Friday, November 24, 2006

Dave Sim's blogandmail #74 (November 24th, 2006)

The Mystery of STAROO Revealed!

STAROO is something that I have a lot of pride in: the fact that of the seventeen volumes Aardvark Vanaheim has on the Diamond Star System, eight of them start with the "Double Zero" designation, STAR 00, because they were early additions to the Star System when Diamond was starting it up in the early 90s (the lowest number is the Cerebus TPb which is designated STAR0070!)

Every once in a while, I'm just going to run all of the Diamond order codes for the Cerebus Trades for an entire week.

If you're a retailer, I hope you'll take it as a friendly reminder during "Listing Week" to take a few minutes to go and check your shelves and see if any of the trades are missing and order them from DIAMOND while you're still thinking about it. The Trades sell a lot better when you have them all in stock than they do when there's just volumes 2, 4, 7, 10, 11 and 16 sitting there.

If you're a potential customer I hope you'll use Listing Week to call the Comic Shop Locator Service



and find out where the comic book stores are in your area

and if they don't have a volume you want in stock, you can give them the Star System order code right over the phone!

VOL.1 CEREBUS…………………….STAR0070



VOL.4 CHURCH & STATE II.........STAR00322

VOL.5 JAKAS STORY………….....STAR00359

VOL.6 MELMOTH…........................STAR00431

VOL.7 FLIGHT……………………..STAR00543

VOL.8 WOMEN…………………….STAR00849

VOL.9 READS………………………STAR01063

VOL.10 MINDS……………………..STAR01916

VOL.11 GUYS………………………STAR06972



VOL.14 FORM & VOID…………..STAR13500




The book—we're discussing Steve Ditko's 160 Page Package if you're tuning in late—is a mixed bag but I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. It's very hard—and always has been—very hard to see what it is that Steve Ditko sees or what it is, specifically, that he's trying to communicate and I suspect that that's because so much of his work centers on (or appears to center on) the profound level of self-deception which most people perpetrate against themselves, the intrinsic level of dishonesty and the consequences of that. And that's a difficult vein to mine—as I can attest—because there is a nearly automatic hall of mirrors quality that kicks in for the reader. "He's talking about me" and an immediate consequence of withdrawal and resentment. "I'm not really like that and even if I am like that what business is it of his and who is he to pass judgement on me" etc. etc. Woody Allen experienced the same thing with Stardust Memories. The closer you get to absolute accuracy the more offensive the vast majority of people are going to find what you are saying. He attempts to stay within the confines of genre most of the time in what appears to be an attempt to retain the comic-book genre fan. The super-hero or science fiction elements are the bait and Ditko's perceptions are the hook. The more obscure the metaphors, as on "Faces" or "The Animal" or "Starters" or "Starter and Finisher" or "Lift My Veil" or "Shocker" the further he gets away from something that can be appreciated in a strictly comic-fan populist sense and the more he begins to resemble Kafka in combining otherworldliness with an archetypal template open to wide interpretation: "I can see that Ditko sees the subject of this story as archetypal, but what is the archetype exactly?" And, of course, the less sharply clarified the archetype, the more accurate it is and the more sharply clarified, the less accurate it is—Orwell's Animal Farm wouldn't be the classic of its type that it has come to be if the metaphors were more sharply clarified into specific communist analogues or specific fascistic analogues, as an example. But the borderlands shift uneasily around all suppositions when you move beyond the universally acclaimed work like Animal Farm or Kafka's The Trial and into the area of their less universally acclaimed works. There it becomes permissible to ask: is this actually a less sharply clarified archetype or just a badly-done story? And there everything circles back to the fact that everyone is aware of the high level of integrity—in every sense of the term—that Orwell and Kafka…and, yes, Ditko…brings to his work.

There is no such thing as a throwaway story. If Steve Ditko sat down and wrote and drew it, it is because he had something he specifically wanted to say. Even his choice of words and phrasing is obviously laboured over in order to get as close as he can to what it is that he is trying to communicate. And then there's a story like "The Blinder" which is one of the best stories in the volume visually, in my opinion, and the best at making use of the costumed protagonist archetype. Except in this case, the costumed protagonist is actually a criminal who is undone by…well, you'd really have to read it for yourself. What is it that Ditko is trying to tell me through this story? I've re-read it twice just trying to get a handle on it. The otherworldliness—both in layouts and designs—that he brought to the table with Dr. Strange has crept into his dialogue and his narration. In several places he has contracted the iconic comic-book curseword (!@#%!) into a single icon (#). Can you do that? He just did.

There are two entries from Ditko's "Avenging World" canon which point up the difference with the rest of this collection in that the title page is composed of the classic Mr. A dichotomies and intermediary dichotomies which (we all assume, perhaps wrongly) reflect Ditko's own beliefs. Most of the pieces here are far less direct than that, far more narratives which illustrate the consequences of choice rather than the choices themselves. "If…Then" is particularly good in this regard, combining a texture/contour means of inking that I've never seen Ditko do before with a narrative that intrudes upon the otherworldly but only at the story's climax and with a mystical narrator cut from the classic Mr. A/The Question cloth. Steve Ditko, irrefutably, is a very literate man and yet his phrasing in places is awkward to the point of incomprehensibility. "The `No!' Because one didn't want to know!" is the concluding line of dialogue in "If…Then". It is as if the story itself has come from another world and couldn't wait until "End" to get back there. What is it that Ditko is trying to tell me through this story?

"The Void vs. Burner" is the best in terms of conventional expectations, having a sort of combined Spider-man and Doctor Strange flavour to it and was the story that made me want to devote a couple of days of the Blog & Mail to this remarkable artist/writer, particularly with my agreement to do Sean M.'s Dr. Strangeroach commission. This is the sort of pure Ditko narrative that makes me want to participate IN Ditko, even as I realized that that's an inherently false ambition when you are talking about someone who is scrupulously fully integrated in and within himself and his self-chosen context. What would Ditko even think of the idea of a "jam"? Presumably it would be just another false trail of the many that he's had to avoid, another means of the outside world attempting to lead him astray. And even if he could be persuaded what could I do? No one else can do Ditko layouts quite the way Ditko does them; no one draws people the way Ditko draws them; no one inks the way Ditko inks. All a collaborator can do is obscure what is there and there are few things that could be considered more inimical to what Steve Ditko represents in our field than to do anything to obscure his pure expression.


If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Station C
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2

Looking for a place to purchase Cerebus phonebooks? You can do so online through Win-Mill Productions -- producers of Following Cerebus. Convenient payment with PayPal:

Win-Mill Productions

Or, you can check out Mars Import:

Mars Import

Or ask your local retailer to order them for you through Diamond Comics distributors.