Inspired by Suat and some comments on his post, I surfed over to Thought Balloonists, and poked around a bit. The article Suat referenced on Dash Shaw by Charles Hatfield was certainly thoughtful and well argued, but did little to dispel my generalized indifference towards everything I’ve heard about Shaw and his comics. There was a lovely essay by Craig Fischer on Steve Ditko though. Basically, Fischer argued that in Ditko, illustration of hands carry much of the emotive power. Fischer then suggests that this focus on hands rather than on a more diffused expressiveness or sensuality is linked to Ditko’s deep discomfort with sexuality and, indeed, (especially later in his career) with emotion in general. Fischer then concludes that Ditko may have suffered some sort of abuse, which may be the cause of his repression.
As I said, it’s an interesting argument overall. I’m no Ditko expert myself, but the discussion of the use of hands (inspired in part by comments by Bill Randall, it looks like) and the repression in Ditko’s art seems pretty spot on. I think it’s really dicey to try to use that to extrapolate information about Ditko’s past trauma, or lack thereof. Mostly because, as Fischer notes in comments, people are really surprising and unpredictable. People can be repressed or uncomfortable with certain kinds of material for all sorts of reasons, some of them pretty counterintuitive. Knowing pretty much nothing about Ditko’s biography, I can say, you know, maybe Ditko was beaten as a kid and so feels uncomfortable with sex. Maybe Ditko’s gay and repressed and so feels uncomfortable with sex. Maybe he had a religious background and so felt uncomfortable with sex. Or, you know, maybe he’s just uncomfortable using sex in his work for reasons that connect to a lot of things, but not to any one clear explanation. Works of art can sometimes work like puzzles that you can fit together and solve, but people aren’t like that. It seemed to me that Fischer’s essay was in some ways an effort to forgive Ditko’s schematic view of humanity by turning Ditko into a schematic himself.