JOHN OSTRANDER: Hacking Up Letter Balls

Glenn Hauman

Glenn is VP of Production at ComicMix. He has written Star Trek and X-Men stories and worked for DC Comics, Simon & Schuster, Random House, arrogant/MGMS and Apple Comics. He's also what happens when a Young Turk of publishing gets old.

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7 Responses

  1. Russ Rogers says:

    The Digital Equivalent of the “Letter Column” are the comments sections. If a comic is dribbled out to the Internet, one page at a time, this can mean that there isn’t enough meat to comment on. And comments can become too trivial, bogged down in the minutiae of the book.

    But I can tell you that one of the JOYS of ComicMix for me is being able to interact with the authors and artists. I remember meeting you, John, at a Comics Convention in Minnesota several years ago. I introduced myself as a regular ComicMix comment writer. And it was a thrill when you said something like, “Oh, hi Russ! Of course I know you. You wrote something really smart on Dennis O’Neil’s column the other day … what was it? I can’t remember. Anyway…” And it didn’t matter. Because I was all fan-boy jumping up and down inside, silently shouting, “YES! THIS IS A TRIUMPH!”

    I have made a putz out of myself, more than once in the ComicMix Comments, because I’m not afraid to be opinionated and wrong. But, I have this feeling that when I see good work (especially when it’s essentially “free” on the Internet) the authors/artists deserve a bit of my time to at least acknowledge their efforts by saying SOMETHING.

    And getting a response in the comments from the artist is a fan-boy thrill. Sometimes a conversation develops in the comments. Sometimes even friendships. And that is a reward I had never expected, but has been the most gratifying of all.

  2. Kudos John. I actually wrote letters into Mike EVERY MONTH they were printing the Manx Cat Grimjack tale. I didn’t get anything printed, but like you said… it forced me to compose some thoughts, comments, and questions. I’ve noticed DC lately has been posting letters in the back of their books. Will it continue with the new 52?

  3. I like letter columns, though not always the content of them of course.

    I wrote a lot of letters when I was a kid, and never got a single one published, which was discouraging. I realized a few years later, however, when I read a particularly pointless letter that mine may have been in a similar vein.

    When Jason Aaron and Rick Remender started letter columns for their Ghost Rider and Punisher books, I felt compelled to write in and got a number of letters published. The THRILL was palpable. MY NAME! IN PRINT! IN A MARVEL BOOK!

    I decided then that should I ever do a full-length book, it would have a letter column, and it does. The thing I noticed, however, is that I get letters from the same group of people. I know how many copies it sells and it’s way more than the number writing in. This leads me to believe people just aren’t that interested in writing letters, which is a bummer cuz I don’t have the time or inclination to troll message boards reading comments but I do want to know what people think.

  4. Rick Keating says:

    I agree that comics should have letter columns. As I’ve said before, I consider it very short-sighted of publishers to have discontinued them. Letter columns not only provide some insight into what had happened in previous issues of a series, but can serve as an impetus to track down back issues. Something I read in a letter column sometimes prompted me to do that.

    Those who say we don’t need letter columns in an ongoing series now that we have computer message boards and blogs miss a key point: Anyone who picks up an issue of a particular comic can read the letters in that issue, whether they bought it when it came out, or 10 years later from a back issue bin. But a message board or blog thread dedicated to a particular issue of a comic will be pretty damned hard to find 10 years from now— assuming you know where to look (and assuming the website or blog still exists).


  5. Mindy Newell says:

    Great column, John, and I’m with you…I think not having a letter column is a big mistake. No reason why you can’t e-mail in your letter; after all, the magazines and the papers do it all the time.

  6. Ray Cornwall says:

    A lot of Marvel comics have letter columns now- Spider-Man has had one since Brand New Day.

  7. Steve Chaput says:

    I’ve always enjoyed letter columns, especially when they didn’t consist of ‘ I loved the last issue and everybody who works on the book is a genius’ type of thing. It’s great when the columns actually do seem to be a dialogue between readers and creators/editors. Dave Sims multi-page columns in CEREBUS were sometimes as entertaining as the story itself and often more passionate.

    Despite reading comics since the late ’50s I believe I’ve only written a half dozen or so Letters of Comment to a title. I’ve composed hundreds of more in my head, but never actually set down at the typewriter (and later keyboard) to put them into hard copy. Even when heavily into fandom during the ’80s thru the late ’90s, I generally kept my comments to the various forums, boards or apa-zines to which I contributed.

    I think one reason is that I believe Tony Isabella is still upset about a letter I wrote to HERO FOR HIRE complaining about a villain he used. I’m sure he’s still holding a grudge and I don’t need another writer/artist angry with me.