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Comics/Television: In Search of Steve Ditko

I finally got round to watching the Jonathan Ross documentary on BBC4, In Search of Steve Ditko (I was away when it first aired, and am unable to tape Freeview channels unless at home) and it made me glad I pay my licence fee.

Jonathan Ross is an important personality to the BBC, which is why they pay him so much of that licence fee. I don’t think he’s that special, but what do I know about running a television company? One of the side effects of this is that he can basically do whatever he wants as in-between projects; for example, there were his enjoyable programmes about Asian (i.e. Hong Kong and Korean) cinema that also aired on BBC4. And now, the Beeb let him make a one-hour programme about a comic book penciller whose last major work was Speedball.

This was an excellent documentary. Ross presented with aplomb – being a comic book fan of old (I used to buy my comics from the shop he co-owned in Soho back in the early 1990s), he doesn’t resort to the ‘Biff! Bam! Ka-pow!’ of the usual idiotic approach to the medium – and the talking heads were intelligent choices who spoke eloquently on the subject and were treated seriously. Ditko’s life and career were covered (although not completely – there was no mention of Shade or Speedball or the bits of work he did in the ’80s and ’90s, but that wouldn’t have made for as good a story) and his contributions to the history of comic books were explained.

My favourite bit was probably where Alan Moore told the story of Ditko being told about Watchmen – ah yes, Ditko said, referring to Rorshach, he’s the one like Mr A, only he’s insane – and laughing his head off, much as I was when he told the punchline. Closely following that was the look of sublime happiness on the faces of Ross and Neil Gaiman after they had spent 20 minutes chatting to Ditko (off camera, of course; there exist only a few photographs of him and he doesn’t give interviews) and holding up the comic books he had given them.

It was a delight to see the medium of comic books (and the costumed superheroics that are the bulk of it) being treated so well. Along with the excellent Comics Britannia series of documentaries, BBC4 has done a great service to the field. Thank you, Auntie Beeb.

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