web stats

CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #267

Okay, guys, I’m really sorry for disappearing constantly. It’s unprofessional (not that I’m actually a professional) and I feel like I’m letting you down. And really, if you’ve expressed interest in writing a fill-in, I greatly appreciate it, and I’d love for you to send me an e-mail and stuff. Click on the Contact Us at the top of the page.

Anyway, I’m just going to throw myself back in the column as best I can, even in the face of horrors like life and work and Halo 3 coming out tomorrow. So, here’s my plan. I’m going to type until this column’s done. And I promise that every missing column will be filled in. Eventually.

Onwards with today’s entry. Let’s talk about an aspect of comics-as-periodicals that every right-thinking fan wishes was being used more. Bring it on! (Archive.)

9/24/07

267. The Letters Page

letters 2.jpg

Ahh, the letters page, everyone’s favorite classic method of keeping track of readers’ opinions, from the formal era of “Dear Editor:” to the classic era of “Hey, you crazy bums” to “What’s up, Gorfinkel?”. I miss it like an old friend.

I don’t know who came up with the letters page, but I thank them for it. Now, the letters page didn’t really come into comics prominence until the age of Stan Lee, who threw one into the back pages of Fantastic Four and brought about the mighty Marvel manner and cultivated their unique fandom. Stan Lee’s cult of personality owes a lot to the letters page.

Me, I’m the kinda guy who always reads the letters page when I reread a back issue. I love to get into the fans’ heads, and some old titles have brilliant letters pages, like the girl-oriented romance books, or Justice League International (I love it when L-Ron answers the letters) or Batman Adventures (featuring letters from kids and adults, and giving away awesome prizes) or even recent ones like Nextwave (the Letter-o-Matic!). The rapport between creator/editor and fan can be boring at times, but it can also be captivating.

letters 1.jpg

Remember the recurring cast of letterhacks? Gosh, they were awesome. People like T.M. Maple, Uncle Elvis Orten, Melissa Page, Malcolm Bourne, or CBR’s own Augie De Blieck, among others. Dozens of cool peeps whose opinions we readers came to care about. Whatever happened to these guys? Is there any chance any of them are reading this column? Okay, I know what happened to Augie, yes. Hi, Augie. ‘sup?

Nowadays, most comics phase out the letters page. Sometimes they replace it with an extra page of story, which is cool, but usually the inserted page is an ad or maybe the DC Nation page. Honestly, does anyone read that DC Nation page? I don’t want to disparage the company or anything, but personally I miss the letters page. Nothing felt better than seeing one’s name in print and becoming immortalized in your favorite (or perhaps most despised) comic book. The companies give reasons for dropping the letter column– after all, we’ve got this thing called the internet nowadays, and there are forums everywhere, but it’s just not the same. The letters page shows us that the creators and/or editors are actually listening, and taking the time to talk to us.

Some comics still use letter pages, but not many. Marvel’s got a few around, like in Thunderbolts. Frankly, though, it’s the indies which are most noted for letters pages these days, like in Powers and Invincible. In Fell, Warren Ellis has transformed the backmatter into a combination of behind-the-scenes information and letters from smart and interesting readers.

Boy, I miss the letters page. There’s a special magic to it, and a hidden art. I never got a letter printed, and I still wish I could. Sure, I’ve got this column about comics and everything, and I’m sure a bunch of people are reading this or whatnot, but man, I’d really like to see my name in a letters page. That’d be awesome.

Do you love the letters page? Why do you dig ‘em? Ever had a letter printed? Ever win a “name the letters column” contest? Those were always cool. Got any cool letters page images to share? I wish I had my issues to scan with me– and I also wish I could find that awesome letter in which Mort Weisinger decried inter-title continuity. That one’s great.

34 Comments

Do I love the letters page? Do I ever!

I lost a good deal of weight by reading comics on the treadmill, and I tell ya – there’s not better than dropping pounds while watching readers of Mike Baron’s Flash argue about Wally’s loose morality and how to pronounce “Kilg%re”.

