Monday, September 11, 2023

Lurking on the letters page

My mate Nik lends me the dorkiest books in the world - god bless him - and I never say no because I genuinely love the dorkiest shit in the world. Some of those TwoMorrows books he gives me go really fucking deep, but I think the nerditude reached whole new levels with the book about the Marvel Value Stamps. 

There is charm in the extensive annotations of the art provided for those value stamps, which appeared everywhere in the 1970s, and in Roy Thomas spending multiple pages pointing out that he thought it was a terrible idea and that he was right all along.

But the book also reprints entire letters pages that the stamps appear in, and oh boy, that's the good stuff.

They're not really a thing anymore, but the letters page used to be a way that dorks reached out to each other, and found similar people with similar obsessions. Even if you didn't participate in the chat, every reader was a lurker, because everyone read the letters page - how else would you find you about the upcoming Hercules series?

I never even dreamed about getting in any of these letters pages, because I was too far away. The comics came to my part of the world on boats, and if you were lucky, you were only three months behind the US. By the time I got my hands on the latest Uncanny X-Men and sent a letter back, Claremont had probably blown up the entire X-universe twice over.

Besides, the cost of sending letters across the Pacific Ocean - or anywhere, really - was astronomically high and outside my paltry pocket money.

Obviously, writing in to 2000ad was actually the most enticing, both because it was and is the galaxy's greatest comic, and because it promised the sum of three whole pounds to any published letter. (Fan art could get up to ten quid, and I tired to convince my artistic mate Stephen that we should send someting in and split the money, but he knew a dodgy scheme when he heard one.)

So I never played ball on the letter pages, but I could watch and could appreciate a fine letter. There were the obvious winners like Uncle Elvis or TM Maple, but I was also a fan of the ones who would show up in the particularly weird books, like Rol Hirst and Malcolm Bourne, or dear old Len Biehl on Marvel Comics Presents.

(I also have a sneaky love for a period in the mid 90s when the Judge Dredd Megazine had the best raging correspondents, with two particular nerds firing up the base in truly spectauclar fashion. I'm fucked if I can remember their names, though.)

Digital changed everything, of course, and some of that energy did move into blogs. I followed some familiar folk, recognising names like Augie De Blieck and J Caleb Mozzocco from their appearances in Hitman comics. (And they're still out there - Augie on the world of european comics, while Caleb is still plugging away there, and I still read every single review he does.)

All that drive then mostly morphed into the cesspit of social media, and while it makes finding like-minded nerds easier than ever, it's also meaner.

I keep thinking I should write in to Love and Rockets or 2000ad, both still my favourite comics of all time, and both still throwing up the odd letters page, but it feels like I'm a bit old for it now. Plus I'm still three months behind on the 2000ads.

In the end, my name only ever appeared in one letters page, when I entered a competition for Love and Rockets, and got a mention, and that still makes my day. If it has to be anywhere, it's there.

No comments: