DEFIANT DitkoIn the summer of 1992, days after I was ousted from VALIANT, Frank Miller called me. He said he’d heard what they said. He asked me to tell him what really happened.
Frank was very sympathetic and supportive.
Not too long after that, I got a call from Steve Ditko. The new management at VALIANT had dumped him in a callous and demeaning manner (my characterization of the events, not his). And it sounded like it got to him. He sounded depressed. It must have been one harsh rejection. I’m not going to try to quote him, but for the first and only time to me, he said things about people hating his work. He sounded hurt.
Maybe I read too much into it, maybe I’m coloring it all wrong. Maybe Steve would deny the above. I don’t claim to know what was going on in his mind, but that’s what it sounded like, that’s what it felt like to me.
My turn to be sympathetic and supportive.
Not much I could do to help at that point.
But, after we hung up, I gave Frank a call. At that point, Frank was doing a lot of work with Dark Horse. I said, “I don’t know whether Mike Richardson would take my call, but I know he’ll take yours.” I suggested that Frank call Dark Horse Master and Commander Mike and tell him that right now would be a great time for to do a project with Steve Ditko. I thought it would cheer Steve up considerably to hear from Mike, if there was work to be had.
Frank, a good soul, called Mike. Mike is also a good soul, has abiding respect for Steve and his work and was happy to get a heads up about Steve being available. Mike called Steve. Dark Horse indeed, did something with Steve, although as previously mentioned, Steve is pretty strict about what he’ll do and what he won’t, so as I recall, it wasn’t a very extensive project. But, I suspect it felt good for Steve to get an offer right about then.
The next eight months were pretty ugly. It wasn’t enough getting rid of me, the scum who stole VALIANT went for scorched earth. There was a lawsuit. They sued me! Too long to explain here, but it really had to do with establishing a default so that my shares—I owned 25% of the company—would be technically worthless, and therefore could be seized through forced arbitration for nothing! Zero! Giving them the full value of what the shares were really worth.
Meanwhile, the reality was that VALIANT was making $2 million a month pre-tax profit, and they had bids from potential buyers as high as a quarter billion dollars. The greedy pirates wanted it all. They worked hard and played dirty to get it.
I changed my lock at my apartment. I had documents there that proved they had waived all events of default (in order to have a clean balance sheet, necessary for selling the company). Their chief lackey Bob Layton lived in the same building and had a key to the old lock, left over from when he’d showed up on my doorstep with his suitcase and nowhere else to go.
They had ransacked my office, why should I not think they might pay a visit to my apartment when I was away? And steal those damning documents.
I still have the old lock. A souvenir.
I prevailed in court because I had the documents.
But they weren’t done. They had just begun to scorch the earth.
Lots more on all that sometime down the road.
I’ll tell you this much. They managed to get away with a forced buyout of my shares that paid me less than what I owed my lawyers, not to mention the taxes on same. They eventually sold the company for $65 million in stock to Acclaim Entertainment. Acclaim’s stock went up. Therefore, so did the value of the deal, and adding the cash they dividended to themselves before the sale, some tens of millions, the total proceeds to the pirates wound up being well over $160 million.
The man who conducted the sale, Enrique Senior, second in command at boutique investment banking firm Allen and Company, told me that the reason they weren’t able to make the sale at the $250 million level contemplated early in the process by big players like Paramount was that “The creative guy was gone.”
Another Pyrrhic victory for my collection.
Even though I had been cast out of VALIANT, I had to wait four months, according to my contract, till I was free to start again.
One good thing was that VALIANT was so successful that it wasn’t too hard to raise capital again. It’s always hard.
As soon as I was legally free to do so, I started laying the groundwork for DEFIANT.
One of the first things I did was meet with Steve Ditko. We met several times and had a number of conversations. One of them, the first DEFIANT related conversation, I believe, took place in the McDonald’s in Times Square, near where Steve lives.
I wanted to create, with Steve, a character ideally suited for him.
He wanted a character who wasn’t bitten by a radioactive anything, or from another planet, or injected with chemicals. Whatever the character could do that was special, if anything, he wanted to be the result of his own efforts, his own thinking. If empowered, empowered in some novel, creative way by his own mind. And why does it always have to be a young guy? Why not an older man? Steve also didn’t want another muscular bodybuilder type. No mansions, no Batmobiles, no costumes. And no “official” super hero name. A real, regular person name—though he allowed that others who didn’t know his name might call the guy by some more dramatic appellation.
I started working on ideas.
Meanwhile, DEFIANT was coming together. My little core group met several times in marketing whiz Clark Smith’s beautiful apartment on the Upper West Side, laying the business and creative foundations:
|Jim Shooter, David Lapham, Deborah Purcell, Clark Smith|
|Jim Shooter, David Lapham, JayJay Jackson|
Notably absent from these particular photos is Chuck Rozanski, Grand Muckety-Muck of the incredible Mile High Comics, who pitched in and helped us tremendously. We couldn’t have been DEFIANT without him. Chuck has been a friend for 32 years. Great guy, as honest and honorable as they come. He wouldn’t lie to you, about you or for you, no matter who you are.
I had picked the name VALIANT off of a list of suggestions offered me by JayJay. I believe I came up with DEFIANT by myself. Right, Jay?
As for the logo, we sat for a long time trying to come up with an image. I kept making sketches. JayJay kept hating them. She hates everything. Finally, I made a scribbly sketch of a rugged tower that weathered the night and the storm, and as the dawn breaks, still stands strong.
“Give me that!” she snarled. And she made our logo.
Anyway, I came up with Michael Alexander, custom designed for Steve Ditko. Since “Michael Alexander” didn’t seem to be a compelling enough title for the series, I called it Dark Dominion.I used the Nine Choirs of Angels as a structural model:1. Seraphim
There was never meant to be a direct religious inference, though one of the characters, “Mercy” was fond of quoting the Bible, especially the Book of Job. The idea was that these Angelic Ranks were states attainable by human beings. There also weren’t meant to be armies of such people, not even one of each. Very rare.
It was a science fiction take on a Biblical paradigm.
The antagonist, Charles Mal, called Chasm was a “Dominion,” and not nice, therefore a “Dark Dominion.” Michael Alexander was never in any way labeled as such, but I saw him as a “Virtue,” one power level below Mal.
Here are the intros I wrote for them, which appeared on their trading cards:
GLIMMER Michael Alexander
Fifty-four year-old Michael Alexander spent a lifetime overcoming the fears that limit human senses. Now he is able to see the Quantum Substratum of reality—the landscape of the Id—underlying the “hard”world. To normal eyes, he is a slight, aging eccentric, but to the evil things of the Substratum he is a mighty power to be feared. They call him Glare or Glint. The good call him The Light, or Glimmer, as in “glimmer of hope.” He alone stands between this world and those who would reshape it into a Dark Dominion.
CHASM Charles Mal
Charles Mal gained the ability to see the Quantum Substratum of reality through the use of dangerous, illicit, experimental drugs while in college; eventually, he also learned to walk the Quantum Plane. He has used his abilities to make himself rich and powerful. Now he seeks to turn New York City into his private Dark Dominion.
The atmosphere of fear generated by Mal and his lackeys gave rise to a horrific quantum plane “Growth,” fear itself, manifested as a vast, tree-like thing overspreading the city.
I invented a vast menagerie of quantum creatures that were manifestations caused by the effect of human minds on the quantum plane, which slowly develop into causes more than symptoms, as well as places and items:
DARK DOMINION DETAILS
1. FLOWERS OF FEAR
Hideous, noisome blossoms of the Growth.
2. ID WORMS
Offspring of chills that run up your spine.
3. MICHAEL ALEXANDER’S JOURNAL
The diary of Glimmer’s war.
Quantum things that haunt dark places.
5. MERCY’S ATM FOYER
Home to Glimmer’s confidant.
6. DARK POWER
Chasm “speaks fire” and burns Quantum enemies.
They mire the lazy in viscous Quantum mucus.
8. SPIDERS OF ANXIETY
Born of gnawing concern, they scuttle along the edges of perception, weaving webs of dread.
9. EAST RIVER HORRORS
Kin to Murklurks, they grow from the special fear of watery death.
