Posts Tagged ‘Black Market’

Cartoonist Kayfabe Look at the Art and Career of ‘American Hero’ Steve Ditko

December 10, 2021

More comics stuff, and a rather longer video than usual at 1hr 9minutes, but the subject deserves it. Steve Ditko is one of the great, legendary figures of American comics. He’s probably best known for creating Spiderman and the occult hero Dr. Strange with Stan ‘the Man’ Lee for Marvel. But as this video shows, Ditko worked for many other American comics companies – DC, Charlton, Dale and EC among them as well as self-publishing his personal works. In the video, the Kayfabers Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg go through the volume Ditko Unleashed: An American Hero, which accompanied an exhibition of the great man’s work. The book’s bilingual in English and Spanish, which suggests that the exhibition may have been in Spain. The volume not only describes Ditko’s career, but gives plentiful illustrations of his art.

Ditko, like Kirby, came from a blue-collar, working class background. He went into art school to study cartooning, as he wanted to be a comics artist. His career was uneven, working for a number of different publishers and in a variety of different genres – monster, science fiction, horror as well as the superheroes for which is he is best known. He also worked with some of the great names in American comics. At times he inked the awesome Jack Kirby, at other times he was inked by Frank Miller, the artist and writer chiefly responsible for turning Daredevil into one of Marvel’s leading heroes. I think he may also have been inked by John Byrne, one of the major artists behind the New X-Men. He was admired by many of these new artists. The epic Jim Starlin, in one edition of his Warlock comic, ‘One Thousand Clowns’, dedicated it to Ditko for showing us a new reality. Starlin’s art was rather more naturalistic, but he also used the same floating paths and mystic portals in his work. He also went through several hard times in his career. At one point he moved away to New York to recover from tuberculosis, then, as in Britain, a major killer. There were also years when he struggled, as many others did, to get work. He also worked on a number of merchandising tie-ins, like Micronauts and Rom: the SpaceKnight, which were intended to promote toy figures. I read the comics, which were excellent without having any interest in buying the toys, which might indicate they were too successful. Like the adverts for Cinzano Bianco wine with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. Everyone enjoyed them and they’re still fondly remembered by peeps of a certain vintage, but the people watching the ads couldn’t remember the brand of booze and so didn’t buy it. Ditko, like Kirby, broke off from Marvel for a time, before he returned, working on the above tie-ins along with the robotic superhero Machine Man.

Ditko, Politics and Morality

Unlike Stan Lee, who was a liberal, Ditko was very Conservative, a follower of Objectivism, the philosophy of supercapitalist ideologue Ayn Rand. He also had very black and white views on morality, which were expressed in his personal creations, Mr. A and The Question. He believed that heroes should be heroes, their morals pure and uncompromised. True to his ideals, he turned down work when the characters he was being asked to depict didn’t live up to them. A few years ago Jonathan Ross made a documentary for BBC 4 or one of the other channels searching for Ditko. One of those interviewed was Brit comics titan Alan Moore, who described meeting Ditko at Ditko’s home. He says that Ditko had a very narrow, inflexible view of morality, telling Moore, like one of his characters, that there were only two ways, a right way and a wrong way. Ditko’s politics are very definitely not mine, and I’m very much aware that in the real world, things are very often never a case of black and white but more shades or grey and motives can be less pure than we’d like. But after the comics industry went through a phase in which they tried to make their heroes darker – Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the foremost – and it was difficult telling the heroes from the villains, it’s refreshing to have someone who believes in old fashioned heroics.

The Kayfabers believe that if he were working today, Ditko would be cancelled or at least severely annoy and alienate 50 per cent of his audience. I think the first is certainly true. There has always been a left-wing message in American comics and an awareness of social issues. In the late 1960s into the 1970s both Marvel and DC tackled issues like racism and the rise of the feminist movement. As a response to the latter, Marvel created the Valkyrie, original a woman scientist who revolted against the patriarchy after having the credit for her discoveries stolen by her male colleagues. The Hulk comic also questioned American militarism, while Captain America, in disgust at Watergate and the contemporary corruption of American politics, renounced his patriotic monicker to become Nomad. Of course it wasn’t long before he rediscovered his faith in the rightness of the American way and put his uniform back on. However, Lee has also said in an interview that he was careful not to make the message too shrill so that it alienated readers that didn’t share his politics. Now many Conservative and moderate left comics creators and fans believe that in many strips, the political message has become too overt at the expense of traditional qualities like plotting, characterisation, dialogue and sheer fantasy. This was the motive behind Comicsgate a few years ago, when a number of comics creators, like Ethan van Sciver, broke away from the main comics companies of DC and Marvel to set up on their own.

Heroism and Its Absence in Modern Genre Film and Literature

One of the problems Az of Heels vs. Babyface and The Critical Drinker is that many of today’s pop culture heroes actually don’t act like heroes. For example, in one episode of Batwoman reviewed by Az, he comments critically on the way Batwoman treats the villain, a woman who has murdered several innocents. When Batwoman confronts her, she tells Batwoman that she’s killed so many people out of rage at her persecution as a lesbian. As a result, Batwoman, a lesbian herself, lets her go. This is simply immoral. The persecution of otherwise perfectly decent people because they’re attracted to the opposite sex is wrong, but it doesn’t justify the murder of innocents. Whatever political views real policemen and women have, they still have to act impartially and arrest those, who break the law and especially those who commit terrible crimes like mass murder.

The Critical Drinker put up a whole video about the failure of contemporary SF heroes to live up to the standards of true heroism with the latest Star Trek iterations as a case in point. He contrasted these were the high standards of professionalism demanded of the captain and crew in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation. In that series, the characters knew the importance of duty and respecting the command hierarchy even if they disagreed with it. At the same time, Picard and the other senior officers demanded and got the best from their crew. Several of the episodes involved leading characters learning the difficulties of command. There is one episode where one of the characters is training for promotion. Part this training involves trying to find ways to prevent a warp core breach that will destroy the Enterprise. The problem is insolvable until nearly every option has been tried except the one the prospective leader has been consciously trying to avoid: they have to send Jordi into the warp core to fix it, a command which will result in his death. But it’s unavoidable, and both characters know their duty is to their ship. The would-be commander has to give the order, which Jordi calmly accepts. And a hard lesson is learned. Instead, the crew of the new Trek franchises are grossly unprofessional. They bicker over there personal relationships in front of a superior officer, react badly to the stressful conditions they should, as crew aboard a quasi-military spacecraft, be trained to deal with and try to undermine their superior officers. Case in point: one sequence where Kirk and Spock attempt to beat the living daylights out of each other. Yeah, I’m aware that it happened in an episode or two of the original Trek, like the classic ‘Amok Time’, but there were extenuating circumstances. I like Star Trek and have got a couple of the recent Trek films on DVD. But I think the Drinker has a point, even if it comes from a jaundiced, booze-soaked mind. I think we need a few more heroes who are genuinely heroic in the old fashioned sense, even if the social views they hold may be those of the left.

Stylistic Strong Points

But Ditko’s own career also had its contradictions. At one point he was working on BDSM/ fetish comics, and there were certainly questions raised about the spectacular and surreal effects in several of his strips. Many of his characters, like Dr Strange, enter strange realms in which roads float apparently in mid-air, and doors and portals appear leading to elsewhere, like the mobile holes in many a cartoon strip. Strange shoots beams of light and conjures up strange geometrical figures in his incantations. These effects resemble the entoptic imagery seen when people start to hallucinate after using mind-altering drugs. Which led to the obvious question: was Ditko also on ’em. Ditko was too straitlaced to use recreational chemicals, and answered ‘No’. It all came from within, from his own unaided imagination. Which says to me that Ditko had an awesome imagination on his own, and that the really great, creative people don’t need drugs.

I can’t say that I was ever a fan of Ditko, as his artistic style with Marvel seemed rather too simple. I really admired those artists who were rather less stylised and more detailed and naturalistic. Nevertheless, this video shows that Ditko was a master of his art. The Kayfabers point out that he’s great at cityscapes and portraying fluid action sequences in which the characters are constantly in motion. In some of the strips, Ditko also used colour washes to enhance his line art, and the result is stunning. There are also a couple of strips where Ditko’s inkers were beginning to use computers to add inks and colour to his pencils, which are also very striking.

The Kayfabers also think that some of the pictures come from the private collections of people who acquired them less than legally. There is a black market in comics art, and Ditko was a victim along with many others. They won’t name names, of course, because they don’t want to get writs from m’learned friends. But they also state they’re just glad that someone, somewhere has preserved these pictures that would otherwise have been lost. Ditko also suffered into inadvertently giving people his autograph, thus cheating himself of money. He didn’t give autographs. However, if someone wrote to him asking for his autograph, they’d get a polite reply for Ditko saying ‘No’. Which he’d sign. People cottoned on to this, and exploited it.

Comics and Other Genre Artists True Artistic Innovators Deserving Academic Respect

The Kayfabers also lament that Ditko and that other American comics legend, Jack Kirby, weren’t more articulate. If they had been able to use the kind of language critics and intellectuals use about art, they could easily have been up there with Warhol and the Factory. But they were working artists, who had to grind out their strips to make a buck, and so didn’t have time to mix with people in art galleries. I completely agree. It’s been my opinion for a very long time that the truly great, innovative art exploring new visions, directions and tools is that of the space, science fiction and fantasy artists, including book illustrators and comics artists. And there are others who feel the same. I can remember watching one video about comics, in which one of the speakers said he felt angry seeing the work of artists hung in art galleries, who had based their work on comic artists. He felt that the original comics artists should have got the money and their work hung instead. Way back in the ’90s I tried to get one of the art magazines to accept an article in which I argued this point, and showed the stylistic similarities between respect fine artists like H.R. Giger and those of the Soviet austere school and such comics greats as Kirby and the British master of aliens, robots and the grotesque, Kevin O’Neil. Unfortunately, it was turned down because it would have been too expensive to run. But the point remains. And it'[s shown in Ditko’s art. There’s a panel in which the exhibition shows a clear influence on one of Ditko’s weird geometrical designs in a portal in Dr. Strange with a painting from the Russian avant-garde artist Vassily Kandinsky. The two debate whether there is a genuine influence there, before concluding that their probably is. I can easily believe it. Many comics artists have their own heroes and influences in fine art as well as other great illustrators of the past. Way back at the comics festival UKCAC ’90 I remember going to a talk by Charles Vess, who talked about the great artists and illustrators he admired. I can well believe that Ditko absorbed and incorporated ideas from fine art as well as cartooning and illustration, and that his own work pushed these ideas forward into new directions.

The book goes up to 2016, nearly the end of Ditko’s life. He died only a few years ago. Wossy in his quest to find the great man managed to track him down to an advertising agency in the Big Apple. Ditko agreed to meet Woss and the other host, but it all had to be off-camera. The programme concluded with Wossy stating that when they met Ditko he was very sweet, gave them lots of copies of his work, but they couldn’t repeat what he said to them. And so walked off into the New York crowd.

Well, RIP Steve Ditko, one of the greats of American founders. The book and the video by the Kayfabers are a great overview of one of the creators of some of the most iconic modern American superheroes.

RT America Fights Back with Spoof of Corporate American Smears

October 28, 2017

This is a great little video from RT America, where their Editor-in-Chief, Margarita Simonyan, responds to the political and corporate witch-hunt against RT by pretending to show how the Russian-owned broadcaster really operates. It shows her counting out her ill-gotten gains in the company of a bear, natch – this is a Russian company. She moves around dressed in the characteristic Russian fur hat, as do many of her workers, who are shown as the bullied drones of Russian industry. And even the cleaning ladies take their orders directly from Moscow. The expats are kept shackled in the basement as evil defectors, and in the studio for foreign news all the supposed ‘live’ footage from places like Syria are in fact fakes, generated through computer graphics and the green screen. Further consultation with her senior staff takes place in a darkened room where everyone is wearing Red Army uniforms. And the news readers themselves are kept chained to their desks.

The clip concludes with a selection of various quotes on the screen by alarmed political figures and former journalists with the network, all going on about how it’s a terrible threat to American freedom and democracy. You won’t be surprised to see that amongst the Republicans there are various figures from Hillary’s branch of the Democrat Party.

The video then ends with the promise ‘Don’t worry – we’ll keep annoying them!’

This puts the lie to the stereotype that the Russians are naturally dour with no sense of humour. Yes, they have a word for ‘funny’ – it’s ‘smeeshno’, and this is very smeeshno indeed. And much of that humour was expressed in political satire. Try Gogol’s The Government Inspector. Written in the 19th century by the great Ukrainian writer, this is about a corrupt post office manager, who opens the letters coming through his office and reads them.
The late Peter Ustinov, in an interview in the 1980s described how he was walking around Moscow when a spiv sidled out of an alley. The man asked him if he wanted to buy any videos. So Ustinov said he was interested, and followed him back down the alley, wondering just what videos the man had for sale. The black marketer opened his coat to reveal-

-videos of the British Whitehall sitcom, Yes, Minister.

This was during Perestroika, and the Russians liked it, because it satirised state bureaucracy, just like so much of their great literature.

There are issues of bias, of course. The presenter of The Empire Files, Abi Martin, left RT, or was sacked, because she criticised a Russian military action on air. But that should not put people off watching RT, any more than watching the Beeb uncritically support the current regime of gangsters and Nazis in the Ukraine. I watch and reblog videos from RT on this site, because they cover issues from a left-wing perspective that you don’t see in the mainstream media. And if RT is growing, it isn’t because they are engaged in a fiendish plot to bring down our governments. It’s because they’re actually doing their job as journalists, and holding government and corporations to account, which the Western media has given up doing since they were taken over by big corporate conglomerates in the 1980s.

Iain Duncan Smith and the Monsters of Folklore

June 26, 2014

Ian Duncan Smith pic

I’ve previously written a number of posts comparing Iain Duncan Smith to a serial killer, specifically Andrei Chikatilo, the ‘Russian Ripper’, who raped, killed and ate about 54 children and men before the Soviet Union’s finest caught and shot him. This is because of the immense death toll caused by his welfare reforms, amounting to an estimated three every four hours, coupled with his absolute absence of any remorse or willingness to concede that his actions are responsible for any kind of suffering and death. Indeed, he insists that they are right, merely based on his own ‘beliefs’. Worse, he is actually proud of them, absurdly comparing them to William Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery.

Well, if he wants to make that comparison, then the folklore of the various colonial peoples brutalised and exploited by their European conquerors, as well as the lower class European victims of forced transportation to the colonies also provide an extremely close parallel and a metaphor for the suffering deliberately inflicted by IDS’ policies.

Murdering Indians for European Industry in the Andes

One of the monsters of Peruvean and Andean Indian folklore is a tall man, either of European descent or a mestizo (mixed race-European/Indian), dressed in a long, black coat. Concealed underneath this are two long knives, which he uses to kill his Indian victims. He does so in order to obtain their body fat, which is exported to Europe to maintain the machines of European industry.

This particular folkloric monster has been around since the conquest of South and Central America by the Spaniards in the 15th century. It’s a folkloric response to the destruction of the indigenous civilisations of the Incas, Aymara and other peoples, and their enslavement and exploitation by their European conquerors under the repartimiento system, in which Indians were allocated to their Spanish overlords as slave labour. Although Peruvian governments from the late 20th century have tried to raise the status of the indigenous peoples, for example, replacing the word for them, ‘Indio’ – ‘Indian’, with ‘Indigena’ – Indigenous Person, there is still considerable shame associate with Indian ancestry. The myth of this serial killer is effectively a metaphor for the way the indigenous peoples of the Andes suffered and died for the material enrichment of their European overlords, and the mechanised industry that became emblematic of European exploitation, industry and culture.

The Murder Factory for 19th Century Indian Emigrant Labourers

A similar myth also appeared thousands of miles to the east, in India, in the 19th century. After the abolition of slavery, European planters, industrialists and colonial administrators became concerned about the lack of available cheap labour to cultivate the sugar plantation on which the economies of the Caribbean nations, as well as other colonies scattered around the globe, such as Mauritius, the Seychelles and Fiji, depended. They therefore began to import Chinese and Indians as indentured labourers. Technically free, these people were exploited and suffered conditions every bit, and sometimes worse, than the Black slaves they replaced. The system deeply shocked some British and imperial politicians and administrators, as well as many leading Christian priests and ministers, who denounced it as ‘a new system of slavery’. This systematic abuse and exploitation of indentured Indian labourers under the ‘Coolie Trade’ also helped stimulate the campaign for Indian independence. Indian nationalists reasoned that expatriate Indians would only be treated with dignity and respect if they had the full support of an independent homeland. Some labourers were obtained through kidnapping, and the British authorities in India and China during the 19th century organised a series of raids against gangs, who had seized and held labourers against their will in order to supply the trade. Initially there were no arrangements to keep families in touch with relatives working abroad, so it was common for children and husbands simply to disappear one morning, without being heard of again, or to reappear suddenly as much as twenty years later. The response was the creation of another myth of mechanised murder for the sake of European industry.

The myth spread that those Indians, who signed on for work abroad, were taken to a secret factory. There they were killed, and the cerebro-spinal fluid extracted from their skulls, for use in Europe. A drawing circulated of a group of Indians hanging from a beam, with a text in Hindi explaining what had been done to them. As with the Andean serial killer, this expresses metaphorically and in personal terms the exploitation and death inflicted on the imperial subaltern peoples for the benefit of European colonial industry.

Children Abducted for their Blood by Kings in 18th century France

These monsters weren’t confined just to the subject people’s of the British and Spanish empires, however. in the mid-18th century a rumour spread through France warning parents to guard their children. They were being abducted by a wealthy lady, who took them to a richly furnished, dark coach. She served a king, who was suffering from a terrible disease, which could only be treated with the blood of children, who were thus killed to alleviate his suffering. Folklorists such as Marina Warner have suggested that this was created by the use of force by the French state to provide settlers for the new French colony of Louisiana in America. The unemployed and poor were particularly targeted by the authorities. The French Crown was becoming increasingly unpopular due to its extravagant luxury and unrestrained, absolute power and so the disappearance of people without trace, especially children, became linked to the idea of a corrupt and literally bloodthirsty monarch.

Babies Killed for their Organs in 1990s’ Rumours

Similar fears appeared in the 1990s in the widespread rumours that people were being drugged and even killed to supply black market transplant organs. In one of these stories going around the Central American republics, a woman had had her baby abducted. The child’s body was eventually founded, gutted and stuffed with dollar bills. With the money was a note saying, ‘Thank you for your co-operation’. These stories led to a massive atmosphere of suspicion and anger towards Americans and Europeans, and tourists were warned about the dangers of inappropriate or insensitive behaviour towards children. In one instance, a female American tourist had wanted to take photographs of a group of children in Guatemala. The local people became highly suspicious of her intentions, with the result that an angry mob developed, and eventually erupted into a full-scale riot. The woman and her husband, I believe, had to be taken to the local police station for their own safety, which was itself attacked. Several police officers and the couple themselves lost their lives in the violence. Again, it is not hard to see the myth behind this tragic incident as an expression of the highly exploitative relationship between Latin America and its much richer and economically dominant neighbour to the north.

Iain Duncan Smith and the Death and Exploitation of the Poor and Unemployed for the Aristocracy and Industry

IDS’ own welfare reforms also conform to the pattern of industrialised exploitation and murder, which are the essential subjects of these myths. They attack the very poorest members of the society, the unemployed, the sick and disabled, for the benefit of an aristocratic elite. Like the myth of the Andean serial killer and murder factory in Indian ‘Coolie’ folklore, these reforms are carried out for the benefit of the employers. IDS, McVey and Pennington have created a system of forced labour through the workfare system. It’s a system that needs the threat of death from benefit sanctions in order to make it work. And so IDS can join the monsters and industrial murderers of the brutalised and exploited from around the world.

I wonder if, should he ever make a state visit to Peru, someone should ask him very publicly if he still has two long, sharp knives with him, and if he really does to the people of England what his kind has been doing down the centuries