Sunday, August 17, 2008

Strange and Stranger-The World of Steve Ditko


Today's NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW presented a review of Facebook pal Blake Bell's new book, STRANGE AND STRANGER-THE WORLD OF STEVE DITKO. Or did they? Their piece barely mentions the book itself, preferring instead to go on at length (nearly a full page) about the well-known eccentricities of Ditko as a man and as an artist. In so doing, the reviewer all but parrots the book itself rather than reviewing it.
STRANGE AND STRANGER is itself an anomaly in a way. It's a book that Ditko would probably prefer didn't exist at all and yet it is, in fact, the most flattering and fair-minded celebration of his unique place in comic book history that I've ever seen. On the one hand giving lip service to Ditko's insistance on his privacy and yet on the other revealing photos and encounters heretofore uncollected.
Putting aside the inevitable question of should the book have been written at all if Ditko didn't want it to be, Bell's text is straightforward, well-researched and as knowledgeable as one would expect from the man who's run the biggest Steve Ditko fan site on the web for many a year now (http://www.ditko.comics.org/). The art is a well-chosen mix of classic pieces, rare illustrations and astonishingly reproduced original pages.
Ditko the artist is well-served and every aspect of his career is touched on in chronolgical order, much of it familiar and yet always amazing. Ditko the man, on the other hand, is someone whom I had never really encountered previously and I was fascinated to do so at last. His passion for Ayn Rand's writings and philosophies is laid out in such a compelling fashion that I've actually considered reading THE FOUNTAINHEAD since I finished Bell's book. What emerges overall is a portrait of a man with values that he cherishes above all else. No compromise! What comes across as his endless eccentricities are actually his standing ground for his own convictions, something very few of us do these days. One could argue that the artist shows more than a hint of mental instability but don't all great men look insane to those who disagree with them?
STRANGE AND STRANGER is backed up by extensive footnotes documenting every little comment by and about Ditko and the whole thing is wrapped up in a classy Fantagraphics package. Ditko has always said his work should speak for him. It does and it always has but there's a natural tendency for fans to want to know the person behind the work and Blake Bell has succeeded in introducing him (kicking and screaming perhaps) admirably. This is a long-overdue volume that belongs on the bookshelf of everyone who has ever considered himself (or herself) a comic book aficionado.
Thank you, Mr. Ditko, for sharing your work with us all these years and thank you, Mr. Bell for sharing Mr. Ditko with us at long last.

1 comment:

joe bloke said...

fella, there's nothing that can be read in Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead that can't be read in one panel of Mr. A. the only real difference is that Ditko could write.

this looks like it's gonna jump right to the top of joe's must-have book list. thanks for the post.