Astro City Mail – March 2014

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Here we go! Let’s see what we’ve got for the next lettercol, starting with our Letter of the Month, as seen in ASTRO CITY 10.

From JAMES SLOAN:

Hi Kurt. I hope all is well with you and your team. I am just writing to say how much I am enjoying the latest run of ASTRO CITY. I came to the series fairly late (about issue 20 of the second series). Fortunately, it has been easy to catch up in the trades.

I met you very briefly years ago when you attended a convention here in England. You kindly signed my MARVELS #1. Whilst I enjoyed MARVELS, this series has more depth and room to explore that particular concept. The benefit being, of course, these are your characters and so you are not restricted by having to ‘play with other people’s toys’ so to speak.

The first mini-series was interesting and well structured. I was hooked from the very start with the Samaritan story, and progressed from there. The beauty is that you can approach things from so many different view points (heroes, villains, families, actors and so on). It is what I believe has kept the series fresh.

Story-wise, ‘The Nearness of You’ is a particular favourite of mine. The great irony to me is that despite that (or maybe because) it is a small self-contained tale, it is a better crossover or ‘event’ story than anything the major publishing houses have come up with in recent years. It tells its story well and has a bittersweet quality to it. I don’t believe anyone has actually approached this particular aspect of comics from just a single POV before, and I believe it is such a good story because of this. Rather than the usual over blown ‘world shaking’ nonsense, at the end of the day, it is a story of love, loss and moving on.

The current run is maintaining the high quality of the series. The Winged Victory story is living up to expectations. She appears to be someone whose heart is genuinely in the right place,and wants to help and empower women (and young men in this case) who have had difficult lives and need help. The public and society seem to be just waiting to tear her down. Of course. this is just a fiction and this public reaction would never happen in our ‘real’ world…

Anyway, keep up the good work and if I can end with the obligatory ‘fan question,’ please? Will you ever be telling a tale featuring fully, or the backstory/origin of the Hanged Man? Always been drawn to the character.

As usual, I’ll note that whosoever writeth the L.O.T.M. shall receiveth a copy of the issue itself, signed by me. So drop us an e-mail telling us where to send it, James, and it’ll be on its way.

Thanks very much for the kind words. As to your question about the Hanged Man, well…

Here’s the thing: I know what the Hanged Man’s backstory is. I’ve just never been sure if we should tell it. There are some characters—unsettling, mysterious characters—that lose something if you know all their ins and outs and hidden truths, and for a long time I’ve thought the Hanged Man might be one of those. That he makes a better recurring figure of mystery than he would be a story told.

I mean, it’s a pretty cool backstory, I think, and we’d get a good story out of it. And finding out who’s under the hood could lead to interesting things. But he’s pretty cool as-is, too.

Let us know, folks. Do you like the mystery, or do you want answers?

More after the break…

From MIKE:

Hi Kurt!

Eight issues in eight months. That has to be some kind of record for this book. Congrats!  Also, I notice the sturdier cover stock made a return this issue. That was also a welcome surprise.

Many thanks to you, Brent, Alex and everyone else involved in the production of this series for not giving up on it. I’ve been a reader since the very first Image issue.  And now, at a time when I’ve dropped most of DC and Marvel’s mainstream superhero titles because they just seem to be treading water, this book is still an instant buy that delights me because it’s not afraid to be positive, works on multiple levels, changes pace and tones, and thoroughly explores different themes. You guys are creating a rich world here and I want to see every panel of it.

I’m really enjoying the mystery that was set up in the first issue of this latest run. New characters are always welcome for this reader. But at the same time I must admit this current storyline starring Winged Victory, Samaritan and The Confessor feels like a classic in the making. I don’t even want to speculate on where you’re going with all this—I just want the next issue in my hands already!

Here’s to hoping that in four more months I’ll be able to say that I’ve read a new issue of ASTRO CITY every month for a solid year.

Two months to go! [And as I type this, #11 is awaiting final colors before it goes off to press on time, and #12 is off with the letterers, so I don’t think you’re going to have a problem with that hope…]

The return of the shmancy covers happened like this: At our price point, DC’s got two available packages—40 pages with normal cover or 32 pages with the extra-cool cover stock. To be a $2.99 book, we’d have to cut back to 20 pages of story, and no one wanted to do that. So those were our choices.

