Posts Tagged ‘Blake Bell’

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?

fanzdm91

Rob Imes is a guy I’ve mentioned in this series a few times now. Rob puts out a magazine called “Ditkomania,” and runs a yahoo group and a facebook group of the same name. If you want to check out the yahoo group, you can access it  via http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ditkomania/ . If you want to patricipate in the facebook group — which, frankly, is where most of the “action” seems to be occurring these days — just look up “Ditkomania” next time you’re on there since I don’t think I can provide a direct link that doesn’t require a prompt for one’s facebook email, password, etc.

Both groups are great. Rob has a very mature sensibility when it comes to his editorial and participation guidelines that ensures free-flowing exchange of all ideas as long as everyone remains “above-the-belt” in terms of their posts and responses to same. The facebook group, in particular, has been “ground zero” online for the continuing Ditko reprint debate, and Rob’s handled a touchy situation with strong feelings being expressed on all sides with even-handedness and class. Sometimes I don’t know how he does it, but he does.

Still, that’s not the reason I mention Rob specifically in this latest installment of our little ongoing mini-opus here. I mention Rob — who you can contact via his groups for ordering info his magazine, which I highly encourage all interested parties to do, or just send him paypal payment for $10.00 for a four-issue subscription to robimes@yahoo.com, you won’t regret it! — because, unlike some publishers discussed in previous entrants to this series who have been slow to use their respective “bullu pulpits” to promote Steve Ditko’s current Robin Snyder-published work  — the only work being published by anyone that the artist himself directly profits from, to my knowledge — Rob’s been a tireless champion of this unique, challenging, and highly personal creative output for a good many years now. I don’t know if Rob makes any money off his magazine — if so it can’t be much — so think about that for a minute : Rob’s been not only willing, but enthusiastic, to promote these efforts for little or no money while certain reprint publishers who have been profiting off Ditko’s name and works have been — let’s just say extremely hesitant to do that very same thing.

Fortunately for Rob — and all of us who wish to see Steve Ditko be able to continue generating at least some income — he hasn’t been alone. Steve Bissette is another guy who needs no introduction to those who’ve been following this series so far — or who have been following comics and horror for the past few decades. Steve’s been in on the ground floor of battling for compensation, in at least some form,  for Ditko, and all creators in a similar position, for as long as he’s probably been breathing, but his first (to my knowledge, at any rate) electronically-“published” thoughts on the various issues that would go on to become central themes of the Ditko reprint controversy specifically can be found here : http://www.cartoonstudies.org/schulz/blog/steve-ditkos-konga-the-lonely-one/ , and further ethical questions he laid out in relation to the Yoe Books/IDW  collections The Art Of Ditko and The Creativity Of Ditko are here : http://srbissette.com/?p=7553 and here : http://srbissette.com/?p=15764 , respectively. All of his commentary is essential reading for those concerned with these matters, and proves, once again, what a latecomer to the party your humble (and occasionally humbled) author here today is.

Finally, one more name to be added to the mix here today is that of Dave Sim, legendary creator of Cerebus and a guy who’s never shied away from speaking his mind over the course of his long career. I’ve got plenty of areas of profound disagreement with Mr. Sim on various subjects, sure, but he hits the nail right on the head in this fine review he wrote of the first volume of the Blake Bell-edited Steve Ditko Archives back when it came out in 2008 : http://fourrealities.blogspot.com/2008/09/dave-sim-on-strange-and-stranger.html . I agree with more or less every word Dave writes here — including that Mr. Bell is, indeed, a very nice guy, and has been nothing but honorable with me in our own personal communications. I like Blake Bell a lot. I like the fact that he’s going to be taking an in-depth look at/promoting the Ditko/Synder work vigorously in the introduction of volume four of his Archives series, And I wish he’d done it much earlier.

So if  you want to know the folks who I think have consistently “done right by Ditko” from day one, those are the people I’d mention — Sim, Bissette, Imes, and add the name of veteran comics editor and artist Mort Todd —who’s currently engaged in a very cool project with direct involvement from Ditko himself, — to the list, as well. These are people who either feel so strongly about these important creator’s rights issues that they spoke up about them ages ago. know and care about Steve Ditko , specifically, themselves, or both. Whenever it feels like nobody apart from Robin Snyder has ever advocated for Ditko’s best interests, rest assured — these gentlemen all have, consistently.

Mind

 

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.