When Dan Taylor first proposed Comics News Authority as a remedy to the dip in modern comics journalism, he said there were two things he definitively didn’t want on the site: comments and forums. It’s understandable; in the Internet age, the civility and quality of discourse has descended into trolling, flame wars, and ad hominem attacks. Negativity reigns. So what is a comics site to do?”What about an olde style letter column?” I asked, making certain to put the E in “olde.”
“Get me five hundred words by Wednesday,” he said.
“You got it, chief.”
“Don’t…” Well, you know.
Letter columns in comics became standard in the 1960s as a result of fans writing longer, more detailed letters about the stories they had read. While many were focused on kids, the budding fandom community seized upon the letter columns as a way to connect with each other. Readers could ask questions about the stories (and point out mistakes!) as well as give feedback on the writing and art. When I was growing up, I could read letter columns to piece out story elements from issues I had missed. They also gave the editors a chance to tease us with upcoming events (this in the day before the next three months were already mapped out by PREVIEWS.) Editors would ask us for opinions and costume designs and leadership votes. They gave us more to read when the story was over but we weren’t satisfied.
Nowadays, letter columns aren’t as prevalent as they once were, but they’ve taken on a new role. Now creators use them as a forum to share recommendations, music, and personal anecdotes. Backmatter (the fancy newfangled word for text pages) have gone from being an afterthought to a place for expanded storytelling, related articles and much more. A comic creator’s vision can be extended beyond the comic panel into discussions of theme,
But wait, I hear you ask, why would we need an old fashioned letter column when we have all the social media and creator twitter feeds, giving us all of that at an instant’s click?
A curated letter column offers several advantages to the wild free-for-all of comment threads and forums. For one, it offers a more civilized conversation, eschewing the chaos of unlimited commentary for a focused theme. A letter column can have personality, reflecting the style of a series’ creator, even answering messages in character. It can reward thought-out ideas and act as a salon for comic scholarship. Dialogue can evolve into community.
Now, as a comics news site, we’re not in the business of putting out comics–rather, we’re here to report on them. However, we still want to hear from you… it’s important that the communication goes two ways. We want to hear what you think about comics, what you remember, what you envision. Got a theory about something? Tell us. A bone to pick? Let us know. A tangent we can run off on? Do you have a big numbered list of questions? We love those!
So please… take a few minutes and compose us a letter. We never hear from you anymore and your mom worries.
Letters to the Comic News Authority Letter Column should be sent to authorizedmail@comicsnewsauthority.