Article contributed to Five Star Arts Journal by Jay Michaels
Comic Books – like their characters – have a secret identity. The mild-mannered paper and ink funnies are also the next level of Greek tragedy or Shakespearean epic.
Comic Artists – like their characters – also have a secret identity thrust upon them. Hard-working children of immigrants throughout the [40s] 50s & 60s, grabbing a job in a time when such things were scarce, drew fun and fantastical stories about improbable human beings … and outer planet dwellers. These progression-of-image books have – thanks to Godlike advances in cinema and the paranoia of psychiatrists have become the new da Vincis and Picassos.
Sadly, like their characters, these artists weren’t always lauded for their work. Their stories are the fodder of -well- comic books.
Ditko tells the story of Steve Ditko, a comic book illustrator virtually forgotten by the masses, but celebrated by comic book fans everywhere. Chronicling his rise in the comic book industry, Ditko was instrumental in Marvel’s success by co-creating two of comics most iconic characters, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and several of DC’s silver age icons, Hawk and Dove, Shade the Changing Man, and the Creeper. Ditko also worked for virtually every other publisher of note including Warren, Charlton, Pacific, and Eclipse, co-creating other iconic characters like Mr. A, the Question and Blue Beetle. He also created some of the very early 1960s startling imagery in sci-fi and fantasy comics. Ironically, Spiderman was meant to be one of those fantasy one-shot characters for a comic book called Amazing Fantasy. Stan Lee, planning to cancel the poor-selling monster book, let Ditko draw one of those far-out characters for the last issue. The rest, as they say …
The Daydream Theatre and TheatreLab NYC present DITKO, a play written & directed by Lenny Schwartz on October 1 & 2 at 7:30pm Tickets: $15 in advance at Ovationtix.com and $20 at the door the location of TheatreLab is 357 WEST 36th STREET 3RD FLOOR – NEW YORK
Some actors have the honor of playing Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, and Lear … others have a more lofty experience. Derek Laurendeau plays Steve Ditko; Dave Almeida dons a cigar for his role as Jack Kirby; Anne Bowman plays a mystic master – no, not Doctor Strange … Ayn Rand. And Geoff White takes the elevator to the floor ABOVE Mount Olympus as Stan Lee. The avengers assembled also include Samantha Acampora, Christopher Ferreira as Jerry Robinson/Dick Giordano (talk about Marvel AND DC), Mindy Britto, Emily Lamarre, and Timothy DeLisle.
At the New York Comic Con in 2010, Stan Lee entered the stage and someone from the back of the house screamed “YOU’RE A GOD, STAN” We asked the cast … “Well, is he? Well, are you? And what’s it like playing Gods.”
To me comic books aren’t becoming a religion, they are one. As with most religions you have practices, prayers, meditations, and most of all stories that give the moral standards and practices of them. Comic books in their own way share many of these. Many people routinely make pilgrimages to the conventions or their comic book shops to share in the collective story telling of hundreds of artists and writers. The whole community (artists, editors, writers, fans, etc.) shapes these stories. The stories give us the hope and ability to cope with the world around us. The comics are also a mythology on their own. Superheroes are god like and while the stories can be bombastic, heroic adventures at the end of it all the heroes themselves are just as human as we are and through that relatability you can gain strength to overcome any difficulties. Also like most religions there are divisions that you see when stories adapt and change. Most recently the Miles Morales Spiderman comes to mind as an example of the rift that can divide comic fans.
“I feel like we’re not playing gods. Ditko, Lee, Kirby, and Robinson were humans just like us.”
They had their flaws and faults just like anyone would have. The fans may see them as these deities, but at the end of the day they were just men and women creating from their imaginations. They created these characters not knowing what would happen. The act of creation is what they knew best and by putting the work in and giving their art every bit of energy they had they made magic happen on the pages. I feel like my responsibility to the role is to show the humanness of these great people. Yes they created heroes that will not be forgotten any time soon. But Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Jerry Robinson all started at the same place behind a table with nothing but an idea, paper, and something to write and draw with. The truth is anyone can do what they did as long as you have passion and are committed one hundred percent to making your destiny happen. However I do feel an extra responsibility to Ditko since very little is known of him and for a lot of people seeing the show it was the first time they had ever heard of him. So I feel a duty to do my best to represent Steve as the sure minded, smart, and talented artist he was.
