Unpublished John Byrne Captain America, Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips on Darwyn Cooke’s Last Call and Steve Ditko’s Wishes at IDW San Diego Comic-Con Panel

So some of you may have already read a little article that came out about this panel, something about some guy that co-created Spider-Man, and I will talk about that a little/lot more, but before I get into that I want to share with you the rest of the panel. First I want to lay my cards out on the table so you fine readers can know where I am writing from – I love Artist’s Edition style books, and I love the ones that IDW and Scott Dunbier, Director of Special Projects for IDW, create. I own 31 Artist Edition style books, and 23 of those have been produced by IDW, with my latest book being the Stan Sakai Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter Artist’s Select Edition that I picked up at SDCC this last week. So clearly I am biased towards these books and towards the work and care the Dunbier puts into them. This will be the eighth comic book convention that I have covered an IDW Artist’s Edition panel, and hopefully, after all is said and done from this convention and my coverage of these panels, Dunbier will still let me into the next one. Moving on from that let’s talk about the books.

IDW Artist's Edition SDCC 2019 Panel, oh and Steve Ditko IDW Artist's Edition SDCC 2019 Panel, oh and Steve Ditko

Dunbier started the panel discussing some previously announced books, including the Roy Krenkel art book and Brothers Hildebrandt Marvel art book. Dunbier said that both Dave Cockrum’s X-Men Artifact Edition and Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein Artist’s Edition are still moving forward, but that the Wrightson book will be pushed to next year. Next, Dunbier shared some new information about the upcoming John Byrne Marvel Classics Artifact Edition book. 

IDW Artist's Edition SDCC 2019 Panel, oh and Steve Ditko

At first, Dunbier asked if I would not share this information, which I told him that if there was something that he specifically asked me not to share that I would do as he requested. Lucky for you though, after he shared the information he said it was all right to bring it to the Bleeding Cool readers. The John Byrne book, which has already been advertised in Previews, will be having a variant cover release as well. Dunbier hinted that this book will feature the first-ever wrap around art cover that IDW has released for the Artist’s/Artifact Edition books. As the book is due in October, I will assume that the variant will be available at NYCC this, but Dunbier did not give a date. The cover will be a digitally modified, by Byrne himself, version of the below image from Captain America 255. 

IDW Artist's Edition SDCC 2019 Panel, oh and Steve Ditko

The original image will be included in the book’s interior as a foldout, but Byrne thought there would be more dialog on the page then they ended up using, so there was more empty space then he would have liked. Additionally, if look closely at the page below, you will notice that it says Issue 257 on it. The thing of that is that Byrne’s run on Captain America ended at 255. So the book will include six pencilled pages that were intended for issue 257 but were never published in that book.

IDW Artist's Edition SDCC 2019 Panel, oh and Steve Ditko

Next Dunbier provided some all new announcements. The first one caused Dunbier to get emotional, as he was discussing his late friend, the great Darwyn Cooke. Dunbier said that IDW will be going back to press on Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition. This is a gorgeous book, and, as a fan of both Parker author Richard Stark (pen name for Donald Westlake) and Cooke, is one that I already have. The book was released in 2011 and has been long out of print. The new pressing is expected to be released in 2020.

Dunbier did not stop there with the Cooke and Parker news. Dunbier said that also coming in 2020 will be The Martini Edition: Last Call. It will feature the 3rd and 4th volumes that Cooke had done, with a ton of extras. Dunbier said that as Cooke had done the design on the original book he needed to find someone to design Last Call. With the permission of Cooke’s and Westlake’s widows, Dunbier got the two most perfect people to design the book and add additional writing to it – Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker. If you have read The Fade Out, Criminal, or any of the other books that Brubaker and Phillips have created together then you will agree they are the perfect pair for this project.

IDW Artist's Edition SDCC 2019 Panel, oh and Steve Ditko

The next announcement was for an EC Comics Covers Artist’s Edition. Dunbier said that about half the covers had already been shared in previous releases, but that he wanted a book of just the covers because EC books were his favorite. I never got a chance to ask about the release date, because the next announcement took over everything else in the panel.

IDW Artist's Edition SDCC 2019 Panel, oh and Steve Ditko

So if you read this article from Mark Seifert, you already know that Dunbier had Mark Ditko, one of Steve Ditko’s nephews, as a panel guest. Mark was there to join Dunbier in announcing Steve Ditko’s Complete Mr. A, Volume One. If you haven’t read the article then this might be big news to you, but then also go check out that article and then come back to read this one because going forward this article becomes a companion to that one.

IDW Artist's Edition SDCC 2019 Panel, oh and Steve Ditko

The article included transcripts from the panel as I always audio record any panel I am covering, because I never want to misquote someone, so while the transcripts are good, they don’t convey the feeling of being at the panel or even what the audio conveys on its own. Here is an excerpt from the previous article that Seifert wrote, with my own commentary added in a smaller font.

