Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dave Sim's blogandmail #89 (December 9th, 2006)

For the next two weeks, the Blog & Mail revisits


In honour of Steve Ditko's 80th year coming up in 2007 and in the hopes of drumming up a little business for his post-Marvel work published through Robin Snyder's RSCOMICS.

Order direct from Robin Snyder at

Or write to him at

3745 Canterbury Lane #81, Bellingham, Washington 98225-1186

Saturday December 9 –

Continuing my analysis of Steve Ditko's introductory text piece to the 1973 first issue of the Mr. A comic book:

Some men respect life—theirs and others. Some men abuse life—theirs and others. Most men do both in degrees.

The troubling thing about this, to me, is the flat and vague declaration. It's certainly arresting. I think it took me a good hour to get through the block of text the first time because I kept doubling back to a) make sure that I had actually read what I thought I had just read and b) that I understood what it was that it was saying and c) attempt to determine where and why I either agreed or parted ranks with the sentiment expressed. Definitive Vagueness became a recurrent problem. These three short sentences need to be applied to a specific instance in order to achieve any real level of communication. If what he is saying is that Steve Ditko respects life, his own and others and Stan Lee abuses life, his own and others and that both do both to degrees, it's still too Definitively Vague to tell us anything. How did Steve Ditko respect life and how did Stan Lee abuse life?

The respecters of life seek to fulfill its potential. The abusers of life seek to manipulate, hinder, corrupt, coerce and destroy life. Most men do both!

The means of the respecter is through reason. The end is a life proper for a man—of holding valid values and pursuing productive goals. The means of the abuser is through irrationality. The end is misery and destruction of others and of self. For most, the means is a combination of both and the end is an unsatisfied, empty betrayed life.

It depends on how you look at it (which is the problem which I had with Chester Brown's "Are You A Libertarian?" survey). I'm sure that Stan Lee never saw himself as manipulating, hindering, corrupting, coercing or destroying either life or Steve Ditko or Steve Ditko's career or their collaboration. Stan Lee was the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics and he did what he thought was in the best interests of the company. It was his call to make. Are those "valid" values and "productive" goals? Depends on how you look at it. Nothing succeeds like success. Stan Lee invented the Marvel Method and the more he made use of it and refined it the better the books sold. In the space of a few years, Timely went from a hole-in-the-wall company on the ropes to overtaking Comic Books' Only Superpower, DC. Arguably the method Stan Lee pioneered was more organically in tune with what the comic-book medium was all about—exciting, fast- paced sequential pictures with lots of dramatic narration and dialogue added in afterwards. The cart was finally behind the horse (artists driving the narrative) after two decades of trying to use the horse to push the cart (page by page and panel by panel scripting). What was at issue was really the next step in the debate. Because the Marvel Method was that successful did that mean that the artists should be compensated and credited more extensively? Depends on how you look at it. Presumably a lot of the problem entered in when Stan Lee the editor made a decision in favour of Stan Lee the writer over Steve Ditko the artist (and, again, this seemed to be something that rubbed Jack Kirby's fur the wrong way). They were driving the narrative, sending in their pencilled pages with marginal notes explaining what was going on and with rough dialogue. As a writer, Stan Lee would make the choice to change something. Ditko or Kirby wanted this to be the point of the two pages in the middle and Stan Lee the writer would change it into something else entirely and Stan Lee the editor would back him up on it. I suspect it was more disorienting for Ditko than for Kirby because he was getting the lettered pages (lettered by the great Artie Simek, by the way) back to be inked. Kirby might not find out how his story had changed until he saw it in print because someone else would ink it. Ditko had to sit there and read a different story than the one he had "written". I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of the reason Stan Lee chose to assign George Bell to ink Ditko after a while. It probably was intended to cut down—and likely just postponed—the "what the hell did you do here?" phone calls and was subsequently abandoned both for that reason and because Ditko was just not interested in being inked by someone else.

But, I would doubt that Stan Lee would see himself and the "end" of his choices as an "unsatisfied, empty betrayed life." It depends on what you're looking for from life. Stan Lee seems like a pretty satisfied and happy guy. Which I'm sure was only salt in the wound for Steve Ditko as the two of them proceeded on their collision course.

How a man will live—if he deserves to live—follows from how he uses his faculty of survival: REASON! From the quality of a man's thinking, his actions follow with the inevitable good or bad consequences. Diseased means cannot bring about healthy ends. They must contaminate and poison success, thus making real achievement and worthwhile success impossible.

