Monday, October 22, 2012

The strange world of my dreams

On the Friday night of NYCC 2012, I had a dream that Steve Ditko showed up at the convention. If you know anything at all about Ditko, you will know this is highly unlikely. But in the dream, he arrived at the convention and made his way to the Kirby Museum table in the small press area of the show floor.

I was alone at the table when Ditko arrived, none of the other museum crew were there, so I did my best to explain to him the goals of the Jack Kirby Museum. And Ditko was not happy about it at all. He was very much annoyed.

Not because we were proposing a museum devoted to Jack Kirby. That wasn't it at all. Ditko laid out his objections in great detail. First of all, we were simply asking people to donate money with nothing of equivalent value offered in return, so the transaction was inequitable. Moreover, we were collecting this money based on work which we had no hand in producing or causing to be produced, taking advantage of someone else's labor rather than creating value by creating and presenting something material of our own. Worst of all, we were proposing to take this work which we had not created and turn it to a purpose for which it had never been intended. The pages of a comic book were drawn solely to be reproduced and published for a mass audience, dream Ditko said. Once they had served that purpose these pages were without intrinsic value. To elevate these pages to the status of art objects divorced from the context in which they were created was an absurdity. The creator of the comic book page did not intend for that page to be viewed as a separate object in its own right, so there could be no possibility of artistic intent carried out in its display --

I tried to cut in at that point, pointing out that not all work by Mr. Kirby (and believe you me, I was careful to call him Mr. Kirby in the presence of Mr. Ditko, never "Kirby" or "Jack") had been created for commercial purposes. For example the "Psychedelic Flyers" prints we were offering as a thank you gift for museum donations, my favorite items on the table. They weren't designs for characters; these pieces were intended to be viewed for their own sake as art.

Besides, I suggested, even if a page of comic book art isn't intended to be displayed as a work of art in its own right, at the very least it has historical value as an artifact, representing a critical stage in the process by which a comic book is created? I can still remember the first time I saw original art from a comic book, in an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum that included pages from books by Jack Kirby and Neal Adams. To see those pages from comics I'd loved made comic book creating and publishing seem that much more real to me. Surely galleries devoted to comic book pages could be another vehicle for making it all more real to people who might not think in terms of comic books having creators at all?

I was hoping that if I talked quickly and matched him for earnestness, Ditko would be more willing to accept what I was saying. Then I pushed it too far. I started to tell Ditko that the people I knew who most admired Jack Kirby were also tremendous admirers of his own work, and wanted to see him get the credit he deserved -- and that did it. Ditko decided I was trying to butter him up, and he had no patience at all with appeals to his vanity. I'd blown it. He went away mad. And then I woke up.

Yeah, my dreams are like that sometimes. Especially when I'm wired after having to be "on" for two days soliciting donations for the Kirby Museum at a comics convention, with two more days to go after that. But dammit, even after I'd worked out exactly what to say to him, Ditko never showed up.