Friday, December 15, 2006

Dave Sim's blogandmail #94 (December 14th, 2006)

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

Thursday December 14 -

It was interesting to me, in the sense of "downright peculiar" that the Marvel Masterworks Dr. Strange volume ends with issue 141. There are only 35 Steve Ditko-illustrated Dr. Strange stories: Strange Tales #110, 111, 114 to 146. If you reprint those 35 stories, you have the complete Steve Ditko Dr. Strange. So why omit five of them? Conversely, why reprint up to issue 168 in the Essential volume? Am I just paranoid, or do I smell Marvel Legal Department here? Are these two sides of the same coin, both meant to diminish the importance of Steve Ditko to Dr. Strange if there's a movie in the works? No way to say for certain. But it is unfortunate since those last five issues really get better and better in terms of Steve Ditko's drawing abilities. 141 looks as if it was shot from really bad stats, but 142 has a crystal-sharp clarity that left me more than a little agog at the confidence of his brush work coupled with his pen work. I go back and forth between thinking he does some of it with pen and thinking he does all of it with brush, alternating thin lines and thick lines. In black and white, it's pretty apparent —in a way that it isn't in colour—that he's only working with two or three densities of line and he knows exactly how to integrate them and to spot his blacks on the run (between Spider-man and Dr. Strange he must have been producing upwards of thirty fully inked pages in a given month). It really jumped out at me because I had somehow convinced myself that he had been dogging it a bit as he came to the end of his collaboration with Stan Lee but I think now that was probably sour grapes on my part. When I knew there was to be no more Ditko after Spider-man 38 and Strange Tales 146, I had half-convinced myself it was all for the best since he wasn't at the top of his game. No, he was very much at the top of his game—and still climbing. The backgrounds were getting more detailed, instead of less detailed, the compositions were getting more fully integrated with the rest of the page. "Andy Yanchus could had a field day with these," I remember thinking.

The other thing I noticed about the last year's worth of strips was the evolving credits. Whereas previously the script was credited to Stan Lee and the illustrations to Steve Ditko, issue 135 debuted a new approach: "written and edited by Stan Lee, plotted and illustrated by Steve Ditko". Clearly someone had had a chat with someone else about what they, respectively, were doing here. This credit form continued through issue 138. Issues 139 and 140 suddenly switched back to "Script by Stan Lee, Art by Steve Ditko." Issue 141 (the last one reprinted in the Masterworks volume) features the credit "Dialogue and captions: Stan Lee, Plot and Artwork: Steve Ditko". No mention of editing. The more noticeable difference occurs in the lead-off caption for "Those Who Would Destroy Me" (a significant title in itself?) in issue 142 where the "edited and written" and "plotted and drawn" credits have been restored:

For the benefit of those who came in late: Dr. Strange (the good guy) has just defeated Dormammu (the bad guy) in combat! But before he can return home, three more baddies hide a bomb in Doc's Greenwich Village pad! Cleverly they make it a plain everyday tick-tock bomb, with nothing mystical about it, so Doc's magic powers don't react to it! And now, you know as much as we do! (which isn't hard!)

It's only reading the stories right through in succession that causes the text to stand out by contrast. It's Stan Lee's high ironic, quasi-hipster prose which he used in addressing the reader directly (baddies, Doc, tick-tock bomb) and which he used in all of the Marvel super-hero titles except (why had I never noticed this before?) Dr. Strange! This is the first time that he isn't playing it straight. Are the two facts related in some way? It seems to me that something was up, because this is the last issue for the pure Lee/Ditko collaboration. The following issue, 144, "With None Beside Me!" (another significant title?) is credited as "edited and rehashed by Stan Lee, written and rewritten by Roy Thomas, Plotted and drawn by Steve Ditko" then 145 is "edited by Stan Lee, scripted by Dennis O'Neil, drawn by Steve Ditko" and the final issue, 146 ("The End—At Last!") is edited by Stan Lee, penciled and inked by Steve Ditko and scripted by Dennis O'Neil.

Ditko knew he was leaving. He does his level best in the final instalment to wrap everything up with a climactic battle between Dormammu and Eternity where Dormammu is destroyed (it was a nice try, anyway: death was no more permanent in Marvel Comics in the mid 1960s than it is today) and Clea—who is finally identified by name—gets released from her other-dimensional prison. Cataclysm was the order of the day.

With Stan Lee's notoriously porous memory and Steve Ditko's reluctance to revisit the sequence of events that led to his departure from Marvel, we'll probably never know the story behind those evolving credit lines. For all I know it had more to do with Stan Lee withdrawing from universal Marvel scripter duties (was Dr. Strange the first feature that he withdrew from?) as the Marvel Universe continued to mushroom in scope and population. On the other hand, that might be the answer to why the Masterworks volume only reprints through issue 141. Maybe that was Stan Lee's call and, remembering the dispute over credits determined that the small ending on 141 was the place where Lee/Ditko actually came to an end in his mind. "Let's leave the Roy Thomas and Denny O'Neil stuff out of it". Maybe Denny O'Neil has something to contribute to the discussion since he was obviously there when it was taking place. Did Stan Lee give him any special instructions about collaborating with Ditko or indicate in any way what had been going on in their nearly three-year long collaboration? Did Ditko communicate anything, or just send in his pages? And did "scripted" mean that the Marvel Method had been abandoned. Had Ditko been demoted from "plotted and drawn" to "pencilled and inked"—presented with a Roy Thomas script or Denny O'Neil script and told to stick to it?

I guess we'll never know.

Sure was fun revisiting the question, anyway.

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

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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.