I made which proved to be false, and bear complete responsibility for them personally.

Strangely, though, I don’t regret screwing up. It’s opened up a dialogue about this issue both here and in various facebook groups — most notably Rob Imes’ “Ditkomania” group and Fester Faceplant’s  “Charlton Arrow” group — that are long overdue. It’s afforded me a direct line of communication with Dark Horse that I’ve grown to appreciate very much (and very quickly). And it’s given rise to a robust debate filled with good ideas from all sides.

Should I have kept my mouth shut about everything until I knew all the facts? Absolutely. But I’m determined to see this thing through until I’ve completely said all I have to say on the issue, and rather than cutting and running from my errors, it’s my intention to both own up to them and use them as a spingboard to draw even more attention to the issues that I raised.

But there’s no “I” in team, and let me say that a couple of people who have fought tirelessly on Ditko’s behalf, as well as for creator’s rights in general, deserve special mention here at the outset — Steve Bissette is not only a legend in the comics and horror communities, he’s also, like his fellow former Swamp Thing collaborator Alan Moore, one of the most principled folks to ever have graced the “Big Two” publishers (and countless others) with his talents. Many of the ideas we’ll be discussing in the coming days are ones that he’s been espousing for years now, and that’s he’s put into practice in his own publishing efforts. We need more people like Steve in this industry, plain and simple.

Next on my “thank you” list is veteran comics editor and artist Mort Todd. Mort’s an interesting and dare I even say iconoclastic guy with a very definite set of principles that has put the two of  us — always politely, mind you — on the opposite side of many political debates on facebook over the years, but like Ditko himself he walks the walk rather than just talks the talk, and when it comes to comics creators getting their due, he’s been outspoken and principled and frankly shows a pretty admirable streak in terms of not caring whose  feathers he ruffles. I appreciate especially his contribution of an idea that I find absolutely terrific that we’ll be getting into in the next few days, as well.

Finally, I want to say that, for all the various and contrary opinions that have been expressed in regards to the idea of simply paying Steve Ditko for his work, I have never gotten the sense that anyone doesn’t care about this man or value the amazing work he’s done and continues to do. For those of you out there who aren’t following his current  creative output published by Robin Snyder, you owe it to yourself to do so. I have next to no personal philosophical agreement with the hard-line Ayn Rand-inspired beliefs he espouses, but the uncompromising fervor with which he adheres to and promulgates his unique ethical perspectives is truly awe-inspiring, Now in his mid-80s, his work burns with a zeal and philosophical coherence that most people half, or even a quarter, of his age could never hope to capture. When I called him a “dynamo,” it wasn’t just hyperbole — it was fact.

Fortunately, there appears to be somebody at Dark Horse who shares my profound admiration for this extraordinary artist and has seen to it that his employer treats him fairly. I’m sadly not a liberty to divulge who this individual is, as he specifically requested that I remove his posts on the Creepy Presents review for a variety of reasons which I respect, but his invaluable insight into the Warren reprint series in particular has been one of the reasons I felt that not just a follow-up post correcting my errors, but a series of posts taking a comprehensive look at this entire situation is in order. Let me share one piece of very good news that I’ve been specifically authorized to relate, though —

As far as the Creepy Presents book goes, STEVE DITKO HAS BEEN PAID. I din’t ask how much. I didn’t ask when (if it was before or after I made a stink about it). I didn’t ask anything that wasn’t, frankly, any of my business. But a check was mailed to Ditko along with a letter asking him to please CASH IT. I had incorrectly stated that none of the creators whose work was being reprinted in the Warren series had seen a dime.  I was wrong. I know for a fact that Richard Corben, as well as Ditko, have both been paid. As of right now I have not been given assurances about anyone else — the question about payment being made to Archie Goodwin’s widow, which I was particularly interested in given that he wrote 15 of the 16 stories in the Ditko book, is not something my contact within Dark Horse was able to answer with certainty. He has promised to follow up on it , though, and I take him at his word since he’s kept it in all of our dealings so far.

But I feel like, in some small way, those of us who are interested in seeing the creative minds of this industry get at least something of a fairer shake are making progress. I don’t know as of yet whether or not my initial post on the Creepy book did more harm than good, or if this series I’m undertaking will do more of one or the other (if anything) as well, but right now I’m leaning toward viewing all of this, my fuck-ups included, as a step forward. This  is no time, however,  to take our collective foot off the gas. This struggle is bigger than you, me, or even Steve Ditko, and I’m just getting started — I hope you’ll be along for the ride and add your voice to the discussion. “Just Pay Ditko!” may seem an oversimplification to some — I’ve even been told it’s an insult to the man for reasons that we’ll get into — but I hope to communicate clearly and unequivocally why I remain more convinced than ever that it’s the least the industry as a whole can do for him and why it’s so important that we, as fans and concerned individuals, insist that they do so. This ride might be a bumpy one, but we owe it to Ditko and too many other screwed-over creators to mention to see it trough. They are the authors of many of our most cherished childhood memories. It’s high time we found a way to say thanks.


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