Geoff White, like the characters he plays (Stan Lee) was a bit more irreverent.
Growing up in the 60’s, I was the usual comic book kid… I occasionally grabbed a Superman or Spiderman. I’ve always had a healthy respect for the art form, but as I began college and studying theatre, my focus changed and comics faded in my life Except for my many friends who are avid collectors. But, as an Actor, I do feel the responsibility of being true to any character I portray, but obviously playing Stan in the city, next to the Comicon is a little daunting. Fortunately, Lenny is a true Fan and an insightful Director and I truly feel the audiences will enjoy the ride as much as we do.
Dave Almeida plays another king. Jack “King” Kirby. The man attributed to some of the greatest comic book characters of all time – Hulk, Fantastic Four, Thor, and in the 1940s, Captain America (did you know that the Red Skull was created from a cherry on top of Joe Simon’s dessert he had while chatting with Jack?). Jack never really got the respect he deserved … until after his passing. A recent documentaryt about Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Batman, shows such practices were, sadly, commonplace.
We the public may consider these creative writers and artists “gods”, but I would guess that they just considered themselves just “working Joes”, and getting paid for their services, just like screenwriters, journalists and commercial artists did at the time. These wonderful people gave us role models without even realizing it; role models who change the minds and hearts of a post war generation and their children.
Christopher Ferreira playing two comic book legends shared his thoughts as well.
When I was in grade school at that time, comics were the safe place where social outcast bookworms could find comfort in fantastic stories about heroes and a fantasy world. It was ours. Now comics are everyone’s. Now I’m the expert who pretty girls turn to to learn about this world of mythical legend. Now I feel like the prophets of old, leading new followers to the wonderful teachings of pulp fiction legends. I absolutely feel a strong responsibility to accurately portray such legends as Jerry Robinson and Dick Giordano. I met Jerry twice in the later years of his life at the San Diego Comic Con and I was so blown away by his intelligence, exuberant personality and humbleness. He did so much important work to get creators the credit and recognition they deserved. I can only imagine how he encouraged and helped Steve Ditko in his early days of coming into the comic book industry. Jerry was such a force in the comic book industry. So my goal in bringing him to life again onstage in this version is to show how human of a man he was. Comic book creators are people who care about the human race, I feel. They write stories that show the best humanity can be. Creating heroes that they wish we all could be.
Anne Bowman practiced philosophizing by saying this.
What comes to mind is how comic book characters are like religious icons, known all over the world. Before I did this show I didn’t realize how often I see Spider-Man in my daily life, in many places other than TV. For example, I went to the beach with family a few weekends ago, and my friend’s five-year-old was wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt. I told him I was in a play about the man who drew Spider-Man, and his eyes got wide. I knew Spider-Man when I was his age, too. That’s pretty incredible.
Emily Lamarre and Mindy Britto looked up in the sky and had this to say:
Emily Lamarre: I’ve been thinking about this all day and haven’t really found an answer for this question. I’ve been an outsider to the comic book world and through Ditko I learned that Ditko was the real creator of Spider-Man. I think with why comic books are becoming a religion as people look up to these characters because they are strong, and brave. They even may pass down the stories of these characters to their children in hopes to take the lessons and ideals that they had and use them in real life. With the creators like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Jerry Robinson, and Bill Finger, they created these characters and the world they live in for people to read and look up to.
Mindy Britto: To be honest, comic books are a bit of a new phenomenon for me. I feel that comic books offer an escape into another reality. Comics are always indicative of pop culture, reflecting both modern society and a new market of readers. Writers come up with religious back stories to keep the character current and provide relatability and depth. It makes sense that comic books are becoming a religion due to the complexity of the world that we live in and the desire to explore and uncover.
JAY MICHAELS, an indie film and live event producer and promotional executive, is considered an authority on comic books and horror movies. He is the host of “Terror Talk” on the burgeoning streaming station, Terror TV. Michaels, a notable presence in the world of independent theater and film as a producer and an actor, has been charting horror and science-fiction on film and television and appraising comic books and other ephemera since 1973. He is also a judge for the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival.