I’m at the Allen County Public Library getting a geology lesson.
Books lie, he said.
Well, as a well-known giver of relationship I’d say that you should buy a pirate ship say,”hey baby, the sea is calling.” Then shove off while she cries and waves a hanky. You just stare at her wistfully while your crew raises the sails. You’ll disappear over the horizon and she will realize she has made a huge mistake.
Cut to two years later, you return to port with your treasure that you’ve stolen on the high seas. You’re a new man. Cold. Hard. Your skin is like leather from the sun. You have some new scars from quelling an attempted mutiny on your ship.
You look up as you dock your boat. She’s there, looking just as beautiful as the day you left. “I haven’t left. I’ve waited for you every day since you left.”
You don’t say a word as you step off your ship into the dock. You approach her, staring into her eyes. Your lips are mere centimeters from hers.
A tear falls down her cheek.
You grab her by the waist and begin to whisper:
"I boned all the mermaids. All of them."
Then you walk away to the end of the dock and dive into the water. Mermaids swim to meet you and you make out with all of them. They are topless of course because they are mermaids. It’s actually a pretty gross display of public nudity. Really unsettling because, I mean, mermaids are part fish. Is this bestiality?
Who knows, man. Not me.
Please write me these kinds of questions.
Ben Nichols of Lucero cut a solo album about my favorite novel, Blood Meridian. My brother informed me of it yesterday, and I’ve already listened to it four times, and it made me restart the novel again.
I don’t know that Nichols captures the atmosphere of the book (nor should he bound to it), but I think he captures each of the characters and the bleakness of their lives.
This past weekend Ben Tiede and I went to the triennial Festival of Cartoon Arts, which is an academic conference for comic and cartoon studies. It was genuinely one of the most wonderful weekends I’ve had in a very long time.
The library itself houses an estimated 200-300,000 pieces of cartoon and comic art (that’s a pretty huge margin, but there are literally thousands and thousands of pieces they have received but have not cataloged), and the new gallery is going to be rotating exhibits every three to four months.
This weekend, some of the guests included: Jeff Smith, Paul Pope, Eddie Campbell (who was there doing research for his next project), Stephan Pastis, Dave Kellett, Patrick McDonnell, Hilary Price, Jaime Hernandez, and Gilbert Hernandez. Derf was also there, but he wasn’t an official guest; he was just walking around, but he did have a strip up in the gallery.
The gallery was incredible (I teared up twice), and the speakers were outstanding. There were also a whole lot of really great people there: academics, creators, fans (or some combination of the three).
Best of all: I got to meet Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. During their talk, Beto said that he thought Jaime was one of the 10 best comics artists ever. When I met up with them out side, I told Gilbert I thought he was selling Jaime short. I said Jaime’s one of the 5 best. Gilbert paused for a minute, and then agreed. Jaime just kinda shrugged his shoulders and nodded. For whatever reason, being able to meet and say that to him was a big deal to me—it’s not often we get to meet our heroes and tell them what we really think.
Anyway, it was an incredible weekend, and if you’re able to travel to Ohio State University, you must go to the Cartoon Library and Museum. It’s really a treasure.
Here’s a Flickr photo set from the weekend and the gallery. I’m no Dave Mathis or Chris Neseman, so the photos are of questionable quality, but you get the idea of the breadth and quality of this first exhibition.
Today is Steve Ditko’s birthday, and if I don’t write something about it, I’ll regret it. I thought about publishing one or more of my papers that I’ve written about him, but I’m saving those for revisions and a later book. Instead, I thought I would offer something a little bit different…perhaps less scholarly but no less sincere. A little over a year ago, I wrote another blog about Ditko, and I’ve revised it for today.
There are less than a handful of known photographs of Steve Ditko. If you do a Google search, you’ll come up with two, maybe three. This scarcity is largely to do with his reclusive nature: a proclivity that many find strange. I think this scarcity speaks to a much more important issue.
I don’t care that Ditko likes to remain reclusive. It’s none of my business, firstly. Secondly, who am I to make demands of him? He owes me nothing. Perhaps Ditko is right, allowing himself to be photographed and physically in the public eye may give others an undeserved sense of possession over his being. The public regularly displays an unearned sense of entitlement, which I’m sure can be more than an annoyance. Men like Jack Kirby and Will Eisner often gave interviews and made public appearances, and those extra contributions that they made were valuable. Without those interviews, our understanding of the world of comics would be less complete. That being true, there is a significant difference between the actions of Eisner, Kirby, and others and those of a carnival barker who seeks public adoration in order to prop up a flimsy sense of celebrity. To be sure, Steve Ditko does not fall into the latter category. His reclusive nature is not based on a sense of paranoia; it’s based on a sense of dignity.
The important issue is that this man, this hero, this legend quietly, without flare, co-created one of the greatest icons in American and, indeed, global culture: Spider-Man. Stan Lee created the name, but it was Ditko who created everything that mattered for the character. It was Ditko’s design and story telling sense that taught us that it didn’t matter who was under that mask and those tights. For thirty-eight beautiful issues and one annual, the reader is Spider-Man. After Ditko left, the dynamic of the character changed dramatically. It changed so much that I would go so far as to suggest he became a different character entirely once John Romita took over the book, but I digress. On Ditko’s watch, Spider-Man could have been, and was designed to be, anyone under that mask—regardless of race, physical appearance, or physical shortcoming. We were Spider-Man and he was us. Ditko continued Peter Parker’s growth beyond the pages of Spider-Man, disguising Parker with names like Ted Kord, Vic Sage, and Rex Graine. And in continuing that growth, he created the first Romantic epic in comics and radically changed the way comics would be approached for the next four decades.
Through Ditko’s sense of what a hero is and his story telling, we learned that what makes Spider-Man a hero is not his costume, not his powers, not his gadgets, not his aunt and uncle, nor his snappy sayings and wit. In no place is this clearer than in the first eight pages of issue #33 of Amazing Spider-Man. The preceding issues in that arc are wonderful, but it is #33 that gives us the truest sense of what makes Parker a hero: his heart.
Ditko created this understanding. He created it and asked nothing of the readers in return. He didn’t ask for our love, he didn’t demand that we pay attention to him by giving countless interviews, and he didn’t create a faux carnival barker-like public persona. He created this understanding by producing. His work stood on its own and still does. His work impacted and empowered generations without so much as a public appearance in over twenty-five years and without an interview in over forty. He has asked nothing of us.
Heroically, Steve Ditko is a quiet producer. He only asks that others offer the same level integrity that he offers in his own work, and that his work stand on its own. As a result, his work has shaped generations. It has shaped generations while he sits back, still quietly producing new work only because it matters to him. If that work should catch the public’s attention, then so be it. If it does not capture public attention, then so be it. It is only about the craft of sequential art and story telling to him; it’s the medium he finds empowering and that has given life to his unique voice. He is one of the few men of his generation who got into comics for the sake of comics, not because he wanted to work in animation or advertising. He loves the medium, and we are the direct benefactors of that love.
One does not need to invent a carnival barker-like persona to capture the public’s often fleeting attention and have an impact. There’s another way. That way is to produce and to do so honestly and without apology. We don’t need thousands of photographs of Ditko. We don’t need dozens of interviews with him. We don’t need to have him make a cameo every time Spider-Man appears on television or in a film. We don’t need those things because they are hollow and would be reflective of an empty man who has nothing more to offer than a dishonest legacy. What we need is the honest legacy of Ditko: the man who produced.