Dave Sim's blogandmail #99 (December 19th, 2006)
Only Four Days Left
Until the Final Offer for the next
Commissioned piece is accepted
Is there any better news than finding out that there are no Committee Agendas waiting for you on the counter at City Hall because there are no Committee meetings until next week? None that I can think of. So I'm putting pedal to the metal to get a bunch more of these done now that I've picked up the mail for the week of December 4. I actually put in three full days on my secret project last week, so Lead Time is King around here right now. Let's see if I can get completely caught up on the mail before lights out.
Before I do that I should mention that I got a phone call from Greg Theakston of Pure Imagination—which has published at least three collections of Steve Ditko's work that I'm aware of—in response to my lead-off piece on Steve Ditko and the possible/possibly- not existence of black magic. Greg told me that the Blog & Mail got linked to a Ditko discussion group and that he was interested to read what I had to say. He also said that I seemed to know what I was talking about when it comes to black magic which isn't really true as far as I can see. My own view is that you can't know about black magic without participating in black magic so I've always avoided anything that could be described as research because, to me, research is participation. I was of the same mind when I was an atheist, oddly enough. I reckoned I had enough tar babies in my life without going looking for any more (particularly on a larger scale). I spoke warily with Greg on the subject, not having any idea if he was way over in Alan Moore territory and was fishing to find out if I was, too.
He then suggested that black magic is very real as far as he's concerned and he cited an example: a woman who had had a very bad day at work and had a splitting headache and went home and her daughter was singing and the woman said to her daughter, Cut out that singing, and the daughter did and never sang another note for thirty-five years. He suggested that examples like that (except for the thirty-five years part) are ubiquitous in our society. Well, I could see what he was saying (power of suggestion and all—and it doesn't take a psychic to pick up on the fact that much if not most communication in our society is from the black/negative end of the spectrum) but I wasn't sure how deeply into his parable I was intended to go. Usually I tackle these things literally, so thirty-five years takes us back to 1971 or roughly the time period of Mr. A (give or take a year). The daughter could be Steve Ditko and his response to the comic-book field's (the mother's?) response to Mr. A. It isn't exactly true that he hasn't sung in thirty-five years—he's been very productive in the last ten for an "indy" creator—but it is true that we haven't seen a whole lot of Mr. A in that time. If that was the point of Greg Theakston's parable, I can't say that that moves it outside of my own construct. If off-putting negative verbalization is a species of black magic or (another possibility) the essence of black magic, then by virtue of working on Doctor Strange Master of Black Magic Steve Ditko might have sown the seeds of Mr. A's own destruction, sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind—however inadvertently and I assume it was completely inadvertent—of what had been implanted (at least partly) by him in the mass mind of the then largely adolescent Comic Book Nation, triggering a kind of psychic or spiritual recoil effect by attempting to countermand the power of suggestion implied within and by "Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic"—black magic can be used for good purposes if you are one of its two or three greatest practitioners—through the countervailing thematic psychic or spiritual currents implied within and by Mr. A—good is good and evil is evil and you can't make use of something which is evil for a good purpose. The maturing adolescent minds, arguably, were appalled to cross the latter track while continuing to pursue the former one and at some deep level recognized that the latter track posed a threat to the former track (which is thematically resonant with what troubled the mass comic-book mind about Mr. A in the first place: you have to choose—Dr. Strange or Mr. A). It's a kind of precursor analogue to Who Watches the Watchmen?: i.e. Who Punishes the Punishers? If you reach the core of a mass mind the answer you are apt to get at all levels from the fictional to the spiritual is a vehement We Do! Followed by an act of spiritual or moral violence which is arguably what happened to Steve Ditko's Mr. A. He was expelled from comic books for not being discreet about what all the costumed heroes were already doing: beating crap out of the bad guys on their own extra-legal initiative. Dr. Strange, on the other hand, has been perennially welcomed home by the mass comic-book mind (for? even though? while?) continuing to advance the view that black magic can be used for good purposes. I'm not sure if the "singing daughter" parable Greg Theakston has presented is intended to be Steve Ditko or Mr. A (or both, at different levels) but I would argue that the answer is to keep singing if there's some larger purpose afoot in your doing so than mere entertainment. Obviously if someone has a splitting headache and you're singing just for the sake of singing then you should probably stop at least for the duration of the headache. If, on the other hand, your singing is in service to what you see as a larger purpose and you suspect that the headache is potentially just a deus ex machina which is intended to keep you from benefiting whatever you see your singing as being in benefit of (and assuming as I always do that Steve Ditko wouldn't do anything creatively unless he thought it was benefit of some Larger Good, however mistaken he might prove to be), then I think you might have to take the hard option and keep singing.
After "literally" I usually go for "extrapolation" and calculate backwards by a comparable time period and see what that does: 1971 minus 35 years or 1936. So, roughly contemporaneous with the dawn of the comic-book field itself, certainly the cusp of the innovation of material being produced exclusively for comic books as distinguished from the reprinting of comic strips. It's an interesting idea if you consider it in its larger sense. What has dominated comic books for their entire seventy-year history? Good guys beating crap out of bad guys (March is the seventieth anniversary of the debut of Siegel and Shuster's "Slam Bradley" in the first issue of Detective Comics). What did everyone get bent out of shape about halfway between then and now? Steve Ditko doing a strip about a good guy beating crap out of bad guys. I mean, it's interesting in the sense that all Steve Ditko really did with Mr. A was to make what was the overriding motif of super-hero comics—vigilantism—into a moral and political theme and to call attention to it as a philosophy. I'm not sure that The Batman's governing philosophy wouldn't be altogether different from that of Mr. A if you could ever get it down on paper. The only difference was that we never got to (or get to) see the public reaction that would result if a Batman scripter cared to examine the subject. Last night Batman put three guys in hospital. Okay, let's bring in the doctor and get him to make the call. Was excessive force used? I would maintain that it depends on how much of a liberal you are. The three guys were pulling a heist at a diamond merchant's. In today's politically correct climate, the fact that the crooks felt compelled to steal diamonds would just be seen as an example of how society had let them down so that they had been reduced to that. The real enemy would be the guy who, by trafficking in diamonds, was supporting the worst aspects of African slave labour and that he deserved to be ripped off in turn. Batman would just be seen as a thug oppressing the downtrodden for his own paternalistic ego gratification. The guys pulling the heist didn't need the crap beaten out of them, they needed to be given a group hug and some social assistance and understanding. I think Steve Ditko was just a little (okay, a lot) ahead of the learning curve in showing what rampant liberalism and a politically-correct media adds up to: Alice in Wonderland Society. I think it's arguable that whatever Batman's interior narration of his life is or was (in a fictional character sense) it couldn't be that far from Mr. A or he wouldn't be doing the things that he's doing: basically combining detective, judge, jury and "punisher" into one extra-legal lifestyle.
Of course thirty-five years also takes us back to the dawn of feminism and in that case you could make me the "daughter" singing about what feminism actually is (as I perceive it) and feminists in general as the mother (telling me to knock it off). Of course if they think they're going to keep me from singing for thirty-five years just by telling me to knock it off, dey don't know me vewwy weww, do dey?
I do think that seeing verbalized negativity as the sum total of black magic is probably something that would leave you vulnerable in too many ways to actual black magic—that is, those who genuinely traffic in and who are genuinely consumed with large scale malignancy and (to me, a key point) those who are unaware that they are possessed by malign spirits because, not having prayer or any kind of connection to God, they are just "easy pickings" for the demonic natures floating around (as far as I can see) pretty much everywhere. In my own case, I have never met a person who I was pretty sure was demonically possessed who had the least awareness that that might be the case. To them, they just suddenly got severely honked off about something and just, you know, let fly. Although I will occasionally experience someone where I would catch a momentary glimmer of self-awareness in their eyes ("What am I getting so freaking angry about?") it would usually be gone in the same instant I could see it—and needless to say, suggesting that the root cause is demonic possession is usually a non-starter with such individuals. Mr. Theakston's view was that you defeat black magic by just not allowing it access, by adhering to reality and recognizing when someone is trying to manipulate you to his or her own advantage (the working definition of black magic) with verbalized negativity, to sow doubt within you or to make you feel bad or worthless or (most especially) to provoke you into a display of anger—and then (and I found this innovative) calling them on it: i.e. "You're a terrible (witch/warlock/magician/sorceress)! You're attempting to make my life bad by saying bad things to me or about me but you're doing it in such a transparent and ineffective way that you're just making yourself ridiculous." I certainly endorse that programmatically (it's definitely the approach I've taken with feminism over the last twelve years or so) as far as it goes but, personally, I sure wouldn't want to venture very far out in the world without praying five times a day, observing a Sabbath, acknowledging God's sovereignty, reading Scripture aloud and so on now that I've seen all that there is out there (up close and sulphurous, as it were). I asked him if he wouldn't mind posting his theory to the Yahoo newsgroup and he told me the reason he was phoning to tell it to me was to save himself having to type it. I quite understood. He's obviously on the cutting edge of advanced awareness of the extent to which computers are devouring people's lives by turning them into compulsive typists. As someone who ONLY types the Blog & Mail (i.e. not having bottomless e-mails to deal with on a daily basis) I'm happy to take "one for the team" here. If I paraphrased him badly or misunderstood him completely, I'm sure he'll let me know.
Anyway, I have to say that I was VERY flattered to get a call from THE Greg Theakston who has been a devoted citizen of the Comic Book Nation for as long as I can remember. In fact (I'll date myself here) he even pioneered a process called Theakstonizing which involved leaching the colour out of printed comic book pages in order to make possible the reprinting of comic-book stories—for which no printing plates or stats or film still existed—back in those pre-photoshop days which certainly led those legions of Golden Age devotees like myself to sing his praises morn and night when Theakstonizing was the only way we were going to get to see early Simon and Kirby, as an example.
Not to mention giving me a painless way to fill up this December 19 posting.
Tomorrow: Actually answering the mail, I promise.
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