Full Page Editorial Splash

Steve Ditko’s 32 Page Package #5

Since earlier Ditko packages are 80 and 160 pages, I guess the title is a little misleading since this isn’t the fifth in a line of 32-page books, but the fifth in a series of Ditko collections of varying page-count.

This is the fifth in a series of collections of assorted Ditko work, published by Robin Snyder and Steve Ditko. It was released in May of 2000; the cover and interior is all b&w. The book is magazine-sized. Some of the material was originally printed in various issues of Robin Snyder’s “The Comics” in 1999 and 2000 (for more great info, check out Blake Bell‘s excellent Ditko checklists at his great Ditko site!).

All of the comics collected here are one-page philosophic tidbits, collectively titled “Tsk! Tsk!”. There are no panels and no attempt at sequential narrative here; the whole page is used in graphic illustration of Ditko’s points. Ditko is a precise and symmetrical designer of these pages; often the page is split down the center into mirror-images, with each element on the ’right’ side contrasted with its negative equivalent on the ’wrong’ side. Since A does equal A after all, the wrong side is always clearly identified and thoroughly caricatured. This plays into Ditko’s strengths in drafting simple, direct images. The noble face of the fact-based communicator is attacked by wavy lines, representing the poison influence of rumor and distortion; the face is taken by the lines, like worms digging into his skin and seething against his skull, forcibly twisting his face into a leer of exploitation, a distortionist. His smile reveals not the truth of A but the vagaries of X, Y, and Z, which are not equal values. There are countless images of scales, with facts balanced with facts, and lies shattering the equilibrium.

Ditko’s use of text here reminds me of the lettering of Dave Sim. Words often shake and quiver with their own inherent meanings. A character exclaims “Who!? Me!?”, but the trembling state of the ’Me’ reveals to the reader his spine of pudding. There are a lot of words in this book; some of the pages are positively loaded with text, which often works against Ditko’s points, in my opinion. Ditko’s philosophic stances are much better served by the symmetrical deployment of graphics, either through comparison/contrast setups of right and wrong, or layers of moral fiber, stacked atop each other like a wedding cake. Take one page, dealing with stolen art. The top of the page is split in half between the opposing forces of Plato’s advice to flee from the company of bad men, and the ‘Zerophyte’ rejection of the good. The next layer down illustrates the faces of the enablers: seeing, hearing, and speaking no wrong. And at the bottom are the thieves, cackling over the literal crime of pinched comic pages. This call for moral action is well-served through graphic simplicity; Ditko is skilled enough to illustrate his concerns in an exact and controlled format. But other pages display an overemphasis on text. A row of sentences (“Accepting any part of a poison is the total rejection of a healthy life… Accepting the anti-hero is a rejection of all heroic virtues and values.”) is simply less attractive and less convincing than an illustration of the same, at least in the context of a single-page illustrative essay that often focuses on the necessity of absolutes.

These pages are often connected with issues surrounding Ditko’s experience with working in comics: the two most oft-recurring themes are the theft of original art and the creation of characters. Several pages at the end of the book are devoted to explaining Ditko’s role in the creation of Spider-Man; there is a palpable sense of exasperation at the acceptance of Stan Lee’s claims of credit for the creation of the famous wall-crawler, which goes a long way toward explaining Ditko’s constant ire at the inactive acceptor of unsupported fact, a common thread throughout the book. On one page in particular, Ditko contrasts Lee’s contribution to the Spider-Man creation (a block of text synopsis) with Ditko’s own (an image of Spidey swinging into action). It cleverly points out the necessity of artistic design in character creation, as well as the effectiveness of graphics in breathing life into words, a lesson Ditko himself occasionally loses track of on other pages.

The book isn’t a lavish production, and the material within may not be of instant attraction to fans of Ditko’s fiction-based work (even the more philosophic fictions), but I think there’s a good deal of value here, if only to admire Ditko’s sense of graphic simplicity and page design in perhaps a more refined, direct form. How much of the philosophy the reader accepts is naturally up in the air, but Ditko’s subject matter here is well-suited for graphic presentation, and the artist is often well-equipped to deliver is message in at least a pleasing and logical format.