Any week now, letter columns will become a thing of the past in DC Comics. I’ve heard reasons ranging from “the editors and assistant editors are too busy to do them” to “fans get their say on the online message boards” to “a cost-cutting measure at DC.” [In that last category, the elimination of the text pages prompted the dismissals of Deb Weinstein and Carmen Megaloudis, two members of the Computer Graphics department whose tenure at the company dates back to the “BobRo Era.” I wish both of them well.]
For me, the loss of the lettercols has a special importance, because it was in those pages that I began my career in comics. It was as a result of having more than 135 letters published and that the editors knew my name that I got my job at DC. And I was certainly not alone in following that path into the industry. Roy Thomas, senior-most of the “fan generation” that came into comics, was a prolific letter-writer. Martin Pasko (nicknamed “Pesky” by Julie Schwartz in his lettercols) worked in comics for a number of years, went off to work in Hollywood for a period, and has since returned to DC as Senior Editor on Special Projects. Peruse the lettercols of the 60s and 70s and you’ll find letters from Carl Gafford, Tony Isabella, Mike W. Barr, Mark Evanier, Mark Gruenwald, Jack C. Harris and a lot more. The first time our names saw print in a comic book was at the bottom of a letter in one book or another.
As far as editors not having time to write the pages, I can only laugh. Most of what they’ve used recently was from email or off the online message boards. It was simply a matter of electronically cutting and pasting. Back when I did the lettercols for Julie’s magazines, there was a lot more involved. First, Julie read every letter his books received and he would “grade” them for content and interest. When the column was due, he’d hand me the folder of letters for the particular issue. I’d read through them all, pick the ones I liked best, type them up and write responses. Once Julie okayed the column it was sent off to the typesetter, who returned a set of galleys for us to proofread. Then the column went to the Production Department to be pasted up.
Sometime in the early 80s, some of the editors stopped retyping all the letters. If the original letters were typed (or sometimes even if they were just handwritten clearly enough) they would cut them apart and tape them to a page to be sent to the typesetter. Often, this resulted in the original writer’s misspellings and grammatical errors being typeset, which in turn resulted in additional costs when the typesetting had to be redone.
By the time the 90s rolled around, the “typesetting” was being done in-house on computers, with an electronic file going from editor to Computer Graphics to be dropped into the appropriate template. What could be easier?
As for fans getting their say on the message boards, it is just not the same as having your name in an actual comic book. Everyone who buys that comic book will see your letter and your name in it. Not just today. Not just this week or this month or this year. But forever! Sorry, but message boards (or even weekly online columns like this one) are just not the same.
And cutting costs? Yes, DC will save some money, but not much. They eliminated two jobs but it’s safe to say that the combined salaries of Carmen and Deb don’t equal the raises given to the past year’s crop of new vice presidents. And, assuming someone (editor or assistant editor) was getting paid a freelance page rate for producing the column, it’s still a drop in the bucket.
Back in the 70s, we assistant editors would be very happy to write the lettercols because we’d get paid for them – I think we had page rates of $15 or $20 at the time, but it was still some extra money. I recall sitting with Paul Levitz years later, talking about the fact that some assistant editors had no interest in writing lettercols. “Obviously,” I said, “you’re paying them too well. WE would have fought one another for an extra page to do.”
So, it’s the end of an era. Assuming there is a next generation of comics fans who graduate into the business, they won’t be coming from the letters pages.
This is what happens when I jump to a quick and seemingly obvious answer rather than doing a bit of digging to confirm or deny it, especially when that obvious answer turns out to be totally wrong: I get a who emailbox-ful of missives pointing out the mistake.
Regarding the question of the Golden Age Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, the Golden-Age Man of Steel DID have a fortress, which first appeared in SUPERMAN #17, July-Aug 1942 (according to Michael Fleisher’s THE GREAT SUPERMAN BOOK). This “mountain retreat” was situated atop “a remote mountain peak” in an undisclosed location. Superman’s citadel was first called “Fortress of Solitude” in 1949 (SUPERMAN #58), when it was also for the first time said to be located in “the polar wastes.” Superman’s secret sanctuary appeared several more times over the next few years, but the name “Fortress of Solitude” wasn’t used again until the 1958 story referenced by Dave Blanchard, which we can presumably call the first appearance of the Earth-One Fortress (ACTION #241 — one issue before the bottle city of Kandor was added to its collection of knickknacks).
— Dave Potts email@example.com
…About the Golden Age Superman’s Fortress. This online page discusses and has a picture of it.
…You claim that the Golden Age Superman had no Fortress of Solitude. I seem to remember him having one not in the Arctic but in the mountain wilderness. Anyone else remember this?
…Didn’t he have a mountain headquarters outside Metropolis?
… I definitely remember a Mr. & Mrs. Superman story involving his fortress. I remember it had a big Superman “S” above the door.
— Glenn Simpson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
…As I recall, the Citadel was later referred and shown both at the end of the 1970s story telling of the marriage of the Earth-2 Superman and Lois, and then in the follow-up Mr. and Mrs. Superman series in SUPERMAN FAMILY, so it was canon after Earth-2 was formally introduced.
…Superman did have something similar hidden in the mountains outside Metropolis. Modern-day appearances include the Powerstone arc in ALL-STAR SQUADRON circa #s 21-25 and SUPERMAN FAMILY #217 where he trained there to fight Metalo. I believe it may also have turned up in ACTION COMICS #484.
Okay, so the Golden Age Superman (or Earth-2 Superman) did have a Fortress and it was originally in the mountains outside Metropolis. He later moved it to the Arctic (and even called it by name in one story). Its history was changed by E Nelson Bridwell in the same manner in which George Taylor remained editor of the Daily Star, done to establish specific differences between the two Men of Steel.
And while we are on the topic of the Golden Age and Earth-2, the comments I requested from Dave Blanchard in last week’s column has unleashed a blizzard of emails on both the Silver Age Review (SAR) and Silver Age/ Golden Age (SAGA) lists, in part because I requested Dave to pinpoint the first Silver Age issues of various books and the question referred to Earth-1 appearances.
Rather than try to recap the debate that has been going on, I’m opening the forum to anyone who would like to present his or her view on the split between the Golden and Silver Ages, as well as what stories feature Earth-1 or Earth-2 versions of the heroes.
And if that isn’t enough of a debate, we can add the following to the mix…
I’ve heard a lot about the Golden and Silver Ages. What age are we in now? The Bronze Age? The Modern Age? The *shudder* Post-Modern Age?
— Duncan (email@example.com)
I’m sure we will get a variety of responses to this one, Duncan.
I prefer the theory that the transition from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age corresponds roughly to Mort Weisinger’s retirement from DC and Jack Kirby’s departure from Marvel, both in the very early 70s. I would add to that the “arrival” to the business of what many of us consider its second generation, folks like Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Paul Levitz, and even yours truly.
There are those who proclaim the end of the Bronze Age to correspond roughly with DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. As for the current one, the Dark Age is perhaps the best name I’ve seen it given, based on how many heroes followed the success of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and THE WATCHMEN down paths to grim and grittier stories.
Ladies and gentlemen, the floor is yours…
STILL MORE FEEDBACK:
Regarding ADiaz’s question about a comic featuring “a family of Frankenstein like creatures,” I suspect that it may have been Gold Key’s THE LITTLE MONSTERS. I read it in the early 70’s. All the members of this family were Frankensteinian. If I recall correctly, the father’s name was Mildew and the children were ‘Orrible Orvie and Awful Annie. (Alas, I can’t remember the mother’s name.)
— Dave Potts (firstname.lastname@example.org)
…Not a question, but an answer to the question about a Frankenstein family from the sixties and seventies. I’m fairly sure it was called LI’L MONSTERS and was published by Gold Key.
— Dean Stanczyk (DRStanczyk@aol.com)
…Yep! I remember THE LITTLE MONSTERS pretty well, and here are some links to prove its existence:
I don’t see much on the web about it, other than references to it in lists. It’s not the most profoundly memorable comic in history…
— David (Chastmastr@aol.com)
Bob, here in Europe the USA is seen as a country with very severe laws, a strict penal system, and definitely the last redoubt of capital punishment in Western Civilization.
And now you’re telling us that a guy who smashed his wife’s head with a hammer and then threw her body away like a garbage bag is now free as a bird in the streets of America only a decade later!
Have I missed something or has your judicial system become a revolving door?
— Garc?a Ennez (email@example.com)
All I can suggest is that perhaps our judicial system has lost sight of the idea that the punishment should fit the crime.
Don’t you ever get tired of receiving and answering questions whose inquirers could’ve found easily the answer by doing a simple search on Yahoo?
I myself have asked you some questions in the past under several assumed nicknames, but all of them were sent to you after a meticulous but fruitless search on the net. Only then, when I
have no other option, do I resort to bothering you.
But c’mon, guys! Asking what your two-year-old back issues are worth? Or about the origin of the 7-Up name!?! Puh-lease! How can they be so lazy and/or boring?
Unless you have something really interesting to ask (and preferably related, even remotely, to COMICS), don’t waste BobRo’s wisdom and space!
I think you’re being a little too harsh on your fellow readers. After all, I’m the one who chooses to answer or ignore the questions I receive.
Yes, the questions about values are usually boring (and repetitive), but they are representative of what people want to know. And maybe if I continue to pound home the idea that most old comic books are not worth a fortune, people might get it.
As for questions like the one about the 7-Up name, I just thought it made for an amusing bit of information. Consider it an expanded form of the Fun Facts To Know & Tell that I’ve frequently run here.
And on that note, I invite you to join me back here again next week when we’ll address whatever goofs I’ve made this week as well as a variety of (hopefully) interesting new questions. Meanwhile, don’t forget to check out my daily Anything Goes Trivia at http://www.wfcomics.com/trivia.
Need some answers from the Answer Man?
Ask BobRo at It’s BobRo’s Answer Board.
Copyright ? 2000 to 2003 by Bob Rozakis. All Rights Reserved.