Astro City 33 Online Lettercol

AC_postmark_chesler_2016

Yeah, okay, we’re pathetically late on the online lettercols. And when I say “we,” I mean, of course, Molly. No, wait, she doesn’t do the online lettercols. JG? No, he designed the blog here, and did out cool postmark, but he doesn’t fill the columns. Brent, then. Gotta be Brent!

Couldn’t be me! I’ve been wiped out and exhausted and allergy-y all Spring! It can’t be my fault!

Yeah, my fault. So let’s see what I can do about starting to catch up. First off, here’s the print lettercol from ASTRO CITY 33…

* * *

What, again? Another lettercolumn? It’s like I have to do one of these every month!

Okay, I’m tired and cranky and my dog has taken to murdering padded envelopes. Not that you need to know that, but it seemed worth sharing. I think he likes popping bubble-wrap (or bubble-wrap-lined packaging) as much as the next being.

So where was I? Right, the Letter of the Month! Letter volume was up, I’m happy to say, and this month we’ve got another LOTM repeater. Say hello (again) to:

MARK ZUTKOFF

Dear Astroids,

Hey, I figured I’d try a weird salutation for a change. You may also think of it as “astro-ids.”

Re issue 31: How? How does this book just keep getting better?

First, Brent’s art was truly stunning. Oh, wait—it was Jesús Merino! Wow. I think that’s the strongest work I’ve seen from him, and it fit right into ASTRO CITY’s normal look of art.

Second, the story just kept me turning page after page to see where you were going to take this unusual style of narration. For some reason, the script reminded me of Steve Gerber’s work—not just for the “Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch” feeling, but the personal touch that the narrative provided, coming close to what I think was Gerber’s masterpiece, GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #4 way back when.

If I had any criticism, it would be for the name “Living Nightmare”, which seemed a bit too Marvel-like (“Living Laser,” “Living Vampire,” “Living Tribunal,” and of course, the Dr. Strange villain Nightmare), but I’m not sure what else you could have called him that got the message across: Fever Dream? Probably not.

The bit where Honor Guard is touting their new costumes to each other was hilarious; best sequence like that since the Wasp used to introduce a new costume every other issue of Avengers. (Can you tell I’m a child of ’60s and ’70s comics?)

Anyway, thanks for another gorgeous issue. Keep ’em coming!

P.S. Immediately after reading this issue, I went through my mail and found the signed copy of ASTRO CITY 30. Perfect timing, and thanks so much!

You’re uber-welcome, sir!

Got to give props to artists again this month—not only to Jesús Merino, who did a wonderful job and who we’re happy to have visit these pages any time (and please, check out his FLASH arc either out now or coming soon), but Alex Ross as well, without whom issue #31 would have been very different. Not only was it he who said that some of the Honor Guard members were starting to look a little dusty, so maybe some new costumes would be in order (and there’s at least one more coming), but if I’m remembering correctly, he’s the guy who suggested the Living Nightmare should return to Honor Guard, and when I said I was thinking of telling the story through the POV of whoever would be “piloting” the Nightmare this time, he said he thought it should be the Nightmare alone, developing an individual mind after all this time.

He ain’t just covers, folks.

As for the Nightmare’s name, I don’t mind names that resonate with all kinds of comics history—and it has been his name since our first issue in 1995.

Anyway. You know this already, but to let everyone else know: Them what writes the Letter of the Month are rightwise entitled to a signed copy of the comic. E-mail us your mailing address (again) and off it’ll go to you.

And now…what else we got?

We got JOHN:

Sorry to hear the small letter count this month, but I spend a great portion of my Astro City budgeted time hanging out at Herocopia. The Zirr two parter was great and the theme of something so far from the actual geographic location of Astro City something I wanted to see you bring together for quite some time.

I notice by the letter of the month I was not the only seeing the timeliness of the piece, the parallels of the Zirr propaganda to our cultures fear-mongering and flag waving. I greatly enjoyed the characters, the handling of foreign culture, that is really isn’t so foreign after all. Seeing things from their viewpoint is something I tried to emulate on the main page of Herocopia the past six weeks or so.

