Tuesday, July 29, 2008


35 years after Spider-Man's debut, the normally silent Steve Ditko speaks up

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Avenging Mind’ by Steve Ditko. It’s a prose piece printed in a comic book format, released on a limited basis from Robin Snyder. I bought mine Jim Hanley's Universe in New York City, the only retail outlet for the book of which I’m aware. Ditko is an artist almost as legendary for his reclusiveness as he is for his co-creation, Spider-Man. It’s this “co-creation” that is the basis for his essays in ‘Avenging Mind’. Stan Lee, the gregarious guru of Marvel Comics, is generally credited by the press and by himself as 'the creator of Spider-Man', as well as other Marvel characters like the X-Men, Hulk and Fantastic Four. Lee, a writer, relied on artists to bring his ideas and stories to life. Without the artist, as Ditko rightly argues, Lee’s creations are written story ideas or brief plot synopses…not comic book creations. That’s not to say that Lee has never mentioned or lauded these artists and their contributions, he has certainly done so. But his comments, well-documented by Ditko, clearly see the artist as contributors to Lee’s ideas, not as partners in creative endeavor.

It was with this mindset that I recently perused Origins of Marvel Comics, a 1974 paperback that reprints the first adventures of Marvel’s best-known superheroes. I don’t own a copy, but I borrowed one from the library. I only mention that because when I was a kid they stopped letting patrons check out because their copies were being stolen. You had to request it as reference at the main library downtown and read it there, making it something of a grail of youth.

The only author credit on ‘Origins’ is “by Stan Lee”. Lee also writes a preface for each comic story therein, giving the back story of the creation. In these essays, Lee mentions the artist for each story, true comic giants that include Ditko, Jack Kirby and John Romita, Sr. These artists are given high praise for their art, but it is clear that Lee considered them at times to be interchangeable conduits for his own muse.

Spider-Man is the most famous of the Marvel super heroes, and the character most associated with Lee. Lee recounts his creation of the Spider-Man idea and the selection of an artist for the comic. At first he selected Jack Kirby, who drew up some sample pages. Lee decided that Kirby’s bombastic style was wrong for the character. Looking for a more realistic quality, he turned to Ditko. “I asked Steve to draw Spider-Man,” Lee relates. “And he did.” Then Lee goes on for three more pages about how innovative the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ comic has been, but no more mention of sturdy Steve. Again, to briefly explain the “Marvel method”, Lee would write a brief plot synopsis or outline, the artist would draw the entire story, even making dialogue or plot suggestions in the margins of the art board, return the art to Lee, who would then discern what was going on in the story and write the dialogue.

The most egregious credit grab is that of Dr. Strange. Ditko claims sole credit for the character and Lee himself admitted as much early on. In the retelling, however, Lee states that he “penned the words” while Ditko “took up the art chores”. Again, both statements are true, but mislead the reader into thinking it was a co-creation.

Jack Kirby is perhaps Lee’s most famous collaborator, almost universally credited as co-creator of the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men and a horde of others. Of the FF, Lee wrote, “I would create a team…such as comicdom had never known.” Kirby, Lee wrote, was chosen to draw, part of his skill being “breaking down the outline into exactly the right number of panels”…WHAT? Replace that with ‘drawing an entire 22-page story based on a plot idea’ and you have something closer to the truth. Of the Hulk, Lee wrote that “I decided that Jack Kirby would be the artist to breathe life into our latest creation.” But from the context of the essay, the “our” he’s referring to is Marvel, and not Lee/Kirby. Lee also notes that Kirby had a whole new group of fans following “his interpretation of the Fantastic Four”. It is here in ‘Avenging Mind’ that Ditko would reference the dictionary, define the word ‘interpretation’ for the reader, and then argue that while Lee’s attitudinal style is cavalier, his word choice is calculated. I have to agree. The credits were written in the comics in such a way as to convey an atmosphere of frivolity. Lee used nicknames like "Jolly Jack", joked about their contributions and even made up the fake Irving Forbush to give credit to. The only thing, it seems, that wasn't frivolous was always putting his own name first. This is not to totally denigrate Lee, who's comics' work of the 1960s I've always treasured. I met him briefly at a book signing a couple of years ago. He must have signed autographs for four hours, which in your early '80s is no small feat. He's very likable, almost as likable as the fake Stan Lee. But I digress.

I must note that Dikto doesn't dismantle Lee's insidious jargon for personal gain. He desires no fame, in fact he has consistently has made it known that he wants to be left alone and has no obligation to his fans. He's not looking for a piece of the multi-million dollar Spider-Man pie, as he has no legal claim to the character and does not assert one. Ditko's aim is the truth and correction of the obfuscations of the eternally affable Stan Lee, who, for the public at large, is the human face of Marvel Comics and even the comics industry.

Mail ordering instructions can be found here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


THE Liverpool homes of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and even Pete Best are preserved and protected landmarks. Ringo Starr's birthplace, No.9 Madryn Street, is set for demolition along with other homes in the neighborhood. The street was menitoned in Ringo's recent biographical song, "Liverpool 8", from the album of the same name.

RINGO recently lamented the poor sales of said alsum, which peaked at #94 on Billboard. What he should be saying is, 'Wow, my highest charting album in 10 years!' or 'Hey, of my 15 studio albums, only seven did better on the charts' or 'Well, at least it got me on Rachael Ray.'

SIR George Margin, producer for almost all of the Beatles' recordings, was honored by the Grammy Foundation at a benefit on July 12th. In attendance were Beatle widows Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison. Missing out were ingrates Starr and Beatles' bassist Paul McCartney. In performance were Jeff Beck, Tom Jones and Burt Bacharach (man, I wish those dudes would start a band).

RINGO also asked the world to celebrate his 68th birthday (July 7th) by embracing universal peace and love. Starr was criticized for trying to co-opt the legacy of bandmate John Lennon. Critics were further incensed when Ringo said he's "bigger than Jesus." Part of his birthday celebration was subjecting himself to the inanity of Larry King. A transcript of the interview can be found here.

While I've whetted your appetite for Ringo interviews, how about Starr and new wife Barbara Bach on "Donahue" from 1981!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

KATIE REIDER, 1978-2008

Katie Reider was a talented singer/songwriter from Cincinnati. She just lost her battle with a cancer that in the past year took an eye, her voice and now her life. I first saw Reider when she was just starting out, playing bookstore venues like our local Borders or Joseph-Beth. I admit that part of my interest was that she’s the daughter of Rob Reider, who I remembered from the old Bob Braun Show. I dug her voice and the sound of her band and bought her debut album, ‘Wonder’. She quickly moved on to local venues like the York St. CafĂ©. When one of her songs appeared on “Dawson’s Creek”, we had a new local music hero with national recognition.

College took the young Reider to Columbus, and after college she moved on to New Jersey, but she and Cincinnati never parted. I saw her in 2007 at Taste of Cincinnati. She and the band sounded great and from what I read her career was going strong. Now it’s a little over a year later and she’s gone from us.

I recommend visiting 500kin365.org, a fundraising website started for Katie in hopes of raising $500,000 in a year to help pay medical expenses and support Katie, her partner and two sons. For $1 you can download ‘Katie’s Voice’, a collection of 9 original songs. To learn more about Katie’s personal fight with cancer, visit her blog.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


But gets caught in ballot snafu

Meanwhile…: A Biography of Milton Caniff by R.C. Harvey has been nominated for a Harvey Award (no relation). The awards will be presented at the Baltimore Comic-Con in September. ‘Meanwhile’ is nominated in the category of BEST BIOGRAPHICAL, HISTORICAL OR JOURNALISTIC PRESENTATION. It’s chances of winning have been hurt, though, by a balloting discrepancy. When the original nominations were announced, the Caniff bio was not listed, but rather a blog known as Meanwhile…Comics! was in its place. A blog being nominated wasn’t out of the question, as another nominee is Blah Blah Blog, the blog of Marvel Comics executive editor Tom Brevoort. The guys who run ‘Meanwhile…Comics’ were surprised and pleased by the recognition, so you can sympathize with them learning the honor amounted to a clerical error.

The original ballots were released on June 18th, but the correction was not announced until June 27th. Voting is open until August 15th, but those who voted early didn’t have the Caniff biography as an option. Paul McSpadden, the Harvey Awards administrator, says that voters who have already cast ballots may submit a revised ballot. But I doubt that any voter other than a rabid Caniffite will go to the trouble to revise their choice in one category out of 21. Even if you go to the Harvey Awards website, the ballot is fixed but the nominees list on the homepage is not.

The broad category also means an ‘apples and oranges’ range of competition. There’s one other biographical book The Naked Artist…and Other Comic Book Legends by Bryan Talbot, in which the author has compiled humorous anecdotes from various comic creators. The Comics Journal, a monthly magazine of comic news, reviews and criticism represents the ‘journalistic’ aspect of the category. I didn’t read the Journal much in 2007, but I always find plenty to read and enjoy when I do pick one up, and they do the most in-depth creator interviews around. The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide is another nominee. It’s an odd choice, I think, because the price guide section doesn’t fit in this category and it makes up 90% of the book. There is information about collecting and the history of comics, but this remains virtually unchanged from year to year. I haven’t seen this edition, so it may have some amazing new content that I don’t know about. The last nominee is Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Douglas Wolk. I don’t know much about it, though it seems to be a primer of some kind for the uninitiated. The hubris of the title scares me away, as comics work differently and mean different things to different readers. For those who want help with understanding the visual language of comics, I recommend Scott McCloud’s 1994 book, Understanding Comics.

I think The Comics Journal has the best chance, as it’s the most widely read of all of the nominees. If ‘Meanwhile’ wins instead, it’s still good for R.C. Harvey, who writes a regular Journal column, and Fantagraphics, the publisher of both.

The Harvey Awards are named for Harvey Kurtzman, the legendary EC Comics artist/writer/editor and founder of Mad Magazine. Kurtzman is also well-known for his Playboy Magazine comic strip, ‘Little Annie Fanny’, a collaboration with the recently deceased Will Elder.


I wanted to pause between entries of esoteric nonsense to write about something personal. It was two years ago today that I lost the bravest person I’ve ever known, my son Andrew. Andrew was born on May 5th, 2006. He was 13 weeks premature and barely weighed 1 lb, 8 oz. Throughout his 65 days of life, I was always hopeful, even on the last day. It was two months of extreme highs and lows for my wife, Jill, and me, as he seemed to progress, then get worse, then improve, and so on.

I said ‘bravest’ because this little guy was stuck a cruel uncountable amount for blood. His arms, legs and even his head were fair game for drawing blood or trying to put a line in. His tiny feet were little pincushions, scabbed over from all the needle sticks. He sometimes wailed in pain, but he didn’t make sounds, so it was a silent cry…the worst kind. Sometimes he just took it, because he was used to it.

It’s impossible for me even two years out to put words to the emotions of watching him being disconnected from machines and then the all too short time he had free of tubes and electronic buzzers, with Jill holding him as he slipped away. We then took lots of pictures with him, at the nurses’ suggestion, which is apparently meant to have therapeutic benefit. I found it surreal, and I still have trouble looking at them.

I didn’t write this entry for sympathy for me and Jill. I wanted those who didn’t know to hear about my first son, a cute little guy named Andrew.

We kept an online journal about Andrew during his life. It can be found here.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


If you get WGN America, you are in for a treat tomorrow night (7/7). They are running a two-hour block of "Alf", which is a show I never really liked or watched. But, one episode I've always wanted to see is on at 9:30PM EST. It reunites some of the cast of "Gilligan's Island", one of them for the last time. The original series ran from 1964-67. They were reunited for three TV movies from 1978-81, and even animated in 1982 ("Gilligan's Planet", which sadly is not on DVD...write your Congressman!). Gilligan fans know that Tina Louise, who played Ginger, was the buzz-kill for all this reunion stuff and she was replaced with other actresses.

By this 1987 "Alf" episode, the millionaire and his wife were in failing health (Jim Backus died in 1989, Natalie Schafer in '91). Gilligan, Skipper, the Professor and Marianne reunited once again as a bored Alf tried to recreate his favorite TV show in the backyard. This would be the last appearance of Alan Hale, Jr., as the Skipper. The remaining three - Bob Denver, Russell Johnson, and Dawn Wells - would reunite one more time for an episode of "Meego" in 1997. What's that? Huh? You don't remember "Meego", the post-"Perfect Strangers" sitcom of Bronson Pinchot? But, but, it had Ed Begley, Jr. and that kid from 'Jerry Maguire'...are you sure? 13 episodes were shot and they only aired six of them. Yes, it was that good. In fact, in a TV travesty, the 'Gilligan's Island' episode remains unaired! So, once everything ever watched and enjoyed is out on DVD, maybe someone at CBS will release "Meego" as a prank and we'll get to see it. [side note - another reason you can't trust Wikipedia? It lists the five hosts of "Family Feud" as the creators of "Meego"]

OK, back to "Alf" (or is it "ALF?). Just watch the episode and wonder...did this drive Marianne to marijuana or was she already high at the time?

Saturday, July 5, 2008



Ok, this is a day behind, but here's Bill Watterson's editorial cartoon from July 4th, 1980.

If any of you want to see an exciting account of the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the miracle at Philadelphia, watch the second episode of John Adams.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Blogging Buddies

While I'm still trying to put together a longer post on an actual topic, I thought I'd introduce you to two new blogs of a similar ilk that I found this week.

Marc Tyler Nobleman is a prolific author. Check out his site, Noblemania for titles (my local library has 16 of his books). He's written a book on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the two Cleveland, Ohio teens who created Superman. He's got a great new post about his search for the home of Joe Shuster where the first Superman drawings were probably done. The search proved difficult because the building no longer exists. It's the kind of research that fascinates me but gives my wife shivers of apathy.

Another brand new blogger is Lucas Hardwick. Lucas lives in Evansville and we've met once through mutual friends. He started blogging last month and posts more in a week than I do in a month. And it's cool stuff, too, like this picture with Gene Hackman! I'm just confused about the name of his blog. On his blog, it's Smells Like Blog, but the web address is "younameitthen". I guess in the web address he's remarking to the people who don't like the name...or maybe there's a contest in the offing. We'll have to check back in and see.

But don't let these other blogs take you away from what's really important...which is my blog.