No mention of the No-Prizes? Or… will they get their own entry. That would be beautiful.

And yes, letters pages have always been wonderful. I love reading old ones from issues mid-way in famous storylines and seeing what the readers’ guesses were as to what would happen.

I never wrote any letters myself, but my mom (also a huge comics fan) only ever wrote one… and it got printed. It’s in X-Men Unlimited issue 4, talking about issue 2. Even though I didn’t write it, and the series in question wasn’t that popular, it makes one feel strangely like a real PART of something.

Never got a letter printed, but Marvel Vision made the effort to print the name of everyone who sent in a letter, and my name appears in issue 18 I think…. It had a cool Hulk and She-Hulk cover by Adam Kubert.

I do miss them, they let you know how other people felt, and in some ways that has been replaced by the blogs and chat rooms.

I think the reason that letters pages were originally put into comics had something to do with their distribution. If they had a portion that was text, then they could be counted as a periodical and I believe were given preferable shipping rates, or something like that.

I miss letters pages. A lot of my comic collection is made up of comics from the 1970’s through the mid 90’s and one of the best things about when I go back to re-read those old issues is scanning the letters pages. Some like the letters pages to Mike Grell’s Green Arrow (“Sherwood Forum”)and Grant Morrison’s Animal Man (“Animal Writes”) were a great spot for readers to debate some of the social issues raised during the course of the series. Other pages like “Legion Outpost” in LOSH gave you a great idea of how much of a community the readers of a particular title could form.

I am so sad that they phased out the letter pages, reading those was always one of the best parts of comics. Do any comics at all still do them at all?

I just feel lucky that I was able to get a letter published back just as the phasing of them out started to come into vogue. (I was able to get a letter printed in Superboy #96, It was the last one on the page.)

It was fun to see what people thought of different issues and the chat between the publishers and fans.. I miss it.. The internet never feels quite as good, cause its not as tangible than having the comic in your hand…

Malcolm Bourne is a psychiatrist, I believe. In the reprinted Tales of Ordinary Madness that came out recently (which he wrote in the early Nineties and which features some really early Mike Allred art), he mentions that he’s thinking about getting back into comics. He was always interesting.

I got a few letters published, in the mid-1990s JLA. It’s always fun seeing your letter in a comic. It’s a weird rush.

T.M. Maple passed away several years ago, I’m afraid. His real name was Jim Burke, and several D.C. Comics actually wrote remembrances for him after his premature demise.

It’s estimated he wrote more than three thousand letters to comics across the spectrum of the mainstream and independent scene.

And oh, how I loved the letter page of Jinx, where Brian Michael Bendis would loving trash his loyal fans.

I loved the letters pages and was disappointed when they were missing.

I remember T.M. Maple, Uncle Elvis Orten, Melissa Page, and Malcolm Bourne. Sometimes my letters appeared alongside theirs, although I wasn’t as prolific as they were.

When I re-read comics from my letter writing phase (done on a Smith Corona, with whiteout!) I look for my letters, and sometimes I think–“What was I thinking!” Other times it’s–“Hmm, wasn’t I smart!”

It wasn’t just my own letters though. It was people like those listed above and others–seeing what thye had to say. In some ways it was a “non-virtual” community. It was like a discussion board on paper.

Hey,

you guys should check out letter pages from the following:

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman;
Powers by Brian Michael Bendis;
Fell by Warren Ellis;

Groo by Sergio Aragones & Mark Evanier.
(especially the Marvel run).

Those are a joy to read!

TM Maple even has his own Wikipedia entry. When you were calling for volunteers to write some of your 365 Reasons, my first thought was: TM Maple was a damn good reason. But I guess you beat me to it, mostly.

I like when reading the letter columns in back issues finding letters from current comic professionals, before they were pros. It’s like an Easter Egg.

