It seems like every few weeks, I start off a post with an apology for the lack of posts, and then post a mega-long entry. This is no different. (Scipio, I don't know how the hell you can keep posting short entries several times a week -- maybe I don't know when the hell to shut up.)
Anyway, hopefully once the semester is over on the 16th I can get back into some heavy posting over break.
I was sorting through my comics last night, trying to put together a Microsoft Access database so I can search quickly and easily for a certain author, penciller, or event.
And as I usually do when I flip through the comics of my youth, I started to wax nostalgic.
I miss letter columns.
They used to go on for pages, plus maybe a letter from the editor in chief. It's where more than a few comics creators got their first publication in a book. Like most bygone things in comics, it's one of those things I never really got the chance to participate in and regret.
My all-time favorite letter column was in Gerard Jones' Guy Gardner -- fans would write in and Guy himself would answer, his response usually laced with not-quite-curse-words he must have picked up from Lobo ("fraggin'," "bastich," etc.).
But letter columns have been largely replaced by comics blogs. Comics fans are still cheering and bitching about their favorite topics (costume changes, deaths, who is Earth's Green Lantern), but the mood is different. Now some hide behind avatars and pseudonyms -- letter columns used to publish your whole address, for God's sake. There's a certain honesty that comes from people knowing your real name instead of GLFan2814 or some such nonsense. People took more care in writing their arguments. Once you sent off a physical letter, that was it -- if someone misinterpreted your argument, you couldn't immediately respond and go, "No, you idiot. You weren't even listening to what I said." Or if you wanted to, you'd have to wait another month or two to respond.
Letter columns haven't died completely, of course. I can't speak for the independent labels, for starters. Mark Waid's Legion of Superheroes respond to their own letters in a way that is even more postmodern and meta-fictional
than Guy Gardner's ever was.
But my personal favorite is what's currently running in Young Avengers. Even if you've sworn off Marvel comics (I'm looking at you, Scipio), you should really pick up this book. Given the fact that it sprung out of Avengers Disassembled, it's surprisingly accessible to people with only a vague awareness of who any of these people are. But I've already extolled
the virtues of YA in the past -- let me get to the point.
In the letters column of this book for the past half-year, there has run an ongoing debate about homosexuality in comics. It's hilarious, because the argument started long before Asgardian/Wicca and Hulkling were revealed to be dating.
Most of the furor centered around a letter by some guy named James Meeley, published in YA #3:
"A super hero comic is not the platform for exploring 'sexual identities,' especially for characters who are teenagers. [...] I would hope that you and Marvel would not be so gung-ho to pander to every taste within society that would would forget that comics were never meant to be an outlet for changing society's view or forcing sensitive issues to be discussed among the readership. They are meant, first and foremost, to entertain in an all-ages type of manner."
I cut for length, but you get the gist. The point about comics not being a venue for discussion is ironic: the entire next letters column
was filled with various responses to Meeley's letter. He himself was responding to another letter-writer, Philip Gasper, who expressed hope about positive gay characters in comics.
And for the record, as long as I'm discussing the argument: These representations are important. It's not a matter of them not being "real people." To someone out there, they're representations of themselves. They're someone they can relate to.
What an awful place comics would be if they were only populated by white, heterosexual, traditionally masculine men and their one-dimensional sidekicks. (And here I roll my eyes at Hal Jordan and his mechanic, Thomas "Pie-face" Kalmaku.)
And comics have long been a place for social commentary and discussion of mature issues, even when they involve teenagers. Roy Harper's addiction to heroin. Oliver Queen's new ward Mia's contraction of HIV. Stephanie Brown's pregnancy. And that's just off the top of my head.
But I digress.
And really, props to Marvel for posting Meeley's letter, misguided as it may be, and keeping the debate alive. It was really refreshing to see an honest discussion about what comics could and should be that didn't degenerate into "LOL STFU FAG" like I see on too many forums.
To quote Young Avengers writer Alan Heinberg:
"To me, one of the most remarkable aspects of this discussion is that it began with the topic of sexuality and quickly evolved into a thoughtful consideration of the nature and purpose of comics as art.
"You guys make me proud to be a fanboy."
I wish Marvel and DC would run more letters columns, whether they're silly and snarky in the line of Guy Gardner and Legion of Superheroes or more serious and intellectual as seen in Young Avengers.
Blogs are an interesting and entertaining replacement, but there's something about seeing your name in print in your favorite comic book that is so freaking cool
. The closest adrenaline rush a blog can create in that respect is to have a creator comment on an entry (Hi, Gail, if you're still reading).
Or, perhaps, letters columns of years past really were as immature and superficial as modern forums, and I'm just sugar-coating through my nostalgia.