For over 25 years, the Comics Journal has served several unique purposes in the comics industry. In its never-ending quest to push the industry to produce better comics, the Journal has championed many brilliant artists who might still be virtual unknowns today. The Journal has also taken a role as the definitive source for comics news – in a world of instant and shallow internet-driven news, the Journal provides detailed analysis of the day’s important news. The third important role of the Journal has been to chronicle and analyze past events in comics. In the past, the Journal has interviewed any number of great creators, from Crumb, Kirby and Kurtzman to Tom Sutton, Gene Colan and John Severin, from Skip Williamson and Harvey Pekar to Steve Rude and Kurt Busiek. Each time, the Journal interview has been definitive, delving not merely into the creators’ careers but also their approaches to their art. The main difference between an interview in the Journal and an interview in Comic Book Artist or Comic Book Marketplace is that the Journal strives to consider the aesthetics of the decisions a creator makes and in doing so help to get a feel for their real place in comics history.
Which is why I was so excited about this issue of TCJ. It was announced that this issue would be devoted to the career of Steve Ditko, surely one of the most interesting and enigmatic creators of the last half-century. Ditko’s career is filled with questions that might never by satisfactorily be answered: why did he leave Spider-Man at the height of its success? Why did he work so long for Charlton Comics, reputedly the lowest-paying comics company? What prompted his embrace of the philosophy of Ayn Rand? How does one put Ditko’s political work of the ‘70s onward in perspective against the rest of his career? Unfortunately, the magazine only is able to answer some of these questions.
The big problem here is, of course, that Ditko refuses to sit for interviews, instead declaring that his work should speak for itself. So instead the Journal delivers nine articles about different aspects of Ditko’s work. Some are wonderful – I loved the piece about Ditko’s drawings of hands – but none of the pieces manage to get into the question of Ditko the man. Surely for a man of his prestige and importance, the Journal could have rounded up a number of Ditko’s friends and collaborators to contribute short interview or essays to the magazine. Why not talk with Ditko’s longtime confidante Robin Snyder, or David Lapham, who worked with Ditko at Defiant Comics, or some of his Silver Age pals? In the end, the Ditko section only takes up 31 pages of a 128-page magazine. The rest of the content in the magazine is interesting enough, but the meat of the issue, the Ditko section, seems rather paltry and thrown together.
Compare this with issue 181, the special Stan Lee issue. Yes, that issue contained interviews with Lee, but it also featured a number of articles about him, personal reminiscences about the man, photographs – a whole slew of content. If Lee deserved the deluxe treatment, why didn’t Ditko?
Steve Ditko is a giant of the industry. Surely the editors of The Comics Journal should have been wiser and devoted more space and energy to discussing his life and career?