Over the weekend I finally went with my wife to see Doctor Strange 2: Multiverse Spooky-Doo.
While I thought the film was ok, my wife really liked the movie, and went into great detail about what parts she loved, what parts she hated, and what she hoped to see in the sequel.
And then she asked me a very important question:
“Who invented Doctor Strange?”
“Stan Lee and Steve Ditko”
“Who’s Steve Ditko?”
Now, valiant reader, I want to be very clear on this. My wife is a big nerd. She read comics throughout the 90s and 2000s, so she’s not a comic book novice by any stretch of the imagination; she just had never heard Ditko’s name before.
And in fairness, outside of comic book circles who really does? Despite the fact that superhero movies are the overwhelming box office champions right now, it’s easy to forget that there are millions of people who know these characters, and yet have no clue about the creative teams behind them. This doesn’t mean that the movie fans are “fake,” or “not real fans.” Honestly, if you go to any comic shop or convention you’ll run into tons of people who know every character ever created, but struggle to know who was involved in each and every one of their creations.
And that’s not to mention that beyond the original creators, there are sometimes hundreds of different writers, artist, editors, and other amazing talents that helped shape that character into who they are today, and who they eventually would become on the big screen. Even the most die hard character fans might struggle to name every author and artist that ever put pen to paper, even when those people were writing and drawing their favorite heroes.
Heck, I love Wonder Woman, have a complete set of every series she’s headlined, starting with George Perez’s epic run on volume two of her own title, but if you asked me to name every Golden Age author and creator on her books, if you asked me to name who created every one of her villains and who drew those books, I have to tell you, I’d be stumped.
And the problem with all of this is that, at the end of the day, while superhero movies are bigger than ever, there are a lot of people that put their heart and soul into turning those characters into something great who currently are living comic to comic and barely scraping by while big studios are raking in millions.
It’s enough to make you want to spit. Or, at the very least, write a brutal comic book satire about it.
Which brings us to today’s book, Public Domain from Chip Zdarsky.
Here’s the blurb:
Syd Dallas is responsible for pop culture’s greatest hero: THE DOMAIN! But his sons Miles and David have a complicated relationship with both the creation and their creator. Can they convince their dad to fight for their family’s legacy?
This fun and heartfelt series written and illustrated by Eisner winner CHIP ZDARSKY (SEX CRIMINALS, Daredevil) explores a WILD ALTERNATE WORLD where comic book creators aren’t properly acknowledged or compensated for their creations!! Crazy, I know!!
Hi, it’s me, CHIP! I’m writing this solicitation!
It’s fitting that Zdarsky wrote the solicitation for Public Domain, since he also wrote and illustrated this entire book, and it shows. This is a deeply personal book that manages to both drip with venom and rage on every page, while at the same time telling a touching and heartbreaking story about creators and their families that have been destroyed by the publishing industry machine.
Public Domain is the story of a comic creator who gave everything he had to an industry he loved, and in the end had virtually nothing to show for it, except the admiration of a tiny handful of nerds who actually know and understand his contributions. As I said, it’s a deeply bitter book, but I mean that in the best of ways. It has a realness to the anger and bite to the satire and Zdarsky is able to weave the story together with his own unique brand of wit and humor so that, even when you can feel the seething rage behind the page, you also understand that it’s coming from a genuine place of love for the genre, and a desire to right historic injustices in this industry.
You see, Public Domain is a comic for people who love comics; who eat, sleep, and breathe comics. This is a comic for every nerd like me who has spent countless hours watching an endless stream of YouTube nerds doing deep dives into comic history. This is a comic for people who know who Jack Kirby, Bill Finger, and Neal Adams are, and what they mean to the industry. This is a comic for people who understand why it was so important that Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster got their names added to the credits of the Superman film in 1978.
If you understand those references, Public Domain will make a lot of sense to you. If you don’t, this series might be a great jumping off point to help you understand the history of this industry we love so much, and give you a chance to really explore how creatives are being treated today.
Yes, sadly this is not just a historical issue, but one that still currently plagues the comic industry. Writers and artist who help craft the storylines that Hollywood is currently using to rake in billions are sometimes lucky to even get a mention in the special thanks line in the credits. Studios don’t have to pay for these storylines, because technically they already own them. Why pay twice?
There is a lot to unpack in Public Domain, and honestly I am really excited to see where this goes. I love this kind of insight into the industry and I love the authentic, passionate voice of Zdarsky. If you’re a fan of his work you’ll love this book too, and if you’re not, well, still read this because books like this are the start of important conversations we need to have in this industry.
Alright folks, that’s it for me this week. I’m heading out for a camping trip tomorrow to enjoy the start of a well deserved summer vacation! (shockingly it’s been a hard year to be a public educator). I hope you all have a safe and happy weekend, and until next time, stay safe.