JayJay the obstreperous Blog Elf yelled at me for not including a more personal story involving Steve Ditko Monday.
You know what? That’s just what I need in my life, more people yelling at me.
Here’s a picture of JayJay. She’s the mean-looking one at the bottom:
Here’s a Ditko at Marvel story that requires a set up.
Another “First Meeting” story
Bob Kanigher. In all my visits to DC’s offices from the mid-1960’s through the mid-1980’s, I never officially met Bob Kanigher. I walked past his office once, the door was open and he was in there. Whoever was with me, probably Mort Weisinger or E. Nelson Bridwell said, “That’s Bob Kanigher,” but he never even looked up from what he was doing.
I don’t remember which year, 1986, I think, DC Comics cut Kanigher loose. Thanks for everything, now, get out.
Shortly thereafter, Kanigher called me. He said he had written something, not a comic, a piece for some magazine or other that used me as a character. He told me he wasn’t asking for permission to use me, and frankly didn’t care whether I liked it or not. However, as a courtesy, he would come up to my office at Marvel and show it to me.
I told him it that wasn’t necessary. If it was a done deal, why bother? I’d probably see it at some point anyway. But I thanked him for the offer.
I don’t think that was what he was expecting to hear. He persisted, trying to pique my curiosity. He practically insisted that I had to see this thing. Finally, I got the feeling that he just wanted to come to Marvel and talk. That figured. He needed or wanted work. Well, why not just say so? Whatever. I said he was welcome to stop by.
Later, the receptionist called and said Bob Kanigher was here to see me. I went out to fetch him myself, which felt properly respectful. Kanigher was a giant. Figuratively speaking. Actually, he was a little guy.
And I am huge. Looming over him, I shook his hand. Can’t help but loom when he’s Jack and you’re the beanstalk. I walked him back to my office.
One of my guest chairs had been pushed up too close to the desk, so I pulled it out to its normal position. Kanigher paused at the “indicated” chair, then made a show of going around it to the other chair.
Oh, good grief. Now, it started to make sense. He’d obviously read some business psychology book or three. Don’t ask for a meeting, manipulate them into asking you. Stay in command by refusing the chair offered and choose your own. Etc. Art of Japanese Management stuff.
Jenette Kahn was into that stuff too, periodically taking the DC staff on retreats, making them all get up early and do calisthenics together. Paul Levitz absolutely refused to attend the calisthenics sessions, so he said.
Kanigher and I sat down. I’m still towering, even sitting. I was still looking down at Kanigher. He sat for only a second, then stood and leaned forward his hands on my desk, so he could look down at me. Sigh.
The piece he’d written, by the way, had a character with the last name “Gun,” and it didn’t seem to have much to do with me. I thanked him for showing it to me.
Kanigher started talking, telling stories starring him. All about his triumphs of various kinds, not just in the comics field. About artwork of his that hung in museums around the world, including the Louvre. About a time in Italy when an exquisitely beautiful young woman on her wedding day saw him through the window as he passed by and had to have sex with him, right then! And the time a limo pulled up beside him on a New York street and the fabulous, famous woman in the back begged him to have a wild, wanton romp with her. And other romantic conquests. How he had browbeaten the people at Burberry into honoring the lifetime guarantee on his trench coat, though he had admittedly ruined it through abuse. About big time politicians and leaders who sought his counsel. More.
This went on for a while. I knew what he was doing—the “don’t ask for anything, make your wonderfulness clear so they’ll make you an offer” routine. Sigh. I guess I could have cut him off at any point and asked him if he was looking for writing work. But, A) it was fascinating in a surreal sort of way, and B) something ornery in me didn’t want to allow myself to appear to have fallen for biz psych 101 tricks.
I slowly slumped lower and lower in my chair. Till my chin was almost at desktop level. The better to accommodate his looking down on me.
Finally, he started talking about all the brilliant ideas he had and all the offers he had. How he was going to revolutionize not only the comic book business, but the entire entertainment industry.
So I said, “That’s great, Bob. Good luck with everything.”
He seemed to be in pain. I guess I would be too, standing and leaning on a desk for hours, trying to loom over someone. But then again, I don’t really have to try to loom.
Finally, desperate, I guess, he didn’t quite ask for work, but he mumbled something about deigning to grace us with a few scripts.
So I called Larry Hama and told him Kanigher was in my office. Maybe he’d like to talk with him? Larry came right away. He seemed happy to see Kanigher and the two of them went off to Larry’s office to talk about possible work.
Clash of the Titans
I don’t know what, if anything Kanigher did for Marvel. That was pretty close to the end of my tenure as Editor in Chief. I was so busy battling with the Cadence Management Inc. jerks who had taken Marvel private and were screwing over the creative people (and everyone else) that I was pretty much out of touch with what was going on in the comics.
He must have been cooking up something with Larry, though, because I’d see him around the office now and then.
At some point Kanigher gave me a stack of plots for various Marvel characters. Captain America, the Fantastic Four, others. Nothing revolutionary, but good solid stories, as you’d expect. I was gone soon thereafter, so nothing came of them that I know of. I might summarize one or more of them here one day, if anyone’s interested.
One day, at the end of the day, Steve Ditko was in the office, probably delivering an issue of ROM. Bob Kanigher and Steve Ditko ran into each other in the hall. Somebody, probably Larry Hama, introduced them. I guess in all their years they’d never met, or maybe it had just been a long time. They started chatting.
On his visits to the office, Steve would never even have a cup of coffee before he accomplished whatever was the purpose of the trip. “Production before consumption,” he’d say. But once the “production” was done, he often hung around and talked with people, the kids, the vets, the old timers, he didn’t care. Anyone who thinks he’s totally a lone wolf, nah, no way. He seemed to like being around us. He tolerated our cast of crazies, including me, pretty well, I think. And as far as I know, everyone treated him with great respect.
Anyway, the meeting between Ditko and Kanigher took place right outside my office, and my door was open, as it always was, and I was working late, as I pretty much always did.
After a few moments of more general chitchat, something Kanigher said strayed into liberal philosophy. Steve immediately challenged the statement.
And, they’re off…!
Those two stood there for hours arguing. In gentlemanly fashion, mind you, but fiercely nonetheless. Kanigher was…hmm…I guess it’s okay to say he was a liberal. An intellectual progressive, maybe? Whatever. Don’t make too much of that assessment. I don’t mean to label the guy. The point is that his position was miles away from Steve’s.
Which is not to label Steve a conservative or anything else.
I wouldn’t attempt to categorize Steve’s point of view. I will say that I do not believe he conveniently fits in any box. He is a very, very smart man and whatever his sources of inspiration, he is, I believe, his own man. Unique. Enough things he has said have been brought up in the comments here during the last three days that one can get a sense, directionally, of his philosophies. Maybe.
One thing about Steve, he has done his research and done his thinking and has clearly argued his points many times. He enters every discussion loaded for bear.
All right, here’s another unschooled observer’s characterization of Kanigher’s philosophy. He was arguing what he felt was common sense. Everybody knows blah, blah, blah….
Steve did not accept whatever was offered as “common sense,” and, well-prepared, had answers for everything.
Example: Kanigher referenced the public’s right to know. Steve challenged that. Where in the Constitution is the “right to know?” How is it any of the public’s damn business what happened in non-public circumstances?
Eminent domain came up, too. Kanigher argued for the greater good. Steve argued for the rights of the owners of property.
Steve, with his massive arsenal of pre-loaded arguments had Kanigher on the defensive and reeling. But Kanigher went into rope-a-dope mode and stubbornly kept punching. The Rumble in the Jungle should have been this good.
No winner. Though, truly, I could have listened to them all night, it was that fascinating, finally I needed to go home. I came out of my office and started injecting exit ops, “You two will never agree.” “Nothing’s going to be settled here tonight.” Etc. Eventually, they got the hint and we got on the freight elevator, went out the back exit and on our separate ways.
I suspect Steve felt like he won every point, and I suspect Kanigher chalked it up as another conquest.
There was another such debate once. In Ann Nocenti’s office, after hours, Ann, Chris Claremont, a couple of other people I’ll dare to allege are liberals got into it with Steve. It went similarly, I think. Chris or Ann can tell that story better, I was just a passer-by.
Old Timer’s Day at VALIANT A 3-D Special!
VALIANT had an eclectic mix of people. We had kids right out of the Kubert School, kids off the street, like David Lapham. Guys and girls who were getting their first pro work. We needed them and they had no other options.
We had a few people who, for various reasons, had no place else to go, like Bob Layton, Barry Windsor-Smith and me.
And some old guys nobody else wanted. We had Don Perlin, an old guy who became someone nobody else wanted when he left Marvel to come and work for me. He hated Marvel at that point and liked me. Go figure. But coming to work for The Great Satan meant being blackballed everywhere else.
We also had John Dixon, an old guy from Australia, I think. Great artist. No takers, except me. He just wasn’t hip enough.
Then there was Stan Drake. Old guy. Little known fact, he shared a studio in Connecticut with Bill Sienkiewicz. Stan Drake. One of the all-time greats. An inspiration to Neal Adams. A genius. Working long after he should have been retired to pay a prodigious amount of alimony.
Did you know he ghosted Blondie for Chic Young? The guy could do anything.
And we had Steve Ditko. The co-creator of Spider-Man who was no longer welcome at the House of His Ideas.
So the nobody-else-wants-us band at VALIANT was eclectic to say the least.
Because we had so many old dudes, we decided late one evening, in the delirium that lack of sleep brings, to have an Old Timers Day Party.
VALIANT didn’t have any money. I didn’t have any money. But, by virtue of having been pretty prosperous during the last few years I’d been EIC of Marvel, I had some credit cards with biiig limits.
So, we set a date, secretary/managing editor/office manager/slave driver Debbie Fix arranged for a catered lunch and we invited all people VALIANT.
Stan Drake said he couldn’t come. He couldn’t afford to lose the work time, that’s how oppressive his obligations were.
I asked him, do you take time for lunch? Yes. Well, how about if I hire a chauffeured car to pick you up at your studio, drive you to our office on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan? You have lunch with us, and the car will be standing by outside to whisk you back to work. Minimum time lost.
He agreed. Thank God for credit cards.
So, it happened.
My mother, Eleanor Shooter, was visiting from Pittsburgh. When she came to visit, she liked to come to the office and help out. She enjoyed being the receptionist. Go figure.
Anyway, Stan Drake arrived. He flirted with my mother! Quite the ladies’ man. No wonder he was in alimony Hell.
The three D’s got to meet each other at last, Drake, Dixon and Ditko. And the fourth D, Don Perlin, of course, and Richard Rockwell, nephew of Norman Rockwell.
Stan Drake was a major influence of John Dixon’s as well as Neal’s. Richard Rockwell had been Milt Caniff’s assistant, and Dixon, who loved to draw aircraft and did an aircraft-intensive strip in Australia, was in a way that continent’s answer to Caniff. Perlin had worked with Eisner, was very accomplished in comics and had many tales to tell. Ditko, of course, everybody held in high regard. The stories of old days flew thick and fast.
And we all had lunch. Anything Debbie organized was perfect, as was this event.
I was very proud of the young guys, who all treated the old guys with great respect. Hung on their every word Honored them.
Steve wouldn’t let us take his picture, but here are some other pix.
|John Dixon, Don Perlin and Stan Drake hamming it up.|
|Old guy Jim forgot to mention that the inimitable Ernie Colón was there, too. - JayJay|
PS. That's Jim's desk in the far background with a folding chair for guests.
|The fabulous Debbie Fix yukking it up with Dashing Stan Drake.|
|John Dixon, Don Perlin, Jim Shooter, Stan Drake, Bob Layton|
Stan had to go too soon.
But, Geez, Louise, that was a dream day!
NEXT: DEFIANT Ditko!