I do wonder about Zozat being able to resist the indoctrination ritual and how successful he will be shifting cultural patterns and preferences. A follow up story set thirty or so years in the future would be interesting.

Meanwhile over at Herocopia:

The next time someone asks for a publication order of ASTRO CITY comics, you can point them here for a list

http://herocopia.com/Category:Publications

Also, something I’ve wanted to do for sometime and finally implemented in November. You can traverse forward and backward through the issues using links (which are below the the cover illo for each issue’s information page). I would like to design a simple navigation GUI to improve the look & feel. That gets added to long wish list of projects to conqueror in the future. I hope. But for now, these links are in play for all issues. So the next time someone asks for a complete publication order list, just point them to Herocopia.

astroCityNavigation

http://herocopia.com/Astro_City_No.1

The full, all-encompassing annotations Event Lists is ongoing. I am very happy with the mechanics for how events, once entered, automatically get injected into content pages for characters, devices, and such. The process for getting the entries themselves done is moving along. It happens it spurts, but I am making progress.

Entries injected (auto-magically) into a Device page.
http://herocopia.com/The_Doors

doors

Entries injected auto-magically into a Character page:
http://herocopia.com/The_Broken_Man

brokenman1

brokenman

I shall strive to do more LOCs over the coming months, including some catch-up notes on recent issues that I have especially enjoyed. Also a detailed inquiry/reminder note that there is still an Oubor Crisis brewing in Astro City. I have some theories to explore, with a focus on Broken Man’s possible background possibilities. My brain wanders all over the place while editing things on Herocopia though. I need to keep a notepad handy so that the ideas and thoughts do something more than just flutter out of my meager remaining brain cells.

Take care, Sir.

Thanks, John. I ran this letter—which I doubt John expected to see published—because I wanted to highlight the amazing work he does at herocopia.com. Check it out, and join in!

Plus, when it comes to the Oubor Crisis, it’s been brewing a long, long time, and I don’t just mean since our first Vertigo issue! You’ll want to check out #37 and #8, just for starters…!

Who’s next? Ah, here’s SIMON:

Wow! Even at fifty eight (there—I’ve revealed my actual age) and a two-time father, I can still get excited about having a letter printed in an actual, honest to goodness comic. To follow in the wake of such esteemed scribes as Pasko, Vartanoff, TM Maple, and of course yourself, is heady stuff. Like I said—wow.

Did #30 deliver? It gave us hope for the future, so in my eyes that’s a resounding yes. Now roll on #32, and the welcome return of Steeljack. What a wonderful sandpit you’ve created in ASTRO CITY.

Hope you’ve liked what’s come since, Simon! And I hope we sent you your signed comic. Let me know if it didn’t get to you, okay? It’s been a jumbled few months.

Next up, JEFF:

I’m loving ASTRO CITY. Somehow it keeps getting better. Great book.

I have a writing question: How can I stop doing stuff that isn’t writing? I want to, love to and need to write. Without being too confident, every day I work hard and think about my craft (which, I am sure, is currently terrible). I’m always doing stuff for my stories—making lists, answering questionnaires, plotting hypotheticals, method-acting voices—but I can’t tell if this stuff is actually making me better.

Maybe this saying comes from sports, but it works for me: ‘Work Smart, Not Hard.’ It means busting your ass isn’t good enough if you’re wasting your time. My problem is I simply don’t know how to write smart. I without a doubt work hard at stuff which I think helps my writing, but I’m pretty sure I’m not working smart. If you had this problem before you were a published writer, what did you do?

Please answer this question however you like. For example, if you had three hours free on a Tuesday night, what literally would you try to accomplish in that time? Looking back now, what stuff did you do that were merely time killers? Would you recommend rewriting and rewriting the same story, or writing two stories instead? Basically, it boils do to this: Considering how successful you are at your craft, what goals and limitations did you impose to prevent yourself from wasting time?

I wasted an inordinate amount of time, Jeff. Still do.

But the best advice I can give is: Stop preparing and start doing.

All those lists, questionnaires, hypotheticals, voices…they’re not writing. They’re at best note-taking and at worst they’re avoidance. Things to do instead of writing.

Stop ’em. Write instead.

Back when I was in high school, I made up a lot of superhero characters, and worked out power lists and backgrounds and endless lists of things like what their favorite food was and what magazines they read and what their favorite TV shows were…and none of it ever mattered because I never wrote any stories about those characters. Just lists.

When I did write stories, I didn’t need to know what their favorite kind of lunch was, not unless it came up in a story. And if it did, I’d figure it out. On one (unpublished) comic I wrote that Scott McCloud drew, the characters were going off on a picnic, and making sandwiches, and they argued about the food. And I didn’t need lists of what they liked, I just needed to know who they were, and pick details that fit their personalities as I needed them.

Those lists are an okay way to figure out who your characters are, if you don’t know much about them, but they’re not necessary. Writing the stories is necessary.

And if you find out, while you’re writing the story, that you need to know what kind of music they like—well, if you have a decent sense of who they are, it won’t be hard to figure out. And if you don’t know, then figure it out then.

Maybe you’ll learn that it helps you to fill out lists ahead of time, maybe you’ll find out that it doesn’t. But if it doesn’t, cut it out. Write the stories and by writing stories you’ll figure out what kind of approach works for you. But if you don’t write the stories because you’re doing a lot of make-work you got from a how-to book, then all you’re doing is following an approach that works for someone else and never figuring out whether it’s helpful to you at all.

So stop preparing, start writing. You’ll find out by doing how tight an outline you need, what kind of preliminary research and creation you need to do. It’ll be different for everyone, so find out your own needs by writing and experimenting and learning.

And finish what you write. If you keep revising your beginning and revising and revising, well, you’ll have gotten a lot of practice polishing that opening. But if you finish the story you might find out you didn’t need that opening. And if you don’t finish stories, you won’t get any practice at middles and endings, will you?

Write stories. Finish them. Then revise them. Figure out by doing what works for you and what doesn’t. But what works for me may not be what works for you.

I will say that a great way to concentrate on writing is to unplug the modem, something I should do more of. Or go somewhere where there’s no TV, no distractions. Turn your phone off. Take away the distractions, and get to it.

And once you’re done with a draft, maybe it’ll be terrible, and it may be full of holes and the scene where the characters talk about TV shows may fall flat. But now you’ve got something, and you can fix it. Polish the prose, do the research to fill those holes, think through the characters so you know what they’d say about TV, whatever. But those will be things you need to do, not things you’re doing to avoid writing.

Write things. Finish them. Then fix them.

Experiment. Try stuff you think will be cool. See if you like the result.

But you’ll always learn more by doing than you will be preparing.

Good luck with it!

Here’s BENJAMIN:

Just wanted to let you know I loved the new costumes for Honor Guard this issue. Assemblyman and N-Forcer look SHARP. No need for retro costumes, this book is set in the modern day. I love the design work on both.

Speaking of sharp designs, I have to say my favorite of the whole series is Mirage. I can’t believe how excited I was by his one panel here. It is so rare to see a hero of his ethnicity in comics, particularly one that doesn’t play to a stereotype. His home base of Las Vegas is one mostly missing from comics, I did love the Joe Fix-it era of Hulk comics…if you can find a way to include more of this guy, consider it my vote. His costume does not feel dated at all, hopefully we can learn someone is currently operating as Mirage.

I’m appreciating the consistent role of Honor Guard in this new volume. Is Wolfspider out after his recent Australia adventure? I can’t say his origin really grabbed me—it just didn’t feel like an adventure with a distinctive hook like most ASTRO CITY tales have. As an X-Men fan, I love reformed villains—look forward to the Living Nightmare giving it a go, what a cool design. Always hoped we’d see more of this after learning he was once on the team. I feel like Honor Guard is missing a street-level perspective now that Black Rapier and Quarrel are gone. Hope that a hero like that comes up soon.

I think this was the first time where Brent wasn’t the artist and I didn’t wish I was getting to see how he’d have done it. Looking forward to the return of Steeljack! Possibly my favorite arc ever of the series, although the recent Quarrel story is right up there now too, so I’m not worried you’ve lost a step.

Hmm. A modern-day Mirage? More street-level fighters for Honor Guard? You never know…

Wolfspider’s still in the team. He’s just making sure to spend more time getting home to see his mom. And I hope the Steeplejack arc worked for you!

Here be’s TRAVIS:

I had something of an epiphany, not while I was reading the latest story, but right after I set it down. The Living Nightmare was a villain in my eyes the whole time, and I enjoyed the idea of him learning and growing, but it really hit me hard when I suddenly put myself in his place.

I tend to have some learned behavior, bad habits and such, that I continually struggle to overcome. I constantly have to remind myself, and to look around and learn, in order to improve my thoughts, behaviors, and actions. I was instantly intrigued to see more of Living Nightmare’s journey, his learning process, and especially to see what happens when he backslides. I almost feel like you could start an entirely new series based just around his journey and I’d snap it up.

Most of the ‘capes’ books on the shelves are entertaining reads, but they don’t quite make me stop and think quite as much as this title does, so thank you. I also like how you gave us the viewpoint from both the “villain’s” perspective and from that of a bunch of regular citizens at the same time. And the lettering was really fun for this issue! Congrats to the whole team for consistently putting out such high-quality work.

Thanks, Travis!

On to WALTER:

Despite having avidly read and collected comics for decades, I’ve rarely been one for writing into letter columns. ASTRO CITY #31 deserves an exception.

ASTRO CITY #31 is a perfect example of everything I love best about the series. In addition to featuring a unique, character-based point of view that explores something true and relatable, the story is stocked with a cast of distinctive, well-developed characters in supporting roles that still manage to advance their own narratives. Amazingly for the modern era, a whole story is contained in this one issue!

That’s why I keep re-visiting Astro City. In every iteration, ASTRO CITY rises above the simple comics cliches without ever forgetting or denying its foundations were built from the escapist fantasies of the Golden and Silver Ages. It’s clear that you strive to honor the legacy of visionaries like Kirby and Lee (among many, many others) by entertaining with imagination and attention to craft. More often than not, you succeed with flying colors.

(Extra credit to guest-artist Jesús Merino for managing to squeeze so much life in between your words. While Brent Anderson’s style defines ASTRO CITY, Merino was perfect for the Living Nightmare’s tale. I felt like I was reading a classic issue of AVENGERS or JUSTICE LEAGUE.)

Thank you so much for continuing to produce such a great comic. Quality storytelling and inspiring heroes shouldn’t be relegated to the back-issue boxes.

Aww. Thanks for the very kind words.

Here’s a different JOHN:

ASTRO CITY 31 was another fine issue. I like how some storylines in ASTRO CITY are set in the ‘present’ and check in on a variety of the cast (new costumes and new members in Honor Guard, subtle changes to the First Family, and a new status quo as a former villain joins our heroes, etc), while at the same time some are set in the ‘past’ and fill in the gaps in regards to Astro City history.

It made me think how so much superheroic fiction is set in the 20th century, and how most shared superheroic universes seem to match the timeline of their publication history (and/or are updated to modern times if the publication history is still ongoing ala Marvel and DC). Even when these shared universes go back in time, they rarely stretch back past the 19th century.

I have always wondered why not have a superheroic universe with instances of powers and wonder across most of history? The Middle Ages, the Roman Empire, Ancient Greece, etc…I guess in a shared universe it would take away the aspect of verisimilitude that we like in our comics, but it would also add a little something extra as well in my opinion. Are we too 20th century-centric in our superheroic fiction?

One contradiction to the above that I have to admit I like as a storytelling device is when tales are set in the past, but also have a framing device or epilogue that flashes forward to modern times (or at least closer to modern times) that caps off a story and shows how it resonates in the now. Some classic examples of this are the epilogue to the BATMAN/CAPTAIN AMERICA one shot set in the Sixties (riffing off of AVENGERS 4) and your own framing device with the Prince and the Wazir in the recent Dark Horse CONAN run. It adds a certain mythic quality to the proceedings when you see the ripples across time.

Maybe that is also part of the appeal of the Conan Universe—it is set in the past but we have sorcery, monsters, wars, etc—a lot of cool staples of super heroic fiction that are applied to a different genre.

Do you have ASTRO CITY tales that you would like to set in the Old West? In earlier centuries? Ancient times? Imagine an alien invasion in the midst of the 16th century!

Keep up the great work, Kurt, and lots of health and happiness in 2016!

PS: Do you plan on coming back to the Prince and Wazir storyline? I would love to see it resolved! If not..what did you have planned? Was Conan really coming back to slay the serpent?

Superhero stories before the 20th century? We’ve seen glimpses of them here and there, in ASTRO CITY, sometimes just for a panel or two. And you’ll see more glimpses, at least, and it time you’ll see more of the history of the Old Soldier and other heroes who predate the 20th Century.

But it’s part of Astro City history that Air Ace, after WWI, is the first generally-recognized “superhero” in this world, even though there were other super-powered or hi-tech adventurers that predate him. So whatever might have happened in earlier eras, it won’t be something that the general public would see as a superhero adventure, at least. Much in the way that, say, Thor fighting Frost Giants in the year 800 AD would be mythology or the creation of Frankenstein’s monster is taken as horror. It would feel different in a context that already recognized superheroes, but before that…who knows? King Arthur had a magic sword (and scabbard, for a while). Robin Hood had mad archery skills and a sort-of secret identity. But people don’t think of them as superheroes.

Whether that’s “too 20th century-centric” or it’s about the superhero idiom being one that sits well in an industrialized world might be an interesting subject to explore. But in ASTRO CITY, at least, while superpowered adventure predates the 20th century, superheroes were not recognized as a cultural phenomenon until then.

As for Conan and the Vizier, every now and then Dark Horse and I talk about doing a CONAN THE LEGEND mini-series that would bring it all to a head, but so far it hasn’t happened. I had definite plans, you bet. But I don’t want to give away what they are—whether that story ever gets done, they might turn out to be useful in some way or another.

Here’s CHARLES:

To get through some night shifts at work, I took #1-29 of the current ASTRO CITY run and binged my way through it overnight—now I feel dumb for not noticing Samaritan’s visiting Sticks so soon after he lamented about people departing because of the fighting—and it’s engrossing. It also seems to be a lot more about aging and change than I remembered. Quarrel, Crackerjack, the Black Rapier, Starfighter, they’re all out; Hummingbird II, American Chibi, Wolfspider, and the new Starbright are in; Wolfspider learns to move on from the past, while the “clotheshorse” villains and Crackerjack cannot and suffer for it; Winged Victory changes her approach and Samaritan fears loss.

I don’t know if this is an intentional theme for this run or just what happens if you do a real-time aging comic over 20 years, but it certainly feels intentional.

Some of it’s intentional, Charles, some of it’s accidental, and some of it’s a matter of accidents feeding into something intentional. But yes, this is stuff we think about, and it’s part of our overall plans…

Yo, MATT:

I’m writing to welcome back Steeplejack. There are characters I like better, some whose stories I wait and wait for (The Gentleman, please), but few I feel closer to than Loony Leo and Steeljack. His resemblance to Robert Mitchum perfectly embodies this really human superhero, ex-con turned P.I.

Because we’ve just finished the TV program JESSICA JONES, I’ve gone back to my old ALIAS and THE PULSE comics, to find Brent Andersen’s work in THE PULSE a welcome change from the previous art. Missed Brent in ASTRO CITY 31, but like Jesús Merino’s work, so well enabled by Alex Sinclair’s coloring.