10. SKINNER’S LAIR
A shrine to implements of pain and death.
Spastic, indescriminate destroyers born of irrational anger.
Paranoia-born starers that make your skin crawl.
They chew and suck on the fixated.>
Quantum authors of sudden chills.
Envy-born Quantum shrews.
Eviscerating stabbers bred by emotional trauma.
Unctuous, putrid run-off from defilers and their victims.
Vicious Quantum eggers-on spawned in hordes by batterers.
The things that go bump in the night.
Dark Quantum creatures of the sky that flit menacingly on the fringe of awareness.
Vicious Quantum hell-hounds lurking in the dark.
The offspring of gluttony, they flit across reflective surfaces, not quite seen.
Vile, chaotic, irredeemable taunters of the deranged.
The spawn of forbidden temptations.
Stinging, scratching punishers of mistakes and failings.
Id-made grabbers you allow to drag you into depravity.
Born of guilt, they flog you.
Haunters of ancient places.
Squirming, virulent brain-worms.
Quantum builders of crusty, ugly psychological shells.
They revel in foulness, wallow in filth, and thrive in Slymooze.
Given form by defilers, they plague guilt-ridden, debased victims.
Dagger-toothed Quantum things that inflict painful pangs of doubt.
Quantum torturers made manifest by self-loathing; the pain they cause is like being flayed alive.
They coil around and constrict your will.
37. MITES OF INFERIORITY
They tickle and itch your flaws, eroding self-esteem.
Kin to Mites of Inferiority, they bite and suck away sexual self-confidence.
Piercers of the sense of purpose, feeders on the will.
Quantum torturers of unrequited lovers.
Nettle-like Quantum scourges of those who deem themselves inadequate.
Searing Quantum igniters of mass violence.
Thorny briars cultivated by long-term hate.
Quantum-spawn of excessive ego.
Mysterious nocturnal biters and stingers made manifest by the id.
Other peoples’ id-wrought blights that they shift onto you.
Plus a cast of dozens.
After negotiating with a slew of potential investors interested in funding DEFIANT, it came down to two candidates. Patricof & Co. and the River Group. I ultimately went with the River Group. The deal was finalized at the offices of McFarland Dewey and Co., the investment banking firm representing me, while their 1992 office Christmas party was going on just outside the room we were in.
Should have gone with Patricof. Big mistake going with the River Group. But that’s a story for later.
The River Group owned a trading card company, so the first issue of Dark Dominion, #0, was done as a trading card set that could be assembled in an album into a comic book. I wrote it. The script is available for download in the sidebar.
Steve Ditko drew it. Or he started to.
|A scan of the original painted color art.|
I know I’ve told this tale before, but….
Halfway through the book, Steve came to the office to see me. He gave me the pages he’d done and said he couldn’t do the rest of the story.
Because, he said, the story and the character were Platonic and he was Aristotelian.
“You’re gonna have to explain that to me, Steve.”
Simple. Plato believed in the world one can’t see as well as the world one can. Aristotle believed that what you see is what you get. Period. Dark Dominion was Platonic, and therefore, anathema.
I argued. You can’t see viruses, I said, but they can make you sick. And what about all the other things invisible and unknown to Aristotle that have since been discovered?
He wouldn’t budge.
I did get him to agree not to leave me high and dry on #0, after we’d already solicited it, after we’d advertised the fact that he was doing it.
He reluctantly agreed to finish the book.
Steve didn’t do any more work for DEFIANT after that. Not because there were any hard feelings either way, mind you. He had plenty of offers around that time and we didn’t really have much that interested him.
We remained, and remain friends.
OVER THE WEEKEND: Designing the Spider-Man Balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
NEXT: I’m Not Sure – Check Back Later
P.S. Today is Veteran’s Day. In the Preface of Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. said this about this day:
“…So this book is a sidewalk strewn with junk, trash which I throw over my shoulders as I travel in time back to November eleventh, nineteen hundred and twenty-two.
I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.
So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
And all music is.”
He got through to me, for sure. He’s right. We should cherish sacred things. I kept silent and still for the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour today.
May you be well.
i love what Defiant produced. I still think they have great stories worth telling and only wish the stories can be told in modern day format — TV series and movies.
any possibility of exploring it, especially Dark Dominion. i think it makes a good series.
Jack, I know you weren't trying to be offensive, but it's never a good idea to suggest a mental health diagnosis for someone you've never met, particularly someone for whom you have very limited information. To meet criteria for Autistic Disorder, a person needs to have *notable* impairment in social interaction and communication abilities, as well as repetitive/rigid patterns of behavior. I haven't heard anything to suggest Ditko is impaired in the former two areas; to the contrary, I've read anecdotes from Charlton staff that suggest he was a normal guy socially and had a good sense of humor, although he was somewhat shy. And as we've established, Ditko is not a reclusive hermit but simply avoids public recognition.
More importantly, pretty much all we know about Ditko is how he conducts himself professionally; I don't think anyone here knows much about his personal life or social and communication skills toward friends and family. Without such limited information, it is quite impossible to draw any conclusions about his mental health.
It's fair to say Ditko is eccentric and has some very idiosyncratic beliefs and values. But I don't think there's a need to pathologize that.
I am good friends with Su McTeigue, now Su Laing. She was my instructor at Kuberts and we've remained friends ever since. A truly lovely woman and just as beautiful as Jay Jay says. She is living in Florida now with her husband and two adorable girls. She is a jewelry designer with her own company called Chronicle Stones. Check out her Facebook page for her company.
Mr. Ditko sounds like he might be autistic. I know several high-functioning autistic folk, and there is (among other symptoms) a rigidity there that isn't present in the average personalty. I should be clear that I don't say this with a disparaging attitude in mind.
"Fifty-four year-old Michael Alexander spent a lifetime overcoming the fears that limit human senses. Now he is able to see the Quantum Substratum of reality—the landscape of the Id—underlying the 'hard'world. To normal eyes, he is a slight, aging eccentric, but to the evil things of the Substratum he is a mighty power to be feared. They call him Glare or Glint. The good call him The Light, or Glimmer, as in 'glimmer of hope.'"
[MikeAnon:] I hope this doesn't ruffle anyone's feathers too badly, but I just want to point out a couple of things that always bugged me about DEFIANT:
1) The lead characters were often organically not people in whose shoes you'd particularly want to be. Cases in point: "Michael Alexander is a 54-year-old man." How many major Marvel or DC characters are 54-year-old men? Or take the cast of Warriors of Plasm: How many major Marvel or DC characters are grandmothers, graying preachers, or one-armed overweight machinists? Take away their powers, and do you want to be any of these people? Sure, Peter Parker had money problems, but so did Aunt May — would you rather see yourself as Peter Parker or Aunt May? Your answer is not going to change if you add spider-powers. Half the fun of comics, TV, movies, etc., is imagining yourself in the lead role and thinking, "What would I do?" Making your lead characters "prohibitively non-mainstream" (to use the most charitable term I can think of) is going to repel your readers rather than attract them. In reading Warriors of Plasm, the only character whose shoes I wanted to be in was Shooter — and even then, his name Elvis Mazerov was a repellent because who really wants to go around with a name like Elvis Mazerov? The more you can mainstream your characters into an organic type that people will want to live through, the easier it will be to attract and hold your readers.
2) OMG, the names. "Light?" "Glimmer?" "Glare?" "Glint?" Just take those names by themselves and you don't have nearly enough oomph to hook a reader. And then pair those names up with a 54-year-old gray-haired eccentric man and why the heck am I supposed to find this character even remotely exciting? "Beware the Glint! He'll distract you and make you swerve into the other lane!" "Look out! It's the Glare! Quick, put on your sunglasses! Aaaaah. Much better." And then there's the Plasm characters: "Nudge?" "Mouse?" "Preach?" "Shooter?" "Glory" was the best name of the bunch — sadly, the fact that the word is commonly used in conjunction with "Old" only reinforced some of the organic unattractiveness of the character I mentioned earler (and she was one of my favorites). But in most cases the names were turnoffs — nothing you would want to be known by, and nothing that particularly related to the characters' powers, either, so as to make them resonate with at least a little significance. Possibly the worst name in all of DEFIANT: "Charlemagne." And a title character name, to boot! Dear heaven, even "Wonderboy" would have been more appropriate and resonant — it might sound ridiculous on its face, but when you realize that the character's ability is to do whatever he wills to do, it's instantly appropriate, not to mention catchy and kinda fun, too. [–MikeAnon]
Nice to hear from you, Marcus. Thanks.
Jim & J.J.
Marcus David here. I some how surfed here & it's great to remember the Defiant penthouse office & the work that went into Plasm 0 & DD0. I haven't thought about that stuff in eons!
I'll never forget JJ bringing Ditko over to meet me as I finished coloring the splash pg on DD0. I asked Steve what he thought of it, hoping to get some insight & his reply was: "That's colorful."
JJ & I looked at each other "DUH!!!"
Well Steve, nice meeting ya…I gotta get back to work now!!!!
I hope all is well for you guys.
I 'm not sure how to exchange email addresses here, but you can find me on Facebook.
Ditko still makes comics.
No worries. I used to sign my DEFIANT editorials with "FYM" before my name. Many people thought that meant F*** You Massarsky. Nah. It was "For You Michele," my girlfriend at the time. Easy to see why people thought the former, though.
My brain is going blank. I know I've discussed Ditko with Bob Burden, but I can't remember what was said. Bob lives maybe 10 miles from me as the crow flies. I used to run into him at computer stores, restaurants, and places like that if I was out his direction. I doubt I'll see him anytime soon. I feel inclined to bring up the topic again if we cross paths again.
Thank you for the response.
I guess I projected anger onto you because I would be positively volcanic if such a thing had happened to me.
It just occurred to me that your career has interesting parallels to Ditko's.
You both had major impact on the industry. You both became pariahs (albeit in different ways and for different reasons). You've both suffered enough career setbacks for three or four people. You both keep plugging away. And despite having justifiable grounds, you both refuse to dwell on the past and become bitter. (Ditko has expressed some opinions that might be called bitter, but as far as I'm concerned, he was simply setting the record straight, rather than making a Harlan Ellison-esque circus out of stating his case.)
For whatever reason in my upbringing or temperament, I tend to worry about and apply my mind and efforts to things I can control rather than dwell on things I can't. Once the VALIANT situation was fit accompli, I devoted myself to the next thing. Alan Weiss used to say my "super power" was focus.
You say I was clearly angry at DEFIANT. What? Determined, focused, engaged, maybe, but angry? What makes you say that? It's not that I was content with being ripped off by the scum who pirated VALIANT, but, I wasn't thinking about them or that situation much. If it came up, I'd tell it like it was: reprehensible people getting away with a white collar crime. But, there was no point in wasting time stewing over it.
Dear Atomic Shop,
I haven't seen Steve for a while, but as far as I know we're still on friendly terms. I'm not the call-and-chitchat type, and I don't think Steve is either. My pal Bob Burden stays in touch with Steve, but I haven't spoken to Bob for a while, either. What Steve's doing these days has been described and linked to among the comments.
No, I do not think Steve Ditko is insane.
A question on the formation of Defiant if I may;
How were you able to be creative while (justifiably) angry at the crap pulled on you with Valiant?
I'm working on a convention, doing the poster artwork, and I've had the rug pulled out from
under me as the convention has morphed into something different than I signed up for. Different from what I would ever have signed up for.
That's not the problem, that stuff happens. The problem is that I'm committed to doing the poster artwork and was nearly 75 percent done when all of this went down. So, I honor my word and keep painting but as I paint I get angrier and it starts to build and I have to back away for awhile just to calm down.
Work that should have been done (I'm still nowhere near up on deadline but I like to be done well in advance)is dragging and I just can't seem to focus.
But the work you did on Defiant was inspired and you were clearly angry, did the anger motivate you? Or did the creative work distract from the anger?
Thank you for your time.
For me, Dark Dominion was an amazing oasis of creativity in a sea of mediocrity as the industry became awash in gimmicks (renumbering, die-cut covers, poly-bagged books, alternate covers, etc.) and overrun with style-over-substance dreck (see: Image Comics).
Thank you for that oasis, Jim!
Everything about Dark Dominion completely blew me away. Wow. What an amazing concept…it still tingles my spine just thinking of it. Sad that Defiant did not last and there were just 10 issues of the book.
In 1999, while dabbling with html, I created a Dark Dominion fan page.
I just cleaned it up a bit and re-posted it for everyone's enjoyment: http://www.cupofcheese.com/darkdominion/dominion.htm
Steve Ditko, what an interesting man!
Jim, do you still speak to Steve? What is he up to now?
Is he still drawing? Is he working for advertising? But then again, I don't think anyone would hire him because he won't draw things if he doesn't align with his philosophy.
Ay Yi Yi!
Do you think Steve Ditko is legitimately insane (keeping in mind the fact that it's possible to be completely out of your mind and a nice person at the same time)?
At the time, I thought the trading card scheme for the first issues of Warriors of Plasm and Dark Dominion was the silliest, stupidest thing in ages. People were supposed to buy $30 worth of cards to get the first issue of a comics series they had never read before? Blegh.
Later, after the market crashed, I bought every Defiant product for a dime an issue and $5 each for boxes of both cards lines. $30 might have been silly, but $5 was reasonable.
That Dark Dominion issue actually was enhanced by the card gimmick. The colors were amazing, and popped on the cardstock. It's a shame that no one will read these comics unless they find a bootleg copy on a torrent or something.
My silly idea would be to contact Fantagraphics to see if they'd go in on a Ditko-oriented reprint of the Valiant/Defiant works, and see if they'd front some cash for the DD rights. But I know you're probably not close with Fanta (boy, the Comics Journal didn't like you). It's a shame, becuase their 50's era Ditko reprint project is fantastic.
By the way, Ditko does self-publish new material today with his business partner, Robin Snyder. You can find out more here: http://ditko.blogspot.com/1990/01/ditko-books-in-print.html
The comics mostly center around his Ayn Rand beliefs, and are nowhere near as fun as his Spidey or Dr. Strange stuff. But it's still Ditko.
I approached him (after nodding politely at the artists as I passed them…I didn’t have any comics to be signed…). I introduced myself and told Bob that I was a fan of his, and that it was my dream to break into the field as a writer. Bob sniffed and had a look on his face like I was a homeless person who had wandered into his restaurant and asked for a free meal.
I pressed on and told him that I’d like to give him a packet of some of my stuff, and wondered if he would be kind enough to look at it and consider me for any writing work. He didn’t move, but when I made a point of leaning across the table to hand him the packet, he had to either accept it or allow it to drop on his lap.
He accepted it with the minimum amount of fingers he could physically use to keep the packet from falling (three fingers, I think) and only touched one corner. You would have thought that I was handing him an envelope containing the bubonic plague. He slipped it behind the chair he was sitting in and gave me a curt nod.
That was it. No promise to read it later. No suggestions for me to follow up later with a letter or a phone call. Not even a “Thanks for coming out, dipshit!” Nothing. Just a curt nod and my time with him was over.
I walked a few steps away and looked back. He was still sitting there, like royalty lording over his subjects, and making his smug remarks to the attractive blonde.
Smug. That was the exact vibe I got from him that day. And later, when I read about the dirty tactics used to force you out of VALIANT…and Bob Layton’s part in all of it…I thought, “How could someone who screwed over his friend for money and a little power have sat there with such a smug expression and attitude.”
No, I never heard from Mr. Layton as to whether he read my work. I’m sure he didn’t. I’m sure it ended up in a trashcan or forgotten on the convention floor. My follow-up letter to him went unanswered, too. It was just as well: His time as EIC was short-lived, as was the VALIANT line.
A shame, Jim, because with you in charge, I thought the company had a good shot at becoming something. The books were certainly inventive and different than what the Big Two were doing (and the derivative stuff coming out of Image). They fucked up a good thing and put someone in charge that seemed more interested in how successful he looked rather than the fans or the stories.
Jim (if I may be so bold):
Love your blog and love the Ditko stories. But I’ve got a Bob Layton story for you.
Early 90’s, shortly after your unceremonious ousting at VALIANT, I went to a local convention where VALIANT had sent some of their creative people to sign books. I was a major DC and Marvel fan, but I did follow some of the VALIANT titles and enjoyed the line. I was aware of your exit, but honestly did not know what the circumstances were. All I knew was that Bob Layton was now Editor-in-Chief and he was going to be at the convention.
Honestly, I could not tell you the names of the artists who were there. This was 1993 (I think), and VALIANT was still riding high and doing well in the back-issue speculation department (meaning, back issues were selling WAY over cover price). I think it was the following year when the bottom dropped out and you couldn’t give the VALIANT titles away. Many ended up in the quarter bins…including the ones that had sold for $10 and above a week or two after their release the previous year. Anyway…
I didn’t pay attention to the artists who would be at the signing because my focus was on Mr. Layton. I was an aspiring writer with dreams of breaking into the biz. I was also a fan of Bob’s from his Iron Man run, which is still my favorite take on the character (outside of Robert Downey, Jr.’s interpretation). I stood in line with a packet of writing samples and story ideas and waited patiently as the (mostly) kids in front of me went down the line of artists and got their comics signed. Bob was at the end of the line of artists, watching over them and occasionally making a quip or two.
First impression: He looked and acted like he was from Hollywood. Impeccably tailored suit. Tan skin. Attractive blonde behind his right shoulder that he would occasionally look up at (he was sitting, she was standing) and say something to. I remember looking at him and thinking, “Well, comics must certainly pay well.”
The kid in front of me had a current issue of each of the VALIANT books with him. He got two of the artists to sign (their own work, of course) and then reached Bob. I remember he looked at Bob for a moment and seemed unsure who he was or why he was there. Bob asked, “You want me to sign your comics?”
The kid inquired who he was. Bob answered, “Well, I edit ALL of these comics,” and made a sweeping gesture with his hands. The kid was unimpressed, but allowed Bob to sign one of the books. Then the kid wandered off and Bob seemed a bit miffed.
I really don't see that Ditko has any obligations to the feelings of people who fought to get their art back or those who'd like to buy it, any more than (say) JD Salinger had an obligation to keep publishing books when he no longer wanted to. It's up to him, it's his stuff, he can do what he likes with it. And more power to him.
I was thinking more the scene in The Holy Mountain when Alejandro Jodorowsky makes all the "Searchers" push their money into a fire while saying: "Burn your moneee…" But the Buddha ref is also good.
I believe Kim DeMulder told me that Su McTeigue was teaching at the Kubert school maybe 7 years ago. I think she got married. The "Whacked!" comic was written by a comedy writer with television credits. It's quite funny. It has a comparable paper quality and look that is similar to the DEFIANT comics. I was thinking it might have been either an intimidation tactic by The River Group saying "We don't need you", or an in-house production done by DEFIANT and just branded differently. Very odd.
I great topic. I suppose this post could have been two topics. One about VALIANT and the other DEFIANT. I actually discovered and bought the books about a decade ago, long after the company was no longer around.
I liked Dark Dominion and thought that idea really had long term potential. It still is different and even now I don't see a book like that on the market.
Another close standout was Charlemagne. Then Warriors of Plasm. Unfortunately DEFIANT had that needless lawsuit I read about before. (Anything to shutdown the competition.)
I also think the mid 90s industry all but collapsed financially after the speculation bubble. And it was a case of bad timing and many comic publishers and stores went out of business in that era.
Maybe Classic Media is as dumb as Marvel and we can all just pitch in and pick up the licensing rights to the Defiant characters for $20,000. If you get my reference.
If you can afford not to work, and its not work that the world is dying for, laziness is a fine reason to turn down work, IMHO,
Well, duh! Su was that drop dead gorgeous red head that used to work in the office, almost every day, coloring. Talented, beautiful, stylish and sweet as she could be… that gal was (is?) the total package! I have a couple of pics of her on my Facebook albums. I believe she went on to teach at the Kubert school. I miss her. Haven't been in touch in ages.
I never heard of Whacked! I think Su McTeigue worked for one of my companies at some point. JayJay?
People can turn down work for any reason and the only unjustifiable reason is laziness.
Artists can turn down artistic work for certainly philosophical differences given what these particular sorts of work can involve.
A couple people have mentioned the old rumor that Ditko uses his old original art as cutting boards. Most likely that is an urban legend, based on Greg Theakston's misunderstanding of what he saw at Ditko's home. Here's an insightful analysis of the claim by Bob Heer, which credibly debunks it:
The notion that Ditko would do that to his original art is not consistent with what I've read about him. He may not value money that much, or be motivated by it, but he certainly does not have contempt for his own past work.
Do you have any knowledge of the comic "Whacked!" which is a parody of the Tonya Harding incident? It was released by the River Group. Defiant colorist Su McTeigue (sp?) contributed to it. Was it in any way associated with Defiant. I've always suspected it was a snarly attempt by the River Group to show that they could produce a comic on their own. It's origin has been a mystery to me.
"Well, we'll start over" is a very simple, good approach to life when you get knocked on your ass. I've had that same philosophy also, but sometimes not without having to deal with extreme anger and emotion over the various times I've been knocked on mine.
However, I suspect that you have to have had your dark moments of anger, discouragement and despair over the years in these situations. We all do.
You're damned fortunate to have had really good parents to provide you with such a great foundation in your attitude on life. That seems to be more and more rare nowadays.
"I [Immanuel] Kant"? Hehehe.
Dear Daniel K,
If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him?
By the way, for whatever significance it might have, licensing revenues for Spider-Man alone were far greater than all things Kirby created or co-created for Marvel combined, from the early 1960's till long after my tenure at Marvel ended in 1987.
Ahem. I'm about to break one of my own rules, and succumb to what is known as the accusation-defense-reaccusation sequence.
Daniel K, not 'nuff said. Let's make a deal. I will try to be less judgmental if you do. I know from experience that it is sometimes harmful—and judgmental—to dismiss what *may* be a sign of deeper troubles as an eccentricity. "There's even a certain dignity in his renunciation of the ego." True, but, "that in itself brings dangers of an even deeper egotism." There you have it!
Ditko is not harming anyone *directly.* But how are the comic-book artists who fought for the right to get their original artwork back supposed to feel? How are fans who want it supposed to feel? Morally inferior? (No, I can't afford to buy originals myself.)
Steve Ditko is a great eccentric, people like him add richness to the world. It's nobody's right to judge him so long as he doesn't harm others and he obviously doesn't. Rather, he brings delight. He can do whatever he wants with his old art. There's even a certain dignity in his renunciation of the ego, although that in itself brings dangers of an even deeper egotism.
Thanks for responding to my question concerning Bill Mantlo.I'm 40 years old now, and I remember with fondness your years at Marvel. I never belived those storys about you.When Tom Defalco took over, I could immediately see a bizarre almost infantile change to Marvel. I won't buy a Marvel comic today because they're owned by those scumbags Disney.
Jim, thank you for writing, "I could NOT care less."
I was a big fan of Ditko's comic-books in my youth (except the ones that read like polemics). He provided me with great entertainment. Speaking as a fan, I would not say that he owed his fans anything. Okay, he does owe me twelve cents because of the hack job he did on the last Dr. Strange story.
But I do resent him using old artwork for cutting boards. Of course, he has the legal right, but that art is valued by other people. It's rhymes-with-Cupid and selfish to destroy work that he could sell for much more than the cost of a cutting board. And it might be possible to sell it without giving up much of his Social Security.
Oh, I certainly respect and revere Ditko's work, too, and his importance to comics history. I'm just observing that he's getting pretty strange in his old age.
I believe in separate the work from the personality. I think the great work of everyone from Brecht to Mel Gibson should be respected for its intrinsic value, and not judged by whatever we happen to think of these people as flawed human beings.
I respect Steve Ditko very much. I don't find his philosophy any more bizarre than socialism. As for him being destitute. Well, he has a studio or residence or something in Manhattan and that is not cheap I can assure you. As far as impact, everyone always mentions Spider-Man and understandably so. But lets talk about Doc Strange and all that Mr. Ditko created that went along with him. When the mystical realm is depicted by any artist, it's all Ditko. He set the standard that is still being used 45 years later. That is impact that probably only Kirby can match. In my opinion Ditko has had as much of a lasting influence on the MU as Kirby and (dare I say it) Stan the Man. But thats just my opinion.
I am very familiar with What the Bleep Do We Know? I've seen it several times. Fascinating stuff.
There's a link above in the comments to a recent article about Bill Mantlo. And I believe that you can still donate to help his brother with his care here (at the bottom of the article):
My first reaction to Ditko's Aristotelian problem was, "All right, I concede it: the man is crazy." But actually I understand (but don't agree with) his argument: To *the characters* in the story, the Substratum creatures were undetectable and therefore unavailable to their perception. Ditko must have wanted the characters to experience things in a fully Aristotelian way. That, of course, is a preposterous thing to demand. In order for art to have substance, there must be symbolism in it, and Dark Dominion was brilliant for that exact reason. It boggles the mind that a concept so specifically created for Ditko and his art style would get on his bad side like that. Anyone else would have been grateful; would have been reasonable; would have at least compromised.
I remember loving DD #0, and thinking that Ditko defined the look of the book. He set the standard that the other artists were trying to live up to. What a shame he would botch such a stellar chance at comic book greatness late in his career. The man must be too full of himself and of living in his own world. I hope it keeps him fed and clothed, too.
There never was a writer's union that I dealt with. I don't remember Bill trying to start one, though I don't doubt it. Maybe I never knew about it. It wouldn't have mattered. My father was a steelworker. I have nothing against unions, though I wonder if a union really would have been effective in our industry.
Stan didn't have much to do with the comics while I was there, so being his hatchet man would probably have meant chopping firewood for him or something.
I was management's stooge? Really? Wow. Well, I suppose it's all in your point of view. Upper management stayed out of my way, mostly and let me deal with the comics. Mostly. The President, to whom I reported directly, wanted nothing more than to turn Marvel into a children's book publisher and animation studio, and wanted as little to do with the comics as possible in the meantime. He never gave me any "stooge" assignments. He generally could not care less about what was going on with the comics as long as we made money or didn't lose any. He knew few creators. He had no idea who John Byrne was, or Gene Colan. I doubt if he knew anything about Bill. I did my job to his and other upper management people's satisfaction, apparently, so if that qualifies as being their stooge, whatever.
I was intolerant of bad work, hacking and plagiarism, and insisted that my editors also be intolerant of same. When Bill did his best work, and some of it was truly inspired, he had no problem with me or any editor. When he delivered poor scripts, hacked or plagiarized others' work, he had plenty of problems with editors and me. Bill and his work have been discussed extensively on this blog. Most of what was said by commenters and me was positive. I won't sugar-coat something like plagiarism, however.
There's more information on the post below and also in the comments:
And this one with some of Bill's memos:
"Every patriarchal nation is always either preparing for war, at war, or recovering from war"
re: "Maybe instead of a kneejerk defense of your nation's military, you should begin examining why your statement is true, and what can be done to make it not so."
Again – it's in defense of the PEOPLE in the military.
As to WHY – that is easy: it's human nature. We would like to think with our iPads and electric cars we are so much more enlightened and civil than we were the first 400,000 years. But we aren't. Look at recorded history and you will find conflict after conflict. Even with everything going on – we are still in the most peaceful era man has known.
It looks like this is the entire movie..
You should consider watching the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0399877/
I like the first edit with a blue DVD cover rather than the extended version with an orange cover. It explores quantum physics, it has some special effects along the lines of what is shown in Dark Dominion, it even shows a mock comics book cover… Captain Quantum.
I found the movie to be thought provoking, even though I can shoot down certain new age principles it tries to assert.
Ditko is obviously able to afford wherever he's living and working. He uses his old art for cutting boards when he could be out trying to sell it. He has different values than 99% of the creators out there. He's not wrong for looking at things differently. The fact that he gets by is obviously all that's important to him. His struggle is getting by and retaining his values. He's able to make money off of the convention circuit if he were to pursue it. He doesn't really need another successful project. He worked on one that comes close to overshadowing everything that anyone else has created.
Jim, In Amazing Heroes#156 1/89 Bill Mantlo states that you tried to "destroy" him for stating a writer's union.The article also stated that you were a management "stooge" and Stan Lee's hatchet man. Bill also stated that you would attack him directly or through editors to the point they no longer wanted to work with Bill because of all the trouble you were causing him.What is your side of this story?
mister44: 'But we have been involved in one conflict after another since our founding – same as it ever was.' Maybe instead of a kneejerk defense of your nation's military, you should begin examining why your statement is true, and what can be done to make it not so.
I misunderstood the angle from which you were arguing. I took what you said to mean you didn't quite get Ditko's position, but now I see that you did get it, and tried to show that what you'd done fit in with it. Sorry, I should brush up on my reading comprehension. 🙂
"I Kant." Love it. There was a philosophy professor smoking in a subway station, and he flicked his butt onto the tracks. A cop walked up and said, "Hey, buddy, what if everybody did that?" The prof replied, "Who are you? Kant?" He got arrested because the cop misheard the last word. (True story.)
It seems like, should you ever do another comics venture, perhaps you should mandate creator ownership, or require that company-owned creations be available under a liberal license, something like Creative Commons. It's very weird to me that you've created so damn much, from the ground up, and yet you cannot legally do anything with any of your creations.
(I've actually had a lot of thoughts about what any new comic company might and should do, but given that I'm an amateur and outsider, I'll spare you them, maybe put them up as a blog post at some point.)
I don't know how much Classic Media would charge to license the properties, but it would be some thousands for the advance, then later they would get a per cent of sales, I'm guessing. At least that what I understand is usual.
Fascinating stuff, Jim & commentariat. I don't have time to wade into the politics, but as someone whose argued with some of you, I do want to applaud everyone for representing. this is a smart and interesting group of folks gathering.
Those photos in the apartment immediately reminded me of the re-set of Mad Men where the upstart ad agency moves into the hotel.
i guess Jim can try to purchase the properties from Classic Media. Doesn't make sense to do it unless you're gonna use it.
JayJay, how much would it cost to get a license on these characters?
Why does Classic Media buy up these properties only to sit on them? They have no value unless they are used, right? Am I correct in assuming everyday they remain unused, the likely hood they would ever be used increases? What would it take to purchase those characters?
"I Kant." 🙂
Jim would have to pay Classic Media to work on his own creations. It wearies me.
The DEFIANT characters are controlled by Classic Media. They're dormant because no one wants to use them.
I had a lot to do with the plot for Dark Dominion #1.
Yes, I thought we'd eventually introduce some other Angel-ranks.
Thanks re: the thought that went into the DEFIANT Universe. I worked my tail off.
Be well, Marc.
When I told my parents what happened at VALIANT, my mother thought for a second and said these words: "Well, we'll start over."
That's pretty much how I felt. I guess I get it from her side.
Fight as long and as well as you can, and if all else fails, start over.
My father, on the other hand, wanted to take his shotgun and blow Massarsky, et al, away. "I'm seventy years old," he said, "What are they going to do to me?"
I caught him putting his weapons and ammo in the car and made him chill out.
"Rise up and strive again," my Grandma Elsie would say. Just don't quit.
I'd love another crack at the DEFIANT characters, but it doesn't seem likely.
JayJay's response nailed it. I was trying to convince Steve that the quantum plane stuff was fictionally "real," like viruses. I wasn't arguing against his philosophy. I Kant.
Anonymous In ATL
Defiant1- "Ditko has the attitude he has because he can have it. His name is worth money even if he doesn't draw anything."
What exactly do you mean by this statement. I am not sure I understand. As someone else pointed out, probably the last book that he worked on that was financially successful was his run on Spider-Man. Every other book he worked on was quickly cancelled. This is not a relection of whether they were good bad. I loved The Creeper, Shade, Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and many others. But none of those were financially successful books.
I can't remember what is was that got me to google steve rude. maybe it was concern about his recent arrest, and the doccumentary, 'rude dude' but it led me to this little film, purportedly from 1979/80,
and it features a much younger Steve Rude, as an artist crying out for attention, I guess. Although it is hiliarious in its own way, and will hopefully attain a cult status
In contrast, I can certainly understand why Ditko would rather not be photographed.
It also adds some color on Jim's anecdote about first meeting the Dude. Enjoy.
Ditko has the attitude he has because he can have it. His name is worth money even if he doesn't draw anything. Much in the same way that Stan Lee doesn't need to write anything, yet he still gets work as a spokesperson. He co-created a legendary character that is one of the top three relevant characters today. At any time in his life that he decides he wants to be a mainstream pop icon, he could be, The simple fact is that it's obviously NOT what is important to him. He seems to be getting by just fine. The struggle seems to be whether he can get by fine without compromising his values. I consider him to have been extremely successful at that over the years. In that sense I consider him to be a true hero. I think he's maintained a high level of self-respect whether his critics can say the same about themselves or not.
Anonymous in Atl
A different anonymous here-If I were a publisher or editor, all of these episodes with Steve Ditko would teach me one thing: no matter how great an artist he is or hom much I like him personally, it is simply not worth the hassle of offering Steve Ditko work. He will either turn you down upfront because it does not line up with his philosophy or he will quit at the first hint of what her perceives as a slight against him or his philosophy.
Well, I can't say I have a whole lot of respect for Steve Ditko after the whole Defiant episode. Jim, being the good guy that he is, offers Ditko a job and creative input to satisfy his personal beliefs and Ditko turns around and wants to quit on the book because of a ridiculous philosophical difference and leave Jim hanging high and dry on the first issue. Wow. Ever hear of loyalty and compromise, Steve? It's clear Ditko's been coasting off the respect he earned on Spider-Man because I doubt any publisher would tolerate that kind of behaviour.
re: "What we have now is two dedications to war"
No – we have a dedication to our men and women who serve the nation – both past and present.
These people protect the peace that you hold so dear. They have no control where their leaders send them. The politics can either justify or condemn our involvement in any conflict. But we have been involved in one conflict after another since our founding – same as it ever was.
It would be great if we could all hold hands and respect one another, but the reality is there are people who want to harm others, and these people are our first defense against them. If you want to condemn our involvement in one area or another, fine. But do not twist our recognition of these people as some sort of war drumming.
TO be fair to the American HEalthcare system, they spent millions on a man who barely improved and was medically unlikely to improve after that massive setback.
Sometimes families see what they want to see. Mantlo's family seems like it was pulling a Terry Schiavo family-interpreting things to mean more significant things than they really were. He wasnt getting better; His radical drug didn't work and he was back to square one. sometimes that is hard for families to accept
All systems have limits. Even with national healthcare systems, they have limits. because someone is always paying.
What a sad story.
What a damning indictment of the American Healthcare system.
In those days when Marvel became more and more of a let down, i found with Defiant the kind of books i wanted to read done by the kind of people i wanted to do them.
Steve Ditko, you and Len Wein were the creators whose names could make me buy a book. All of you still are.
I loved Dark Dominion.
I also loved the Tower logo.
Jim has, if I understand correctly, posted elsewhere on the blog that the Defiant properties as well as Broadway are owned by Classic Media (who also own the Gold Key properties and license them to Dark Horse).
So if some investor group put up the multi-millions to do a new company, I don't think it's too fanciful to dream that there could be a company that put out all three universes and merge them into a shared universe via a huge Unity/Schism type crossover.
DEFIANT: Easily my favorite of Shooter's enterprises. Unlike Valiant, I was there from day one and enjoyed it very much. It was a breath of fresh air during a time of creative stagnation in the industry.
Who owns these characters now? Why do they lay dormant?
DITKO: These three blog entries have closed the door on Steve Ditko. No one closed any doors on him, he closed them all himself.
I can't help but ask why he didn't just create a character that suited his tastes (other than Mister A), then shop that character around until he found a publisher? Isn't it ironic that someone who so disdained anything that was dependent upon others was so wholly dependent upon others (meaning writers, editors, publishers, etc)?
If Ditko was so confident in his art, why didn't he just publish pinups, art books, etc??? Why did he keep trying to get work in an industry that requires so much sharing and compromise? It just starts to look foolish after a while…
VETERANS' DAY: I teach high school social studies. And like Vonnegut (I'd never read his opinion before seeing it on this blog), I lamented the passing of our one national dedication to PEACE. My students were intrigued that we once made a point of celebrating peace, but don't anymore.
What we have now is two dedications to war: Memorial Day (those who died) and Veterans' Day (those who live)–which on their own are a good thing. But nothing for peace. And that does have a psychological effect on America. There's just no room for peace anymore. We've become solidly militaristic, even if passively so. So ironic for a "Christian" nation…
Ever since I found out this blog was started I've been eagerly awaiting when you would get to the Valiant/Defiant/Broadway eras.
Posts like this verify to me when you finally get there full time, they will not disappoint.
Oh yeah! I met Chuck Rozanski for the first time last year. He was a little too honest in the short time we spoke. I actually find myself showing discretion and NOT repeating something he told me. It was funny… but I wouldn't have told it.
It reminded me of a girl I used to date. She put her high heel through a policeman's cheek. On her court date, the judge asked "Don't you feel sorry for the pain and suffering you put that officer through". She responded "I hope his face hurts every time he thinks of me." There are times when silence is the best policy… not honesty.
Jim, I loved Defiant and I totally loved Dark Dominion. I don't remember where I put those comics but you gave me the idea and I'll buy them again from Mile High Comics.
I am glad to see that Mighty Chuck helped you in the adventure and I am glad to read that he is really a nice guy. I have been a fan of him for a long time and I always thought so.
re: Veteran's Day
Grandpa M. – who was a airplane machinest for the Navy in Hawaii during WWII
Grandpa N. – a career Coast Guard, attaining the highest non-commissioned rank of Chief Warrant Officer. Was on the USS Aultman during WWII. Here is a print Disney made or the ship. http://www.flickr.com/photos/63283251@N04/5756532033/in/photostream/
My Dad – a LT. on the USS Tanner, a Navy Mapping Vessel, during Vietnam. Here is a poster I made from a fuzzy photo – http://www.flickr.com/photos/63283251@N04/5756532401/in/photostream/
My Brother – who was a Nuke Tech on the carrier USS Carl Vinson
And my wife's grandfather (who I never had the chance to meet) – an engineer by trade he was in the Polish Home Army (aka the underground) and did things like blow up bridges with Nazis on them. He was captured and escaped/let go 3 times. The Commies put him in prison for awhile because he refused to sign a paper to belong to The Party. Received what would be the equivalent of the Medal of Honor from Lech Walesa. Yeah – he was hard core.
Xavier Lancel (SCARCE)
Gone for 1 week, I come back and find those amazing stories about Vailant/Defiant/Ditko. Thanks for that.
I really can't wait to read the Ernie Colon ones!
For those interested, we (SCARCE magazine, a ffench mag on US comics) just released an issue devoted to Ernie. But it's in french… (click on my profile and go to the scarce blog for any info). Jim and Jay, I can offer to you a complete comicography of Ernie's work (the first one ever done!) if you want to share it with readers at the same time than your post on him.
On another matter, I know a lot of people here are concerned about Bill Mantlo. Here is an heartbreaking story about the details around Bill medical/money struggles since his accident (with some quotes from Jim):
re: Dark Dominion
I should just stop typing and look this up – but how many issues did this run? It sounds similar (minus the sciency stuff) to a graphic novel/series I have had in my head for 20 years. Mine was basically a demon made mortal with an angel 'supervisor'. He has no memory of what he was, but has to fight his dark nature to try to obtain salvation.
I firmly believe 80% of success is just DOING something, even if it isn't great. A poorly written or illustrated story still beats the one kicking around in my head. Now – if I could just get over what ever is stopping me….
DEFIANT launched in August of 1993, the same month that the Direct Market began its off-the-edge-of-the-table collapse, and sales plummeted across the industry. Bill Schanes of Diamond had guaranteed me sales of 2 million on Warriors of PLASM #1. We sold 550,000, good, but still disappointing compared to expectations. The market continued its plunge for many months, reaching its nadir at 18% of its peak. Hard for anyone to survive.
The building staff people liked me, and I had them on high alert. Bob Layton moved out soon after. I think he knew he was no longer welcome in that building. I was worried more about burglars than thugs, but when you're dealing with people who are willing to falsify documents, lie under oath and try a scam using private investigators posing as potential investors to pry information out of me that could be used against me, you're ready to believe that anything is possible.
Ah! So much to say about this post!
Back in 2003 or possibly 2004 I was trying to buy some color art from JayJay on eBay. I wanted to cross reference what I was buying to the comic in which the art had appeared. There was no reference info available online. The price guides listed comics that were never published or they didn't list certain issues at all. Searching for Defiant Comics on the search engines usually produced a web page with someone selling Warriors of Plasm for a dollar. That was it. I was quite honestly annoyed. Defiant was short lived, but I felt it needed a little more respect. I pondered the cultural injustice of it all and wondered why no one had created a web page dedicated to the comics. As quickly as I pondered how slack the entire world was, I realized that I was equally to blame. It dawned upon me that I have no reason to be upset about it if I was unwilling to create such a page myself. So I did. My goal in creating the site was two-fold. 1) Make the facts of what DEFIANT produced accurate and available. 2) See how many retired collectors that left the hobby during the mid-90's exodus could be lured back. It was essentially a marketing experiment.
I succeeded at #1. I succeeded so well that I can't count the number of DEFIANT creators and fans that have contacted me. Discussions about DEFIANT are fairly common now. Reference sites online are more accurate. Some good experiences were involved and some not-so-good. Some creators seemed to act like I worked for them… you know… like being paid minus the paycheck. Some made promises and followed with a cold shoulder. Some donated and made me proud of my efforts. Ultimately though, I discovered too many mixed emotions and I shrunk it all down to a short checklist.
As far as my second goal of attracting retired collectors back into a state of curiosity… I don't know. I consider my data poisoned. I know some fans were affected, but I don't know if any went from a state of non-collecting to a state of buying again.
After 7 years of being "that DEFIANT Comics guy", I should clarify that I'm not an expert. I've amassed far more info than I ever intended. I've answered the same questions over and over until I really wish I didn't have any answers at all.
Of all the DEFIANT properties, I still consider Dark Dominion to be highly marketable on all fronts. Movies, video games, toys.. everything. The Steve Ditko name… a huge plus also. I think The River Group funding the venture was a mistake that could not have been predicted. Some of the press releases actually have a nasty overtone to them that shows there was some discontentment
I would like to meet Steve Ditko some day. I think he's inspired some of my values. I can't help but wonder if Steve felt Dark Dominion was mocking him or that fans might associate him with the character of Michael Alexander. If so, his desire to separate from the title makes a lot more sense. I don't think it was intended at all, but I suspect that some might find it hard to avoid making such a comparison.
I've read some interesting stories that Greg Theakston has told about Ditko. I've met Greg, but always chatted with his now ex-wife whom I knew since the early 80's.
Yeah, and whenever I eat foods that are way too spicy for me.
As my father used to say when offered spicy food: "I can't eat that. It'll burn my asshole."
ja – "…the wonton destruction…" – this always happens to me a couple hours after I eat at the super cheap Chinese buffet.
It sounds like you described the genesis of Ditko's The Safest Place (1993) for Dark Horse.
When you described how "the first DEFIANT related conversation […] took place in the McDonald's in Times Square," that reminded me of how Dark Dominion #1 opened at a McDonald's in "midtown Manhattan on Broadway near West 46th Street." Coincidence? Did writer Len Wein know where the Ditko-DEFIANT connection began? Oops, I forgot about the McDonald's on card 10 and up of Dark Dominion #0.
The name "Michael Alexander" is perfect for Glimmer. An archangel who defends men. Without megamuscles or a mansion.
One common thread running through the DEFIANT universe is the fact that some of the heroes are "unusual" in an American superhero comic context — because they look like "everyday" people. An overweight, one-armed "Mouse." A middle-aged, balding black minister. A grandmother who was "making French toast" when she was abducted. Kids we wouldn't notice at the mall. Even a so-called "Nobody." Heroism is everywhere. We just don't look hard enough for it. "None So Blind …" (the title of Dark Dominion #0) indeed. As Cookie said to Mrs. J in Warriors of Plasm #2, "I can't help seeing in your mind how noble and strong you are! I can see your spirit. It's beautiful! (I feel weird quoting words you wrote back to you. Forgive me.) The obvious "heroic" types are Lorca, who's the villain, and "Shooter," who is … not like you. No wish-fulfillment fantasies here at the intersection of realism and the imagination.
Were you eventually going to introduce characters of the other ranks: e.g., a Throne who could overpower Chasm? Neat that you started in the middle instead of making Glimmer and Chasm omnipotent Seraphim. My understanding is that both men learned about the Substratum independently and on their own, so they couldn't know everything yet. Glimmer was no Ancient One; he was still learning.
I read every Dark Dominion trading card. I am amazed at the amount of thought you put into the DEFIANT universe that vanished from our plane all too soon. So many concepts. So much potential.
I have spent much of my adult life in professional opposition to Platonic idealism, yet I never had any problem with the premise of Dark Dominion. There is nothing ideal or mystical about the Substratum. It is observable, though few can observe it. It might be possible to see the Substratum with technological help, just as we can observe viruses with electron microscopes. Tammy could invent something … oops, wrong universe! On the other hand, no one can say they have observed Platonic forms, not even with technological assistance.
I've been wondering about how you designed a balloon ever since I first read about it. I am always interested in your adventures on the edges of comics and beyond — tales covering ground rarely seen.
Thank you for the Vonnegut quotation. I was unaware of it this morning, but I know what I'll do on the eleventh hour tonight.
Equating malicious behavior to illnesses has been a sort of guidepost for me. It's a distinctly self-manufactured reminder to me that if you're going to be such a cancer to others in life, it's likely going to be representative of how ugly your demise will be.
I wonder if Bob Layton will ever realize this, as he gets older and less relevant? Or any of the other people who has gone 'round the world to screwing over, damaging and trying to ruin Jim Shooter's life? Or anybody's life? Or just being an asshole jerk to people in general *COUGH!*johnbyrne*COUGH!*? Likely not, because the kind of people who would go out of their way toward the wonton destruction of others will never care about anyone but themselves. Layton being a prime example of this, certainly from the times I've observed him up close.
Jim, only if you ever felt comfortable talking about such things, but I'd be very interested in how you personally dealt with all of this malice and shit from others again and again without going completely postal. How dark and angry did you get in your lowest moments, and how did you navigate your way through it? I don't ever believe anyone when they give an easy generic answer ("Jesus got me through it", or "I just kept happy thoughts in my head"). I know things are always more complex than that.
Obviously, don't talk about that if you're uncomfortable. I just was curious as to how you've (seemingly?) kept your head above the crowd (really, that was not a pun) of sniping assholes and assassins.
gn6196 said: "… I believe that you reap what you sow. The people that did these crimes against you will have the same done to them. I've seen it many times."
The older I get, the more I see my mortality. The older I get, the more I connect that mortality – and the possibly frightening and horrifically painful way I will or might get there – to past misdeeds.
I've been stupid in my life. I've been thoughtless in my life. I've been angry and cross with people, for what (mostly) I believe to be justifiable reasons. But more and more, I see and experience people in my life that makes me truly believe that what comes around, does indeed go around.
I've developed the philosophy that I don't actively wish malicious people (the kind of people I actually thoroughly hate in life) with death (mostly – I still do with some of the extremely terrible people whom I believe would be better for everyone if they were off this planet), but whenever that malicious terrible person who has treated others so badly does die, I'm going to celebrate by going out for a wonderful steak dinner.
This weird accommodation of mine allows me to not live my life with unrelenting anger toward all the people I have encountered who never had any compunction with humiliating me in front of others, cheating me at every turn, openly hurting or damaging me any way they could to further their own agenda, or just because they thought it was fun. It's a comforting thought that one way or another, people will get what's coming to them. Karma, maybe? I just know that if I kept being openly angry at everyone (and did nothing about it), it would end up having negative effects on me.
Many people who are mean & hurtfully indifferent also have a great deal of fun when they mete out their malice upon you. It's how they make themselves feel powerful and superior. We all have had to deal with people like this in life.
Steve Massarsky didn't care about being unethical by bedding someone on the VALIANT board, or getting Jim Shooter ousted from his company, or going further to totally screwing Shooter out of the value of his stock. Steve Massarsky died from cancer. Was that cancer a culmination of his life, and how he treated people unfairly, damaging and destroying lives without caring to be fair? Probably not. Probably. Maybe not. Maybe. I wonder if the idea that he was sowing what he previously reaped ever crossed his mind as he was dying?
One day I had a thought that connected my unceasing anger to cancer or to health problems in general. It made sense to me, because people have driven themselves into bad health for many reasons: depression, anger, anxiety, whatever, leading to heart attacks, strokes, or cancer. It's like when your mom told you, "Stop frowning! Your face is going to be stuck that way forever!" So I thought if I stayed angry at everyone and everything, and didn't temper myself, this is the road I was going to go down.
At this point, I decided to forgive everyone for all their misdeeds for me (making sure I wasn't stupid enough to ever trust them again), and start anew. From this decision I made some 17 years ago, I have had so many people who knew me back then comment that I'm such a better person for having let go of my anger. They note that I don't fly off the handle like I used to, that I'm not as loud or as boisterously annoying as I once was. Unfortunately, years later, I'm 150lbs. heavier than I previously was. It's plain to me that I've internalized my anger, doing the very damage to myself that I've been afraid of. Obviously I have issues to work on, but the good thing about this is that I'm so much better in how I interact with people. I just have to find a way to navigate my internal demons.
So the solution is not so easy after all.
Steve Miller, Writer of Stuff
Wow. that lock story amazes me, because it involves someone you worked with. I can't think of any business circumstance that would cause me invade someone's home (or have someone do it) whether I had a key or not. The likelihood becomes even more remote if it were someone I knew that I was expected to burgle.
Maybe that's part of the reason why I've never broken the five-figure annual salary, even if I DID come close in the late 1990s.
Yeah, as much as I admire Ditko's work on pretty much everything other than the Mr. A and other self-published stuff he has done for the past 30 years (which, despite nice artwork, is just unreadable to me), and even though I don't hold his politics against him (even though they are diametrically opposed to mine, and to me make no logical sense whatsoever), I have to say that I almost cringe every time I read one of these "well, we offered Steve Ditko work at a time when he really needed it but he wouldn't do it because it did not line up exactly with what is, essentially, a worldview that is really held in its entirety only by himself" stories. I mean I love the guy's work, I truly do, and I am sure that in person he is a nice guy, but my god, he cannot really seem to function in a world where any other viewpoint than his own is held by anyone. I agree fully that Marvel Comics should have cut the man a check for millions of dollars for his co-creating Spider-Man; that is the only fair and proper thing to do. But the guy really only has his own inflexibility to blame for being so frequently unemployed. I admire a principled stand, I really do; I much admire the principled stands that Alan Moore has taken over the years, even though I would love to see a Watchmen prequel or have him write some Batman stories or any one of a million cool projects I would love to have. It just seems that with Steve his principled stand has gone beyond any reasonable limits. His self-published work is difficult to read because each story is nothing but a long lecture about his philosophy; it seems that is the only outside work he can see his way to take on as well. Steve Ditko is preaching to an audience of one-himself-these days, and that is a very lonely place to be.
Ditko wouldn't do this, Ditko wouldn't do that…ugh, I usually love your stories about the comic book legends but I am so sick of hearing about this dope. You should have titled this blog entry "THE DEFIANTLY DOUCHETASTIC DITKO!" Damn, that's brilliant.
Tim Perkins also has some good DEFIANT stories:
What a great week of posts and comments. I just wish I had more time to devote to them, and fewer priorities.
Googling images of Dark Dominion has been my first intro to the series, and a great treat. I liked the trading card of a Ditko woman. Oo la la. Can't be beat. Also got the names of other creatives along the way, and was impressed.
If by chance, you revisit the concept, I'll be there.
Very much liked the synopsis I skimmed. Too bad Steve couldn't go for it, but fits with his character, I guess. Also like other people's first hand accounts. The chance to get into a creator's presence can't be beat.
It's too bad the economics of comics have become oppressive, but I can concur that the internet is one way to get fresh stuff out there, or revisit past glories. One can only "hope" for an "Aristotelian" solution to the problem, if one exists. Maybe it is better that than a "Platonic" one like a more blasé heaven or hell. One might "hope" that the discussion is of something attainable.
Will have to explore more, over time, as is will be well worth the effort.
What Jason said was part of my argument with Steve about DD! Socrates had a theory about the realm of ideal forms, which Plato took farther in The Republic talking about ideal states of good. I'm probably misstating this since it's been a while since I read the books. But in Dark Dominion we were talking about an absolutely real, difficult to perceive level of our own reality. Which I saw as not contradicting Aristotle, but Steve disagreed.
This interview that Jim did a while back has some more details about Valiant:
Ponytails were all the rage back then. Then again, Mile High Chuck is still rocking one.
I loved Defiant, any chance you may revisit those characters?
Rob Clay: EXACTLY.
I don't know how much reading you've done in philosophy, so possibly you already knew this, or learned it in the intervening time, but your answer to Ditko's objection (i.e., the unseen germs) was kind of beside the point.
What Plato (and many, many others) held is that there are two worlds, the world that you perceive, and a separate, ideal world that is not accessible or understandable to any but a special few. (Kant's terms for the same ideas are the Phenomenal and the Noumenal.)
Nothing about the microscopic (or macroscopic) realm violates aristotelianism, because it is accessible and understandable to us (even if we require technology to do so).
(I am simplifying this considerably, since I'm almost 20 years past my Philosophy 101 and 102 classes. 🙂
In any event, it's a pity that Ditko didn't work with you more, but I'm happy he was busy at the time, anyway.
I also wonder if part of their motivation in going after Jim was to make sure Jim didn't have money he could use to start a competing company.
Being at the mercy of the courts is a terrible position to be in. It's the most unaccountable, dictatorial branch of our government and possibly the most corrupt. It also seems to be the least consistent, with one judge's rulings so often overturned by another.
The law itself is too complicated for any average citizen to navigate on their own. Lawyers lobby for it to be that way of course, since it benefits them as much as a complicated tax code benefits accountants. The result is that technicality rules over morality.
Since we don't have a "loser pays" system like some countries, you're even punished when you win. Only the lawyers win every time. Yes, there are many good and fair judges, but if you don't have bottomless pockets, you're probably better off rolling the dice in Vegas.
I haven't seen Defiant's sales figures, but I wonder if the more sci-fi nature of many of the Defiant concepts made it harder to find an audience. The one thing that's been consistently true about the comics industry for decades is that it's an uphill battle for anything besides superheroes to catch on big, no matter how well the books are done.
The Valiant titles also might have been easier to market as high concepts. It's obvious on first glance what an Eternal Warrior or a Robot Fighter is, but titles like Dark Dominion and Charlemagne might have a had a tougher time instantly hooking a new reader from the title and cover alone.
At any rate, this discussion is definitely making me nostalgic to dig up my copies and give them another read.
Rob Clay (Flailthroughs and Co.)
Jim, I don't think there could be a better, clearer way to refute your various detractors' claims than the fact that Steve Ditko was and would probably still be willing to work with you. Whatever one may believe about his personal philosophy, he has made it very clear he has no time for liars and cheats, even if working with them would benefit him financially.
Wow. Having to change your locks. That's big time! With so much money involved, did you ever think that you might come hope to a couple of broken-nose, James Gandolfini-looking bruisers waiting in the hallway?
These type of stories make me angry. But I believe that you reap what you sow. The people that did these crimes against you will have the same done to them. I've seen it many times.
Well, I'm sure Steve is a nice guy, Jim – but I can't help but feel he makes things difficult for himself. Sure, it's his right to do so, but one can't help but think that if he was less rigid to such an extreme degree, then he might have enjoyed the rewards I'm sure we all feel he deserves.