Comic Fodder

How to Get Printed in A Letter Column

I got another letter printed in a letter’s column! Woo hoo! Open the latest copy of Exiles #10 and you’ll see my letter. There is no cooler feeling for a comic fan than to have a letter printed. It’s like the Sally Field moment where you realize that out of all the letters they received, they like yours, they really, really like yours. Or only six people bothered to write in that month…

My letter-writing campaign started very late in life. I only made one attempt when I was younger, maybe seven years old. I had just finished re-reading a couple issues of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and I picked up on what -to a child- were subtle hints that Saturn Girl was pregnant. I was excited, and took out my pencil and scrawled out my proof on a couple pieces of paper. I still feel sad for whoever had to read that scarcely-legible missive. Whether from the sad let-down of that letter not being published, or because seven-year-olds can’t keep focused on one subject for long, I kept to merely reading comics from that point forward.

Years later, look at me, I’m 28! My, how time flies. For whatever reason, I put down a comic that I really enjoyed reading and thought, “You know, I’m going to write to them and tell them what I think.” I forget all the details, but I tend to think I used e-mail for almost every letter, although on occasion when I couldn’t find a valid e-mail address, I did print up a nice letter and send it via snail-mail. In a completely unexpected surprise, some of the writers like Joe Quesada actually responded to me personally via e-mail on occasion, proving that not everyone dumps the job on a lowly peon or editor.

What follows are the actual comics that printed my letters (so if you’re in a store and reading this now, you can easily check any one of them to see if I’m lying), and my opinion on some of the things associated with the letter that made it printable.

Avengers # 21; Thunderbolts # 25; Avengers # 29; Iron Man # 30; Green Lantern # 140; Crux #26; Astro City: The Dark Age Book One #3; Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two #3; The End League #2; New Exiles #10

I have only written a handful of letters, and more of them have seen print than not, so here is some advice:

Tip #1: Be Specific

Anyone can be a brown-noser and unabashedly praise the writing and art, but since tons of people do that anyway, those are some of the most uninteresting letters, and do not see print too much. If something caught my eye, like a particular special effect or reflection shot, I would reference it specifically; it helps to explain why you liked it, rather than just saying you did. If you expected the writer to do some traditional thing, and he zigged instead of zagged, those comments are not only print-worthy, but also useful for writers to know.

Tip #2: Follow the Controversy

Every once in a blue moon, someone will write a letter that either stirs up some controversy or raises an interesting point that other people feel compelled to discuss further. Not too long ago in Dark Horse’s Conan title, there was a running argument for and against the use of rape as part of the backstory in a character’s origin, and for several months, a dialogue ensued about sexism and originality in the medium of comics. My Green Lantern letter, for example, commented on what was a rare scene in comics during that point in time: a story focusing almost entirely on a supporting character who was gay. If you have a valid point to make that addresses the controversy or responds to another letter in the column, those often see print.

Tip #3: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Almost the entirety of one of my letters was asking about an old villain, and suggesting more could be told from his story. The letter saw print, as it related to an upcoming storyline in another title, allowing Marvel to plug one of their series in the letter column. How could they pass that up? One of the old and standard ways is to ask a list of numbered questions, although I haven’t done things that way myself yet. Check out how many of the letters that see print consist almost entirely of numbered questions, though. If you haven’t been able to se your letter in print yet, try this way.

Tip #4: Try to Keep It Short

The majority of my letters are quick and to the point. In the old days, people used to write letters that were several pages long. People also used to take the time to read them all the way through, edit them down to the most interesting parts, and stuff as much of it as they could manage into the letter’s page, but those days are gone. Some of my letters are only six sentences long. Those also tend to be the first ones in the letter column for that month. As in almost everything in the modern age, brevity and clarity are appreciated.

Tip #5: Follow Your Favorites

Half of the letters that were printed happened to be in comics written at the time by Kurt Busiek. It was natural for me, since he is one of my favorite writers. In the old days, before I was old enough to hold a pencil in my hand, the letter columns often had the same names popping up, and writers became familiar with some of their fans purely based on their constant writing into the comic. Was I published a little more often because the writer recognized my name and liked what I had written previously? Now, I have no clue if Mr. Busiek would recognize my name after all this time, but more than one writer (Roy Thomas, anyone?) got his first job in the comic industry by being published so often in the letter columns, his name was recognized! One of those is allegedly Busiek himself.