We started out with the 40-page package, with previews and such in the back, but after a while, they asked us, “Hey, how would you feel about 32 pages with enhanced cover stock?” Our editor Kristy and I thought that sounded good, but maybe we should wait ’til #11, so we didn’t change cover stock in the middle of a story. But then I called Alex, and mentioned it to him. He was all for the better cover stock, and thinks it repros his paintings very well. I asked him if we should wait ’til #11, and his response was something along the lines of, “Hell, no. How fast can we make the switch? Can we do it next issue?”

So we did. And it looks great.

From SUDIP:

First of all: Thank you, Mr. Busiek, thank you! This issue had something I’d wanted for a long, long time—a confrontation between Samaritan and the Confessor.

Ever since the first time I read about him (back in the Confession story arc), the Confessor has been my favorite character (the vampire predecessor, of course), and I’m liking the current one as well. The playfulness buried inside the black garb while taking on Samaritan was a delight to read through.

Looking forward to more of him. And more Broken Man please. 😀

P.S. Are you planning on doing a Hanged Man story anytime soon? Missing that guy (and Shadow Hill).

Nothing specifically planned for the Hanged Man, Sudip. But he tends to turn up when you least expect him, so I imagine he’ll be around again before too long. And glad you liked the Confessor-Samaritan bout.

From CHRISTOPHER:

Dear Astro City Crew,

I have been reading about the denizens of Astro City since the debut of Samaritan in issue #1, farther back in the recesses of time than I (and, no doubt, all of you) might like to consider. And though I dropped off a few times, I have always gone back to pick up the older issues and have read every one. ASTRO CITY has been one of the few—and possibly only—constants in my comic buying since your kind invitation to this fine city. So, it was with great anticipation that I read the first issue of your return, through Vertigo.

But, for some reason, it didn’t feel the same to me, and I dropped off after issue #3 of the latest iteration. I can’t pinpoint what it was that left me unenthused. Possibly it was that self-same anticipation, which could have been raised too high in my mind prior to reading the new issues. Maybe it was the focus on new characters (not that this isn’t a staple of the series, but there was a lack of familiarity keeping me at a distance).  Whatever it was, I moved on.

Or so I thought.

A few weeks back, I was in a local bookstore that also carries comic books, and I saw the Alex Ross cover to #7. Samaritan and Winged Victory in an embrace with the Confessor looming over them—this was the ASTRO CITY I remembered, the one I return to fondly in my mind when I think of the series and its initial burst of characters that excited me, as much an effect of the writing and art as it was the personal time period when I discovered ASTRO CITY. I bought the book and read it that night.  It was like coming home. Even though much time had passed, it was as if I’d been gone only a day or two.

When I was in the bookstore again this past week, I found issue #8 on the racks, along with issues 4-6. I grabbed them all and am now caught up. And yes, it still feels as familiar—in a positive way—as issue #7 did when I read it a few weeks back. The intrigue (love the Broken Man), the action (the Confessor holding his own against Samaritan), the questions (will Winged Victory survive this smear campaign?), the distinct perspective that is rarely, if ever, duplicated in “mainstream” superhero comics (the “sideliners” is a great concept, and I loved how they utilized their powers in “common” fields)—it’s all here, and I loved it.

So, I wanted to say thank you to all those involved for the great books.  I’m fully onboard the Astro City train again, and I can’t wait to see where you will be taking us.

Very glad to have you back, sir! Hope you like what’s coming next.

From BILL:

I enjoyed the fight between Confessor & Samaritan and the character development for the Confessor. My only complaint is that this isn’t a weekly series. I WANT MORE!

I’d love it if you could plot a series of minis or one shots and turn them over to other writers. There is just so much of Astro City I’m sure we’ll never see. I WANT MORE!

Sorry, Bill, but I just don’t want to do that. ASTRO CITY is very personal to me, and I don’t want to farm it out to other writers.

But any writer who’s good enough to write an ASTRO CITY story is good enough to make up his or her own characters, so the best thing I can suggest is to pick all the writers you’d like to see do such a project, and then read their other stuff. Sure, it won’t show you all the hidden nooks and crannies of Astro City, but you’ll get some good comics reading out of it!

From STEVEN:

Hey, AC crew,

As I write this, you’re at Wizard World Portland, and I’m…wishing I could be there. I’ve never been able to attend a comic con, and being able to meet you AND George Pérez at the same time would have been great. I’ll make it some year. Have fun!

I dropped the ball on commenting on #7, and thought about waiting until the “Winged Victory” saga concludes before writing, but there’s already too much I want to say. First, in an industry filled with corny character nicknames, calling Winged Victory “Vic” is one of the worst. Ugh.

Jason (LOTM in January) said that he prefers the 1- or 2-parters, and I’m inclined to agree, because in the (rare) event that I don’t love the story, I know I’ll get something different next time. I’ll admit that the first issue of the WV saga felt a little slow, and I wasn’t sure I wanted three more issues of it, but the second issue more than made up for it. There wasn’t anything bad about #7, it just seemed like a lot of set-up.

Brent’s art was back to its usual excellence. Ore-Master’s “raw and organic” look in #6 looked too sloppy in a nighttime fight, but Warmaiden (#7) looks great, and the villains shown (briefly) in #8 look interesting—except for the bland Mama Spank, but her name more than makes up for it (heh). The only (slight) misstep was “rabbit girl’s” collar; the color was too close to her hair color, and at first I thought it was some weird neck hair problem! Otherwise, it was fantastic.

The public and government reaction to the accusations against WV are a great commentary on our society—how even the slightest, most groundless accusations in certain areas can unjustly destroy people’s reputations, careers, and lives. “Innocent until proven guilty” seems to be ignored by the public eye. And it’s such a simple thing to pull off—all you need is one very vocal person saying something like “Winged Victory is hiring criminals,” or “vaccines cause autism,” and people will believe it without any evidence!

The brief fight between Samaritan and the Confessor was great—it gave an actual, believable excuse for the confrontation (the former’s suspicion, and the latter’s protecting his reputation), and was peppered with little threads to pull later. Who knew that Black Rapier is a paragon of agility? To paraphrase another dark vigilante’s enemy, “Where does the Confessor get those wonderful toys?” A self-healing tunic? Tell me more! (Yes, I know, add it to the list.)

I also really appreciate Winged Victory’s reaction to all of this—she’s being very calm and rational to protect those who are depending on her.  But I have a feeling that she’s jumping to conclusions about the Iron Legion and Karnazon being behind it—after all, we have two more issues to go!  I have a feeling it goes deeper than that.

Back to the letters (the ones online, specifically), Eric’s suggestion (in January) that my LOTM should net me a signed copy of the next issue made me laugh—because when I saw online that I was LOTM in #6, my wife suggested that I wouldn’t need to buy it, since I had a signed copy coming! Hah! There’s no way that I’m waiting that long to read a new issue if I can help it! And besides, I’m going to read the one, and may just frame the autographed one. Besides, my fantastic FLCS owner let me set up a hold for only one title, so it would be pretty rude not to buy it. Speaking of my signed copy, I haven’t seen it yet. No worries if you’re busy and haven’t sent it yet—I just worry that our mailman decided to keep it to read for himself. 😉

And in response to my last letter, you said that there will be more ARROWSMITH. Please tell me that this is one of the announcements you keep teasing (last in November) but haven’t made yet! Or is it too far off still to announce anything?

I’ve also noticed in the letter column (and elsewhere), you seem to get a lot of comments along the lines of, “Why can’t you just focus on the superheroes already instead of these boring people?” Do you feel like a broken record yet? I propose an Astro City FAQ, with that as #1 on the list, so that every time you get another one, you just send them a link. And I think you should stop being so apologetic about it! 😉

Feel free to cut me off any time, because I’m going to ramble a bit here.  On a completely random topic, I recently realized that the initials of the top three members of the AC crew are KB, BA, AR. Fun little oddity, but pointless—unless you use “KBBAAR” as a good monster name or comic sound effect.

And hey, I just found your feed at spring.me. I can’t figure out what the website is trying to be besides another Facebook-wanna-be (its name sounds like a website for petitioning for the governor to pardon your crimes and release you from jail), but I found some good tidbits there.

I’d never noticed the fact that you never gave the Vision thought balloons (to maintain a little distance), and I love it. But now I’m just dying for somebody (if they haven’t already) to create the exception that proves the rule—show his thought bubble full of 1s and 0s—preferably being a binary equivalent of something either meaningful or ridiculous, for those who would make the effort to figure it out.

Finally, on spring.me, somebody said that whenever he reads ASTRO CITY, he tastes Jamaican patties, because he was eating them the first time he read the book, and asked if you had any similar experiences. You said that you had experiences like that with music, which is true for me. Whenever I hear Sting’s “All This Time,” I think of Jeff Smith’s BONE (and vice versa), because that’s what I was listening to when I first read it (to drown out my siblings). Fortunately, it must have been quiet when I first discovered ASTRO CITY, and I’m happy that it doesn’t have a permanently attached soundtrack.

See you next time!

Thanks, Steven. And I hope your signed copy has arrived by now!

There will be more ARROWSMITH, and it’ll be from Vertigo, and it’ll be by me, Carlos and Jesus, but right now it’s early enough in the process that we don’t have much more news than that. When we’ve got our ducks in a row and can dependably say more, though, we won’t be shy!

From STEVE:

As someone who likes to flip through the issues after reading to look at the artwork, I greatly appreciate fewer ads in this month’s issue. Since I normally purchased ASTRO CITY as collections (3 hardcovers, 3 paperbacks, the rest comics), the ad ratio was my one regret in buying the book monthly as of the new series. May you stay healthy and keep up the good work.

Glad you like it. That was another repercussion of the new shmancy-cover format, I think.

From KATHLEEN:

Dear Kurt,

My interest in comic books dates back to the late 1950’s. Until my health took a turn for the worse, I was an avid comic conventioneer and I have met you in person several times. It was always a very pleasant experience, thank you. I have owned my own comic book store, currently read and collect comics (and will soon have to put an addition on my home just to house them all) and I am a retired college professor (part-time) who designed and taught a comic book college course on the history of comic book superheroes. I share all of this with you to illustrate I do know a little about comic books and this is what I have to tell you:

I love ASTRO CITY.

This is my first ever fan letter so I’m not sure I’m following protocol here, but ASTRO CITY is the book I look forward to reading the most. I have been primarily a DC fan as when I was a kid that was what was available to read. Branching out to a Vertigo title was a stretch for me as I had become comfortable in my Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman/JLA rut. I am thankful I took the plunge. ASTRO CITY has been on my pull list for quite some time, so I am not a newcomer to the title, but I’m writing at this time because of the last two issues with Winged Victory as the focus.

She has the purpose, character and the nobility that Wonder Woman is lacking. I would love to love Wonder Woman, but I can’t because she’s just “not right” for the lack of a more detailed explanation. Winged Victory is a “cool” female superhero! I will love her instead. Thank you for your great work.

Thanks so much, Kathleen. I hope you like how it all works out for Vic in the big finale.

From KEN:

Kurt, I’ve been a fan of ASTRO CITY ever since someone lent me Local Heroes in 2003. It wasn’t until I picked up the TPBs that I learned about your mercury poisoning. I’m very very grateful that you got that treated. I had a girlfriend who had mercury poisoning, not as severe as yours sounded, and it’s not an easy boat to row. As someone who’s enjoyed your work, I’m glad you’re dealing with it, and I am greedily wishing you many more years of good health. A feature I’d love to see is an expansion on the sample you gave of how a script page turns into a comic book page. Speaking of, is there any definitive guideline book on how to format/prepare a script for a comic book issue? I’m very much enjoying the current issues. Keep up your health and keep up the good work.

I’m still getting various, ah, parting gifts from the mercury, but we’re working on putting it behind us eventually. It’s a long process, so thanks for the good wishes.

We’re talking about doing a script-to-art feature as part of the sketchbook section in an upcoming book collection, so I expect we’ll get to it eventually. In the meantime, the best source I can recommend for comic book script format is a book called PANEL ONE: COMIC BOOK SCRIPTS BY TOP WRITERS, edited by Nat Gertler. It’s got scripts in it by me, Neil Gaiman, Greg Rucka, Marv Wolfman and others, and gives readers a great look at various script formats, so you can pick one or create your own. It’s available through Amazon, and I highly recommend it.

And that finishes up the current mail, so let’s polish off a few leftover older letters that were found misfiled last month.

To start with, here’s STEFAN:

Just got to a store and picked up a few ASTRO CITY issues. #3 I already owned and read, oops, but two were new, 4 and 7. I appreciated both, but it was number 4, with Martha Sullivan, which made me happy you’re still doing ASTRO CITY. This was a perfect ASTRO CITY story, and just the kind of thing that brings yet another new view to the familiar paradigm. Most striking though was that it made me realize the number of hero comics containing middle aged women, let alone starring them, is truly negligible. I love the cover, loved the issue. Thanks.