And from what I understand, back in the day comics needed 2 text pages to get the cheaper periodical shipping rate. So the letters page and Bullpen page would cover it in Marvel mags. It’s why some comics from way back would have a text story among the comic stories.

It is strange how much of what you equate with comic books is shaped by when you started reading. I miss seeing Marvel and DC characters vanquishing Z-List villains with Hostess pastries. I miss the Fun Factory’s ads. I miss four-color separation and action-packed covers liberally peppered with speech bubbles, thought balloons, screaming hyperbole and scenes that actually occur within the comic it’s wrapped around. This is the stuff of which a comic book is made.

And of course, I miss the letters pages. Today’s comics seem almost incomplete on some primal nerd level when you reach the second-to-last page and aren’t treated to five or six letters extolling the virtues (or condemning the ineptitude) of the issue released two month’s previous. Of the comics I normally read, only Star Wars: Legacy and Ghost Rider feature any sort of semi-regular letter column (and are better reads for it).

Thanks for this article. It was great.

I once had a letter published… waaaaaaay back in the day. It was in an issue of DC’s The Hacker Files, (written by Lewis Shiner) and he actually took my letter/comment from the GEnie online forums in a relatively early example of letter pages publishing online comments, rather than snailmail letters.

I might have had another comment in, perhaps, an issue of Static: Rebirth of the Cool, but my memory’s a bit fuzzy.

I remember T.M. Maple. There was a letterhack for ya.

Fun article. I really think that the letters pages and Stan’s responses added a crucial edge to early Marvel. And I always enjoyed reading them, at least if the book was good. Sometimes it seemed the better the book, the better the letters. Anybody remember the regular cast of contributors in mid/late 70’s Master of Kung Fu? I remember sometimes reading the letters first, before the story.

And no, I never got a letter published. I sent in two, in 1973, gushing ecstatic barely-adolescent praise for the Avengers/Defenders fight and for McGregor’s Black Panther. I was absolutely crushed when neither was printed.
But then a year later another writer with exactly the same name as me was published in a Daredevil. I’m slightly embarrassed now to confess that I insisted to friends that it was my letter, and that somehow they printed the wrong address and town by mistake.

and… while I’m on the subject of true confessions, I must confess that here it is, fifteen minutes past twelve Vancouver time, and I’m sitting up waiting, waiting, WAITING, for the top #10-6. Thank God for whiskey and BC bud.
And c’mon, Mon-El!!!!!!!!!!!

(He’s not going to make it, is he?)

[sighs…. pours more whiskey… waits]

and, wow, thanks/sorry to hear the update re: TM Maple.

how the years go by….. sigh… [pours more whiskey]

I’ve had a couple letters run over the years; Spider-Man (got a mention in Todd McFarlane’s goodbye letter too, which was pretty dang amazing to me at the time), Power of Shazam, Hulk, and recently in Godland. I think it’s to the smaller publisher’s credit that they still run letter pages, it adds something to the experience that those company pages just don’t.

And yes, that DC Nation page is rather dull.

I used to love the old letters pages and it is a shame that they barely feature.

I was lucky (or maybe unlucky) to get a letter published in SWAMP THING back in 1991 or so. I was commentating on Doug Wheelers last issue.

Possibly my favourite letters column was in CEREBUS which sometimes was 20 pages long.

I had a leter printed in Next Men. What’s more, some other readers sent in letters, which were printed, reading me the riot act. That always makes me feel all warm & fuzzy in a really geeky way. The series ended before my response to their response could be printed. Knowing that Byrne was stirring the pot as much as he could, I have no doubt that it would have made it.

I really enjoy reading the letters pages. It makes you feel like you’re part of a community of readers. ‘Runaways’ and ‘Ultimate Spider-man’ have letters pages and little extra bits in the back and stuff. I think they’re a really fun thing to have!

I did get some letters printed; ISTR winning a contest in Groo the Wanderer by getting a Groo joke printed in the letter column of an early Image comic (possibly the Savage Dragon.) Don’t remember what I won, though. “Groo-Grams” is the finest letter column ever made, by the way, and the trade paperbacks aren’t complete without those letters and Mark Evanier’s wry responses.