Joshua Stone You mentioned that you’re doing what Steve wanted to do. Did he change his mind? Because I know there is a letter out there where he said that he didn’t want all his art and stories collected. 

I believe that Mark was very surprised by the question and was taken aback by it. After I asked the question there was a two-second pause, and then Mark took an audible deep breath before he answered.

Mark Ditko Yes, he did say that. 

Mark then laughed, with what I felt was a nervous laugh because I think he was uncomfortable, exhaled, and then took another deep breath before saying the following.

What can I say?

You know what, some of this is being driven by my dad, my dad has said: “I want to do this”. And my dad was his brother. 

So the transcription software did not pick up something Mark said between what is above and what is below, but I distinctly heard it at the time and I definitely heard when I relistened to the audio. Mark said, “And right now my dad is the “godfather”.” To me, this seemed to be a reference to the movie The Godfather, and I took that to mean that Mark’s dad is like Don Corleone, he is running things for the family and what he says is what is going to happen. That may not be what Mark meant, but I can only offer my opinion on my understanding of what he said.

I think I will always have to wrestle with some things like that. Right or wrong.

Furthering my take on this, I don’t 100% believe that the reason the family is doing this is “artistic legacy”. Maybe I am wrong, but I guess that a lot of this is about money for the family. Everyone sees the billions of dollars being made off of comic book characters that Steve Ditko created or helped to create and they may feel that some of that should be going in their direction. Now, if that is true, I don’t necessarily feel they are wrong. Corporations have been making a fortune off of these characters for years, and too often creators have been taken advantage of and screwed out of their fair share.

What I wanted to ask, but did not because in reading the room, specifically Scott Dunbier at that point in the questions, I don’t think it would have been taken well, is whether there was a will or trust with specific instructions from Steve Ditko regarding the use of his material after his death. 

Now, I do believe that Scott Dunbier was being sincere when he talked about protecting the artist’s legacy. I’ve been to enough panels with Scott and have spoken to him enough away from the panels that I believe he is an empathetic and authentic person that cares about the art of comics and the people that create that art.

Now if the family thinks that the work of Steve Ditko is going to be a cash cow that will take care of the family for generations I think the results may be different from they might be hoping for. I certainly believe that any original artwork of Steve Ditko that they might have will sell for a substantial amount, as there are probably many collectors out there who would pay a fortune for any Steve Ditko original art, but beyond that I think there is going to be a very limited market in terms of not only books but movies and other uses of the intellectual property that Steve Ditko owned. If you go to Kickstarter, you can see the number of backers for Ditko’s Kickstarters and none of them reached 300 backers.

Unless something is Spider-Man or Doctor Strange, I think most people are not going to have an interest in the characters and intellectual properties that Ditko actually owned. While any Artist Edition type book using Steve Ditko’s original art will likely be very successful, it will still only be a very successful Artist Edition book. As much as I love these type of books, the average comic collector probably doesn’t own any of them, and if they do then it will likely feature a well known character from DC or Marvel. Keep in mind these books usually run between $100-$200 and they are often huge and take up a ton of space. So within the limited market of comic book collectors, it will be part of an even more limited market of people willing to spend their money on the Complete Mr. A, and that is one of Ditko’s more well known characters that he owns. You ask the average comic fan to name two characters that Ditko created outside of Marvel and DC, and I don’t think you will get very far beyond them answering Mr. A, if they even know that character, and then a blank face and a bunch of wrong guesses.

The article also included the below quote from Mark Ditko:

Mr. A. was kind of where his heart was philosophically. 

He believed a lot of things that may be in some people’s minds were too staunch or too hard line. I don’t know. I look at all that stuff through my eyes. What is so wrong with having in some instances a black and white philosophy of right and wrong. 

When you’re teaching your kids, do you teach your kids about gray areas? It’s okay to steal a pencil and paper but not something over 50 dollars. Some things are black and white. 

That was the frame of what he’s doing and that’s something that I want to do. He and I wrote profusely back and forth. 

Well, if this is the case, and Mr. A was where Steve Ditko’s heart was philosophically and he believed in black and white, and right and wrong then is going against Ditko’s wishes the right thing to do, even if the reason is to protect the legacy of the artist.

So that was the panel, and also my opinion of all things Ditko involving the panel. Now you know why I think I might be banned from attending any future panels, but even if that happens I am still getting The Martini Edition: Last Call and Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein Artist’s Edition because I still love these books and respect and appreciate the work that Scott Dunbier puts into them.

For further musings from Joshua Stone, you can follow him on the Twitter @1NerdyOne, or you can block him if this article pissed you off, he understands.