Archive for August 10, 2013

DitkoStatic

 

Static. Not only is it the name of an a typically interesting and idiosyncratic latter- (well, more like mid-, I guess) period Steve Ditko creation, it’s something these posts seem to have generated a lot of in recent days, particularly on Rob Imes’ terrific “Ditkomania” facebook group, where the discussion is almost always free-flowing.

Seldom has it been this intense, though. A poster there even related that he’d had a long-standing friendship bust up over differing views he and his acquaintance shared over the issue of how best, if at all, to compensate Ditko for his reprint work. I’m truly sorry to hear that, and hope it’s only temporary. My best to the both of you in figuring a way to remain friends despite a key philosophical difference.

Still, it would be unfair of me to state that any and all debate that’s been generated around these issues has been “static.” Many posters on all sides have made some exceedingly valid points worthy of serious consideration. I feel like things took a completely unnecessary turn for the worse — and the personal — today,  when another Ditko fan compared my promulgation of the views expressed here in  the “Just Pay Ditko!” series to the Nazis, but I’m hopeful that in time all that will simmer down. As far as I see it, in regards to the issue of finding some way to compensate Ditko — be it financially or otherwise — for work he did that various publishers are now profiting from, fans can  generally be said, with numerous individual “shades of gray” along the spectrum, of course — to fall into three separate groups :

1. Folks who frankly could care less about what’s going on behind the scenes and just want to enjoy the material;

2. Folks who would like to see Ditko compensated for his work if specific rights to that work are being held in private hands, as is the case with the Warren material reprinted in Creepy Presents Steve Ditko, the various Steve Ditko Omnibus collections from DC, Marvel’s numerous reprints of Ditko Spider-Man work, etc. , but who feel that his work which is in the public domain, such as that being presented in the deluxe hardcover volumes currently being published by Fantagraphics and Yoe Books, among others, requires no compensation because, hey, PD is PD and that’s the way it goes;

and 3. Folks who would like to see some sort of compensation — again, financial or otherwise, as we’ve discussed in this series at length — extended to the artist even in cases where the material is in the public domain not because the publishers legally have to, but simply because it’s the right thing, in our view (no surprise I include myself in this group), to do.

Like I said, there are any number of “sub-categories” within each major “category” — such as people who buy Marvel reprints of Ditko’s work very well knowing they have no specific mechanism in place for paying royalties on much of their older work but figure “hey, yeah, it’s a shit deal, but it is what it is — I’d like to see Ditko, and all the other creators, paid,  sure — but that’s just never been how things are done there.”  Fans of this sort are probably edging more toward being in “category two” as a matter of conscience but still fall into “category one” in terms of their buying habits. And so it goes.

I guess my main objective as far as stating my “category three” points is not so much to judge or denigrate those in the other two categories as it is to hopefully persuade them to change their minds. If they do so, then great — glad to have them on board. If they don’t, well, I guess I’ll just keep trying. I can be persistent like that. But here’s the thing —

I find it kind of strange, maybe even kind of sad, that the most visceral reactions against the broadly-defined (just now, by me) “category three” people seem to be coming from those folks who probably do care about the behind-the-scenes workings of how, why, and even how much creators are compensated, but evidently prefer to store their consciences away in a locked box when it come time to get a pretty, high-quality new book of reprints. If it were coming from those who just don’t care about any of this shit, that I’d understand — but evidently some parties who probably do, on some level, want what they consider a “fair” deal for Ditko and other artists, but are very strident in their view of what that “fair” deal would or should consist of, are quite vocally upset with those of us who feel it should consist of something more, or at the very least other than, what’s been offered, historically at least, to date.

What’s doubly confounding to me is that publishers seem far more receptive to and/or sympathetic with the suggestions of “category three” fans. Folks like Craig Yoe of Yoe Books, Blake Bell, who’s editing the Steve Ditko Archives  series for Fantagraphics, and a person who’s directly involved with the Warren reprints at Dark Horse that I’ve been in contact with have all been quite amenable to answering most of my questions, and have even taken many of the same suggestion I’ve offered on board — perhaps even well before I offered them (although certainly not before Rob Imes, Steve Bissette, and Dave Sim, to name just a few, did). I’ve given Yoe credit in particular for continuing to engage in dialogue with fans even though the waters have gotten testy on several occasions. He has a thick skin, and that’s quite admirable.

So what to make of the fans who feel upset because Bell, Yoe, and others may have been, in their view at any rate,  “pressured” into including promotional material for Steve Ditko’s current work with Robin Snyder in their forthcoming reprint books? Well, since neither of those gentlemen has complained about that themselves, and both have stated on numerous occasions that they’re quite happy to do all they can to promote these woks, all I can say is — if they’re glad to do it, then what’s the problem? And in what way, shape, or form is including some promotional material for books Ditko financially benefits from in books that he doesn’t benefit from, despite his name being on the cover and his work appearing on every page, a bad thing? We all want as many people as possible to know about the current Ditko material, don’t we?

There have been other robust debates that have popped up in recent days, as well, some of them appearing to advance an argument along the lines of “everybody’s doing Ditko reprint books, so what’s the problem with some of them as opposed to others?” I fail to find much logical coherence to that view, though,  since all examples of any given thing are in no way equal, but the primary one I wanted to address in this aside today — I’m still waiting on some answers from parties I’ve been in contact with about the various copyright issues that may or may not pertain to some of the Charlton work that’s been reprinted recently, so I’m giving that another day or two before proceeding, as promised, with a post specifically related to those concerns —is this whole idea that a few people have brought up that somehow there is undue “pressure” being applied on certain publishers to do things that some fans want. Again, if the publishers themselves don’t object, and in fact want  to utilize the platform their books provide them to spread the word about this new material, then how or why  is this even considered an issue?

ditko_banner

 

“Gosh, that sure is a good-looking Steve Ditko hardcover reprint book you’ve got there.”

“Thanks. It’s over 200 pages long and has all kinds of his old Charlton Comics work on heavy, sturdy paper. Plus it’s got this nice embossed cover and all kinds of cool info in the introduction, including rare photos and larger art reproductions of certain panels and covers.”

“Wow, cool — do you mind if I take a look inside?”

“Be my guest, man — just be careful, that thing was expensive!”

“So I see!  Wow! Fifty bucks!”

“Yeah, but it was worth it, though. Look how big and bright and bold everything looks on this quality paper stock, and how the art just jumps off the page.”

“Well, yeah, but Ditko’s art always jumps off the page, even when it’s on cheap newsprint, doesn’t it?”

“That’s true, but I mean — come on, this is some deluxe shit!”

“Oh, no question — and I’d love to borrow your copy just for the new info I’d glean from reading the introduction, but — ”

“But?”

“Well, considering nothing in here’s been color ‘corrected’ or ‘remastered’ in any way, how do you know that whoever put this thing out didn’t just run their old comics through their scanner at home, stick it between some sturdy covers on nice paper, and charge you an arm and a leg for it?”

“I hadn’t thought of that, but ya know, I prefer these original colors anyway, sorta preserves the ‘grimy’ feel of the old, original comics.”

“Oh, I agree with you on that completely — I hate all these digitally-fucked-with reprints that are coming out, but still — I mean, don’t you feel like you got played for a sucker, at least on principle?”

“Not really. I mean, just because anybody with a scanner can do this shit doesn’t mean everyone has the resources or time on their hands to do so.”

“I’ll give ya that on the resources front, although if you’ve got a semi-major comics publisher bankrolling your advance to the printer and providing you with a distribution network via Diamond to all the major comic shops — I hope you did buy this at your LCS and not through Amazon! — well, it’s a pretty risk-free proposition for you then, isn’t it? Heck, if somebody else loans you the comics to scan from their collection — somebody I hope you’re giving at least some cut of the action to — how much do you really even need at all to do something like this?”

“Ummmm — just a scanner and some knowledge of basic page-formatting software, I suppose. But that’s the great democratizing power of all this new technology, I guess.”

“Yeah, it does have its plus side, no question — a lot of  once-rare books that you used to have to beg some creepy old collector to look at in his basement you can now find readily, and in a much nicer format than anyone could have hoped for even five or ten years ago.”

“Right! See! So we’re living in a new golden age for fans and collectors, no matter what you killjoys think!”

“So you don’t mind slapping down a big chunk of your hard-earned cash on basically a collection of scanned pages? A gorgeous collection of scanned pages, I’ll give ya that, but a collection of scanned pages nonetheless.”

“Not at all! This stuff would be lost to history otherwise! The publishers are doing us a huge favor!”

“Well, that’s undoubtedly true — life’s better with a book like this on your shelf. But who do you think should be raking in the lion’s share of the money you spend on this kind of thing?”

“Well, Ditko, I suppose — his name’s on the cover and all, and he drew it.  No Ditko, no book.”

“What if I told you that Ditko didn’t want to be paid for this work?”

“Well, assuming I believed you, then I’d have to say — whoever owns the rights to the work?”

“That’s a thorny question. Do you read Rob Imes’ ‘Ditkomania’ magazine?”

“No, why?”
“Well, you should. Rob’s mentioned this is in reviews of books like the very one you’re holding — that some of this stuff has been reprinted before, with relevant copyright information included, yet if you look at the indicia page of your hefty tome here, or the first page of each of the stories, you’ll see —”

“No copyright info? So is this stuff all public domain?”

“I think so. I hope so. I really want to believe so. And for most of it, yeah, that’s probably the case. But possibly not for all of it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, we’ll save all that for the next post in this series, shall we?”

“Okay, you sound like you’re kinda ducking the question, though.”

“That’s because I am! Truth be told, I’m doing a little legwork to find out why certain of these pages may or may not be PD while others apparently are without question.”

“Sounds pretty boring.”

“I dunno, I’m enjoying it, but then I’m kinda warped like that.”

“Well, let me know what you find out — I guess. For now I just wanna go enjoy my book here.”

“You do that, don’t let me stop stop you — I appreciate you letting me leaf through it.”

“Oh, one question, though — if Ditko doesn’t make, or even want, any money from it, and if the stuff’s at least supposedly in the public domain, then who’s making the money off this thing?”

“Would you believe — the guy with the scanner?”

“No shit? Well, what can I possibly say that would top that? God bless America, huh?”

“Sure — I guess.”

“Wow — hmmm,  just thinkin’ —”

“About?”

“What if he didn’t even own the scanner and just borrowed somebody else’s?”

Note : This is a purely speculative conversation, variations of which may nor may not have occurred among comic fans over the course of the current Steve Ditko reprint bonanza. I have no reason to believe that any of the volumes of Ditko’s work issued in recent years were so quickly, thoughtlessly, and haphazardly assembled. But it could happen, what with today’s technology and the plethora of freely-available material with expired, or supposedly expired, copyrights on it. Please remember that the only Ditko material from which we are absolutely certain he personally profits in the new work he’s publishing with Robin Snyder, and in the spirit of the image presented from that work reproduced above, perhaps “Innocent? Convince Me!!!!!!!!!!” is something we should be requesting and/or demanding from all publishers, at all times, in regards to reprint volumes of the type under discussion in this series.

As far as the copyright questions I’ve raised in this entry go, let me just say for the time being that I have put some “feelers” out to certain parties who I hope can provide answers to at least some of them. We’ll see. I think that a natural assumption, understandably, has been made that all the Charlton stuff reproduced so far is, in fact, PD material for anyone to do with as they see fit. My gut feeling, and my earnest hope, is that this assumption is accurate. But there are some inconsistencies in regards to the legal handling of this material that have popped up from time to time over the years, and if I don’t get answers from anybody in the next couple of days, I may just post the questions themselves that I have on here and hope that somebody with a much keener legal mind than I (not a difficult thing to possess, I assure you)  will see them and respond  in the comments section.