Posts Tagged ‘Rob Imes’

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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.