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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #17!

This is the seventeenth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous sixteen.

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Steve Ditko used original artwork as CUTTING BOARDS!

STATUS: True

The beginnings of this situation happened back when Marvel was caught up in the whole “not returning art to the original artists,” using the argument that Marvel not only paid for the production of the art for the comics, but for the art itself. In any event, after some time, Marvel eventually relented, under the following condition – it would give the artists back the art, but it would be as a GIFT due to Marvel’s generosity. They still believe that THEY (Marvel) own the work fair and square, but would allow the artists to have the work itself.

Well, Steve Ditko did not like that arrangement.

As a result of this (and other factors I am sure, like not wanting to look to his past and hell, probably some other stuff, damned if I know), Ditko basically just let the art pile up, and actually used some of his old work as cutting boards!!

The story appeared in an issue of Wizard a few years back (thanks to Linda Burns at Ditkoland, for transcribing this last year):

There’s simply no way to separate the fact from the fiction, no way to determine which Ditko is the real Ditko. One story about him contradicts the next, which-in turn-contradicts the next.

Take for example, one of [Comic publisher and restorer, Greg] Theakston’s last visits to Ditko’s studio. While embroiled in a conversation, the historian noticed a piece of illustration board leaning up against a wall, slashed to pieces.

“He’d been using it as a cutting board,” Theakston said. “I looked a little bit closer and I detected a comics code stamp on it.”

He asked Ditko to turn the board around, a request met with a deadening gaze from the artist.

“I didn’t think he was going to do it,” the historian recounted. “It looked like a ‘Screw you’ look.”

Slowly, however, Ditko reached out and flipped over the board. It was a page of original art from a late 1950s issue of Journey Into Mystery [NOTE: This piece was not from Journey Into Mystery, but from Charlton Comics’ This Magazine is Haunted), a splash featuring a hard helmet diver. Theakston couldn’t believe it. Not only was Ditko not displaying, preserving or prizing this piece of original art, he was using it as a cutting board.

Theakston quickly offered Ditko a deal: “Steve, I will go down to the nearest art supply store and buy you a cutting board that will mend itself-a plastic cutting board that’s so smart that when you cut on it, it mends itself-and you’ll have the finest cutting board on the block.” “Nope,” Ditko replied, twisting the artwork-turned-cutting-board back around.

Theakston pleaded. “Steve, geez. That’s worth a fair amount of money. At the very least-damn, Steve-it’s an artifact. It’s an important piece of publishing history in terms of comics.”

The artist turned and pointed to the drapery-obscured window next to Theakston’s chair. “Lift that curtain up,” he said.

The curtain, the historian estimated, was about 18 inches off the floor. He pulled the drape aside and saw a stack of original artwork from Marvel standing roughly a foot-and-a-half high.

“Can I look at these?” Theakston excitedly asked.

“No.”

The writer was dumbfounded. “I was sitting next to a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand dollars, maybe, worth of Ditko artwork and he was cutting it up without letting people look at it.”

For whatever reason-Theakston feels Ditko may have thought Marvel was wrong for returning the pages-the artist seemed to attach no particular affection to his early work.

“He would rather not have people think of Steve Ditko’s best work as being Spider-Man from 30 or 40 years ago,” the historian said. “He wanted to be represented not by what he had done, but by what he’s doing-he wants now to be his best time.

Amazing, isn’t it?

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Robert Loren Fleming is dead.

STATUS: False

This is a weird little urban legend (which was suggested by reader MarkAndrew), and has been making the rounds for at LEAST the past couple of years (as I remember reading it at the time, and worrying about it, then, until I found out it was false).

In any event, just recently, in the comments section on the super duper blog, Snark Free Waters, Dan Coyle (who will always be Dan Boyle to me…hehe), asked “Wait, Robert Fleming’s not dead? I could have sworn I read an article around the time Ambush Bug returned in the pages of Lobo Unbound referring to him as “the late Robert Loren Fleming.”

Apparently, this comment in Lobe Unbound, coupled with Mr. Fleming not doing any big mainstream comic work, was cause to believe the claims in the comic book.

Mr. Fleming himself showed up later in the comments section of that fantabulous comic blog, Snark Free Waters, to state, “Fleming here, back from the dead… ….p.s.: Those bus crashes really smart!”

So it was all just a joke by Keith Giffen.

Good thing, too, because Robert Loren Fleming is a fine writer. It would be a shame to lose him too soon.

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The first Marvel/DC crossover was The Wizard of Oz.

STATUS: True

A lot of people generally think that Superman vs. Spider-Man, in 1976, was the first Marvel/DC crossover, but in fact, the first crossover happened a full year earlier!

Marvel was planning on doing a Wizard of Oz adaptation, just using the book. DC, however, was planning an adaptation using the movie (and the image rights to the actors). So they decided to just publish the book TOGETHER.

It was this spirit of cooperation, I presume, which led to the other, more memorable, crossover a year later.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Marvel AND DC Presents…wow, we really AREN’T in Kansas anymore!

Well, that’s it for me this week!

Feel free to tell me some urban legends you have heard, and I will try to confirm or deny them!

29 Comments

Carlos Nicolini

June 22, 2006 at 9:10 am

Hmmm… I see the cover of “Wizard of Oz” doesn’t have the seal of approval of the Comics Code Authority. Does the story have some adults-only content, like a lion-human sex scene?

lol

Milo D Cooper

July 30, 2006 at 1:11 pm

You know, after reading the Ditko bit, I’m wondering if the guy shouldn’t be tossed in a rubber room at the local funny farm. Isn’t destroying historical artifacts illegal in most states? Hell, if using classic art for cutting boards — even if it is his own property — isn’t a crime, then what the frack is?

Carlos,

I believe the comic was published as an oversized magazine (similar to the B&W Curtis line or MAD Magazine) so it wasn’t required to have a CCA stamp.

Destroying something you created and own would seem to me to be the most basic of rights. No one has the right to force Ditko or anyone else to dispose of his own property in any manner other than that which he chooses.

Agreed, Matt.

There was more involved in the Wizard of Oz Crossover than was originally mentioned.

Marvel did get the rights to the book and was moving ahead with the project.

DC is owned by Time Warner who bought the rights to the Turner properties, which included the MGM library, which included the Wizard of Oz.

If Marvel, alone, adapted the book,they would not be able to use any of the likenesses or plot points developed in the movie.

If DC, alone adapted the book, they would have to stick to the movie script and plot.

They would also be in competition with each other. The compromise was th produce the property together and also avoid the inevitable lawsuits.

Barry Pearl

Strictly speaking, “The Wizard of Oz” wasn’t a crossover, but a co-published book. I think most comics fans think of “crossover” to mean that two (or more) particular companies’ characters/universes intersect.

Actually, the first Marvel/DC crossover (an unofficial one but…) was some years earlier:

Justice League of America #103 (1/73)
Amazing Adventures #16 (1/73)
Thor #207 (1/73)

The framing stopry had a number of comics people – i remeber the Weins and at least one Steve, but i’m not sure which (the creators on the three books) going up to Rutland and getting involved in the action.

Literally. At least a couple of the “real” people get directly involved in the action.

Ditko can do whatever he wants with his work, but he’s still nuts.

THIS
WEBSITE
IS
AWSOME

THE GREAT OZ HAS SPOKEN

Not to pick nits on the whole OZ thing, but you really should get your facts straight, Barry.

The Time Warner/Turner marriage wasn’t until 2001. The Wizard of Oz co-published by DC and marvel was done 26 years PRIOR to that particular media giant marriage.

I’d have to go back to the books to see when DC was purchased by Warner, but right now my brain is saying it was sometime in the late 70’s or very early 80’s. (I could be wrong.)

When the book came out in 75, I was a whopping 11 years old and thought is was the dumbest thing I had ever seen and historical context aside, even today, I can’t get past the 5th page.

I’m still for the first Marvel/DC cross-over being the storyline Steve Englehart used based on the real-life Halloween super-hero Parade in Rutland in the 1970’s.

Both DC and Marvel used the Parade as the basis for storylines for a couple of years in the early 70’s.

One year it spread across The Avengers (issue 119) Justice League of America (103)and Thor (217), with direct references to events in each comic in the others.

…and don’t forget the most famous (to me) appearance of the Rutland Superhero parade: The great O’Neil/Adams story “Night of the Reaper” in Batman #237.

Bit late but you may want to revise the first one in light of this. Or you may not, your choice.

Thanks for including the transcript from Wizard, though, proved very useful.

Bob, awhile back, also wondering about the uncertainties of the original article, I asked for more information, and Greg contacted me to completely confirm the story.

So it really does come down to whether you believe Greg or not, and I don’t see any reason to believe he is just flat out making the story up.

Brian, read what’s at the link. I don’t believe the story, and I manage to do so without saying Greg is lying or making the story up. At the very least I show that it’s not “Marvel art”, so any speculation about whether he was acting based on his feelings about Marvel’s art return contract is right out.

No, I get what you’re saying, Bob, you’re saying that Greg could have been mistaken about whether the pieces were being used as cutting boards or whether the piece just had cuts on it.

And I’m saying I asked Greg about it and he says he’s sure they were being used as cutting boards.

I mean, Greg certainly knows the difference between a cutting board and a piece of art with some cuts on it, right?

And it’s at THAT point that we just have to choose whether to believe Greg or not.

I didn’t mean to imply that you were saying Greg was lying, because you specifically say you think he is NOT.

Do you think Greg’s eye is so keen that he can tell the difference between cuts made by Ditko and cuts made by some production worker in Derby over 30 years earlier, based on a casual view of the art (remember, from his account he never seems to have touched the page)?

My point is, if you’re going to post the story, I think you should make it clear that
1) Greg at no time saw a blade in Ditko’s hand cutting the page
2 ) Greg never says Ditko said words like “I was using the art as a cutting board”, or answered “yes” or even nodded when asked about it

Details that people seem to invariably add when they read that poorly written Wizard article (that and some people seem convinced that it was a Spider-Man page, but that level of reading comprehension is beyond help).

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Steve Ditko does not use the original art that Marvel has returned to him, except sometimes as CUTTING BOARDS!

STATUS: True

True? What part of that sentence is fully supported by a careful reading of Greg’s account?

Do you think Greg’s eye is so keen that he can tell the difference between cuts made by Ditko and cuts made by some production worker in Derby over 30 years earlier, based on a casual view of the art (remember, from his account he never seems to have touched the page)?

Basically, yeah, I think Greg would be able to tell whether the boards were currently being used as cutting boards or not.

But in either event, when it’s coupled with the context of the piece, like:

“Steve, I will go down to the nearest art supply store and buy you a cutting board that will mend itself-a plastic cutting board that’s so smart that when you cut on it, it mends itself-and you’ll have the finest cutting board on the block.” “Nope,” Ditko replied, twisting the artwork-turned-cutting-board back around.

Theakston pleaded. “Steve, geez. That’s worth a fair amount of money. At the very least-damn, Steve-it’s an artifact. It’s an important piece of publishing history in terms of comics.”

The artist turned and pointed to the drapery-obscured window next to Theakston’s chair. “Lift that curtain up,” he said.

The curtain, the historian estimated, was about 18 inches off the floor. He pulled the drape aside and saw a stack of original artwork from Marvel standing roughly a foot-and-a-half high.

I think it supports Greg’s belief that it was being used as a cutting board.

Why would that conversation go that way if it was NOT being used as a cutting board?

What, Ditko just thought Theakston was offering to buy him a cutting board out of nowhere?

And I thought I had a lot of respect for Greg’s art ID skills. To tell the age of a cut on a piece of paper at a glance? That’s fictional TV CSI investigator level detection.

I see the sticking point. Maybe I should re-write that bit to make it clearer. It does require some specific esoteric knowledge of Ditkology.

In the scenario I believe (which I do not posit as “the truth” but as “a viable alternative to the common wisdom which better conforms to all known facts, subject to revision pending further evidence”, which I thought was the point of this column), Ditko is fully aware of what conclusions Theakston has jumped to, and chose to play along without actually lying to Theakston.

“But, you ask, surely Ditko would have corrected Theakston if he was wrong? To that I say, you haven’t read that much about Ditko, have you? Not volunteering information is entirely consistent with Ditko’s behaviour. Now is the time to go back to the quote that opens this article and figure out why it’s there.”

So he knew why he was being offered a cutting board, and turned it down, I don’t know, maybe because he didn’t need one? You really have to read the full quote I open with in context to get the reasoning, but it’s there.

There’s not a Ditko “mystery” that Ditko himself could not clear up with a single statement, but he chooses to say “I know why I left Marvel but no one else in this universe knew or knows why”.

I dunno, Bob, it really seems like a bit of an “Occam’s Razor” situation here to me, and I think Greg’s take is the simplest one.

Well, as I said, believe what you want to believe. I think it’s a “Laszlo’s Razor” situation, and the story you present fails to reconcile with many other reliable anecdotes and written evidence of how Ditko feels about his artwork.

Are you going to correct the part about it being Marvel artwork and any speculation on how he felt about Marvel’s art return contract, at least? Greg has confirmed the Charlton page I posted is the page he saw.

I’ll change the Marvel bit in the piece, sure!

Hey Brian,

The problem with Occam’s Razor is that everyone thinks their concept is the simplest one. It’s too subjective to really be useful in the sorts of cases its usually applied to.

It sounds like BobH just wants to argue for the sake of arguing. The story as presented seems the most logical explanation.

Gentlemen,
He was using it as a cutting board. Seriously. I’ve been an artist for 35 years, and know one when I see one.
Why would Steve have a random, pre-slashed piece of art on his desk?
It may not be what you want to believe about Ditko, but when things like this happen, I’m paying attention.
It also seems like this thing has been blown way out of proportion.
On occasion, I’ve used the backs of old paintings as cutting boards. I’m sure lots of artists do the same, so it really doesn’t allow us a deeper view of the Mysterious Stranger, simply an artist at work.
Regards,
GT

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