(Soundtrack: Glenn Miller Orchestra — In the Christmas Mood II)

Tony Isabella tips his thanksgiving cap to Roy the Boy Thomas, and, along the way, provides some insight into the “Marvel method” of assembling a lettercol (among other things), back in the early seventies…

Now, obviously, anytime anyone mentions a comic book letters page, I will be there, taking notes! Take this passage, for instance:

The first thing I did on my first day at Marvel in 1972 was to write a letters page for TMWOM. Sol gave me a package of fan mail from England. Out of the fifty-plus letters, there were maybe six or seven that were usable. Clearly, our British readers were much younger than our American readers.

I never received what I would have considered enough useable letters from the U.K. In retrospect, I should have run more of the letters I did receive and aim the columns directly at those younger readers. Instead, I tried to “elevate” the columns to the level of our American comic books.

It eventually became easier to write the letters myself. I’d take a first name from this British reader, a last name from that one, and bug Glynis for the names of likely cities from which these letters could have been received.

Oh, the irony. Roy Thomas knew of me – first and foremost – from the many letters I sent to Marvel as a fan. Now I was getting paid to write fan letters.

There came a time when my duties expanded to the point where I could not continue writing the British letters columns and handed them off to the London office. This issue’s edition of “The Mighty Marvel Mailbag” doesn’t read like anything I would have written at the time. The use of words like “bookstalls” and the inexplicably- hyphenated “Bull-pen” confirm this conclusion.

I love it!

Ever since I started telling people that I wanted to write a dissertation on silver/bronze Marvel lettercols, I’ve gotten three types of responses:

1. utter stupefaction

2. mildly bemused approval

Or (and this one is kind of a combination of the first two)

3. “You know, a lot of those letters weren’t even written by fans”

Ah, but isn’t the most interesting question, when it comes to “shared universes”: where is the line between “professionalism” and “fandom”? Do you cross it when Marvel starts paying you? Certainly not according to the folks that deride Jack Kirby’s fan club for exhuming his corpse (corpus?) in “inferior-reprint” zombie form and raping it with a “retcons” (oh Comics Journal, what’m I gonna do with you?)…

I, of course, agree with Matt Rossi’s contention that it’s the fans (and Roy Thomas, more than anyone) that made my Marvel. And, no, they never stop being fans, whether they’re writing letters to the editor, or (surreptitiously) as the editor. That space at the back (or–and perhaps more appropriately–as it often was, in the seventies, in the middle) of the book is an abyss in which the line between creator and audience is irretrievably lost. It’s an invitation to “otherness”–even if it is sometimes filled by the writer/editor herself. They still aren’t writing as themselves. And this opens up a far more important question–can you write anything as yourself? Do your stories “belong” to you, or to the world? You know where I come down on that point. Irreverence toward the traditional notion of the author is built in to the merry marvel metatext. This was no “age of innocence”, unless you were too young when these books hit the shelves to do anything but project your own naivety onto Kirby and Ditko’s artwork (and, as I’ve often argued, these are the “fanboys” that are “killing” the superhero, by clinging to an “innocence”–either through “nostalgia” or “cynicism”–that was never there in the first place).

In Marvel we see the beginnings of “deconstructionist mythmaking” (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one! And remember, contradictions are good for you!)–the emergence of a massive narrative structure that is “always already” (I threw in that bit of theoretical jargon just for you JW!) divided against itself! (Is it any wonder that I consider Morrison the greatest heir of this tradition?)

How seriously are we meant to take the dire events depicted in these pages? The answer is “very”, and “not at all”–as seriously, in fact, as we take our own triumphs and tragedies, whilst offering them up as compelling jokes to the only “gods” that really matter–our interlocutors. Right Tiger? (who is this “Tiger”? Who is this narrator?) The important thing is not to “destroy evil”, but to go on conversing in as exuberant a manner as possible, despite the sure knowledge that “evil” isn’t going anywhere! It’s a deritualized call and response–or rather, the ritual holds, but no one is sure, any longer, who is doing the “calling”, and who the “responding”. No letters page, no “Marvel” (at least as I learned to know and love it)

Anyway, thanks Tony–good stuff!

Now let’s all give thanks friends!

(shouldn’t we be saying that every day? Without the goddamned jingopiety? I think Audrey Totter put it best, in the film version of The Lady in the Lake: “I’m scared, but it’s wonderful”… She was wasn’t speaking about America at the time, of course, but I am! This place is sublimely fucked!)




  1. Man, Dave, one of these days you and I have got to sit down and debate our views about the author. I don’t expect we’ll convince each other, but I have to think it would be interesting.

    – Matt Rossi

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