Tip #6: Write to Independents

With my writing activity here where I review almost every DC and Marvel title weekly, I can say almost anything I want to these days and have it see print without needing to write into a comic company. But I liked the End League’s first issue, and felt compelled to let them know personally. My other independent letter is in Crux #26, at a time when both DC and Marvel had taken out their letter’s pages! I wrote in and made my case for a letter’s column (while taking them to task on spelling and/or grammar mistakes), and thanking them for continuing the honored tradition. Thankfully, the columns came back in a lot of titles for the big two companies later. Independents need love too, so your odds of getting printed are much higher in writing to them, since there are fewer letters written to them, generally speaking.

Tip #7: Always Be Polite

Come on, you can be nice and still be critical. At least three of my letters contained some sort of constructive criticism, sometimes light-hearted, sometimes serious. The teams putting these things together are people just like you and me, working hard to try to entertain and meet that monthly deadline while doing it. There is definitely room for “negative” letters and explaining mistakes or telling them why a certain issue was not your cup of tea. I have even put some comments on the DC online bulletin board asking questions and had a writer send a reply to my personal e-mail, just to give me an answer. The vast majority of these writers are really cool people, most of them write good stuff; and even if you can’t stand their stuff, they are still being nicer than they really have to be in order to respond to you as a fan, so please remember to always be kind.

There you have it. Were these really the reasons my letter was printed? I don’t know for sure. For all I know, the person who had the assigned duty of reading letters was flipping a coin, or accepting every third envelope he opened up, or the rejected pile of letters got swapped out accidentally with the accepted ones. All I know for sure is, they’re in the comic, and if there’s a reason for it, you have my best guesses. Now quick, start practicing! I want to know if anyone uses these tips and it helps them get printed!
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Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

I recall the first time I tried to write a letter. It was regarding my dissatisfaction regarding the direction of New Mutants, circa "Inferno". The letter was two pages of fury.

First, I realized they would never print such a long letter (I had never seen a 2-page letter printed). Second, I realized that if I were that bent out of shape, maybe I should quit reading the series. So I did.

That's not a note saying "don't write a letter". That's me saying "keep it specific, indeed. And when everything is getting to you about a title... write your letter, but make sure you drop the book, too."

I've never been published, but the first letter I ever did write to a book (and I made it clear it was my first letter after years and tears of reading), was to ask that Chuck Austen be taken off Action Comics.

And, lo and behold, he was.

It tells me that I, most certainly, wasn't the only one. And, I followed rules 1, 2, 4, and 7.

-- Posted by: Ryan at September 15, 2008 2:02 AM

Reminds me of my quest to be awarded a no prize by Marvel.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at September 15, 2008 12:37 PM

>> Now, I have no clue if Mr. Busiek would recognize my name after all this time,>>

You bet I would.

>> but more than one writer (Roy Thomas, anyone?) got his first job in the comic industry by being published so often in the letter columns, his name was recognized! One of those is allegedly Busiek himself.>>

It definitely helped!

kdb

-- Posted by: Kurt Busiek at September 15, 2008 11:43 PM

Busiek... Here? Now?

My brain just exploded.

-- Posted by: Ryan at September 16, 2008 1:27 AM

Gah! See? He's stalking me! lol

Thanks, Kurt. Hope you and the rest of the Busiek clan are healthy and happy.

-TP

-- Posted by: tpull at September 16, 2008 9:42 PM

you said it!

-- Posted by: jon levene at September 17, 2008 9:56 AM

Don't be surprised when Busiek shows up for he is always lurking. I am a member of the Jarvis Heads and when he was writing the Avengers he routinely participated in discussions and answered questions. He is just one of us fan boys who made good (kind of like Kevin Smith excepts he hits deadlines). He is without a doubt the biggest class act in comics.

-- Posted by: Joel at September 17, 2008 1:51 PM