Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Letters! DC Wants Letters!

I've always loved reading comic book's letters columns.  When I'd buy a new comic, I often read the letters page before I read the story, even when there was a notice warning me not to.   One of the reasons I stopped buying Uncanny X-Men was that they only sporadically published a letters column.  Even now, when I buy old comics, I still read the letters first. 
Not everyone, of course, shares my enthusiasm.  Take Warren Ellis, for example. He'd been answering the letters in Transmetropolitan when the Vertigo line dropped letters columns.  When he was doing a signing at local comics shop The Laughing Ogre not long after, I asked him how he felt about this development and his response was basically, "Good Riddance." To him, the banishing of letters columns indicated that the medium was "growing up."  After all, he reasoned, "real" books don't have pages of readers comments.  This was a sign of   comics finally taking themselves seriously as literature, according to Ellis.  
I didn't say anything at the time, but there are a couple of flaws in that argument.  First, many paperback books do actually have pages and pages of comments from readers right up front. Of course, these are paid readers, what you and I would call "reviewers," and unlike comics letters columns, which occasionally ran negative letters, these comments contained only gushing praise.
Secondly, what we commonly call "comic books" aren't really books.  They're magazines, and "real" magazines like Time and Rolling Stone do, in fact, run several pages of comments from their readers in every issue.
Now, Warren Ellis may not be too happy about it, but I was quite pleased to read today that DC is going to be bringing back letters columns soon.
Michael Cavna, at the Washington Post's "Comic Riffs" blog sums up, much more eloquently than I ever could, why the return of the letters column is a good thing
On the other hand, Brett Schenker at Graphic Policy makes the case that in the age of the Wild, Wild Web bringing back letters columns is a bad idea.
You already know where I stand on this, and I'm looking forward to you letting me know what you think in your comments.


  1. Lettercols do seem outdated these days. But let's not forget one of the chief pleasures of lettercols.

    That is, when you buy a comic book that's 20, 30, 40 years old, it is a real trip to read the old letters. And it's nice to do that without going online. Just sitting with your printed material and reading the contents of a time capsule from decades long gone. That's my favorite thing about lettercols: the time capsule effect.

    As far as fans connecting - we can do that online faster than they can print lettercols. But where's the physical time capsule?

  2. Like you, Ray, I love the letter columns in comics. Like you, I also tend to read the letters pages first when picking up an issue of an older book. Maybe that's why I read comics-related blog pages like your own, to learn what other comics readers think about their favorite (or not-so-favorite) periodicals.

    Anybody out there remember some of those more profound or prolific letterhacks from the days of yore, like Uncle Elvis or T.M.(The Mad) Maple?