Again, it depends on how you look at it. If material success is what makes you happy then Stan Lee's was a "real achievement" and a "worthwhile success"—both from his perspective and from the perspective of the vast majority of the members of the society in which he functioned and functions. Most people would see Steve Ditko as a failure because his own post-Marvel work is only available from a one-man publishing operation by mail order and would see Stan Lee as a success because he has a million-dollar a year PR contract from Marvel and has his name on all of their comic books. Since my own situation is a lot more comparable to that of Steve Ditko than that of Stan Lee, I try to hold a balanced perspective on it. I consider myself a success because of my own priorities—ethical integrity and creative and business autonomy—but I'm also aware that I would almost universally be considered (and AM considered) a failure by most conventional measures of success. It depends on how you look at it.

Okay, violating virtually every rule of water-colouring where you're supposed to build from the lightest shades to the darkest, I decided to slap on the solid red. This is one of the reasons that I will never be a great water-colourist: I just don't obey the rules even though I know that they're there for a reason. The part of me that understands that really wants to stick to the rules but there's another part of me that says I'll be able to make better colour choices as soon as I have the huge area of yellow and the huge area of red filled up. Then I just have to figure out what "goes" with them. But colour is really not my thing. To give you an idea of the extent to which that's true, I only own black jeans and black socks so that whatever shirt or sweater I wear is guaranteed to "go" with my pants and socks. I'd probably just own black t-shirts and black sweaters but everyone would just think I was "doing" Neil Gaiman.

Speaking of whom, I got a PERSONAL call from His Neilship's personal assistant, the Fabulous Lorraine yesterday (November 22) telling me that His Neilship has completed his modifications to the #3/50 Lithograph No.1 to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund. She wanted to send it to me, but I told her to send it straight to your friend and mine (unless you're the Friends of Lulu) Charles Brownstein. If I got my hands on it, I'd probably just accidentally put it with my five artist's proof copies signed by Neil and myself and accidentally forget to tell anyone Neil finished it. Check out the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund's website for late-breaking developments as to whether they're going to auction it or raffle it or what. Unless Charles accidentally puts it somewhere and accidentally forgets to tell people it came in.

Anyway, I'm experiencing another unique adjustment to my ordinary routine of producing artwork just because I'm getting these colour photocopies done. Ordinarily I would lay in the flat colour, blanche visibly and then use every trick in the book to cover up the fact that I don't know what I'm doing. But I decided it would look more peculiar if the drippy bridge suddenly appeared fully rendered when all you've gotten up `til now is flat red and flat yellow. So here's a close look at just how incompetent I am when it comes to a flat "muddy brown/tan" colour. I'm already throwing my little Jack Davis colour blobs on there to cover up the fact that I can never figure out how to get a layer of flat colour completely flat (actually, that's not true. All you have to do is to wet the entire area and then brush the colour on smoothly—but I'm always convinced that I can manage it without wetting the area first even though I know that I never have and never will: like I say colour just isn't my thing, even though I eventually have fun doing it when I get to the Jack Davis blobs of colour stage).

Okay, I've actually hit a part in my Mr. A review that will be appropriate for the Sunday Blog & Mail so everyone who never reads the Sunday Blog & Mail now have a choice to make: read it and have to think about morals or not read it and miss a part of the Mr. A review.

Hey, we're talking Steve DITKO here, Bubba.

Either! Or!

Viewers of the website have probably noticed by now that the calendar has been taken down. It turns out that two commissioned pieces a month is going to be a little optimistic over the next while. So, instead, I'm inviting interested individuals to contact me by phone (519.576.0610) to discuss any commission that they are interested in. When you phone, I can let you know what the current high offer is for the next commissioned piece after Dr. Strangeroach is and which I will be beginning probably after Christmas or early in the New Year (so I can get some uninterrupted working time on my secret project and commentaries on Mark). If you want a Gerhard background, you can let me know on the phone and then negotiate with Gerhard separately. The best rule of thumb on a Dave Sim commission is that you will get the best results if you are paying roughly $400 to $600 per figure. That is, a $1,000 commission of Cerebus and Jaka is going to look better than a $1,000 commission of Cerebus, Jaka, the Roach, Lord Julius, Astoria and Konigsberg. If you let me know what you're interested in, I can let you know what part of your picture is going to be the most time-consuming and then leave it up to you as to whether you want to stick to your original request or modify it in order to get more picture for your money.

That number again is 519.576.0610


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.