‘Searching for Steve Ditko’: Spider-Man’s reluctant co-creator (and the Ayn Rand connection)
10:02 am

Pop Culture

Jonathan Ross
Stan Lee
Steve Ditko


The name Steve Ditko probably means very little to you if you aren’t a comics fan, but if you are, then the name is well known to you: Steve Ditko is the co-creator of Spider-Man, the original artist who envisioned the character along with Stan Lee. The worldwide smash of the Spiderman film franchise saw many Ditko-drawn Spider-Man classics republished and a concurrent growing fascination with the reclusive artist, who is still working in New York, at age 85.

Aside from Spider-Man, Ditko was also the co-creator, again with Lee, of the cosmic Dr. Strange, who was my favorite comic book hero as a child. The comic panels of Dr. Strange were some of the most vividly psychedelic ever seen in comics, and they contrasted sharply with his rendering of Peter Parker’s drab world, which was almost Soviet in comparison.
In the mid-60s, Ditko began to chafe at Stan Lee’s dictatorial editorship of Spider-Man and eventually got Lee to agree to let him plot Spider-Man—unheard of at Marvel—while control freak Lee would write the actual dialogue suggested from Ditko’s stories. The arrangement did not last long. Spider-Man as originally written was very much a conflicted character as we all know, but the character also had a lot of anti-establishment appeal—he was a smartass—and this is one of the many reasons the character took off in the heady era of the ‘60s. At the time that Ditko’s grasp on Spider-Man tightened, so did his interest grow in the Objectivist philosophy of Russian-born novelist, Ayn Rand. When Rand’s humorless black and white moralizing started creeping into the Spider-Man stories, Lee balked and soon the two men were not speaking to each other. Eventually Ditko left, leaving behind a character that would go on to become a billion dollar enterprise. He would never draw Spider-Man again and has essentially erased himself as much as possible from the character’s history.

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that Ditko sees himself as a real-life “Howard Roark,” Rand’s fictional architect in The Fountainhead, a man who refuses to compromise his vision. Rand’s influence was even more obvious in his right wing vigilante character Mr A, who would throw someone off a building for disagreeing with him. His work became didactic, shrill, hectoring and rightwing his influence waned. Mr. A was like Bill O’Reilly as a superhero. What teenager wants to be yelled at by a moralistic superhero? In the opinion of many, his work degenerated into fascistic rhetoric and lunacy from the late 1960s onwards.



There have been almost no interviews, ever, with Steve Ditko. While really not a hermit or a recluse, he’s an intensely private person and refuses all interviews, although there are stories of him speaking to a fan ballsy enough to ring his doorbell, but always standing in the doorway, never inviting them into his studio. In his BBC documentary In Search of Steve Ditko, otaku British talkshow host Jonathan Ross tracked Ditko down in New York City and called the artist on the telephone. Ditko politely refused his request for an on camera interview. But when Ross (and Neil Gaiman) showed up on his doorstep, he did in fact entertain them, although not on camera.

Blake Bell’s Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, a coffeetable book published by Fantagraphics, is a wonderful and fascinating look at Ditko’s life and work. Kudos to Bell for putting together such a volume which was clearly a labor of love and unique erudition. I can’t imagine how much shit he had to go through to be able to put together such a book. I’m sure Steve Ditko was no help!

Below, Jonathan Ross’s wonderful BBC documentary Searching for Steve Ditko:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Tim Minchin’s ‘Woody Allen Jesus’ - the song banned by British TV

Tim Minchin portrait by gtgauvin

Australian comedian, piano whizz and enthusiastic exponent of guyliner Tim Minchin has had a satirical song of his called “Woody Allen Jesus” cut from the broadcast of one of the UK biggest chat shows, The Jonathan Ross Show. Minchin had been asked specifically by Ross and his producers to write and perform a Christmas ditty for the show, but when an advanced tape was passed to the station’s director of television, Peter Fincham, it was decided that the song needed to be dropped.

Minchin is miffed, and rightly so. Are well living in the 21st century or not? Does freedom of speech and thought (and music) exist in this country or is the Christian religion in such a dire state that it needs to ban anything that questions its relevance? Actually, that might be the case. Despite David Cameron’s particularly idiotic and toadying claims that the UK is a “Christian country”, the figures simply do not back this up, as this report in the ultra-conservative Daily Mail shows: “Number of Christians is down 10% in just five years.”

Minchin writes on his blog:

Being Christmas, I thought it would be fun to do a song about Jesus, but being TV, I knew it would have to be gentle. The idea was to compare him to Woody Allen (short, Jewish, philosophical, a bit hesitant), and expand into redefining his other alleged attributes using modern, popular-culture terminology.

