grid Ken Parille Steve Ditko

Steve Ditko and the Comic-Book People

Comedian e-book fans want something from me . . . I don’t need something from them.
— Steve Ditko, 2013.

All [editors] ever need is a half-assed reprint of the story you did for them final week. . . . avoid all the comedian individuals before they make you as uninteresting and repetitive as they’re.
— Steve Ditko, 1977.

Prologue: Comicdom Assembled?

In 1978 Steve Ditko contributed a curious illustration to the San Diego Comicon’s program booklet:

Steve Ditko © 1978.

Shown in define, an artist leans over his drawing desk, exhausting at work on a page of comic-book art. But before he can finish a couple of panels, almost thirty figures storm the page, disturbed and angered by what they see. Some grip their foreheads in disbelief, others increase their fists in righteous indignation. A number of deliver a more aggressive type of critique: one steals the artist’s inking brush, another shoves his pencil via the art, while others bend the page and set it on hearth.

Followers sometimes collect at conventions like the San Diego Comicon to have fun the medium they love and artists they admire. Ditko conjures up an altogether totally different type of con: enraged fan-boys (and maybe a fan-girl) convene solely to attack his work. In the upper-left, he indicators the art “regards.” Is he joking? How can he have any regard for a mob out to destroy his artwork?

Together with comics fans, business professionals attend comedian conventions — and Ditko’s not so keen on them, either. In comics and essays he rails towards the type of “comic people” he derisively calls “handlers.” Throughout a comic book’s production, they “handle” (which for Ditko meant “ruin”) pages after the artist submits them. In the Comicon drawing, figures with the brush and pencil evoke handlers who, to be able to align a comic book with the writer’s dictates, usurp the artist’s position by erasing or redrawing art or by including parts corresponding to sound effects without regard for the artist’s compositions. By 1978, Ditko had suffered many years of aggressive mishandling. He cared immensely about his work’s “integrity” (a key time period in the Ditko lexicon) however most editors and publishers had no such lofty considerations. They believed that, since they paid for the pages, they might do what they needed to them. An editor’s objective was to not create “art”: it was to please readers and promote comics.

In Ditko’s anti-con, indignant followers and incompetent handlers unite towards him and his work. Is anybody courageous enough to dissent from mob rule? Perhaps the individual sitting calmly atop the chair can see the scene from Ditko’s perspective. In contrast to the others, he appreciates visionary comics. Or perhaps he’s just ready for the proper moment to hitch the fray.

I. What Followers and Handlers Need.

All through his essays, correspondence, and comics, Ditko dramatized his difficult relationships with all types of comic-book individuals. At occasions he reached out, asking questions or inviting letters a few comedian:

“Letters and comments are welcome.” From Charlton Action #11. Steve Ditko © 1985.

Though he hadn’t given an interview or attended a convention since the 1960s, by the time of his dying at 90 in 2018 he had responded to hundreds of fan letters and carried on decades-long correspondences with many readers. But, since the 1960s, he had additionally recurrently directed his ire towards fans and professionals. Using his distinctive Ditko-esque vocabulary, he mocked what he referred to as “fan knowers” and “Anti-Ditkos.” He derided handlers who ruined his art and editors who claimed credit score (and royalties) for ideas and characters he created.

Craven handlers worry fandom’s rebuke. From “Laszlo’s Hammer.” Steve Ditko © 1992.

He condemned fans (and fannish professionals) who, indignant he wouldn’t give interviews, invented stories about his life. He had little interest in readers who anticipated him to be thankful for their affection for characters he created many years earlier and had lengthy since stopped caring about. In lots of letters, fans assumed he’d fortunately autograph a Physician Unusual comedian or ship them a Spider-man drawing (he created the former and co-created the latter). Whether politely or brusquely, he all the time declined. Ditko had moved on. They hadn’t.

Ditko mocks the greed and negativity of fans. From “Fan-man and Fan-boy.” A Ditko Act three. Steve Ditko © 2010.

Readers needed, or as Ditko felt, wanted him to face nonetheless artistically, to ceaselessly be the artist he was in 1963, creating typical character- and plot-centric fantasy genre comics. He ceaselessly regretted that, of the numerous “S-m fans,” only a few have been “Ditko-Fans.” His mainstream post-Spider-man and Physician Strange comic-book collection resembling The Hawk and The Dove, The Creeper, and Shade The Changing Man never made it past a handful of points. He blamed readers and their nostalgia-driven worry of innovation.

Handlers go after Ditko. From “Laszlo’s Hammer.” Steve Ditko © 1992.

Ditko knew his political and stylistic approaches upset comic-book editors and fans. When he worked in the mainstream comics business, the product was aimed toward younger readers. However in the late 1960s, sad together with his audience and business limitations, he started to launch philosophical and formally creative comics with unbiased publishers, lots of whom gave him full inventive management and possession.

“In 1970 . . you changed . . . . why? . . . WE HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW.” From “The Celebrity.” #16: Sixteen. Steve Ditko © 2012.

Irritating fans and publishers who needed predictable comics, he began translating Ayn Rand’s ideas into superhero and crime tales whose pages typically featured more words and ideas than comics individuals have been used to. At a moment when mainstream comic books began to embrace flawed heroes, he insisted on portraying solely idealized protagonists:

“Now the trend is toward antiheroes!” “H Series.” Steve Ditko © 1972.

He believed that if his comics didn’t converse to readers’ wishes — in the event that they weren’t all the time acquainted action-oriented escapist tales — then that was on them.

Towards this mire of fan expectation, Ditko created heroes who elevated themselves past the public’s reach. Upright superheroes like Mr. A., The Question, and Static are Ditko’s comic-book alter-egos. Laws unto themselves, they’re ubermenschen much more fascinating — and much more Nietzschean of their method — than a milquetoast youngsters’ caped crusader like Superman. A typical Superman story ended with the villain subdued, in jail, or banished to the Phantom Zone. However when Static runs right into a gang of criminals, it’s not sufficient to defeat them. In a scene too violent to satisfy the “Comics Code” — a set of child-friendly restrictions once embraced by most mainstream publishers — he weapons them down and strikes on.

“Sure, I always believe my enemies.” From Steve Ditko’s Static. Steve Ditko © 1988.

Ditko was an arch satirist who never uninterested in mocking these he saw as backward-looking, grasping fans and inept, uncreative handlers. (It’s not shocking that someone so important of comic-book individuals would identify one other of his alter-egos “The Mocker.”) In the graphic novel Static, the uncompromising protagonist defeats those that need to know what isn’t theirs to know and take what isn’t theirs to take. To comic-book individuals, Ditko stated no.

“I have what I want. Freedom!  . . . Free to say ‘no ‘ to you and to go my own way.” From Steve Ditko’s Static. Steve Ditko © 1988.

II. Ditko Edited / Un-Edited: “The Exploder,” a Case Research.

One solution to respect Ditko’s unbiased work and the challenges it introduced readers and handlers is to take a look at variations of “The Exploder” that have been revealed beneath totally different editorial circumstances. “The Exploder” is one among three Static tales that originally appeared in Eclipse Month-to-month, an early 1980s anthology containing work by lots of the era’s most necessary writers and artists. Several months after the comic appeared in challenge #2, Eclipse Comics founder and editor Dean Mullaney printed three readers’ letters in concern #4 that criticized Ditko’s dialogue. In a lengthy response to at least one letter, Mullaney articulated his editorial philosophy and recounted conversations he had with Ditko about modifying his comics. He recalled that after receiving Ditko’s penciled and scripted art pages for “The Exploder,” he was especially sad with the fifth web page. Believing its dialogue “excessive,” he informed Ditko he needed to cut a big amount of textual content and have him draw “additional art” in areas where balloons and dialogue had been. Based on Mullaney, Ditko “believed the story worked best the way he had originally written it and asked me to restore the page to its original form. I complied and that is how you read it.” Mullaney then informed Ditko that, in the future, he needed to “edit his scripts into . . . . a more readable form.” Ditko refused, saying he would not publish Static with Eclipse. Though Mullaney regretted the consequence, he felt it mandatory. “The Eclipse method of publishing,” he stated, “is the best.”

In the 1980s, Mullaney was a part of a movement intent on addressing comic’s history of creator mistreatment by giving writers and artists possession of their work and higher inventive freedom: since the 1930s, American comic-book publishers had retained management of characters, ideas, and paintings, and editors routinely — and typically drastically — altered pages without asking artists. Speaking of the edits he requested on page 5, Mullaney distinguished himself from editors at publishers like Marvel and DC: “I did not feel that it is within my right to edit a creator’s work to that extent without permission.” Though forward-looking in some methods, these feedback additionally reassert his editorial prerogative: he wouldn’t want permission to edit in methods he judged less intrusive. Ditko understood that when he worked with production groups that edited without consulting creators, unlucky alterations have been unavoidable. He knew, for example, that whereas lettering “The Exploder,” the letterer would redraw phrase balloons and ignore his indications for their form and placement. “Collaboration,” Ditko typically stated, “means cooperating with an enemy.”

After its Eclipse publication, “The Exploder” appeared in Charlton Action #12 in 1985 and then in several Static collections. These later versions have been edited by Ditko’s longtime-partner Robin Snyder, who took an editorial strategy in contrast to Mullaney’s: he largely left Ditko alone, believing he’d do his greatest work when free from interference. When it comes to art and text, the Snyder-Ditko variations have been created without the kinds of “collaboration” and “handling” present in the preliminary launch. (I’ll call the Eclipse Month-to-month version V1 and later versions V2 — although the story is colored in Charlton Motion #12, all later versions share near-identical text and artwork.) Many readers call V2 a “reprint,” an odd term to use for a comic with Ditko’s new title emblem, new lettering, dramatically totally different punctuation, new word balloons, and numerous artwork and dialogue differences. In comics, “the reprint” is nearly all the time not the definitive version; utilizing this time period for V2 misrepresents the later comic, which must be seen as the authoritative version.

With out analyzing “The Exploder”’s unique artwork pages (which, in the event that they exist, usually are not accessible), it’s onerous for me to say conclusively whether a given difference results from a post-V1 change made by Ditko or from intervention throughout V1’s production. (Even when I might see the pages, some manufacturing selections won’t depart traces; lots of Ditko’s unique art and textual content pencils would have been erased, inked over, and/or coated.) In lots of situations, although, I’m satisfied that V1’s differences from V2 mirror editorial intervention. Whereas V2 depends on approaches Ditko uses throughout his auteur comics, elements of V1 seem so un-Ditko-esque as to virtually definitely be the result of editorial selections that neglect Ditko’s indications and comply with established “collaborative” comic-book practices. In one sense, though, it doesn’t matter when a change was made. Evaluating variations will help us respect the comic-book innovations Ditko employs when free from an editorially-dominated production process, free from handlers who made a comic extra typical, more fan-friendly.

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Though Mullaney says he “restored” page 5 of “The Exploder” “to its original form,” I don’t think that this page, or others in V1, represent the artist’s original vision. When compared to V2, numerous passages seem un-Ditko-esque. Mullaney knew that readers criticized Ditko’s comics as “too wordy” and their dialogue as not “naturalistic.” However as a verbal stylist, Ditko was tired of aping typical speech patterns. In the Static comics and elsewhere, his characters move between unusual modes: in one panel they sound like individuals in a 1940s crime comic, in the next they act like characters in a cerebral Romantic “closet drama.” His marionette-like characters twist and flail impossibly whereas considering Randian aphorisms mid-battle; then they stand motionless and debate philosophical concepts. For me, Ditko’s anti-conventional dialogue is considered one of his great strengths and innovations. But fans and editors typically felt in a different way.

Many V1 passages read as if edited to make the comic easier to digest by eliminating phrases and altering Ditko’s idiosyncratic vocabulary and syntax in favor of generic language. The V1 version of page 5/panel 6 regularizes his wording and complicated sentence buildings while eliminating the hyphenated phrases that he relies on all through his comics, letters, and essays:

V1: “Because I understand that justice serves life, while injustice destroys it.”
V2: “Because I do understand justice, the life-serving, and injustice, the anti-life.”

V1 followed by V2. All Static art is copyright Steve Ditko © 1983 and 1988.

In web page 5’s seventh panel, V2’s language is way pulpier and energetic.
V1: “It’s the thrills and  power of that suit!.”
V2: “It’s that suit – thrills – power.”

V1 followed by V2.

On page 6, the V2 panel is dense with the sort of moral terminology that runs all through Ditko’s work: “using man against his will,” “end,” “as a means.” None of those phrases appear in V1:

In this panel from page 8, V2 makes use of a pulpy sentence fragment whereas V1 provides a topic and verb, homogenizing the villain’s blunt description of Static’s lethal state of affairs:

V1 / V2 colour version. (I as soon as thought Ditko’s lettering was not slick sufficient. Now I discover it unpleasant to learn his black and white comics when lettered by someone else; Ditko is missing, his voice dubbed over.)

On V2’s web page four, Fera clenches her fists and rages about totally different “kinds” of justice. V1 eliminates three repetitions of “kinds” and tamps down her anger by putting her 5 sentences into two:

“Her feelings are facts not to be evaded.”

All through, V2 employs basic Ditko syntax, with sentence fragments, strings of nouns or adjectives related by commas, repeated phrases, and philosophical terms. These linguistic parts are as important to his work as his characters’ famous hand gestures — and to vary them can be to go beyond house-style edits and significantly rewrite the script, making Ditko’s dialogue much less rhythmic and much more prosaic.

Web page three, V1 / V2.

Though I don’t consider Ditko made such modifications, it’s attainable he made some textual content edits when he revised the comedian for Charlton Motion. But his republications usually don’t mirror these kinds of revisions — and none that I’ve seen make almost this many text edits (some, nevertheless, embrace a number of spelling corrections and revised art).

Ditko believed we are defined by the words we converse (or don’t). Words make us who we are and function in the world as lively brokers for good or ailing. Given this, he actually did not like handlers making textual content modifications: “a handler can change a word just because he likes another one better. . . . The handler is just arbitrarily ruining the original planned effort, effect, for his own gratification (“Art!?” 153).

An artist confronts handlers: “How can you preserve the integrity of an idea with arbitrary changes?”  From “Laszlo’s Hammer.” Steve Ditko © 1992.

In a transfer that means editorial interference, V1 features grammar-convention-based variations from V2, resembling “foolishly” instead of “foolish”:

V1 / V2.

If one needed naturalistic Ditko, it’s in this script, which, for all its intentional unnaturalness, typically imitates how individuals speak, not how grammarians say they should.

Like many comics followers, Mullaney stated Ditko’s wordiness made his pages “visually unpleasant” (36), a criticism that reflects a widespread (and counter-productive) belief about comics storytelling: since comics is a visible medium, text must all the time be subordinate to imagery. In “The Exploder” and elsewhere, Ditko provides words middle stage: characters rehearse and debate mantras and maxims, making an attempt to convince themselves and others of their concepts’ rightness. In comics “talk” is, in fact, not speak however written phrases impersonating speech. In his private life, Ditko most popular writing to talking, telling followers (in letters, in fact) that conversations have been “unproductive” and “a waste of time.” He argues that written discussions carry more weight, permitting members to assume via ideas earlier than memorializing them. His characters participate in debates that echo the argument-style again and forth of his fan-correspondence. Though Ditko typically noticed readers as adversaries, his fan-letter responses reveal his real urge to converse with them. And, in comics, this sometimes required extra phrases than comedian individuals have been used to:

Off-Beat Pulp Poetry: “To sanction mind-killers, to surrender everyone’s mind to irrational destroyers?”

Handy-letter the Eclipse Month-to-month Static comics, Mullaney employed Ken Bruzenak, who’s rightly celebrated as certainly one of comics’ most skilled letterers. But Eclipse’s allegiance to orthodox lettering practices de-energizes Ditko’s pages and compromises their coherence and integrity. Typically, as in “The Exploder,” lettering just isn’t a neutral rendering of the author’s script. It’s editorial collaboration, even interference. In the essay “Art!?,” Ditko asks “Who has the greatest authority and power to determine what an original comic art story/art panel/page will finally look like?” And he solutions: “The letterer.” “This conclusion,” he notes, “comes from long, first-hand experience and countless examples of having designed/composed panels that were arbitrarily changed by others” (153). Ditko steadily laments that “the work a letterer does shows his type of ‘collaboration’. . . . Much too often it is a . . . destructive ‘collaboration’” (149). V1 follows many years of comics tradition during which the exclamation point is the dominant (and typically the solely) end-of-sentence punctuation mark. The period was undramatic and insufficiently manipulative: readers have to be informed what they’re reading is thrilling! Almost every line in V1 ends with an exclamation point, erasing the dynamics of Ditko’s characters’ speech and blunting the text’s design.

4 exclamation points in V1 — one in V2.

In V2, Ditko’s lettering and dialogue uses much more durations than V1, indicating speech that’s at occasions much more restrained than V1’s and also much more over-the-top. Given Objectivism’s suspicion of emotion, it makes little sense to depict a Randian hero as all the time yelling. V1’s fixed exclamation points clash with — and undermine — the key Ditko trope of the rational male hero’s stoic facial features:

Whereas Bruzenak employs regular-sized and heavily-bolded text to emphasise phrases, Ditko’s hand-lettering uses totally different measurement text and italics. In contrast to Bruzenak’s assertive letterforms, Ditko’s thin letters communicates one thing virtually reticent — even alienated. His lettering design makes a compelling counterpoint to his characters’ dramatic assertions and his art’s robust ink line.

Simply as V1 regularizes Ditko’s phrases, it ignores the cartoonist’s design preferences by employing typical balloons. Mullaney needed the Eclipse Static comics to make use of the balloon form that had dominated comedian books for many years, calling Ditko’s technique “a cheat for the readers,” who deserved “balloons rounded on the sides and art continued in the side blank space” (quoted in Bell, Stranger and Stranger 148). In “Art!?” Ditko highlights the injury carried out by “handlers” who don’t perceive composition: “Unfortunately, the placement of . . . balloons, pointers . . . are rarely seen by editors [and] . . . letterers as an element of panel design/composition. They seem unaware or unconcerned that all the non-art elements need to be properly integrated . . . for visual coherence . . . and integrity” (149).

Ditko’s uncommon strategy to balloons and lettering serves an necessary function: it allows more panel area for paintings. To attenuate the area required for text, he typically left-justifies the dialogue slightly than middle it in the balloon, as letterers sometimes do.

Though Ditko uses the term “balloon,” he not often draws the familiar closed oval-shaped containers. In “Art!?” he critiques letterers — who drew the balloons — for failing to acknowledge “that a head, figure and action also need air, space for viewing clarity” (150). Ditko creates “air” through the use of small containers positioned toward the prime of a panel. He employs unusually small pointers, trusting readers to comply with the dialogue’s sequence, a religion “many letterers (editors, writers)” didn’t share: “unless a balloon pointer is sticking into a character’s head (or body) or almost coming out of his mouth, the reader/viewer (believed to be dumb) will never know who is speaking (or thinking)” (149-150).

One other Ditko trope: the jagged container.

While Ditko had problems with fans, he knew if an artist rigorously arrange panels (as he does in V2), readers didn’t want long tails yelling “follow this to see who’s talking/thinking!”

A panel of Ditko artwork with non-Ditko lettering that uses what he would see as a needlessly long tail.

Notice how Ditko designs panels in V2. Whereas V1 places a full border around each panel, in V2 he creates air by alternating between open and closed tops.

One other form of editorial intervention via lettering impacts the artist’s use of symbols to recommend profanity: while Ditko’s upright heroes never swear, his villains do, quite a bit. Typical “censor lettering” follows a primary pattern: e.g., four symbols symbolize a four-letter swear. But in “The Exploder” and elsewhere, Ditko’s defies regularity. He creates interpretive ambiguity through the use of one, two, or three symbols, which, fairly than characterize letters (is there a one- or two-word swear?), can symbolize a word, an “obscene” sound, and/or a disturbed psychological or emotional state. Whereas V1 usually employs commonplace typographical symbols, V2 mixes acquainted varieties with Ditko’s inventions, which morph as inspiration and spacing requires. Such a freewheeling strategy seemingly didn’t align with Eclipse’s practices. Take this panel:

V1 / V2 colour model.

Possible suggesting a well-liked seven-letter swear, the panel makes use of seven symbols, a literal selection that Ditko, a fan of artifice, possible wouldn’t make. Though he might be a maximalist with words, he was a minimalist when it got here to symbols; why waste area with seven when two works nice?

Before the first Static comic appeared in Eclipse Monthly #1, Ditko agreed to at least one edit Mullaney requested: changing Static’s alter-ego from “Stac Rae” to “Mac Rey,” ostensibly to avoid confusion with Ditko’s DC Comics character “Rac Shade” (Bell 148). Mullaney needed the identify “to sound a tad more human,” a want at odds with the weirdness of Ditko’s words and worlds, and an edit that ignores the cartoonist’s disinterest in literary realism (Bell 148). (This disinterest seems in his choice for human characters with other-worldly names, comparable to Static’s Ort Krim, Fera Serch, and Dr. Kug.) When Ditko revised the Eclipse Monthly Static comics, he restored the character’s unique identify and spelling, reestablishing essential connections in sound, look, and which means between “Stac Rae” and “Static,” between alter-ego and hero. (Imagine if an editor had advised Ditko-admirer and fellow odd-name fan Daniel Clowes that he ought to change Ghost World’s heroine from “Enid Coleslaw” to “Erin Coleman.”)

From names to syntax to artwork, the Eclipse Monthly Static comics — along with numerous tales Ditko did for different publishers — try to include his work inside the literal boundaries of the comics panel and lure him inside the metaphorical boundaries of comic-book traditions. What editors “want from you,” Ditko seethed in 1977, “is a half-assed reprint of the story you did for them last week.” To fans who requested him about his earlier comics (as so many did), he replied “The past is history. I don’t live there.”

III. Comic-Book People and Criminals.

After Steve Ditko died in June, 2018, social media overflowed with tributes from followers and business professionals. Most targeted on Ditko’s mainstream work for Marvel and DC, celebrating him as the creator of their favourite superhero. Sadly, although unsurprisingly, many tributes featured artwork Ditko didn’t draw, and few invoked his auteur black and white comics like Static, the cartoonist’s artistic focus for decades. Such “tributes” would have confirmed Ditko’s perception that these readers weren’t “Ditko-fans.” They cared about caped crusaders, not radical artists. For decades, readers had repeated the unlucky shibboleth that I’ll call “The Two Ditkos”: “Good-Ditko,” who expertly informed superhero, fantasy, and horror tales, and “Bad-Ditko,” who angrily fumbled by means of wordy Ayn Rand-inspired tales.

As the above photographs (and dozens of others) illustrate, words are an important part of his graphic sensibility. (“The Avenging World,” 1969; The Hero Comics, 2008; “Eye Inquire,” from A Ditko #15, 2011.)

“Bad-Ditko” also had the nerve to reject the cherished (and false) notion that comics is basically a storytelling medium. First revealed in 1969 and 1970, “The Avenging World,” for instance, is a landmark in American comics historical past, an expansive work that wildly transgresses comics type: it’s a non-narrative comedian with embedded narrative episodes, and it moves in and out of very totally different modes of representational and summary drawing types. In comics like this and so many others, Ditko reinvented the medium.

Ditko’s body of auteur comics from the late 1960s onward represents what we’d name — what he may call — “Real-Ditko.” Generally, no handlers touched these comics’ pages. It’s all him. Fans have long denounced Ditko for denying them entry to his personal life, but they’re lacking something. As he’s stated, these comics characterize his thoughts projected onto the web page. Like Mr. A.’s mysterious black and white calling cards, Ditko’s black and white comics are his letters — each love and hate — to the world, a life story obliquely informed. In his ultimate interview, Ditko articulates the principle that buildings his life story: “Every person, whether he wants to be or not, is in a continuous struggle . . . against everyone he comes in contact with. It is a struggle to keep his mind from being corrupted” (Marvel Foremost #4, 1968).

“90% fans against” From Ditko Presents #7. Steve Ditko © 2009.

For Ditko, real-life interlocutors are potential criminals, every interplay a potential mugging. Given this, it is sensible that his favored style is the crime comic and that the majority of his antagonists usually are not grandiose supervillains bent on world domination. They’re simply common individuals — politicians, businessmen, comic-book editors, followers — out to take what’s not theirs. Static, like so many Ditko comics (maybe even all of them), is covert autobiography, a compelling story a few hero and villains who stand in for the artist and comicdom. In Ditko’s work, the hero defeats the crime that is different individuals.

Conclusion: The Hero Who Leaves.

In 1984 Steve Ditko contributed a curious illustration to Superman #400:

DC Comics © 1984.

At first look, it resembles numerous “pin-ups” celebrating an All-American hero who protects good individuals from evil menaces. Though Ditko admired Superman, we shouldn’t be stunned by his uncommon strategy to a personality who embraces altruism and collectivism, two concepts Ditko and Objectivists disdain. Whereas the illustration appears nothing like Ditko’s 1977 Comicon drawing, it, too, tells a story about the artist, his audience, and his artwork.

In the picture’s two-dimensional area, Superman seems between the thugs and the public. However inside its fictional world, he’s out in front, strolling away from both teams. If Ditko needed his Superman to characterize the stock “defender of the people,” he might have drawn him thwarting the dangerous guys. As an alternative, the hero focuses on himself, breaking the chains that bind him (in Ditko’s work, chains recur as metaphors for self-imposed psychological bondage). Ditko’s superhero is indifferent to all collectives, whether or not of followers or enemies; and, like the Comicon drawing, this picture incorporates a lot more adversaries than admirers. Whereas DC Comics’ Superman believes we should always all the time save others, Ditko believes you possibly can solely save your self: “no one can . . . fight [that “continuous struggle”] for” you (Marvel Important #4, 1968). Like the transcendent protagonist at the end of Static, Ditko’s superbeing lives beyond the grasp of devotees and detractors.

To raise his model of heroism above the altruistic do-gooding of company crusaders like The Man of Steel, Ditko sneaks in somewhat joke. A personality’s sweater sports activities a big “A,” invoking Ditko’s quintessential Objectivist hero Mr. A., whose identify refers to the Randian maxim “A is A.” Embodying “the virtue of selfishness,” Mr. A. is not any sentimental softy like Superman (in a single story, Mr. A. happily lets a thug he easily might have saved fall to his demise). The “A” alerts Ditko’s invitation to match two totally different variations of comic-book morality as represented by the two heroes — and for Ditko, an “A” on your chest is best than an “S.” His “Superman” just isn’t DC’s Superman, the public’s hero. He’s Ditko’s uncompromising ubermensch, an icon of the unbiased self. “I am not public property,” Ditko proclaimed in a letter. Thus says his super-man, who, as he leaves, appears serenely ahead toward his future.

“What does ‘A’ really mean?” From A Ditko Act three. Steve Ditko © 2010.

A chorus in dozens of Ditko’s responses to fan inquiries about his past is the very un-nostalgic — and subsequently very un-comic-book — query he advised readers he ceaselessly asks himself: “What’s Next?” Ditko’s Static is, like the artist himself, the antithesis of stasis. The Ditko-produced Static comics inform the story of an artist all the time in movement, leaving comic-book individuals behind to breathe in what Nietzsche referred to as the “bad air” of false beliefs and acquired knowledge. What Ditko gives in Static and the many comics he created afterwards (he drew new material till months earlier than he died), is “cacophony, noise, a racket . . . new concepts.”

Steve Ditko © 1985.

As Nietzsche as soon as remarked, forward-looking work requires readers prepared to desert expectations and embrace “rumination.” That’s what the restless artwork of Steve Ditko deserves.

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Further source and publication info:
First epigraph: from Creepy #93, 1977.
Second epigraph: from a Ditko reply to a fan letter, 2013.
Charlton Action Featuring Static #11, Charlton Comics, 1985.
Charlton Action That includes Static #12, Charlton Comics, 1985.
[Ditko’s title for the story is “The Exploder” – the  Eclipse Monthly version is “The Exploder!” Above, I exploit Ditko’s title for both comics.]Ditko’s World #2, Renegade Press, 1986.
“Laszlo’s Hammer,” as reprinted in Avenging World, Robin Snyder and Steve Ditko, 2002.
“H Series,” as reprinted in Avenging World, Robin Snyder and Steve Ditko, 2002.
Eclipse Monthly #4, Eclipse Comics, 1984.
Eclipse Month-to-month #2, Eclipse Comics, 1983.
“Art!?,” as reprinted in Avenging World, Robin Snyder and Steve Ditko, 2002.
Blake Bell, Unusual and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, Fantagraphics, 2008.
Marvel Most important #4, 1968, Btoom! Publications.

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Ken Parille is editor of The Daniel Clowes Reader: A Important Version of Ghost World and Different Stories. He teaches at East Carolina College and his writing has appeared in The Cambridge History of the Graphic Novel, The Greatest American Comics Criticism, The Believer, Nathaniel Hawthorne Evaluate, Tulsa Research in Ladies’s Literature, Youngsters’s Literature, Comedian Art, Boston Evaluation, and elsewhere.