Letters Pages

By | Saturday, June 09, 2007 Leave a Comment
Ah, yes, back in the days of letter pages. When your average comic book reader could script a short missive, send it off to Ye Olde Editor, and see his/her very own words in print several months later. That's largely gone the way of the dodo, but I got to thinking about it again recently.

Up until 2001 or 2002, I was trying -- with extremely limited success -- to become a comic book writer. I had all sorts of notions on what I was or wasn't capable of, and how to get my name noticed by the various editors whose job supposedly included the reading of submissions. One of my ideas was to send in new material on a monthly basis; it seemed to me that editors need someone who can not only write, but write consistently over an extended period. The problem that I soon realized, after taking the bold step of phoning one of the editors to specifically ask for feedback, was that they don't really need more untested writers. There are plenty of talented folks already working in the business, and the odds of them finding my gem among all the submissions was pretty limited.

So I devised a new plan. At the time, most books still carried letters pages and those clearly had to be read by the editors. If I would send in letters to the editors regularly with intelligent comments about the story structures, that would show that I can write pretty well and it would get my name in front of them repeatedly. Thus began my two year stint as a letterhack.

I started fairly modestly, talking largely to legitimate points about the comics I was reading. After a few months began to pass, I began to indeed start seeing my name show up in the letters pages. I was encouraged with this and began writing more. By sheer volume, I got more letters printed and got to figuring out some tricks to help get my letters published, including making bizarre (but relevant!) analogies to Muppets, Steven Wright and the Great Gazoo. It worked well enough that I was getting a letter published on average every other week for a while.

It got so that I found myself often scanning the letter column pages first, while I was still standing in the comic shop. And that's when I noticed something. The names that kept showing up on the letters pages were the same. Oh, sure, there was always one or two that I'd never seen before, but there looked to be maybe a couple dozen guys like me who were writing letters on a regular basis.

So I began to wonder, had I become a name to watch out for? I can imagine a scenario where an editor is trying to put a book together and s/he is running late for whatever reason, so s/he grabs three or four letters from folks that they know will write something reasonably coherent, rather than slug through however many other letters that are of unknown quality. "Let's see, I'll just grab these letters from Sean Kleefeld, Scot Myers, and Ronnie Dingman." Would that become too obvious over time? I know that for those couple of years I was actively reading the letters pages, I certainly noticed.

The other factor ensuring the demise of letters pages was the ubiquitiousness of e-mail and the Internet. The letters pages were originally simply a way to get around some postal regulations, but they soon became a vehicle by which comic creators could have some contact with their audience. With everybody (well, at least, the majority of the comic reading population) having access to the creators' e-mails, the need for a letters page to serve as a communications avenue was no longer relevant.

While I'm sure the demise in letters page was inevitable given the rise of electronic media, my ego is left to wonder if guys like me who wrote so many letters that were published (and to be perfectly fair, I was only a minor letterhack by comparison to some other contemporaries) helped hasten the fall of the letters page.
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