Thursday, March 05, 2009

Times, they are a-changin'

When I started reading comic books, I loved the letter columns. Those back pages were my little link to the outside world. I didn’t have any friends who collected comics, so I only knew which characters I liked or disliked, which parts of stories I loved or loathed. Letter columns showed me that other people felt the same way. Or they completely disagreed with me. I also saw behind the curtain at the creative process a little, hearing from the writers or editor. They’d explain how a particular storyline was approached or clarify some confusing point in a previous issue.

The letter columns took on a certain life of their own. I learned to recognize regulars in the letter columns, like the late cranky TM Maple. I couldn’t think of Legion of Super Heroes without thinking of the Legion Outpost, where the readers elected the Legion leader, much to our dismay sometimes. How else do you explain Polar Boy? The Legion Baxter series also includes my first and only letter, published during the “Who is Sensor Girl” mystery. I said clones would never be considered “real” people, a good six or seven years before Connor Kent blasted into the DC universe. The threeboot Legion even had fun with the letter column idea with Legionnaires answering fan questions.

I also discovered that I was a canon geek. I loved when older stories were referenced or discussed, because they gave me something new to hunt down, old characters to appreciate. Roy Thomas was the king of the annotations and footnotes in both All Star Squadron and Infinity Inc.

Besides the letter columns, there were other columns printed in the comics, the precursors of the current DC Nation, usually written by well-meaning editors and the occasional guest writer. These would give the week’s releases, so I’d know when things were out.

And then there was the Comic Buyer’s Guide. I subscribed to CBG for nearly five years, including my college years. That was an eye-opener. I saw page after page of all those news, conventions, ads, comic strips, and yes even letters. This was where I was introduced to the non-DC titles. This was where I started hearing the rumblings about Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. There were comics in black and white! There were mysteries (Maze Agency), there was science fiction (MICRA), and there were even lawyers (Wolff & Byrd). Horrors! (Alas no law firm I’ve ever worked for has been nearly as enjoyable or wacky as the Counselors of the Macabre. But I am no Mavis either.)

The other night I was thinking how much fan interaction has changed. If you wanted to talk to other fans, there were apparently fanzines and APAs out there, but I was never involved in that side of comic fandom. These days there are more message boards you can shake a stick at, some better than others. You can argue for days on whether your favorite hero can beat up the other guy’s favorite. Or gripe about the art or the writing or the characters. If you wanted to tell the publisher how much you enjoyed a series, you could send in a letter column and hope your letter was interesting enough to be included. These days some books have letter columns, but mostly you vote with your dollar. If you wanted to talk to your favorite artist or writer, you had to either hope they made it to a convention near you (see my lone encounter with Adam Hughes) or send fan mail through the publisher. These days they may have a website or blog or message board or even a Twitter account. You can toss off a squeeful 140 word note about loving the current issue and usually get a quick response in return.

It isn’t all sunshine and daisies. The Internet never sleeps and the comic book news sites have picked up the pace on the news cycle. Fans are bombarded by news of new projects, cranking up the hype more and more. That is feeding into the convention circuit where it seems odd or unusual if DC/Marvel/etc doesn’t have some big announcement to share. And when some great announcement does come out, it’s met with a jaded skepticism. I’ve joked often I need a “cautiously optimistic” mood on livejournal for every time I posted some comics news I was hopeful about.

Why am I telling you all this? I am not trying to depress you. That wasn’t my intention. I am not about to go all “You poor things, why in my day, we had to walk five miles barefoot in the snow to buy our comics...” I managed quite fine with what I had and I’ll probably manage fine with I have now. I do miss letter columns dearly, but talking to other fans and the creators directly is even better. I even miss seeing comics at the local drug store, but poking my head into comics shop on Wednesday is equally fun. Times have indeed changed. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

1 comment:

Mad Marvel Girl said...

Some things are better now, certainly, but I really do miss letter columns!