When written correspondence became “snail mail,” the letters section in the back of comics sort of fell out of favor. A few comic artists still do it. John Porcellino and Alec Longstreth come to mind. But, there was a time when it was standard practice to include a letters section in comics. In reading these comics I am often tickled to no end* when I recognize the names of the people who have sent in letters to my favorite comic artists.
When I saw Sandra Oh, actress of Arli$$ fame (also some pretentious wine movie called Sideways), in an issue of Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve, I thought it might be clear evidence of the moment Drawn and Quarterly made it to the mainstream. But, looking even further back in D & Q’s catalog I found a letter from famed doctor and Robin Williams’ eponymous movie character Patch Adams in a Chester Brown comic. But, these people aren’t celebrities to me. Comic creators are.
Creator of The Aviatrix and Kramer’s Ergot contributor, Eric Haven’s letter was featured in a Chester Brown comic, Yummy Fur #29. I came across this after reading a different Chester Brown comic, though. In Underwater #1, there is a letter from Eric Haven. But it turns out that it’s a completely different guy, says the comic artist Haven:
“I remember seeing that letter when the issue came out and being shocked that there was another Eric Haven in the world reading Chester Brown’s comics. I attempted to contact this other Eric, but was only able to reach yet a different Eric Haven in Rochester Hills, MI. I can only imagine what this third Eric thought when I tried to explain why I was calling him…”
These letters clearly serve a purpose for the creator. I know that fan mail (and alternately “hate” mail) can effect an artist profoundly. Haven says, “[He's] glad [he] wrote the letter. It’s nice to praise a creator if one is moved by their work… especially in a field where there is no monetary reward.” But as a fan of both Eric Haven and Chester Brown this letter serves another purpose for me and presumably other fledgling cartoonists. It serves to strengthen the connection of all cartoonists. And, a fan letter from another cartoonist is probably one of the highest honors a cartoonist can achieve.
Josh Neufeld created the highly praised book AD: New Orleans After the Deluge. But before that he had a letter featured in Chester Brown’s Underwater #9. Neufeld says of Brown, “he is one of my comix gods. I loved Yummy Fur, and was mystified and entranced by Underwater. I particularly liked the life of Jesus stuff he did as the backup features in Underwater.”
This is an important note for noncreators to remember: comic artists have comic Gods! For every amazing comic artist you know about, they are part of an amazing comic lineage. Undoubtedly, Neufeld is some other future success’ comic God. Neufeld is well aware of the impact of the comics letters page. He maintains a list of cartoonists letters to cartoonist and is the curator of the Wikipedia entry on the comics letters page.
The most epic letters page of this generation though has to be the letters page in Ivan Brunetti’s Schizo #2, published in 1996. This page features letters from the greatest cartoonists of the last 30 years. Some (R. Crumb, Dan Clowes, Art Spiegelman) had already achieved wild success. And, were on their way (James Kochalka, Adrian Tomine, Tom Hart). The amazing thing about this letters page is that it’s clear evidence that Brunetti was making an incredible impact on the comics scene and was destined for comic greatness.
[Click to Enlarge.]
If artists are reading this, consider it a plea to bring the letters page back to your comics! Let’s not let the letters page fade into obscurity. Maybe it’s because emails are so easy to dismiss and throw away. Maybe it’s because written correspondence made a greater impact on artists. But, there is no reason for the letters page to become something only comic archeologists care about.
*This is considered torture.