Yesterday, we posted Dave Sim's review of my 2008 Ditko bio/art book, Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko. He first read that review to me in a phone conversation that was one of the most emotional comic-related moments in my memory.
I had hit upon Cerebus in 1987, just after issue 105 (of 300) and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Easily moved to my favourite current comic, easily moved Dave into that trinity alongside Ditko and Everett.
Dump me on a desert island with nothing other than Ditko's run on Spider-Man, and Cerebus #11 to #136, and I'd be entertained for life.
And Dave was the 1980s equivalent of Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols: a legit, street-cred, no-nonsense rock star/shepherd. He was the Jack Kirby equivalent of his generation; the "Godfather" of the indie movement, influencing and inspiring too many creators to count. That all changed when Dave let his point of view on gender relations all hang out in Cerebus #186.
I bring this up because the consequences of that POV informed my 2008 phone conversation with him. Dave didn't look fondly upon the Deni Loubert/Dave Sim chapter of my first book, I Have To Live With This Guy!, from 2002. Still, two subsequent meetings had buried the hatchet. That led to various exchanges including what was this whirlwind of a conversation re: Ditko.
Dave felt (correctly so) that Ditko had been consistently belittled, insulted and relegated for his Randian viewpoints mainly because the whole world just wanted Ditko to roll over, do Spider-Man and Dr. Strange again, and have his blood sucked for where "all the bodies are buried" at Marvel.
This 2008 conversation started well. Hey, when one of your heroes says about your book, "I think that Strange and Stranger is probably the best book of its kind that I’ve read," it's tough not to feel a sense of accomplishment. But as the reading of the review unfurled, and Sim clearly was empathizing with the arc of Ditko's career that had been deeply informed by the expression of his philosophical viewpoint, the tone began to change, and my momentary sense of joy sank with each passing word out of Dave's mouth.
When Dave finished reading the review, there was a prolonged silence. Ever been caught in the ocean's undertow, spun upside down? Was I offended? No, not really. Had my balloon burst? Maybe a little, but it certainly gave me pause to think and re-examine my motives based on this new perspective (especially when delivered in such a heart-felt manner).
It was the follow-up that I won't forget. Dave elaborated on how he felt Ditko had been treated by fans, the press, and the industry, and it became increasingly clear that he was talking about himself too. A wave of sadness came over me as Dave became choked up, especially while relating my "tip of the cap" to him in the Acknowledgments section.
I had put in there that my admiration was unending for Cerebus #11 to #136, in a similar fashion to Ditko's Spider-Man run, and he questioned if that was not read as a back-handed complement - similar to how Ditko views people who like his corporate comics vs. that from his own independent mind. I stood up for myself on this point, saying that my love for that part of Cerebus was an objective fact and that it was unfair to categorize my comment as a negative commentary on his personal beliefs that came out in full force in issue #186. Just as I had criticized Ditko's later work for being too didactic, for letting the message overwhelm the story, I believed the same had happened with Cerebus to the extent that my enjoyment, while never stopping me from buying the book to #300, did decrease in a comparative sense. I also opined to Dave that I don't think Ditko would appreciate people buy his Objectivist-heavy work just to support him because "he was Ditko". An acquaintance of Ditko once told me that Ditko had said he'd rather read a review of someone who hated his work than someone licking his boots, and I think that stuck with Dave as an appropriate counterpoint to his argument offered in the review.
I must have been channeling the Holy Spirit because I think the way that I conveyed myself broke through his defenses, in terms of sobering him up to the fact that he was being judged solely on the merits of his work, and not on his socio-political beliefs, and that this was rare for him in the past 10 years. It was clear to me that this had taken a toll on him: going from likely the most "he's my guy" figure in alternative comics to pariah/outsider.
I think we left the conversation with a better understanding of the other person's point of view. What else can you ask for? We've had some interactions since, but none for awhile and I wish I had the time to sit down and re-read Cerebus from start to finish for the first time in a decade. My other "dream book" to write would be "Dave Sim and The Rise of the Independents" just because I'd get to read those books again and bask in the glow of that era where everything seemed possible if you were an indie creator. We were going to triumph en masse over Goliath. Sim proved you could make it all on your own: a complete artistic vision, and business model, from start to finish, no interference in that vision from anyone (including a dwindling fan base). That's why comics are #1 for me. Can any other medium allow a creator the ability to get their vision across in such an unfiltered manner, from concept to consumer?
This conversation with Dave must have happened circa June of 2008 because I remember sitting down one night with Gary Groth and Mike Catron in their hotel at the San Diego Comicon that year, right after my Ditko book had hit bookstores and the first print run had sold out almost immediately. Gary said, "So, basking in the glow?" I then started to recount the Dave conversation and Gary said, "What motivates you to talk to him?" (Not in a sarcastic way at all, just out of curiosity, given how "out of vogue" Dave was with the comic-book intelligentsia.)
I said something like, "'Grace,' I guess. When someone had meant so much to you, I'm not quick to the impulse to toss them overboard because the wind changes direction. If I'm looking for a sinner to judge, and we're all sinners, I'll look in the mirror first."
I still feel this way. The number one thing that God has been working on me since being Born Again in Feb '11 is my blind self-righteousness. This is the (unfortunate) ability to see and call out sin in everyone else...except myself.
All the internet seems to have accomplished in this regard is allow me as a sinner to have my own couch potato pulpit to judge others (from a distance), all the while very likely not being worthy of the same judgement. Jesus was full of grace and truth. That's the same grace that I don't know if people have afforded Dave, but would be probably be begging for themselves if the tables were turned when one of their viewpoints became unpopular next week.
And I struggle to condone the linkage between the expression of a differing viewpoint and what an extremist might do with that viewpoint just from hearing it. I've been so convicted by God on the point that the worst kind of blind self-righteousness is believing myself so smart above all that I have to "protect" the supposedly-gullible from themselves; in this case, lest they fall "under Dave's evil spell and commit heinous acts against the innocent in Dave's name. I struggle with that being a biblical, or Randian, sense of personal accountability I can espouse. I struggle with voting a brother off the island because I claim to be tolerant, and demand tolerance, of my own viewpoints and not others.
I perfectly understand the notion that the offense Dave caused others means they do not care to associate with them, but I struggle with understanding the blind self-righteousness that this makes him an "evil" person, or me the same for daring to associate with him. I just don't think the world is a better place with that mindset in play, and it's certainly not part of my Faith. Especially since, to avoid being a hypocrite/pharisee, I'd probably have to sanction bombing Iran, or closing our doors to China and a zillion other countries that actually perform human rights' abuses, no? Or vote to ban abortion, since it's killing babies, right?
It's easy for me to shoot fish in my barrel, like Dave or Ditko, and not have to live up to that sense of morality on a consistent basis. It might interfere with me getting my cheap consumer goods, made by some penny-an-hour kids in factories in some overseas cesspool, just far enough from my eyes to relieve me of our sub-conscious guilt...and as long as I have people here like Ditko and Sim to bash and ridicule, I can sleep at night, feeling I'm righteous enough in this area to make up for my blindness elsewhere in matters of truth and justice, right? If you've read any of Ditko's non-corporate comics over the past 20 years, you know which side he lands on.
Not surprisingly, with the return of Ditko to producing his own comics since the release of my book (Ditko has published sixteen full-length, 32-page comics since 2008), and the return of the print fanzine, Ditkomania, Dave has said much more about Ditko and his work, plus has contributed a number of covers to Ditkomania. Tomorrow, we'll feature Dave's review of some of Ditko's 1950s work that I had sent him.
In recognition of the debut of my latest book, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives vol.3 at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend, May is "31 Days of Ditko"
where I post highly entertaining content everyday on the co-creator of
Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Mr. A, half of #BeforeWatchmen, and many more.