Letters, We Get Letters

Before I begin answering your letters, I’ve noticed of late that many companies are giving up their letter columns. The standard reason is the internet is replacing the need for such stuff. I disagree. When done well, letter columns are used to create a feeling about a specific book. To bring people together to celebrate it. To create a home where friends can come. Am I just being old fashioned here and as I lament the passing of something that very directly brought me into comics fandom, or is there a valid reason for giving up that space? Has the internet replaced the need for each title to have its own place where you can talk directly to the creative people? Could a letter column help make a new reader who has no idea that there are internet chat rooms discussing everything from how Spider-Man goes to the bathroom in that suit to who’s sexier, Veronica or the Hulk? I’d love to hear what you have to say about this. Send your letters directly to me at my silverbullet comics email address below. I’ll print the best replies.

And now your letters…

From Jeff Chatlos <jchatlos75@yahoo.com>

After reading comics for 20 some odd years, I've recently become interested in reading books from Marvel's age of the "Young Turks." I was very much looking forward to the solicited Essential Tomb of Dracula collection. Unfortunately, I recently found out that it never shipped and probably won't be published in English any time soon (I know that Spain is reprinting the series, but since I can't read Spanish, that doesn't help me). From what I understand, the books from this era, including your Tomb of Dracula, Moench's Master of Kung Fu and Moon Knight, Gerber's Howard the Duck, and Steranko's Nick Fury, were among the most mature comic book storytelling around. Do you agree with this assessment? What other books do you think would be worth my time to look for and purchase?

Finally, as I was browsing the back issues in my local comic shop, I discovered, not your 70s Tomb of Dracula series which I was looking for, but a four issue prestige format mini series published in the 80s through Marvel's "Epic" imprint. I am wondering what you can tell me about this series: is it a reprint? Is it a culmination of your work on the book? would you, as the author [who, unfortunately, stands to make no money off of my purchase], recommend the series (especially since the older books aren't readily accessible to me)?

Jeff, thanks for the comments. I’d have to agree that TOD, MoKF, Howard and even Steranko’s Nick Fury were among the early attempts to write older than the traditional 10 year old who supposedly was reading comics at the time. I think you can also add in a few others including Roy Thomas’ Conan to that mix. Most of us were fans and knew that even if the audience actually was ten years old – which we never believed – then ten year olds were a helluva lot smarter than people gave them credit for. But the main reason is, I think, we all had visions for our stories and we were left alone to make those visions work. There was no editorial interference (or, at most, very little) that made us homogenize the work to fit the Marvel Universe. There were no Continuity Cops the way there is now. We wrote for ourselves and enjoyed what we were doing. We spoke directly to our customer, and our customer was not the comic shop owner but the reader. That some of those books sold really well proved the point. You can do books for a smarter group that will sell. I miss those days.

From: Timothy_LaClair@idx.com

I'm a long time fan; thanks for all the years of great comics. I had a question, though, about Marv Wolfman the artist. I seem to remember a feature, maybe in a Titans annual or Special, that George wrote and you drew. OK, so it wasn't Perez quality art, but how much is? As I recall, though, it was quite decent. Is/was there any time in your career that you considered drawing as well as writing? Just curious; I think you could pull it off.

Every so often, Timothy, I actually get asked that question, not because of the Who’s Who Plasmus piece I drew (made professional by George’s inks) but because I used to be an art teacher in Junior High School before becoming a full time writer. I did write comics to earn my way through college, but it was only after teaching that, until recently, all my time was spent writing. As for being an artist, sad to say I was mediocre at best. I may have been able to eke out a few jobs here or there but that is about all. I was a better inker than a penciler, but I was hardly professional at either. I think I made the right choice doing what I do (whatever that is) and letting people with real talent pick up the pencil, or these days, the computer stylus.

From: "solitairerose" <solitairerose@msn.com>

Great column....everyone seems to forget that no one sits down first thing in the morning and says, "How can I do my job just as bad as humanly possible today!"
I listened to an interview with the man who played Paul Bearer in the WWF
for 12 years says that he would read things that people wrote on the internet about the performers he worked with, and he'd get so mad he had to leave the room. These people were his friends, people who worked WAY too hard for WAY too little money and the only reason they did it was to get that crowd pap and make people happy they'd spent however much money they'd dropped down for an event.

Comics are the same way...I make fun of stuff on my website, but it's
amazing how many fans take a bad comic book personally. I would venture that EVERY bad story that was published, everyone involved was doing the very best they could under the circumstances they had to deal with. I think the best tonic for a fan who wants to say that "So and so numbskull wrote this story just to piss us off" would be the 35 part (holy cats!) behind the scenes series that was done going over the Spider-Man clone story. At EVERY turn, the people involved were doing what they thought would be an entertaining story, within editorial and marketing restrictions. Yeah, we didn't like it, but everyone who worked on it wanted it to be entertaining.

Thanks, solitairerose. There is little excuse when a story is bad – people pay the same too expensive price for a good story as a bad one – but as you say, rarely is anyone trying to do a poor job. Writing is an art, not a science. There’s no way to know in advance if the story you’re working on is going to work or not. There are too many people who have their hand in the pot and any one of them might take a great story and hurt it, or a poor story and make it work better. I’d have both happen to my stuff. Sometimes what you think is going to be great just doesn’t come together. It happens. God, does it happen.

I understand when a fan is angry that he spent money for what came out as a poor effort, but, as you said, they seem to take it personally and try to condemn the talent to hell. Very few of us are Aaron Sorkin who has written every episode of West Wing to date and they are all good – some better than others, but no clunkers. My preference is, when I do a bad story, for a reader to say why they didn’t enjoy it. As often or not it may be my fault (but if it’s not, the fan will never know it) and perhaps I’ll know better next time. Fans may not understand why something doesn’t work in a technical way, but they know what they like and it’s important to listen. I won’t cater to fans who call you names or say you have no understanding of a character that you might have created (because many fans think they know the characters better than you do) but if a fan can say “I don’t think Starfire would act that way because…” I will listen. Any semi-sane creator would.

And, on the same note, a few weeks back I wrote a humorous column where I called two friends and top professionals ‘evil.’ I then proceeded to talk about the good they have done, SOME of the good. To tell it all would be impossible. Both people have done so much good behind the scenes that A: I don’t have the room to tell what I do know or B: the knowledge to tell you everything they’ve done. At any rate, this letter comments on that column.

From: "Canu, Gregory" <canug@citigroup.com>

Alright Mr. Smartypants where do you get off bucking the current trend of dog piling Paul Levitz!! I bet you are not even Scottish!!

Well having been a friend to two of the biggest retailers in NYC for years and being a business professional myself (what does that mean anyway) I have nothing but the greatest respect for Paul Levitz as both a writer and a publisher. Years ago I met Paul in the old (the first) Forbidden Planet in NY and damn wasn't he polite and respectful to a annoying fan boy. I wonder when he turned evil. Maybe it was after they blew up Coast City.

I do find myself in a strange situation though because I have a lot of
respect for the talent of some the individuals that have made Paul Levitz
the focus of their industry bashing. Unfortunately some of what they have to say about the industry is valid. Unfortunately again that they feel the need to personalize it in such a way to demonize one individual. Let me emphasize that I respect the 'talent' and not necessarily the individual in every case.. Personally I don't consider a Harvard education 'talent', a nice advantage definitely, but talent, no.. Oh Marv, how did Stan's charm get confused with obnoxiousness in this rush recreate the old Marvel fun?

Ok anyway - I read and enjoy your column. So who is the other weekly hit - Len? BTW I miss the Titans. I am glad DC decided it warranted a collection. Like many other really good things - it was of a time - and it is best left there. I don't think today's ultra slick, ultra 'real time' audiences could or would understand the book. It was just a hell of a lot of fun. Now the good Baron would be something else entirely. I think he would fit nicely into that DC/Vertigo cross over niche.

Thanks Gregory. Yes, Len is the other person who reads this column. I’m now proud to say we’re up to three readers. You, Len and that other person who is reading this right now.

Thanks for your nice words on the Titans. I appreciate it. I just finished writing a script for the Teen Titans animated series, so I’m not done with the characters, yet. Of course, the show is very different from George and my comic, but it holds its own. As for Baron Winters, I’d love to do Night Force again at Vertigo or any other DC imprint, but I doubt that’s gonna happen any time soon. Unless an editor asks. Anyone want to start a write-in campaign?

Anyway, I understand the dilemma when you hear pros you respect dis other pros you respect. First of all, as I’ve said here a million times, I don’t believe in doing that at all. Ever. I frankly think it’s self-aggrandizing and not professional in the slightest. Second, those people tend to think their work is sacrosanct. Well, guess what? You’re writing or drawing characters you don’t own. Or even control. I believe when you feel wronged you keep your fights “in house.” Even when I was younger and spent my days screaming at everyone, the fights remained in-house. It’s like the old – “It’s all right for me to hate my brother, but if YOU say anything bad about him I’ll punch you in the nose.”

So, if a writer or artist complains about one person or another, it’s usually because a decision was made that affected them negatively. Are they right to feel they’ve been wronged? Of course they are. But if your story is affected, there may be a valid reason for it that has little to do with the story’s quality. The problem comes down to someone has to make a decision about what is acceptable or not acceptable for the company they run. When you do that you will often make decisions others will not agree with. The creator may be absolutely right that their story was perfect. Hell, the story may be the best story ever. But they are not spending the money to publish and distribute the comic. As long as you agree to be paid by someone else for work that has to conform to certain company standards, right or wrong you’ve signed your contract. Doesn’t mean they were right and you were wrong. It’s just the way the game plays.

As for Paul, he is perhaps the most honest and straight forward person, as well as publisher, I have ever known. Unlike almost anyone else in his position, Paul will tell you directly what he, and therefore the company, can and cannot do, will and will not do. Most others will simply lie to you. Or tell you they’ll do something and then forget it. You might not like that DC won’t be able to do something you want them to do, but you know it going in. Trust me, being told the truth straight out is so important I can’t possibly begin to explain why. In Hollywood, execs will forget your phone number so they won’t have to tell you no, leaving you waiting forever for their answer. Most editors in comics are the same. Paul isn’t. I could go on, but I won’t. All I’ll say is, Paul, simply put, is a mench. Agree with what he does or not – it doesn’t really matter – but never think for a moment that any decision he makes isn’t considered. Period.

And now a letter I’m not answering but it’s one I’d love to see everyone out there put their two cents in.

From: Andrew Abdelmalek <andy_abdelmalek@yahoo.com>

I would love to see your opinion or a discussion for a future column on the Loss of the Icon. Now what I mean by this is, with the advent of creator owned characters(in the vain of image comics, etc), Will Marvel or DC comics ever have a popular new iconic character creation. I am trying to think back to the last great character created in the Marvel Universe(meaning in popularity and fan hype)maybe Gambit, Bishop, Venom and all three of these were almost 10 years ago. What has gone wrong, or you can say what has gone right...for companies supporting
creator inventions.

The last three great characters that have stood the test of time and reaping the benefits of fandom are Spawn, Witchblade, and Hellboy. These are three names that most people know(even if they only collect the big 2)that have made a substantial impression on the minds of readers. So does this mean that companies that support creator owned characters is the end of originality in the Marvel/DC universe?? Why would someone who believes they have a great character creation go to Marvel or DC, when they can go someplace else and keep control and rights of the character(and make a lot of money, movies, TV, etc)? You look at Marvel and DC books(outside of vertigo and ABC) and there are no books with characters who aren't at least 15 years old or more. I look at Avengers and outside of Triathalon there has been no new avengers created(not talking about Marvel Universe characters who have joined like Jack of Hearts) in about ummm....don't know I think the last one was Deathcry towards the end of the 1st series and she wasn't popular. So I guess where I am ranting and raving at is, Do you think it is possible for Marvel or DC to go through a renaissance period where will again and see new characters and creations that will last and become the next Wolverine or Batman, or are those days over, and the next great characters will come from companies that sponsor owning your own character. What do Marvel and DC have to do to have the next Witchblade, Spawn or Hellboy??

Andrew, I published your letter last because I think you raised a larger question than one I can easily answer. I tend to agree with your thoughts, although I must say DC Comics specifically does give creator percentages which is why they continue to be given new ideas to publish. On the other hand, despite the list you give, Marvel has not really had a hot new character since the advent of the New X-Men back in the 70s. Characters are popular for a brief time, but none have taken over the way the X-Men did. So, I am asking readers to comment on Andrew’s letter: Do you agree or disagree? If there’s a problem, how would you fix it. Send the letters directly to me, the Silverbullets address should be below, and I will publish the best ones. I can’t wait to see what you guys think.

See you in seven.
-Marv Wolfman

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