I also got a few letters printed in Alan Moore’s comics (I’ve always been proud of my letter in ‘1963’, which I tried to write in the 60s Marvel letterhack style); Moore, too, writes great letter columns. Especially ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’. It’s worth tracking them down, it really is. (My favorite was his response to someone asking if Kevin O’Neill was selling original artwork for the series, late in the run after the six or seven-month gap between #4 and #5: “Frankly, at this point we’re not even sure if Kevin O’Neill is even drawing original art for the series, let alone selling it.”)

Other neat letter column moments (which I have no personal connection to, but have fond memories of): The Legion of Super-Heroes electing their chairman in the letter columns; the X-Men personally answering their own letters, rotating from month to month (Wolverine answering letters was a kick); and Mark Gruenwald’s little ‘Mark’s Remarks’ section of the letter columns in books he edited, about two or three paragraphs long but filled with interesting thoughts.

Letter columns. They’re dreamy.

I wasn’t much of a letterhack, but I did have a handful of LOCs published back in the Bronze Age — Tomb of Dracula 38, Marvel Two-in-One 54, a couple of earlyish ishes of Ms Marvel & Red Sonja, I think a slightly earlier MTIO &/or Super-Villain Team-Up. Which makes me look like I was quite the Marvel Zombie, but I wasn’t. I just found the company’s lettercols more accessible, or something. (I also had 2 or 3 published in Warren’s Creepy in the early ’70s.)

Old letterhack humor — ‘Hey, lock the door.’ ‘Dear Door ..’

I wrote one or two letters, back in the day, but I don’t remember anything being printed. That said, I also recall the lettercol in Sandman being possibly the most pretentious collection of prose poetry and half-assed mythological musings by the ohsodarkitydark college students who were reading it. Of course, I also remember getting into a wall-shaking screaming argument with a roommate about the direction Gaiman was taking with Dream when the “World’s End” arc was wrapping, so apparently everyone was taking it way too seriously.

One of the first (if not the first) publishers to feature letter columns was EC Comics. Russ Cochran has always reprinted them in his EC anthologies and they are literate and quite enjoyable.

The ones from Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror are a hoot. The Crypt-Keeper, The Old Witch and the Vault-Keeper (actually Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein) loved to insult the letter-writers.

I think I recall hearing that Uncle Elvis had also passed away, but I can’t say for sure.

I had a letter printed in an issue of NIGHTWING, but for the life of me I can’t remember which one! And since I ditched my floppies for trades, I’ll probably never find out. Weird thing is, I don’t much care to find out, and that totally bums me out. What happened to my youthful pride, the self-satisfied knowledge that my thoughts were memorable enough to the venerable caretakers of the legendary Robin that they felt compelled to print them for the eyes of posterity in thousands of copies of a publication read the world over?

Y’know what I think happened? The Internet. These days, whatever random thought that pops into my head can be posted for the bored unattention of no telling how many Joe Blogreaders or Jane Messageboarders. There’s no qualification, no sense that I’m contributing to the publication of a comic book, not even the self-sacrificing rite-of-passage-ness of buying a stamp. I can write “CAMELOT FALLS sucks!” right now, totally unsolicited and with all the reasoned thoughtfulness of a burrito fart, and be somewhat satisfied that Kurt Busiek will read it and possibly forthwith slit his wrists in the unknown face of my spur-of-the-moment disdain (no, not really, ‘Camelot Falls’ is cool, hi Kurt!). Where’s the accomplishment in that, the sense of achievement? It cheapens things, this random blurting of infinite proliferation. So what if I got a letter printed in an issue of NIGHTWING? Some drunken illiterate on the DC.com Nightwing Message Board posted what appears to be hieroglyphic computer code interspersed with curse words and a link to Siberian porn, that was similiarly read by a Nightwing editor and thousands of DC fanboys and will be preserved for the entirety of digital records. I don’t feel to proud anymore of something associated with THAT.

