Steve Ditko: idiosyncratic or crazy? Old crank or genius who just wants to be left alone? Private man or a man who shares his deepest inner thoughts with readers? Dealer in complex issues or a crazy eccentric who has conflated his personal philosophy into something more than it really is?
Based on the evidence of Ditko Once More and the other works that Ditko has released recently, the answer to at least some of those questions seems to be “yes.”
Yes, Steve Ditko is truly, deeply, amazingly idiosyncratic. And yes, some people might call him crazy, for a whole slew of reasons, not the least of which is his amazingly idiosyncratic nature.
But at the same time, while Ditko is a private man, he is not shy about sharing his deepest inner thoughts with readers. The problem is that the thoughts that Ditko is offering readers are pretty much unwelcome by most readers.
There’s no question Ditko is a genius, a man whose body of work is unique and unparalleled in comics history. Even if you take away the two series that were unquestionably his two greatest creations, Doctor Strange and Spider-Man, Ditko has drawn literally thousands of pages of great comics art. We are lucky that Ditko is still producing comics work at an age when most comics creators have long since retired.
The truth is that this deeply private man is happy to share some of his deeper inner thoughts with readers. The problem is that readers don’t necessarily welcome Ditko’s inner thoughts. When the creator is Joe Matt or Robert Crumb, drawing their neuroses and inner battles onto the comics page, that work is welcomed by many comics connoisseurs as insightful, moving, transcendent work. It helps that Matt, Crumb and their ilk often draw comics that feature sex in them.
Well, Ditko is sharing his inner thoughts, but his thoughts aren’t sex fantasies or reveries on growing old. No, Ditko’s inner thoughts are reflections of his complex personal and political philosophies.
What readers get in Ditko Once More is a comic that is frankly rather difficult to get through, that is unwelcoming in places and even hostile in others. It’s a comic that even the most devoted of Ditko’s fans can find it difficult to get through, with its feeling of hectoring and lecturing and superiority.
More than that is its feeling of obscurity. I defy any reader to make sense of the back cover of this comic, for instance. It’s a full-page piece, laid on its site. Three groups are standing on a globe. On one site is a monster with the words “force and faith” in the clubs it holds, while the words “wipe them out” literally comes out of its ass. On the other side is an angry mob, holding pipes and sticks. The back of one man’s jacket readers “Might Is Right.” In the middle of the two are two versions of Ditko’s “Hero”, one facing the mob while the other faces the monster. The hero’s eyes are hidden and he stands motionless.
Now I consider myself a pretty sophisticated interpreter of comics art, but I can’t figure out just what the point is of this piece.
But really Ditko doesn’t care if I understand the piece or not. He’s not creating it for me. He’s creating it for himself. He just makes his work available for me to get what I want out of it. He’s a deeply private man sharing his inner thoughts. If I don’t understand Steve Ditko’s inner thoughts, Ditko doesn’t care.
Ditko even explicitly calls this point out in page two of the comic, “A Fan World Variation,” in which the fan press is mocked for asking for answers from Ditko. Ditko explicitly rejects that request with that illustration, telling readers to not look for flashes of insight in his work, but to take the work for what it is offered to be.
In the end, we Ditko fans need to realize that unlike virtually any other prominent creator, Ditko cares not a whit about us. He doesn’t. He cares about his philosophy and his view of the world, and offers readers a chance to glimpse his world through his occasional comic books. Whether the comics sell or not is of no consequence to him. Whether he makes money from them is of no consequence to him. And whether readers care about what he creates is also of no consequence to Steve Ditko.
That’s not a bad thing. A man has a right to his privacy. We should be thrilled that Ditko shares what he does with us while he’s alive. He will never be the Steve Ditko that we want him to be. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.