“Just Pay Ditko!” Part Four : Further Positive Developments

Posted: August 7, 2013 in comics
Tags: , , ,



So — I hadn’t actually planned on adding the next posting to this series for another day or two, at least, but I’m feeling pretty good about where things are headed vis a vis the “Pay Ditko” issue in general since yesterday, so here I am back again to spread some news that I consider to be, for the most part at any rate, good. How you take it is up to you, but let me say that whatever the circumstances behind this latest development, I’m happy with the end result. And I feel that maybe — just maybe — the scales of justice, as depicted so starkly by Steve Ditko in the image above, are beginning to at last tilt slightly more in this legendary and groundbreaking artist’s  favor (not that we don’t all have a long way to go towards actually balancing them outright, but one step at a time is better than nothing).

It’s no secret that dating back to my initial review of the Yoe Books/IDW Publishing Ditko Monsters : Gorgo! collection,  which I posted in early June, that I’ve had some not exactly unkind, at least in my view, but very specific questions for Craig Yoe, a guy who has, in recent years, built a somewhat prolific small-press publishing operation for himself based more or less entirely on freely-obtained public domain reprints of various comic artists’ work. The debate surrounding Yoe and his business model has continued in earnest on facebook, most particularly in Rob Imes’ “Ditkomania” and Fester Faceplant’s “Charlton Aroow” groups, and while I haven’t seen eye-to-eye with Yoe with much regularity, I do give him credit for always engaging in the debate and not cutting and running from the scene the minute anyone has anything even remotely critical to say about any of his publications, which is a tactic that thinner-skinned publishers often employ. He’s stuck around despite the heat and, with his admirable skills for self-promotion, has even managed to use some of the hubbub as a publicity-driving tool for his books. No law against that, so more power to ‘im.

Back when I reviewed the Gorgo book, I repeated a suggestion first floated by Steve Bissette, Imes, and other interested parties that if payment via good old-fashioned check to Ditko was a non-starter, then perhaps a “house ad” for the artist’s current Robin Snyder-published work would serve as as an acceptable “payment in kind” substitute. As I related previously in this series, he said he offered the very same to Ditko ans that  said offer was,  once again,  declined. The suggestion was then made to include a plug for this material, along with relevant contact and ordering information, in the text introduction piece of a future Ditko-based volume. As I remarked yesterday, that offer seemed to meet with a kind of “radio silence” on Yoe’s part, but whether said silence was deliberate or accidental I really couldn’t say since I understand that  it’s literally impossible to keep up with every idea someone presents to you on facebook, even when said idea is presented multiple times from multiple posters. Fair enough.

In any case, apparently the message, at least to a certain extent, got through, because this morning Yoe shared a scan of  the credits/indicia page for his forthcoming Ditko Monsters : Konga! hardcover collection, and there was, indeed, a nice little plug for the current Ditko/Snyder material, along with email and “snail mail” contact information, included on the page along with promotional for both the “Ditkomania” ‘zine and facebook group and the “Charlton Arrow” group. Oh, and there was a dedication to the late, great Forry Ackerman that I appreciated, as well.

Some may consider the timing of the inclusion of this material to be a bit suspect, coming as it does hot on the heels of my post yesterday repeating my request for him to at least consider something of this nature, but I don’t personally care to indulge in that sort of speculation since I have no proof that Yoe is reading these things — he’s no doubt a busy guy — and, for all I know, he may very well have come to the decision to include this promo plug on his own volition some months ago. The circumstances don’t  really matter as much to me as the end result, and that end result is one I’m generally pleased with, so I give credit to Craig for either deciding to do this some time back, or changing his mind and doing it now to get those of us who were agitatating for it off his back. Either way is cool with me.

Would it have been nice for him to include this as far back as his first deluxe hardback collection, The Art Of Ditko? Sure, in the same way that it would have been nice for Blake Bell’s forthcoming introduction spotlighting current Ditko output to have appeared in volume one of Fantagraphics’  The Steve Ditko Archives rather than volume four. But I’m not privy to the inner workings and behind-the-scenes decision-making processes of either publisher, I only know that Yoe has at last been willing to engage his critics openly and that Bell has been forthcoming and honest with me without hesitation in our private communications on these matters, both of which I appreciate for different reasons. 

None of which is not to say that I don’t share the frustrations of folks like the aforementioned Mr.s Bisette and Imes, as well as Dave Sim and others, who have been on the forefront of imploring publishers of “Ditko-centric” work to do at least this much for years. Compared to them, I’m a relative newcomer to the proceedings. I certainly wish these steps had been taken sooner,  sure, and I’m in no position to determine whether or not adding my voice to the chorus they’d already begun made any difference whatsoever. If it has, great, but they still deserve the lion’s share of credit for addressing this issue a lot earlier and not letting up. And maybe these publishers would have come to the decision to take these steps without our opinions being made known — it’s impossible to say. But things appear to be moving, albeit perhaps slowly and incrementally, in the right direction — and that’s worth something.

I’ll be completely honest : I canceled my standing pre-order for the Konga  book some time ago, and much as I want it I’m still not sure I’ll buy it. I still have some ethical qualms about Yoe’s basic business model and his tendency to portray himself as not just a publisher of quite-nicely-done books, but as some noble “First Amendment Crusader” or “champion and rescuer of lost public domain works” or somesuch. I understand why he might indeed feel that way himself, why others are drawn to such a view and take up his mantle for him in debate, and frankly how the promulgation of such a persona is good for his business. I don’t begrudge him any of that, I just take what I feel,  in my own mind at any rate, to be a more nuanced view of the situation and don’t buy into the idea that any and all “PD-centric” publishers are necessarily honorable in all their intentions, much less valiant. I’m not personally inclined toward that sort of black-and-white, either/or thinking. I think public domain is great and necessary, and I also think it can be abused. I think there are also valid, open questions as to whether or not all the Ditko material being reprinted strictly fits the definition of “public domain” given that the possibility exists that it may never have fit the standards set in place for true “work for hire” material in the first place. And yes, I think the very concept of public domain can be exploited by unscrupulous people out to make a quick buck off stuff they don’t have to pay for, wishes and/or financial needs of the original writers and artists be damned. But Yoe’s move to include at least some  sort of promotional plug is his forthcoming book goes some way toward at least mitigating some of my concerns, and I’d like to both thank and congratulate him for taking this step and let him know that whether he did it out of principled consideration or through clenched and gritted teeth really makes no difference to me. I’m just happy that he did it. And while it may not guarantee that his Ditko Monsters : Konga!  volume finds its way onto my own personal bookshelf, it makes it much more likely that it will.


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