With our forthcoming opus STRANGE & STRANGE: THE WORLD OF STEVE DITKO hitting in just a few weeks, I thought I would share a brief Steve Ditko story. About ten years ago we had the great fortune of publishing a new series by Mr. Ditko, STEVE DITKO'S STRANGE AVENGING TALES. This was incredibly exciting to me, having been a lifelong Ditko fan. Unfortunately, I did not get to interact much with Mr. Ditko. See, I do all of our promotion, and to say that Mr. Ditko is not big on promotion is like saying the Pope is not big on gay marriage. And, he preferred snail mail to phone. As such, I did not have many opportunities to interact with one of the greatest comic book artists of all-time. Except one.
At the time, the venerable fan publication COMICS BUYERS GUIDE was very excited about Mr. Ditko's new series, and CBG Editor Maggie Thompson was kind enough to offer us the cover of an issue to promote the book, but asked if Mr. Ditko would provide an original cover for CBG. As I recall, Gary Groth ran the idea by Ditko and, somewhat surprisingly, he was game. So, I mailed Mr. Ditko all of the appropriate specifications for creating an original CBG cover. A week or so later, I received the following postcard in the mail:
I have to say, getting a postcard in the mail from Steve Ditko was just about the coolest thing ever. I was jazzed. I of course promptly wrote him back with enthusiasm, hoping to cement our acquaintanceship, telling him that I looked forward to the piece.
Soon thereafter, as promised, Ditko delivered the cover, and it was great -- a beautiful, greytoned wash illustration tying into the new series.
And here's where I made my mistake. As I recall, I wrote him back even more enthusiastically, thanking him for the piece. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, and since we still had some time before CBG's deadline, I reminded him (in case he hadn't seen an issue recently) that CBG had just switched from a B&W newspaper format to a tabloid format with color covers , and so color did remain an option if he was so inclined -- I just wanted to make sure he wasn't limiting himself to B&W because he thought he had to.
Anyway, a week or so later I got this postcard:
Reading the card now, I'm not even sure if he was actually that upset. I mean, he still sent his "regards," so maybe he was just trying to be as clear as possible, but at the time, I was convinced I'd royally pissed him off and felt terrible about it. I still do. Shortly after this, Ditko quit the series over other disagreements with Gary Groth, and only the first issue was published. So I never got the chance to prove to Mr. Ditko that I wasn't a moron.
I suppose, given Mr. Ditko's philosophical worldview, I never should have doubted that B&W cover. Maybe it was the shades of grey that threw me off. Either way, the pure white, economic postcards should have been a reminder that Mr. Ditko knew exactly what he was doing and I never should have questioned him.
If you weren't able to make it to Larry Reid's slide lecture "Weirdos: Seattle’s Alternative Comics Culture in the Context of R. Crumb’s Underground" at the Frye Art Museum last month, or if you were and want to re-live it, we are very pleased to present it here on the website in a nifty interactive format. Stream or download the MP3 audio and follow along with the slides at the "ding," just like back in grade school! (You can also read the text of the lecture and browse the slides at your own pace, if you prefer.) Larry's speech is informative, entertaining and opinionated as always, and the slideshow includes a wealth of seldom-seen imagery like the Rocket cover by the Brothers Hernandez pictured above. Click here to dive on in!
No sooner has our own Matt Silvie posted Flickr photos of Ruth Bellthomaz's house than the city has won out on forcing her to beautify her property. Anyone who's ever visited the Fantagraphics Books, Inc., headquarters surely remembers her house, brimming with chaotic art and a constantly evolving landscape.
My desk here at the office looks out on Ruth's property. I've frequently seen her out there securing the wall of window frames that she has nailed to her house. The squirrels and stray cats love climbing on the scaffolding-like structure, but Matt tells me that she has all those seemingly useless windows there to keep the FBI from monitoring inside her home. Which is at least a little less crazy sounding when you realize that those are the initials for our company and I AM staring at her.
Anyway, she's over there today with an industrial-size dumpster and a hammer dismantling and trashing. I just hope we don't lose all of her handpainted signs (see above).
Charles E. Petit, known to the Fantagraphics offices as the longtime lawyer of Harlan Ellison, has been disbarred. Petit was found guilty of poor ethics by defrauding the family of author John Steinbeck. His defense honestly seems to have been that he's driven crazy by migraines that lead him to forget events that transpire at the time of the headaches and stuff like that. Specifically, he has been suspended for the following:
Count I, the Respondent repeatedly and knowingly made false statements to his client Nancy Steinbeck.
Count II, we find that the Respondent engaged in dishonest and deceitful conduct, and breached his fiduciary duties to his client.
Ultimately, the detail of the case that I most love is simply the name of the Court's psychiatric authority and his diagnosis of the lawyer: "Dr. Jeckel made a diagnosis of the Respondent. First, the Respondent has a Mixed Personality Disorder..."
Seattle's Crocodile Cafe unceremoniously closed down this weekend, the latest in a slew of old school Seattle venues going the way of Fallout Records & Comix and the old Rendezvous. The Croc was the best rock club in Seattle in the 1990s - just off the top of my head I can recall seeing a slew of pretty huge bands in its not-so-huge confines: Guided By Voices, Nirvana, Built To Spill, Cheap Trick, Yo La Tengo, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam (opening for Cheap Trick), Sebadoh, Dead Moon, The Shins, The Go-Betweens, Mike Watt, Jonathan Richman, Iron & Wine, Low, etc.
The club was always good to Fantagraphics - we put on several events there over the years, including a Comic Book Legal Defense Fund benefit with Neil Gaiman in 1997 or so that was one of the most successful regional fundraisers the Fund had ever done at the time and even garnered a Seattle city award for "Best Fundraiser (Under $200,000 category)" of the year, which I accepted from the Mayor in a gigantic gala ball. In 2000, the Croc lent us its space to put on a special Built To Spill concert to raise money for a serious debt we were in when our then-distributor went out of business owing us $80,000 - the event raised almost $10,000 and literally may have been the difference in keeping us in business at that moment. We helped organize a series of "ATM art shows" at the Croc in the 1990s (named so because every piece was an ATM-friendly $40, with pieces from Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge -- you name it) with then art school student Kirsten Anderson, an experience which she parlayed into opening Roq La Rue, one of the most vital galleries in Seattle for going on a decade now. The club's booker at that time, Peter English, was also my next door neighbor for a few years and became one of my best pals, so there was a personal connection, as well. We took care of each others' cats when the other traveled.
My new favorite diversion: Mary In Comic Con Land. Artist Mary Fleener lives just north of San Diego and as such has attended a *lot* of Comicons over the last 25 years, and now she's sharing a quarter-century of photos. It's a treasure trove featuring just about every alt comix luminary you can think of from the last three decades, from Spiegelman to Bagge to Seda to Clowes to to Groening to Eisner and dozens more. And they're all so young and fresh-faced, positioned against faded convention center walls and faux-wood paneling, with none of the glitzy excess of today's comicon. It's a nostalgia vortex of bad hair and skinny ties and dim yellow light that I just can't get enough of. Time to pull out those old Stickboy back issues. Here's a couple primo examples, the first two featuring a Fanta panel from the late-80s (including Los Bros., Clowes, Bagge, Peter Kuper and Dennis Worden, the second two from a late-80s comicon dinner with Clowes, Kim Deitch, Fleener and Bagge. Good stuff.