You’re more than welcome, sir.

On to FELICIA:

Speaking as someone who started reading AC about ten years ago in fragments, here and there, and then patiently collected the whole thing about five, I’m glad to see you back in publishing. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried about the existence of a seeming fourth-wall breaker—always a risky proposition, in my book—but I’m sure that if anyone can write it in a satisfying way, it’s you, and I’m kicking myself for having to read the issue twice before figuring out who he was.

At the same time, I have to comment on your introduction of American Chibi. There’s a throwaway remark in there about ‘or worse, a thirty five year old anime fan who got his heart’s desire.’ And I’m speaking as someone who’s both a transwoman and, as mentioned above, a long-standing fan of your comics when I say that I wish you hadn’t gone to that particular well. It’s a cheap joke and not worthy of your writing.

My apologies, Felicia. As noted in an earlier letter column, it hadn’t occurred to me that the line could be read as a slam at trans people, and had I realized that I wouldn’t have written it (or at least wouldn’t have written a line like that without some indication that the speaker was being a jerk). Whatever the Broken Man’s thoughts on trans issues, his comment wasn’t about someone who he thought identified physically as a woman, but someone who wanted to play at being a simultaneously infantilized and sexualized cartoon woman.

But you and the earlier writer both have reason to complain, and I do apologize for the line being as unclear as it was. We’ll explore American Chibi more in the future, and we may very well fall flat on our faces doing it, but we’ll at least be making the attempt to do something worthwhile.

And to wrap up, here’s SEAN:

Dear the ASTRO CITY team,

Truth be told, I was late at discovering ASTRO CITY, but better late than never, right?

During my 4 years of college and the passing of my 22nd birthday, my interest in comics was sporadic at best. That is until I discovered Life in the Big City.

I religiously read superhero comics growing up, but had shelved the past-time alongside my Super Nintendo and Pokémon cards. But reading the accounts of the residents of Astro City reinvigorated my belief that comics are relatable and addictive because of their accessibility. The usage of pictures does not diminish the literary quality of comics, but, rather, highlights the medium’s potential for depictions of the fantastic alongside detailed and developed characterizations.

I found myself lost in the alleyways of Shadow Hill and craning my neck to catch the red blur that is Samaritan. Both cases display the power of Astro City’s street-level view of a world full of superheroes, yet it is a world of the mundane as well as hidden accounts of everyday courage, much like the world we live in. These stories aren’t cynical and hyper-violent, but are instead embodiments of perseverance, a quality that often feels reserved for the likes of the Confessor.

The most recent issue is an example of all of these qualities. Marella Cowper is fresh-faced and recently employed. She is enamored by the Honor Guard and elated by her acquired sense of duty and responsibility. She is, for all intents and purposes, us. She is the filter by which the story’s concluding conundrum becomes deeply distressful. Ultimately, the mistake of an average citizen can carry as much weight as any of Jack-in-the-Box’s missteps. Therefore, don’t we already live in Astro City, a world where everyone’s decisions are meaningful and consequential?
Thank you for the hard work as I have fallen in love and become engaged with comics again in a big, bad way. In a few weeks I will begin attending writing workshops at a local comic book store in hopes of contributing to the limitless amount of stories that have motivated me to remain motivated.

And I hope you have very good luck with it, Sean.

Now it’s time to go sack out, watch BONES re-runs and read some more of THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET. Have an excellent month, and we’ll see you next time!

One thought on “Astro City Mail – March 2014

  1. “Will you ever be telling a tale featuring fully, or the backstory/origin of the Hanged Man?”
    My mind screamed the answer I hoped you’d give, the one you did give, the moment I read the words. Some things are better a mystery, I get that. I want that. As much as I loved “The Nearness of You” I felt Hanged Man lost a sliver of his mystery, or possibly a thread from his mask, the moment he started talking. The tidiest bit of mystery gone, but I felt it. So, no origin story (IMHO) for the Hanged Man.
    But this is Astro City, it isn’t really about the heroes, it’s about the people (heroes and not). It’s been done before in comics. The Joker’s claim of a multiple choice origin in The Killing Joke, or of people discussing Legends of the Dark Knight. A number of ways come to mind to tale those type of stories without mimicking them, but I don’t want to start ruining ideas for you by suggesting them (not that I’m sure that you couldn’t come up with better ones).

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