A comic book letter column is a section of an American comic book where readers' letters to the publisher appear. Comic book letter columns are also commonly referred to as letter columns (or lettercols), letter pages, letters of comment (LOCs), or simply letters to the editor. Letter columns appeared early on in the history of comic books themselves, and their growing prevalence — particularly beginning in the 1960s — helped create and legitimatize comics fandom. Letter columns remained a regular feature of most comic books until the early years of the 21st century, when they were gradually phased out in favor of the growing prevalence of email and Internet forums.
Although they were already standard in the science fiction magazines of the time, the first recorded comic book letter column appeared in Target Comics #6, published by Novelty Press in 1940. (The page in question also has an early mention of comic book collecting.) The first DC Comics comic to include a letters column was Real Fact Comics #3 (Jul-Aug 1946). The first DC title with a letters column as a regular feature was Superman beginning with issue #124 (September 1958).
Early versions of the lettercol tended to be simple fan letters, often from young readers. These letters tended to be praise for the previous issue's story and artwork; or simplistic questions about the correct pronunciation of "Mxyzptlk" or where Superman put his Clark Kent clothes when he was in costume; or alternately, obsessive dissections of perceived continuity errors or art mistakes.
Letter columns came into their prime in the 1960s, when readers' letters became longer and the discussions more sophisticated. For example, in the mid-1960s longtime letter writer (and future comics historian) Peter Sanderson's lengthy, well-reasoned, and impressively erudite missives forced DC editor Julie Schwartz to expand the lettercols in his books to a second, separate page (such as "Flash-Grams — Extra", "Letters To the Batcave — Extra", and "JLA Mailroom — Special Peter Sanderson Edition") to facilitate Sanderson's sharp analysis.
By the 1970s, nearly all mainstream comics included letter pages. Historian Matthew J. Pustz describes the different approaches of the two major publishers, DC and Marvel Comics:
As the letter column became a longstanding tradition in the mainstream comic book industry, it even became a feature of underground, independent, and alternative comics of the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s, a trend in letter writing developed in which readers would send in specific, bulleted questions about the direction of the series, plot points, etc.; which were often answered (or evaded) by the writer or editor point-by-point.
By the first few years of the 21st century, as comic-related forums sprang up all over the Internet, letter columns were gradually replaced by advertisements or in-house promotions. In 2002, DC officially ended the practice of the letter page — only to bring it back in 2011. Many independent titles (such as Usagi Yojimbo, Hellboy, Optic Nerve, Palookaville, The Walking Dead, Chew, and King-Cat Comics) still feature letters pages to this day.
As standardized by the big mainstream American companies, the letter column was typically overseen by one of the comic’s staff members, often the book’s editor (or later on, the assistant editor), and occasionally the book’s writer(s).
The letters page was often used as a soapbox, where in addition to responding to reader comments, the editor would provide behind-the-scenes details about the comics world, announce changes to the title or the creative team, plea for more (or better) letters, needle the competition, and otherwise communicate with readers.
Due to the monthly (or longer) lag between issues, a comic’s letter column usually featured reader responses to issues about three-to-five months prior to the current one. Occasionally, if a story ran too long one month, or there were printer-related problems, a comic's letters page would be omitted that issue. This would often produce an outcry from deprived readers in later letter columns, accompanied by the requisite apologies and explanations.
Until the late-1970s, letter columns were usually found in the middle of the book, when they mostly moved to the book’s second-to-last page (the last page tending to be an advertisement).
Toward the end of 1960 — thanks in no small part to the urging of motivated readers like Jerry Bails (later to be known as the '"father of comics fandom") and Roy Thomas — DC editor Julius Schwartz decided to print readers' home addresses in the letters, a custom of long standing in science fiction magazines and one which helped originate science fiction fandom (where Schwartz himself got his start in publishing). The first letters page with the letter writers' full addresses appeared in The Brave and the Bold #35 (May 1961). Because of this practice, many readers connected with each other, becoming penpals, and starting communities of fans and/or publishing fanzines. In a number of cases, readers (including future X-Men artist Dave Cockrum) "met" their future spouses via a comic book letter page.
Peter Sanderson writes of Schwartz's letter columns:
Similarly, under the guidance of editor-in-chief/publisher Stan Lee, Marvel Comics also decided to print readers' home addresses in the letters. Lee made it a priority to create a community of readers, giving them a sense of personal investment in Marvel and its titles. Lee's ambition to create a company aesthetic in this way was overwhelming successful; many Marvel fans would sign off their letters with the phrase, "Make Mine Marvel!"
For many fans, having a letter printed was a badge of honor — especially if it was in one of the more high-profile letters pages. The feeling was that if one wrote enough good letters, it was possible to influence the direction of the comic and/or one's favorite characters. And as letters pages became more collaborative in this way, many became forums for long-running discussions among the editors and readers, with topics ranging from what defined a "mutant" to real-world issues such as religion, racism, feminism, gay rights, and the rights of the disabled. Cerebus creator Dave Sim's comments about women, for example, became the source of a particularly long-running and bitter debate in the pages of "Aardvark Comment".
In certain circumstances, it was practice for Marvel and DC to solicit letters for titles which had trouble filling a letters page each month. While popular titles could receive up to 40 or more letters per month, other titles might not receive enough to even fill a page. In desperate circumstances, DC and Marvel lettercol assemblers were even known to write fake letters under assumed names, just to fill out the column.
For some time in the 1970s, Marvel editors (and assistant editors, like Mark Gruenwald) responded to readers' letters in the guise of a "friendly armadillo." Beginning in 1980, under new editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, Marvel instituted new letter column policies. One change was to let writers of certain titles (rather than the book's editor) manage the letters pages. The other was to eliminate the conceit of the "armadillo" and have the books' editors or writers respond to letters under the own names.
In later years, some DC Comics letters pages — like those in Lobo and Ambush Bug — used the humorous device of having the main character "respond" to letters. Marvel's Deadpool, as part of his regular practice of breaking the "fourth wall," also answered his own letters.
The letters page also functioned as another form of "house ad," a place to promote the book, other books in the same line, or the comic book publishing company in general. Some had additional purposes such as in the 1980s The Question series, written by Dennis O'Neil, whose letters pages included a reading recommendation with each issue to complement the philosophical points illustrated in the feature story.
The typical letters page had its own title, which was usually a reference to the book’s hero or heroes. "Cape and Cowl Comments" (World's Finest Comics), "JLA Mailroom" (Justice League of America), "Legion Outpost" (Legion of Super-Heroes), "Metropolis Mailbag," (Superman), "Avengers Assemble!" (Avengers), "Letters to the Living Legend," (Captain America), "The Spider's Web" (The Amazing Spider-Man), and "X-Mail," (Uncanny X-Men) are just a few examples of this tradition. Suicide Squad faced difficulties in this aspect, as the United States Postal Service objected to delivering what were labeled as "Suicide Notes."
Some books had trouble sticking with a lettercol title, and changed them on a more or less regular basis. It soon became a tradition to hold a contest for fans to write in with column title ideas, with the winning writer credited in the letters page. Similarly, when a new comic book series was created, readers were asked to submit names for the lettercol title right from the outset.
Jerry Bails may have been the first reader to believe he could influence the direction of his favorite comics. In the early 1960s, he bombarded the DC offices with suggestions for new superhero revivals such as was already happening with the Flash, the Justice League, and so on. For instance, in Justice League of America #4, the letters page is filled with missives from Bails under different pen names. He did everything he could to fool editor Julius Schwartz, including mailing the letters from all across the country.
Later on, during the lettercol heyday of the 1970s and 1980s, many comics actively encouraged reader participation. Fans were asked to weigh in on a character’s uniform changes, or in some cases, submit their own uniform designs, with the winning entry actually becoming the character’s new costume. Readers of Tomb of Dracula and The Vision and Scarlet Witch limited series were asked to suggest names for the main characters' babies. (Winners of contests liked these were often awarded with original artwork from the book in question.)
For team books like The Avengers, Justice League, or the Legion of Super-Heroes, fans were polled as to which characters should become permanent members, team leaders, or conversely, excised from the team. (Readers were also asked to suggest or vote on the title of the letter column. See further discussion below.) Many 1970s Marvel lettercols stressed the importance of reader feedback, such as this one from Power Man #24 (April 1975): "We don't score hits with every issue. Sometimes a story has flaws or just doesn't come up to snuff. Which is why your letters are so valuable to us in producing these comments. . . . So don't let anybody tell you your letters aren't important, people. They are vital to these magazines."
Similarly, (beginning in the 1980s) the most esteemed letterhacks were occasionally solicited to send letters based on early preview copies, thus helping to build a fan-base for a new title. And in a few cases, low-selling titles were saved from cancellation by groups of dedicated fans writing in to the company’s editor-in-chief or publisher.
Fans whose letters were published regularly became well known throughout the industry by virtue of their letters. Writer Mark Engblom describes the phenomenon this way:
Some of the most prolific "LOCers" or "letterhacks" include Jerry Bails, T.M. Maple (who published over 3,000 letters), Augie De Blieck, Jr. (who claims to have published over 400 letters), Bill Schelly (now a comic book historian), Peter Sanderson (ditto), and Irene Vartanoff (an omnipresent 1960s letterhack who ended up working behind the scenes for Marvel in the 1970s and 1980s).
As discussed above, some letterhacks gained entrée into an actual career in comics because of their letter-writing expertise. For instance, Bob Rozakis parlayed his frequent published letters to DC comics during the late 1960s and early 1970s into a job as DC's "Answer Man" and eventually a solid career as a DC writer. Kurt Busiek, Mary Jo Duffy, Mike Friedrich, Mark Gruenwald, Fred Hembeck, Tony Isabella, Paul Levitz, Ralph Macchio, Dean Mullaney, Martin Pasko, Diana Schutz, Beau Smith, Roy Thomas, and Kim Thompson are just a few of the many comic book professionals who got their starts as young letterhacks.
This issue of Superman was the first DC comic to include a letters column that would become a regular feature, though readers' letters were published in issue #3 of Real Fact Comics in July 1946.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
"Bullpen Bulletins" (originally titled "Marvel Bullpen Bulletins") was the news and information page that appeared in most regular monthly comic books from Marvel Comics. In various incarnations since its inception in 1965 until its demise in 2001, it included items such as previews of upcoming Marvel publications (the "Mighty Marvel Checklist"), news about and profiles of Marvel staff members, occasional references to real-world trends and events, and perhaps most famously, "Stan's Soapbox" (alternately known as "Stan Lee's Soapbox"), a monthly column written by Stan Lee.
With "Bullpen Bulletins," Lee created the friendly, chatty editorial voice of Marvel Comics — "a style that could be characterized as High Hipster — two parts Lord Buckley, one part Austin Powers," putting "himself on a first-name basis with the readership at a time when the rival DC editors generally came across... as... stodgy adults."The "Bullpen Bulletins" page was where Lee rhapsodized about the Marvel "bullpen," the stable of in-house creators who produced the company's comics. He often bestowed colorful sobriquets on Marvel staffers and creators; nicknames such as Stan "The Man" Lee and Jack "King" Kirby permeated into mass culture. The fictional Marvel staffer Irving Forbush also appeared regularly — as the butt of Lee's humor. Similarly, phrases like "Excelsior!," "'Nuff said," "True Believer," and "Make Mine Marvel," as well as other company mainstays like the No-Prize, were popularized there as well.
Lee often used "Marvel Bullpen Bulletins" and "Stan's Soapbox" to needle other comic book publishers, which he referred to as the "Distinguished Competition" (i.e., DC) or, more disparagingly, "Brand Echh." ("Brand Echh" was a play on an advertising convention of the time, in which a competitor's product was not referred to by name, but simply as "Brand X.")In 1982, in an edition of "Bullpen Bulletins," then Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter defined and described the Marvel Bullpen:
[I]n the old days, virtually every comics company had a big room where all the artists and writers sat together, creating their works of four-color wonder. Creative folks generally being the garrulous sort, typically, quite a bit of 'bull' got tossed around these legendary rooms, so the nickname 'bullpen' was a natural.... At any rate, these days, most comics artists and writers prefer to work in their own studios, but, still, here at Marvel, we have a big room, a production bullpen, where all of our art/production people work doing our paste-ups, lettering corrections, art corrections, and such — and even though the editorial folks are bunched in small offices off to the sides we still refer to the whole shebang as the Marvel Bullpen. It's a tradition dating back to the days when we actually were a one-room operation!Daily Planet (DC Comics house advertisement)
Daily Planet was a promotional page appearing in DC Comics publications from 1976 to 1981. The Daily Planet contained previews of upcoming stories, as well as recurring features like "The Answer Man", where DC writer/editor Bob Rozakis would answer questions sent in by readers, and a comic strip by cartoonist Fred Hembeck which poked fun at DC characters. Edited by Rozakis, the Daily Planet was set in the format of a page from the fictional Metropolis newspaper where Clark Kent worked.Letter to the editor
A letter to the editor (sometimes abbreviated LTTE or LTE) is a letter sent to a publication about issues of concern from its readers. Usually, letters are intended for publication. In many publications, letters to the editor may be sent either through conventional mail or electronic mail.
Letters to the editor are most frequently associated with newspapers and newsmagazines. However, they are sometimes published in other periodicals (such as entertainment and technical magazines), and radio and television stations. In the latter instance, letters are sometimes read on the air (usually, on a news broadcast or on talk radio). In that presentation form, it can also be described as viewer mail or listener mail, depending on the medium.
In academic publishing, letters to the editor of an academic journal are usually open postpublication reviews of a paper, often critical of some aspect of the original paper. The authors of the original paper sometimes respond to these with a letter of their own. Controversial papers in mainstream journals often attract numerous letters to the editor. Good citation indexing services list the original papers together with all replies. Depending on the length of the letter and the journal's style, other types of headings may be used, such as peer commentary. There are some variations on this practice. Some journals request open commentaries as a matter of course, which are published together with the original paper, and any authors' reply, in a process called open peer commentary. The introduction of the "epub ahead of print" practice in many journals now allows unsolicited letters to the editor (and authors' reply) to appear in the same print issue of the journal, as long as they are sent in the interval between the electronic publication of the original paper and its appearance in print.Letterhack
A letterhack is a fan who is regularly published in magazine and American comic book letter columns.Marvel No-Prize
The Marvel No-Prize is a fake award given out by Marvel Comics to readers. Originally for those who spotted continuity errors in the comics, the current "No-Prizes" are given out for charitable works or other types of "meritorious service to the cause of Marveldom". As the No-Prize evolved, it was distinguished by its role in explaining away potential continuity errors. Initially awarded simply for identifying such errors, a No-Prize was later given only when a reader successfully explained why the continuity error was not an error at all.Namor
Namor the Sub-Mariner () (Namor McKenzie) is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. Debuting in early 1939, the character was created by writer-artist Bill Everett for Funnies Inc., one of the first "packagers" in the early days of comic books that supplied comics on demand to publishers looking to enter the new medium. Initially created for the unreleased comic Motion Picture Funnies Weekly, the Sub-Mariner first appeared publicly in Marvel Comics #1 (cover-dated Oct. 1939) – the first comic book from Timely Comics, the 1930s–1940s predecessor of the company Marvel Comics. During that period, known to historians and fans as the Golden Age of Comic Books, the Sub-Mariner was one of Timely's top three characters, along with Captain America and the original Human Torch. Everett said the character's name was inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". Everett came up with "Namor" by writing down noble-sounding names backwards and thought Roman/Namor looked the best.The mutant son of a human sea captain and a princess of the mythical undersea kingdom of Atlantis, Namor possesses the super-strength and aquatic abilities of the Homo mermanus race, as well as the mutant ability of flight, along with other superhuman powers. Through the years, he has been portrayed as an antihero alternately from a good-natured but short-fused superhero, or a hostile invader seeking vengeance for perceived wrongs that misguided surface-dwellers committed against his kingdom. The first known comic book antihero, the Sub-Mariner has remained a historically important and relatively popular Marvel character. He has served directly with the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Invaders, the Defenders, the X-Men, and the Illuminati as well as serving as a foil to them on occasion.Novelty Press
Novelty Press (a.k.a. Premium Service Co., Inc.; a.k.a. Novelty Publications; a.k.a. Premier Group) was an American Golden Age comic-book publisher that operated from 1940–1949. It was the comic book imprint of Curtis Publishing Company, publisher of The Saturday Evening Post. Among Novelty's best-known and longest-running titles were Blue Bolt and Target Comics.
During its nine-year run, Novelty had a roster of creators that included Al Avison, Dan Barry, Carl Burgos, L.B. Cole, Bill Everett, Al Gabriele, Joe Gill, Tom Gill, Jack Kirby, Tarpé Mills, Al Plastino, Don Rico, Joe Simon, Mickey Spillane, and Basil Wolverton.Although published in Philadelphia, Novelty Press's editorial offices were in New York City.Robert Beerbohm
Robert Lee Beerbohm (born June 17, 1952) is an American comic book historian and retailer who has been intimately involved with the rise of comics fandom since 1966. Beginning as a teenager in the late 60s, he became a fixture in the growing comic convention scene, while in the 1970s and 1980s he was heavily involved in Bay Area comic book retailing and distribution.
Beerbohm has been a consultant and author detailing the early history of comics in the United States, including rediscovering the first comic book in America, Rodolphe Töpffer's The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck. He has supplied data and visual aids as listed in the acknowledgements of over 200 books on comics and counting.