Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ditko = Ditko

I first discovered cartoonist Steve Ditko's work in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man - or, more accurately, in Pocket Books' three-volume Spider-Man Classics series, published in the late 1970s. Technically, the first Ditko art I saw must have been in Origins of Marvel Comics- but the Pocket Spider-Mans gave me hundreds of pages of Ditko artwork, and I devoured them all, over and over again. Ross Andru was the current Spider-Man artist at the time, and I liked that work a lot; but the old books drawn (and often plotted) by Ditko were quirky, instantly recognizable, intensely felt: They were magic, and I couldn't get enough of them (or reprints of his early work on Doctor Strange). Fans of Ditko's Marvel-era work will be interested in the recent Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko volume, at right.

It wasn't until years later that I discovered Ditko's own, more personal work, on characters like Static, The Mocker, and - of course - Mr. A (you might still find copies of The Ditko Collection, with lots of Mr A., if you're lucky.) Ditko had become a student of Ayn Rand, and Mr. A. was the living embodiment of Rand's philosophy of "Objectivism": A is A. In Mr. A's world (and in Ditko's) there can be no moral grey areas; there is good, and there is evil, and there is nothing else. I think the icongraphy in the following image (from the Heritage Comics website) makes the stark argument quite clearly, itself:

While I find Ditko's personal work fascinating, I can't say that I could ever agree with it philosophically; I guess I'm too much of a grey-area kind of person. But that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy Mr. A; it's clearly passionate, heart-felt work. How many commercial artists of any stripe are that willing to put their innermost beliefs down on the page, this starkly, with no apologies or hedging?

Thanks to a post by Dr. Chris R. Tame on the Ditko-Kirby email list, I was happy to learn about the following article:
"The Illustrated Rand", by Chris Matthew Sciabarra. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 6.1 (2004): 1-20. (Download a PDF version of the entire article here.)
The article, part one of two, catalogues Rand's cultural influence by listing some of the scores of academic journals, magazines, televsion shows, and more media which have quoted or mentioned Rand's work. Unfortunately, the bulk of the article is little more than a list. There's precious litle analysis here, although there may be more extended discussions in part two, which I haven't yet read. We don't even learn if most of these mentions are positive or negative, informed or throw-away.

The largest section of the article by far, however, is devoted to Steve Ditko and Frank (Sin City) Miller (pages 8-12). While the section includes several meaty Mr. A quotes, we still don't find much in the way of analysis. I'd love to learn more about how Objectivism plays out in Ditko's work: How accurately does his work embody the philosophy? Does Ditko's thought expand on, embellish, or even contradict Rand's? Again, perhaps I'm asking too much of an admitted "overview" article; but if anyone out there knows of more critical looks at Ditko's pesonal work, I'd love to hear about them.

And since I haven't mentioned it yet, the premiere website for Ditko is Blake Bell's Ditko Looked Up. Watch for Blake's Steve Ditko: Mysterious Traveller, a biography forthcoming from Fantagraphics. I'm sure that Blake's book will get into the questions I've asked above - and more - with relish.

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Blogger dj sciz said...

Coincidence: I just finished posting a journal entry in which I presented a digest of the Jungian theory/critique of the shadow self (and by extension the difficulties arising from rigidly dividing all phenomena into dual categories, including right and wrong). I didn't mention the very sad case of the colonel who killed himself in Iraq recently. I did provide the rather hilarious critique presented in "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy!" -- Beth

12/05/2005 12:02 AM  
Blogger Gene K. said...

Thanks for the post! I haven't heard about that colonel - I guess so much of the news depresses me that I tune out too much of it.

Had a devil of a time finding the journal entry you mentioned. (How many blogs you got, DJ?) Like your comix-scholars posts, thoughtful stuff. I used to think binaries were absolutely great; now I don't think they are at all :-)

12/06/2005 4:03 PM  
Blogger K. A. Laity said...

Ironically, the colonel was a military ethicist: his death is a sad comment in so many ways.,0,1641096.story?coll=la-home-headlines

12/06/2005 4:37 PM  
Blogger dj sciz said...

Thank you so much for your cheering words about my posts Gene! And I'm sorry I led you on a chase to my bit about Jung, binaries, Billy, and Mandy. Oops. Can you believe I almost started another blog last month, about baseball? I had to sit on my hands. By the way, in keeping with my commitment to the barely relevant: I have a friend who named her cats Dagney and Galt!

12/06/2005 8:14 PM  

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