It’s not a particularly original idea, I admit, but it’s quite cute. It’s certainly not very contentious, but even so, compliance people and producers and lawyers all checked my lyrics long before the cameras rolled. As always with these bespoke writing jobs, I was really stressed for about 3 days, and almost chucked it in the bin 5 times, and freaked out that it wasn’t funny and all that boring shit that people like me go through when we’re lucky enough to have with a big audience with high expectations. And if I’m honest, it ain’t a world-changing bit of comedy. Regardless…

And then someone got nervous and sent the tape to ITV’s director of television, Peter Fincham.

And Peter Fincham demanded that I be cut from the show.

He did this because he’s scared of the ranty, shit-stirring, right-wing press, and of the small minority of Brits who believe they have a right to go through life protected from anything that challenges them in any way.

Yesterday I wrote a big rant about comedy and risk and conservatism; about the fact that my joke has no victim; about sacredness (oh God, not again!) and about the importance of laughing at dumb but pervasive ideas. But I trashed it because it’s boring and takes it all too seriously. It’s hardly the end of the world.

But I have to admit I’m really fucking disappointed.

It’s 2011. The appropriate reaction to people who think Jesus is a supernatural being is mild embarrassment, sighing tolerance and patient education.

And anger when they’re being bigots.

Oh, and satire. There’s always satire.

Jonathan Ross is no stranger to controversy within the British media - in 2008 he and Russell Brand found themselves in deep shit after a phone call to Andrew Sachs was deemed to have gone “too far” by the tabloid press. Those ever-original and forward thinking people at the tabloids christened the incident “Sachsgate” and the outrage that was drummed up was enough to have both comedians ousted by their employer at the time, the BBC (one was suspended and the other quit.) This background hum of potential “outrage” may have been enough for Fincham to pull Minchin’s segment on the Ross show, but now it looks like a whole new controversy based on freedom of speech and expression is blowing up in ITV’s face. Oh dear.

Here is Tim Minchin performing “Woody Allen Jesus” on The Jonathan Ross Show:


Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Life First, Money Second: John Lydon interview from 1990

John Lydon must get fed up being asked the same olde questions year-after-year by interviewers who should know better. Just see how many interviews over the past thirty years have kicked-off with rumors of a Sex Pistols reunion, as if Lydon has done nothing since the summer of 1977, and then ask whether he’s still Punk and why isn’t PiL any good?

Understandable, therefore, that Lydon is often contemptuous of those who pose such dumb questions.

That said, I sometimes think Lydon’s aggressive behavior stems from a genuine shyness, as he displays a set of tics and mannerisms consistent form his first appearance on Bill Grundy’s infamous swearfest. You’ll recognize them - the mumbling, the staring, the dismissal of questions with the word “Next” - all used to deflect the more personal probing. Oo-er.

We can see examples of both here in this short interview with Jonathan Ross, from his chatshow The Last Resort in 1990.

It begins with Lydon antsy as Ross reels off cue card questions about The Sex Pistols. Lydon is dismissive, which is interesting in light of the Pistols reunion later in the decade.

When questioned about the rumors of a reunion for £6million, Lydon says he wishes such offers would be given to him direct. Even so, he wouldn’t reform the Sex Pistols at any price.

“I would never repeat myself. And I think everybody knows that about me. You may not like me, but at least I am damned honest.”

He is harsh on Sid Vicious, defending his comments as honesty.

“When you start messing with heroin, you’re kissing goodbye to your life, and good riddance too.”

Fair commnent, but I tend to agree with Oscar Wilde that sometimes honesty is not the best policy, and the truth is never simple.

As for Malcolm McLaren he is dissmissed as “an imitation alcoholic”.

He lightens up about his brief acting career in the Harvey Keitel film Order of Death, going on to tell how he was offered “the ratty little git” in Drugstore Cowboy, a part he would have taken but couldn’t because of commitments. Shame for it would have been interesting casting.

The end cuts off just as Lydon gives a 4-word summing up:

“Life first. Money second.”

A nice thought, which reminded me of Picasso’s line about wealth: how it was always best to be rich enough to live poor. O, that we should be so lucky.

Bonus clip of Lydon interviewed by Margenta Devine from Network 7, from 1987, where the same questions about Sex Pistols, Punk and what he’s been up to all come to the fore. Lydon sticks to his honesty and having fun routine.

Bonus interview with Lydon from ‘Network 7’ in 1987, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Splendid documentary on John Waters, from 1988

There’s a line by Neil Innes, which Richard likes to quote:

There are no coincidences, but sometimes the pattern


more obvious.

It’s from “Keynsham” by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, who were on here recently, and well, there’s just something in the air as here’s another fine documentary from Jonathan Ross, this one from 1988, when he interviewed the “Pope of Trash”, the “Anal Anarchist”, the “Ayatollah of Crud”, the fabulous Mr. John Waters.

Shown as part of Ross’s series The Incredibly Strange Film Show, and recorded not long after Waters’ co-conspirator Divine died, this superb documentary contains one of the best and most revealing interviews Waters has ever given.

Starting with the opening of Hairspray in Baltimore 1988, with interviews from key Dreamlanders, a chewy selection choice clips, background skinny and some fabulous archive.

And what can we learn from this all? As Waters explains, without Divine there would be no John Waters’ films, for Divine represented the rebel who could win. Nice, but that’s a line which is also true of Mr Waters - for he is the rebel who won.

More from the fabulous Mr waters, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘1-2 FU’: A personal odyssey through British Punk Rock

I first met Peter Boyd Maclean about twenty years ago, when he was about 12, or so it seemed, as he was precociously young and at the same time incredibly wise, and most annoyingly Talented with a capital ‘T’. He had arrived from the ether to work at the Beeb as a top director / producer, having made a splash on that TV earthquake known as Network 7. He was funny, witty and always made work fun. I recall at the time Peter had just “Shot the shit” out of some island to placate his over-zealous exec, who repeatedly demanded “Pictures! Coverage! More pictures! More coverage!” every 10 minutes by ‘phone, fax and pigeon post. Since then m’colleague, has gone on to greater achievements and awards and hairstyles of interesting description.

He also made this rather super documentary on Punk, 1-2 FU with Jonathan Ross taking a personal odyssey through the music of his youth. It’s quirky, orignal, and has an impressive line-up of the punk bands who most effected the TV showman, including Steven Severin, Ari Up, The Damned, Adam Ant, etc. Like the best of Peter’s work, F-U 12 takes an original approach to a subject, rather than the usually biblical reverence of “In the beginning was Punk and the Punk was with…” etc. Of particular note here, is Jonathan’s bus tour of London’s punk clubs, and his rendition (as in torture) of “Anarchy in the U.K.”

Now here’s more of the same from the official blurb:

1-2 FU

Jonathan Ross presents the ‘Memoirs of a Middle-Aged Punk’ in this authored documentary charting the rise and demise of the most nihilistic movement in the history of British music.

Jonathan delivers a fast and furious rant confessing his passion for punk and the lasting effect it’s had on everything, from music and fashion to art and television.

As a forty-something whose life has been defined by punk and all the anarchy it stood for, Jonathan sets out to discover if punk really changed the world or was it all overblown hype?

To fully explore the legacy of punk, Jonathan gets a Mohican and grabs Captain Sensible to join him as he transports an open-top bus full of punks on a tour around London’s most notorious punk hotspots.

Finally, it’s Jonathan Ross as you’ve never seen him before when he fulfils his ultimate punk fantasy performing with Vic Reeves as The Fat Punks for one night only.



Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Three Little Pigs’ read by Christopher Walken

Christopher Walken gives the tale of the Three Little Pigs a wiseguy spin in this very funny clip from British TV show Saturday Zoo hosted by Jonathan Ross. This aired in 1993.

Thanks to Open Culture

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Doctor Who, Jonathan Ross and Sgt. Pepper Coffins

Sleep with angels forever in your very own custom made Jonathan Ross casket from British company Creative Coffins. The company is “committed to providing a green alternative to traditional wooden coffins” by using cartonboard materials.

Our individually designed cartonboard coffins provide for a more eco-friendly funeral and, most importantly, the range of carefully created styles will help you find a design that truly reflects the personality of your loved one.


Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Ari Up: Interview
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Jonathan Ross
Ari Up
The Slits

This short interview with Ari Up, conducted by Jonathan Ross for the BBC, captured some of the singer’s vitality, exuberance, and sheer joy, especially when she told Ross “to follow the poom-poom.”   R.I.P. Ari Up


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Alejandro Jodorowsky interview on BBC TV 1991

British TV personality Jonathan Ross interviews Alejandro Jodorowsky on the BBC in 1991. Jodowsky had released Sante Sangre a year earlier and had just completed The Rainbow Thief when this show was filmed.

“Most directors make films with their eyes; I make films with my testicles.”

“I ask of film what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs.”


Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Roxy Music Live On British TV, July 16 : ‘Virginia Plain’ And ‘Love Is The Drug’

Roxy Music performing Virginia Plain and Love is The Drug on the last edition of British television’s Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, which aired on July 16. Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera, and Paul Thompson all sound terrific. But, where’s Eno? 

Roxy is touring Europe, but no US dates are currently scheduled.

Bryan Ferry/Jonathan Ross, separated at birth.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment