Saturday, July 19, 2014

My Unabashed Letters to Marvel!

We've already covered some of the greats at Marvel who began their climb up the company ladder by rubbing elbows with other fans who contributed missives to the letters-to-the-editor pages, which were waiting for us at the end of a story (and sometimes tucked in the middle) to give an extra bit of fun to reading a Marvel comic. Reading a letters page felt like getting in the same room with other people who had read the same story--each of whom got a little something different out of it, or perhaps had the same points to raise as yourself. And part of the magic was that the responses were so engaging--partially, no doubt, to maintain the "good will" aspect of customer relations, keeping the lines of communication open and making readers feel that their opinions mattered.

It's been awhile, but I think I ended up writing three or four (maybe five) letters myself. I recall three of them, two of which I'd like to share here; the third was a letter which Jim Shooter, chief editor at the time, graciously responded to himself. I say "graciously" because if memory serves, my letter wasn't particularly thoughtful or anything that merited a response--but he addressed the items I'd mentioned point by point, taking time out of his day to answer my letter personally. I've always remembered that about the man, and to this day I'm duly humbled by his generosity.

At the time, writing a letter to the editor was fun in itself; finding your letter pop up in the book with a response a few issues later had you doing a mental Snoopy dance (or the real thing, depending on whether or not you were in public and how inhibited you were). I remember being motivated to write a letter after reading an issue of The Defenders while Ed Hannigan was on the book. There were a lot of issues of The Defenders that were tough to get through for completists like myself who were committed to reading them; so on those occasions when you had a run of good plots and writing, it made you feel like the book was getting its second wind, and this particular issue did it for me.

Reading my letter again, I can almost see FUTURE BLOGGER virtually stamped all over it, which gives me a laugh. It's almost like opening a time capsule.  I was around 22 at the time, and here I was enthusiastically writing a letter to a comic book--and to tell you the truth, I thought nothing of it. Fortunately, it was also during the period when writers were taking the time to reply themselves--and Mr. Hannigan's one-sentence response to my letter was perhaps due to limited space, but the wit in it made me smile.

As you can see, I even had a name to use back then! You'll have to excuse the redaction, though it wouldn't exactly take a rocket scientist to follow the paper trail for the full info if you're intent on satisfying your inner stalker.

And speaking of rocket scientists, we'll need to drop in on one in Nevada to get some context on what prompted me to write this next letter. The story concerns a project that the government has undertaken to duplicate the conditions that produced the Fantastic Four in order to create more such beings. If you've read this story as well as FF #197, you probably have an idea of where I'm heading with this. Here's the gist of what's going on:

Which I thought was, as I put it at the time, a really "cool storyline" to explore.  But it triggered a "Wait a minute--haven't we already covered this ground?" feeling in me:

The (unsigned) reply never cleared things up for me, since it addresses a factor (the communication angle) that didn't come into play until later in the storyline, and which at the time didn't have any bearing on the government's initiative to duplicate the FF's original flight. Though in all honesty, I didn't seriously expect a reply of "Oh. Yeah. Well, I guess we didn't really need to reinvent the wheel here, did we? Our bad."

But it was fun to explore the point with the book's editor(s).  I haven't kept up with Marvel titles for awhile, so I'm not sure if letters pages were phased out at some point or if they're still featured in Marvel mags--what's the story there? In any case, please feel free to chime in with your own experiences with and remembrances of the Marvel letters pages. And I think I can guarantee that they'll see print!


Murray said...

I've told my great one-time experience at letter writing more than a few times. Apologies on the off-chance it is familiar to a passing blog reader...

Back in college, the New X-Men were all the rage with me. I had to write a letter of appreciation with this new, vigorous line-up and the stories of their adventures. I was aware of the lead time in printing comics, so I knew even if the wild and crazy happened, it would be months before it came out. I posted it and pretty much forgot about it in the hurly-burly of college life.

Also blamed on the hurly and the burly is the fact I didn't get to the store in time to collect each and every issue of the X-Men. A couple of gaps occurred.

Then, months later, my mail became very strange. I couldn't make head nor tail of it. I was getting these catalogues and price lists from all sorts of comic shoppes that did mail order business. Comic shoppes? Comics? Blink. BLINK. HEY! The answer had to be my letter, and address, had been printed! In one of the issues I was missing!!

It took two or three years before I found it in a bargain box. No back issue score ever equalled that particular thrill.

AND, their answer wasn't quite as bad as "Don't forget to drink your Ovaltine", but neither was it given anywhere near the sincere weight of a response I felt my question deserved. I never bothered to write such a letter again. A couple-three decades later, that repressed desire for letter writing was unloaded on poor blog writers.

Anonymous said...

So we know your name is David and your surname seems to have the same number of letters - Smith or Jones perhaps ? The only time I considered writing to Marvel (UK) was in 1975 to ask if any Planet of the Apes films were coming to my town (as if they'd know - but I was desperate and rather naive at nine years old). I didn't write the letter and a double bill of "Beneath" and "Battle" opened soon after. It is a great thrill having a letter printed - by coincidence this coming week is exactly 30 years since I had a letter printed in Radio Times which is the UK's best selling TV listings guide (it began in 1923 hence the name). And last year BBC radio read out an e-mail I'd sent which was a big moment (for me anyway).

Anonymous said...

Firstly: Woohoo on the letters!!! It's always great to have something you can Lord over the others during those boring meetings at work. My brush with greatest is calling into local Talk Radio programs.

B: In the FF panels, when I look at the scientist, I see Paul Giamatti. And Reed, at first brush, Val Kilmer, but then more so, Jeffrey Donovan from TV's Burn Notice. I wonder if the artist used them as templates? Oh, Imma gonna write a letter!!!

The Prowler (gonna write a little letter, gonna mail it to my local DJ).

Comicsfan said...

Colin, I'm surprised they skipped over "Escape" and "Conquest" and went right to "Battle" in that POTA showing--was that just an oversight? Not that the other two were absolutely necessary to understand "Battle," but talk about cutting to the chase!

Anonymous said...

CF, I suppose that was a strange choice for a double bill - it was "Planet" that I really wanted to see but it was awesome to see any POTA films.