“Just Pay Ditko!” Part Three : What Does “Paying” Ditko Mean, Anyway?

Posted: August 6, 2013 in comics
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If you follow the comings and goings of Steve Ditko, you’ll be well aware of the fact that for a quarter-century now, he’s been publishing highly idiosyncratic, fascinating material with his friend and philosophical ally, Robin Snyder. Images such as the cover shown above make it abundantly clear how he feels about the industry that he spent the best years of his life building and why Snyder is the only person left he’s willing to work with. The man makes no bones about it — this is a business by and large devoid of ethics, integrity, honesty, and simple human decency.

So, yeah — you may now that Ditko continues, to this day, to produce intellectually-challenging, highly personal work, but what of the average reader of any of the handsome and expensive hardback reprint editions bearing Ditko’s name prominently on their covers? What clue does he or she have that this stuff even exists? Therein lies the issue that we’ll be exploring today in the third part of our ongoing series on how to adequately compensate this remarkable man for his efforts, and why it’s so important to do so.

It’s probably no secret that Ditko has refused offers of payment that have been extended in conjunction with his reprint work. Craig Yoe, publisher of the handsome The Art Of DitkoThe Creativity Of Ditko, and Ditko Monsters collections, as well as Blake Bell, editor of Fantagraphics’ ongoing Steve Ditko Archives series of equally impressive books, have both detailed how their efforts to simply issue him a check  for the work bearing his name have gone nowhere. I’m not privy to how Yoe couched his offer — let’s just say that I have concerns about this way of doing things in general since phrasing it along the lines of “Steve, I’d really like to pay you for your work and wouldn’t feel right publishing this book without you receiving some sort of compensation” or “Steve, I’m putting out a book of your reprinted work, it’s already at the printer’s, it really cost a lot to produce and pre-orders have been kinda low and if I don’t at least break even here I’m gonna have trouble making my mortgage payment a month or two down the line, but I suppose I could swing a couple hundred bucks your way if you need it bad enough” — are two entirely different ways of approaching the subject that both technically fit the definition of an “offer”, and while I don’t personally have any reason to suspect Yoe, or any other publisher for that matter,  of being so cheesy and/or unscrupulous and exploitative  as to employ the latter technique, for those out there who are simply satisfied with the “I offered but he refused” explanations we’ve been getting so frequently since this entire Ditko reprint bonanza began a few years back, rest assured that there have, indeed, been many publishers in comics history willing to employ such techniques, and even worse, when they merely “offer” payment to artists, writers, etc. We’re going on trust alone that the publishers of today are somehow “better” than to stoop so low, but while none of those publishers, save for Marvel and DC, have necessarily proven themselves to be low enough to go that route, none of them have given us explicit reason to believe that they would necessarily be averse to it, either.

I will say that I have been informed of the terms within Fantagraphics, via Bell, communicated their offer, but since this information was provided to me in private correspondence I don’t feel comfortable sharing the specifics. Suffice to say that it was a very generous and heartfelt offer on the editor’s part, but I can easily understand why Ditko turned it down.

All of which brings us back to the current issue at hand — what does “paying” Ditko necessarily mean, and what does it have to do with his current creative output?

Well, I suggested some months ago to Yoe that, in lieu of a check, he could offer the artist a “house ad” in the back of his next volume of Ditko-themed work as a sort of “in-kind” payment. He informed me that he had already broached that subject with Ditko and that it was refused, as well. Steve Bissette had also put this idea out there, probably even before I did, though I can’t honestly recall if he presented it to Yoe directly. In any case, when Ditko’s refusal to accept the “house ad” was made known, several parties, including Steve, myself, and Rob Imes, moderator of the “Ditkomania” facebook group and editor of a superb magazine of the same name that has done as much or more to promote the current Ditko/Snyder output as anyone, suggested that, given that all these books feature extensive text introductions, mention could be made in there of the artist’s current efforts, and relevant contact information for ordering them could be provided.

It’s pretty simple to do, really — if you want to find a comprehensive list of all the Ditko/Snyder works currently in print, as well as learn how to order them, all you have to do is visit this webpage : http://ditko.blogspot.com/p/ditko-book-in-print.html , and if you want to help contribute to the funding of their new Laszlo’s Hammer project via Kickstarter, all you have to do is go here : http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1704592942/laszlos-hammer-by-robin-snyder-and-steve-ditko .

There, that took one whole second. And I highly encourage you to visit both pages.

This idea has been met with either active or passive (I’m not at liberty to say which since I can’t read the mans mind) disregard on Yoe’s part, although to his credit he linked to the Laszlo’s Hammer page on a recent facebook posting. I just wish he would at the very least consider doing the same in his next Ditko book, since that’s bound to have a much larger readership than a simple facebook post. If you happen to be reading this, Craig, please give it some serious consideration, that’s all I ask.

I’m pleased to be able to report, however, that Blake Bell is not only listening, he had this idea well before I did! The Steve Ditko Archives Volume Four, which is due out later this year,  will not only feature this relevant contact and ordering information,  it will include a lengthy text introduction focused on these and other contemporary Ditko efforts. I hope you’ll agree with me that this is a very positive step indeed. I may just be one consumer out of many, but there are others who feel as strongly about this issue as I do and steps such as this go a good deal of the way toward resolving our mixed feelings about these projects and address, at least indirectly, that gnawing feeling many of us have in the back of our minds that Ditko’s name and work could be, sadly, exploited for personal and financial gain by folks who essentially have nothing to do with him. Oh, and I know Blake had this idea long before I suggested it to him because the book is already at the printer’s.

There are other creative methods of remuneration that have been put forth by Steve Bissette and link-minded concerned parties, as well : if Ditko won’t take payment for the work, you could attempt to reach an agreement with him to license his name in relation to your publication ; you could establish a limited-duration contract with him for works that you either already have, or are intending, to publish; you could ask him for an organization he’d approve of payment being sent to in lieu of him receiving said payment personally (perhaps a bit of a tricky wicket, I admit, since Ditko apparently has a strong philosophical opposition to charity stemming from his Ayn Rand-influenced worldview); or you could go with the one I always come back  to —  just mail him a check and let him tear it up if he really doesn’t need or want the money. At least then he’d have the option to change his mind about whether or not he wants to be paid, as he apparently did with Eclipse Comics back in the late ’80s/early’ 90s.

The point is, payment or remuneration can take many forms, if only publishers are willing to think about the situation creatively for a moment. Blake Bell has done that, and I congratulate him for doing so. I hope that others follow suit. The work published by Yoe and Fantagraphics, specifically, has so far all been adjudicated to be in the public domain — although that’s not as cut-and-dried an issue legally as I had previously believed, a subject we’ll be tackling in an upcoming segment in this series — so legally no sort of compensation to its creators is owed. PD is an important concept to preserve and defend for many reasons, but let’s be honest — while the production values of all these books are high, nobody’s buying them for their glossy covers, sturdy paper stock, faithful color reproduction, or even their uniformly well-written and informative introductory essays. Those are all welcome and appreciated, and the work is not only deserving of, but benefits from, such quality and care, —but without Steve Ditko’s art, there’s no publication, and without his name on the cover, you’ve got no customers. Some form of “payment,” whether in actuality or in kind, that’s agreeable to all parties involved, is hardly asking for anything more than he’s ethically and morally, if not strictly legally, owed.

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