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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Speaking of Forbidden Worlds #132 — almost as much fun as the stories in this issue is the letters page.

For example, one M. Jay Marsh of Philadelphia writes in to complain about ACG’s new characters, the aforementioned Magicman and the other new superhero, Nemesis:

I’d like to review a couple of statements of yours. I quote: ‘Featuring regular characters is the simplest thing in the world to do, but it doesn’t lend itself to amazing stories.’ That was in reply to a letter by Paul Gambaccini in ‘Forbidden Worlds’ No. 110. Here’s a more recent quote of yours: ‘Fighting hard-hitting, power-packed and lightning-fast, ‘Magicman’ fits four-square into the format of ‘Forbidden Worlds’. Quite a change, eh? … But considering that featuring super-heroes is ‘the simplest thing to do’, it’s suprising you can’t do it successfully.

Marsh also comments on the similarity between Magicman’s powers and those of Nemesis:

…despite their different backgrounds, both of your new characters seem to have almost identical powers, such as becoming gigantic, overcoming enemies by hypnosis, etc. A little variety, please!

Writer/editor Richard Hughes responds to Marsh’s letter by fully admitting to bowing to commercial pressures in creating the superheroes (“We’d have had to be jerks not to climb on the bandwagon, and we did so.”), and shows his disinterest in the genre when answering Marsh’s second point (“You’ll find that all costume heroes share the major part of such powers”).

Another correspondent, Dennis Knuth of Augusta, Wisconsin, applauds the addition of costumed heroes, but asks that Magicman be modified a bit (“He should be given several limitations or it will be impossible to come up with a villain who can even pose as challenging”), to which Hughes responds much more favorably (“you’re oh, so right … Thanks for this valuable suggestion, which we will follow just as soon as possible!”).

I don’t know if the charm survives onto the blog page, and maybe I’m just a sucker, but I’ve always loved these kinds of supplementary materials in comics. As a kid, I had a book comprised entirely of letters written to the Batman comics, and I read it over and over again — even though at that time, I’d never read an actual Batman comic itself. But I loved hearing about all the mistakes in some issue I’d never read and never would, and poring over the drawings and diagrams some seven-year-old had made of Batman’s utility belt. Other people have written about this kind of thing before.

No real point here, except that I find the impending extinction of letters pages to be one of the sadder side effects of the slow, steady death of the old-fashioned “pamphlet”-style comic book.

Of course, the letters page is more or less dead already, even before the pamphlet goes. Maybe two or three of the big DC and Marvel comics still include them, and they’ve been almost entirely expunged from alternative comics as well.

But when I first discovered alternative comics, the letters pages were still going strong. Hate and Eightball were the best of all, full of rants, messages from other cartoonists, weirdo literary recommendations. I probably learned more about comics from the supplementary materials in Bagge, Clowes, and Hernandez than in any given issue of The Comics Journal.

Now nearly every alternative comic is released as a graphic novel (in which letters pages would seem undignified), or comes out so irregularly that a letters page would be impractical. I guess the internet has taken their place, but it’s not the same.

It doesn’t matter at all, but I’m going to miss them.

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