"...there were a few guys who did what I would call a complete world on paper. If you looked at one panel of Jack Kirby, you knew where you were. You were in Jack Kirbyland. And when you were in Ditkoland, you knew where you were. The reason I called myself a generic illustrator [is] because my stuff, I could make you believe you were in anybody's land... whatever those guys do has an integrity, a completeness about it; they created an entire world." -- John Romita, Interview in COMICS JOURNAL #252, 2003.
As the essay's title should suggest, I'm referring back to the entwined critical concepts I introduced back in this 2010 essay.
My initial definition was as follows:
for me "exemplary" means principally "that which is a good example of something," while "exceptional" means "that which goes beyond what is expected."
A rough parallel can be made between my categories and the dichotomy suggested by Romita above, with "generic illustration" standing in for "that which serves as a good example," while his idea of a "complete world" parallels "that which goes beyond the expected."
In part two of that brief essay-series, I compared the first Batman story, which was exemplary purely in terms of its accomplishment of introducing the hero, and the Englehart-Rogers stint in DETECTIVE COMICS, in which the creators attempted to boil down the appeal of the Batman mythos into six exceptional issues.
But as the title also suggests, I think I've come up with a better example of the dichotomy: the Great Myth of Marvel Comics. American comics fandom knows no more vital myth: in the beginning there was chaos, until the Three Gods of Comics sorted Kosmos out of chaos, and trailblazed the way to the promised land of Adult Fandom.
But with the orderliness of Kosmos, each god had to be assigned his divine domain. To the God KIRBY, fandom assigned the heights of heaven, wherefrom he rules forever. To the God DITKO, fandom assigned the great seas of churning anxiety, where he too rules in great dignity. And finally, to the God LEE, fandom cast him into the Land of the Dead, because as we all know he never "created" anything and couldn't have done squat if it wasn't for Kirby and Ditko.
I would hope readers might detect a note of sarcasm in the last sentence. No, *I* don't believe the beloved fannish fiction that Stan Lee was nothing without the stellar presences of Ditko and Kirby, but if I had a quarter (inflation you know) for every time I've heard some fan make that statement, I'd probably be rich enough to publish my own line of comics (and not even miss the dough when the line went belly-up).
As I mentioned here, I'd recently been embroiled in yet another Lee-Kirby-Ditko argument in which not a few of my opponents argued in such terms. In fact, one participant not only dismissed everything Stan Lee had ever done, but also every other Silver Age comics writer: Broome, Fox, Binder, Kanigher. There was no attempt to offer any argument as to why they were bad, of course, or why Kirby and Ditko shone so brightly above the muck and mire.
In Part 2 I'll suggest some arguments as to why this perception came about, and why (keeping in line with my project of intersubjectivity) it's both right in some ways, and wrong in others.