One of the most interesting letter pages in recent history was in the back of the Waid/Kitson LSH where the legionaires would read and answer the letters.

Currently, you can find a letters page in the Johnny DC comics, True Story, Swear to God, Powers, BPRD and some of the other indie books. I think Noble causes/Dynamo 5 have one if memory serves.

I remember seeing a lot of the letter writers such as Uncle Elvis and T.M. Maple in the letter pages, especially, T.M. Maple. It was as if he read every comic and wrote a letter for each one!

These days hew would be the EW comics reviewer or something, certainly he would have had a blog. It is a shame he passed away.

I would love it if letters pages made acomeback. Afterall just because there is an internet does not mean people cannot pass on their comments to a publisher via email or a formn at he website, etc.

Lauren

Never had a letter published, though admittedly the last time I wrote a letter to DC was 1991 to protest the appalling rewriting of continuity around Hawkman in Hawkworld.

But I loved reading letters pages. Somewhere else in the comments on this blog I described meeting Jim Burke, aka T.M. Maple and while I was sort to disappointed to discover my long-worshipped icon of letter-pages was in fact an overweight, opinionated middle-aged guy (but then won’t most of us become that eventually?) I was still thrilled to be able to at long last meet him.

My favourite letter pages of all time would have to be (in no particular order):

1) Batman and the Outsiders. Mike W. Barr had the funniest way of replying to people and always loved to court controversy (I’ll never forget the time I went on a tirade about the Moral Majority Right, or the time he basically disavowed a Bob Haney-scripted Batman/Metamorpho team up from the ’70s happened in continuity– not surprisingly the latter was the more controversial!)

2) Mike Gold’s various letter pages in the back of various First Comics in the ’80s. The letters were fascinating and Mike Gold had a way of responding that was smart, articulate and stirred up trouble.

3) The issue of Swamp Thing where there was a letter by a famous female fan (I want to say Robyn Snyder or maybe Heidi MacDonald but I’m sure I’m wrong) about the female werewolf issue which was answered in incredible detail by Alan Moore and then ends with “Remember when the letter page was where people asked when Arcane was coming back?”

But my all time favourite letter page of all time has to be early-to-mid 80s Cerebus. The letters were always fascinating and filled with insight…and then there was the Chris Elliott-esque gems written by a demented soul named Mike Bannon. Between them came something almost as entertaining as the comic itself. Of course this was years before things got kind of…weird with Cerebus.

I only really ever read the letters pages when I was sick of the story in the book, and looking for something more to read.

I just got bored reading all the groveling.

[…] As I said above, the complete series is now available in the handsome oversized Omnibus format, with excellent paper and dazzling colors. It even reprints the letters pages and text pieces by Kirby himself! Ignore the less-than-enthusiastic introduction to the volume, and leap into the enthralling stories themselves. This book would make an incredible Christmas present for any six-to-ten-year-old boy you know. At that age, they’re fascinated with dinosaurs and aching with the need to read something. Give ‘em Devil Dinosaur– it’s the perfect thing to hook ‘em on comics. I know the kid in me loved it. […]

[…] The titles included Mystery Incorporated, No One Escapes… the Fury, Tales of the Uncanny (featuring USA, the Ultimate Secret Agent, and Hypernaut), Tales from Beyond (with N-Man and Johnny Beyond), Horus, Lord of Light, and the Tomorrow Syndicate. The main characters served as plays on the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Dr. Strange, Thor, and the Avengers, with numerous other touches thrown in as well. On their own, the 1963 books stand as excellent comics. They even come complete with throwback touches like editorial captions to past issues, bulletin pages, letters pages, and cheesy ads (”Shamed by you English?”, Soil-Monkeys, and numerous Commie-bashing items). The issues serve as brilliant tongue-in-cheek packages. They’re also the complete antithesis to everything else Image was publishing at the time. […]

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives