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June 28, 2009

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CharlesWHatfield

An excellent, thought-provoking, well-illustrated post, Craig, thanks! I believe you're on to something.

Personally, I dislike the hectoring, intolerant tone of Ditko's Objectivist comics just as much as I like, and admire, the best of his earlier work. On balance, I have difficulty even reading his later work, though a certain psychological intensity remains if one can look past the reliance on bald abstractions and straw targets.

I guess I'll have to content myself with belonging to the "skeptical intellectual" camp as well. Better that than embrace Ditko's credo of righteous inflexibility and purity, which is, from my POV, a drag. You've simultaneously given us an appreciation of Ditko's artistry and questioned the psychological foundation of his credo, which is no mean feat, though I imagine Ditko himself would not be pleased.

Brave venture, and well argued.

Mike DeLisa

Fischer writes: "Beginning with Avenging World (1973) and the other
Randian undergrounds of the early 1970s, female characters disappear from
Ditko's comics, but that's because Ditko gives up on the notion of
characterization altogether."

Say what? Is Fisher intentionally omitting the sharply defined characters of
such works as Static and Mocker, among others, or is he truly ignorant of the
topic he professes to opine about?

Hell, Ditko packs plenty of sexual frisson in the last few scenes of the Mocker.

The rest of the psychobabble is as equally pathetic and inaccurate as the text I
quoted.

As to his "ugly" women I simply shout "Wrong" and cite Winnie the Witch at the head of a whole pack of wonderful looking women.

De gustibus non est disputandum !

CharlesWHatfield

Posted on behalf of Rob Imes:

Hi Craig,

There are some points in your article that I find perceptive, some that I find inaccurate, and some that I find highly speculative (and which thus weaken your article).

My favorite part of your article are the observations near the beginning about the placement of hands, such as the panels showing Uncle Ben, Aunt May, and Betty Brant. The hand placement is visual shorthand for conveying information about the character and the situation and shows how much thought Ditko put into his work.

Ditko's style of artwork reflects his art education in the early 1950s and the influence of Jerry Robinson and Mort Meskin. Joe Kubert's style of art was similarly influenced. Both Kubert and Ditko's art styles have evolved beyond that over the years, yet maintain vestiges of it in their later work. Many artists have their own particular emphases and mannerisms; Ditko's hands are an example in Ditko's art (as are bulging eyes) just as with Gil Kane's drawing of noses.

I think you err when you imply that Ditko's depiction of hands may have some deeper significance to Ditko as a person. Within a comic panel, yes, the depiction of hands serve a purpose, within the framework of the story. A stronger, more instructive article, I think, could have been made citing more such examples within Ditko's art of how hand placement, etc. are used to convey information, or how you interpret them (or how the writing either works with or against the visuals, as in the Betty Brant/Spidey panel). That would not be as provocative an article, but I think it would be a more informative one.

You wrote, "Ditko entered comics in 1954," when it was actually 1953.

You wrote, "he's weak at drawing the female form (either realistically or in a cheesecake style)." I would very much disagree with this assessment. The Vera Sweet/Creeper panels you showed are evidence against this, but I'd also recommend many of the Charlton ghost comics as further evidence. Not only for their illustrations of the mini-skirted Winnie the Witch, but the female protagonists depicted in "Dr. Waverly's People" or "The Moon Beast" (the latter tale reprinted in The 160-Page [Charlton] Package).

You wrote, "he never places a female protagonist at the center of his stories." The one-shot "Safest Place in the World" features a female as the lead character. Also, Fera is one of the three main characters in "Static." There have been other female Ditko protagonists: the female of the duo in "Masquerade" (Wha #3), "Liberty Belle" (E-Man backup), one of the late 1970s Questar stories had a female co-lead, Mellu in SHADE as you noted, Lelona in "Star Guider," the rookie cop in "Mr. Quiver," Squirrel Girl, the "Lift My Veil!" lady, etc. Someone could probably take the time to work up a comprehensive list to refute your statement "Beginning with Avenging World (1973) and the other Randian undergrounds of the early 1970s, female characters disappear from Ditko's comics."

You wrote, "female characters disappear from Ditko's comics, but that's because Ditko gives up on the notion of characterization altogether." Fera undergoes a change in her values by the end of the Static storyline, growing as a person. If this isn't characterization, what is? Certainly there are many "types" present in Ditko's work -- good guys vs. bad guys -- but the clash of values between, say, Stac Rae, Fera, and Dr. Serch (with conflict between these three people who obviously care about each other) is more interesting to me because of the values that are articulated and represented by the characters. As opposed to, say, conflicts between characters who don't represent or articulate any values.

As for the armor on Mr. A., Ditko's approach to costuming a hero is practical-minded, as can be seen in Ditko's first Blue Beetle story, where Ditko shows how the Beetle prevents himself from being unmasked when knocked unconscious, due to his mask "unlocking" from a button hidden under his chin. I don't think Ditko is psychologically projecting his own fears onto the comics page (if that's what you were getting at), but thinking about what makes practical sense (as well as what looks good, visually) when creating a hero's costume. Since Mr. A. is all about the simplicity of white over black, good over evil, I think the armored aspect was eventually downplayed; in later stories Mr. A.'s face looks much more human and less like a metal mask.

You wrote, "Mr. A is so obsessed with upholding justice that he has banished love, sex and emotion from his life." As you began the article, Mr. A. says that he does not abuse his emotions. In other words, he has emotions like everyone else, but they are guided by his view of justice: compassion for the innocent, contempt for the guilty. In other comics like the Shag stories and the "World's Finest" Creeper stories, Ditko portrays happiness between friends whose love and respect come from shared values. At the end of "Static," Fera and Stac have to separate for a time, to find out if they are guided by the same values, before they can agree to have a lasting romantic relationship or not. The story ends there, because dramatic stories are usually about conflict (the clash of values) not agreement.

Your article ends in questions and speculation that make the jump from the printed panels, projecting them onto Ditko's own life. This speculation weakens the article because it admits to not knowing the answer, and can only place questions in the reader's mind; hints of theories posed as queries which may have no basis in reality perhaps ought not to be posed, if one has no real-life evidence.

You have written a thought-provoking article and I thank you for allowing readers such as myself to comment on it here.

Rob Imes

CharlesWHatfield

Good to see the comments here; I'm glad that Craig's post has inspired discussion. I'm tempted to leap into the fray myself (again), but I'll wait a bit.

Craig Fischer

Thanks for the comments, guys; I agree with several things you wrote. Rob, you're right when you point out that Ditko entered the comics business in 1953. I remembered from Blake Bell's STRANGER AND STRANGER that "Stretching Things" was published in 1954, but now I see that FANTASTIC FEARS #5 was covered dated 1/54...which means, of course, that Ditko drew it in 1953.

Many of our philosophical differences fall into what Mike would call "de gustibus" disagreements-- particularly the degree to which Ditko's females are attractive or not--but let me try to clarify my thinking on a couple of issues anyway.

One of our big areas of contention is the definition of what constitutes a fleshed-out, three-dimensional fictional character. Rob, you cite Fera's change of mind (her realignment of values) at the end of STATIC as an example of character growth, but I disagree because I believe that ambiguity has to be present for characters to come to life for the reader (or at least for me). I find people in real life to be opaque, confusing, infuriating, and surprising--they often act in ways that I don't expect or understand, and I look for that same quality in fictional folk too. At no point while reading STATIC, however, did I doubt (1.) that Stac (or Mac or whatever) was the clear hero of the narrative, and (2.) that Fera would eventually come around to Stac's point of view. She feels like a Straw (Wo)Man to me rather than a person. In fact, I wonder if Ditko's insistence in his later work on unambiguous, Manichean values ("white over black, good over evil") is incompatable with deep characterization...

I also don't think that using facts as a springboard for speculation is a weakness of my post. If we only stick to the elements explicitly in Ditko's comics (or any other text), criticism becomes a kind of Cliff's Notes, a recapitulation that dodges key questions like: why are the elements important? What do the elements tell us about the mind of the artist? What's left out of the work? How do these elements connect to other artists and artistic trends? (Rob, you make connections like this wonderfully in your invocation of Meskin, your commentary on Kane, etc.) Mike, I sometimes find psychoanalysis maddening, so I'm somewhat sympathetic with your "psychobabble" comment, but I find that Ditko's work is so shot through with repression that it seemed a reasonable leap from the pain that Ditko's hands express to the pain that I suspect Ditko himself has endured through his life.

Thanks again for your comments--it's a pleasure to think about these issues.

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