Dave Sim's blogandmail #88 (December 8th, 2006)
Friday December 8 –
Getting a very early 6 am start today so—since Sherwood doesn't open til around 9 am—it looks as if we're actually going to start with Mr. A, today, instead of trying to work him in around the periphery of the Dr. Strangeroach commissioned piece. I never actually bought Mr. A when it came out but this first issue was definitely the first conscious awareness I had of the character even though I had already been going through my initial indoctrination into the whole underground comics phenomenon (which was actually about to collapse rapidly in 1973 when this collected Mr. A was published because of that year's US Supreme Court decision on pornography and the wide-ranging crackdown on head shops) and was a fanzine veteran of at least three years' standing. So it took me by surprise to read in Joe Brancatelli's editorial that
Mr. A's appearance here is not his first. He has been a huge part of the comic fandom underground for many years. He's appeared in many amateur comic art magazines, those lucid journals of opinion published covertly by comic fans. Among others, Mr. A has appeared in Witzend, The Comic Crusader, The Collector, Guts and Graphic Illusions.
If I saw him in any of those—and Wally Wood's Witzend is the only one I can visualize mentally although I knew about Martin Greim's Comic Crusader—I blanked out the memory at some point. The splash page definitely drops us into the deep end of the Steve Ditko swimming pool right off the top with a large block of typewritten text.
Any man who claims the right to another's efforts or life automatically renounces the concept of rights, and their protection of his right to his own legitimate efforts and life.
A claim to a contradiction—or wanting it both ways at the same time—is a wish for the irrational to come true, the impossible to become possible. It is a confession of a wish to live in a fake, unreal world, and it can only be attempted by holding and acting on an ANTI-LIFE PREMISE!
Was I alone in thinking that Ditko was here discussing his relationship with the comic-book field in general and Marvel Comics and Stan Lee in particular? That was certainly how I read it at the time and I'm not sure that it isn't too far wrong—that Steve Ditko was attempting to address the nascent issues of creator's rights in light of his own experiences collaborating with Stan Lee who had the full weight of editorial fiat on his side of the equation. Put another way, it was the experience of Howard Roarke the architect in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (or Atlas Shrugged—I apologize that I always confuse the two) acted out in the somewhat narrower confines of the comic-book field which would have suggested the whole thing was a tempest in a teapot relative to the Ayn Randian archetype of the Exceptional Individual Versus Unenlightened Capitalism. In 1964-65 when the whole Lee/Ditko collaboration was unravelling it would have been ludicrous to suggest that a comic-book illustrator would have a valid analogous claim to that of Roarke. Architecture was up there on the Big Board whereas drawing comic books was, well, just drawing comic books. Had you suggested to Ayn Rand that there was a validity to the analogue, I suspect she would have dismissed it out of hand. A comic-book artist in her frames of reference would have been seen as having as much application to The Grand Scheme of Things as, say, a janitor. And yet, in Big Board terms you can't get much bigger in the twenty-first century than a film franchise that grosses a billion dollars (as the Spider-man franchise allegedly has) and which, consequently, in the fullness of time reverses the roles. An architect being small potatoes when compared to the number one movie franchise in today's frames of reference.
The problem with so much of what Ditko is trying to say or appears to be trying to say with Mr. A is that it isn't lucid in any conventional literary sense, which in many ways just makes it all the more compelling. How does an artist successfully plead his case against a writer? You can certainly sense the outrage implicit in what Ditko is saying, sense the injustice which has been perpetrated against him but—as with the case of Gene Day—the company is always going to be in the right because that's the way the game is constructed: Stan Lee was Mr. Inside, the publisher's nephew, Steve Ditko was Mr. Outside, the freelancer. We have no way of knowing if Stan Lee made any efforts to accommodate Ditko but we are certainly aware that there was a germination taking place which suggested that the Marvel Style of comic-book creation was making use of the artists as the primary storytellers and that Stan Lee's job was just to write appropriate word balloons and captions after the story had already been told. Jack Kirby essentially had the same beef when it came to acknowledgement and compensation. The problem was further compounded in the fact that Stan Lee's eloquence tended to abandon him completely when it came to the real world. He obviously heard the criticisms but never had much to say about them either publicly or (so far as we know) privately. Presumably his salary was going up as the senior company man below the executive level. In the 1960s there weren't a lot of precedents for such largesse to spread downward through the chain of command to the hoi polloi and you couldn't get more hoi polloi in the context of the time than a freelance artist.
But there is definitely an over-the-top Ayn Rand quality to suggesting that anyone possessing those idiosyncratic traits exhibited by Stan Lee as company man, as Mr. Inside, meant that he "automatically renounces the concept of rights and their protection of his right to his own legitimate efforts and life" and it's hard imagine, as an example, any court of law sharing that view even in our own degraded age of Advanced Victimology as Lifestyle.
How about that? A whole day's instalment of the Blog & Mail and I'm not even halfway through the introductory text piece to the 1973 Mr. A comic—and Sherwood won't be open for another HOUR yet!
Tomorrow: More Mr.A!
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