The Living Nightmare story was well resolved. Pretty funny to see how ill-prepared the First Family is, though. I liked best discovering that all these ‘random people’ we see, page one, and on, are all now-linked brains-in-bottles. Do disembodied brains dream of electrifying selves?
And to see Carl Donewicz in the “next issue” box: ahh…I’m writing to welcome back Steeljack. Look forward to re-seeing you.

Thanks, Matt. But the narrators of #31 weren’t brains-in-bottles. They were ordinary people who the Nightmare tapped into during their sleep. But we saw them on page 1 and page 24, out and about, talking about the dreams they had.

[The jars on page 2 were the fragmented pieces of the Nightmare, as he was left at the end of #26.]

Hope you enjoyed the Return of Donewicz.

Here’s MICHAEL:

First, I saw in issue 31 that you are receiving a low amount of letters for ASTRO CITY. I have never written into a comic book before but since I admire you and your team so much I decided to pen a letter!

Second, I was happy to see Patrick Rothfuss’ blurb on the cover of 31. For a moment it was as if two great worlds collided. If you or anyone reading this hasn’t read Mr. Rothfuss’ KINGKILLER CHRONICLES, please, it is a must read. I’ve been passing around book one at work and it’s fun to see different folks eat it up.

Third, I read comics as a child but never followed creators (just the big heroes). I returned to the fold a few years ago after a popular show about zombies took over the world. I began binge reading well acclaimed runs in comic book history and have been delighted to read and re-read ASTRO CITY! Samaritan, The Silver Agent, The Confessor and all the villains are amazingly fleshed out. But the surprise I never knew I wanted was the doorman-turned-hero, Steeljack, the male acolyte of Winged Victory, the dispatcher for Honor Guard and many more!

The universe that you, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Ross and others have created will continue to inspire me and others. Keep up the good work!

We’ll do our best, Michael. And yes, Patrick Rothfuss’s KINGKILLER CHRONICLES are much-liked here at Busiek Central, and finding out he’s an ASTRO CITY fan and interacting on Twitter and at the occasional con has been a real pleasure. Give ’em a shot if you haven’t, folks!

To wrap up, here’s CLINTON:

This is a letter of thanks.

When I was a kid, I read a lot of comics. Almost all of them were superhero comics. Even then I would read impassioned articles about how comics could be more than muscled do-gooders beating up bad guys. Still, that’s what I read because, you know, superheroes.

Well, today, I still read a lot of comics, but I’m not a kid anymore, and I often muse to myself about how much my reading has changed. I still love comics (perhaps even more than I did decades ago), but I must read more non-hero comics than not now. This is especially true since I have almost entirely weaned myself off of “the Big Two.” It turns out that once you get to the place where you’re older than the people writing and editing the comics, your favorite heroes cease to feel like your favorite heroes.

Recently lack of money and time has pushed me to carefully curate my comic collection. Fortunately, comics are more accepted these days to the extent that public libraries are carrying trades. Thus I’ve been able to supplement my issue buying through the wonders of interlibrary loan. Currently I’m reading Mike Carey’s LUCIFER, which is turning out to be just as good as I feared it wouldn’t be when it originally came out. I’m halfway through the second trade.

However, you can only read so much horror-tinged, supernatural, amoral, anti-hero, or at least I can, no matter how well-written it is. And this morning I just needed a break from Carey’s greatness. I needed someone in a loud costume, preferably with a cape that waved like a cavalry’s flag, rushing in to save the innocent just because it was the right thing to do. I needed a superhero.

Sadly, today is Tuesday, the cruelest day for comic collectors. The only book I had left from last Wednesday’s haul is a Shakespeare perspective flip. It’s nice, but not what the doctor ordered. So I started flipping through what I’m collecting now—secret agent, buxom and yet impossibly effective bounty hunter, medieval knights, fantasy knights, space explorers, cops, witches, cops who are witches…and then there he was. ASTRO CITY #26 with my man Samaritan. No grim, cold, alternate time-streamed, retconned, mind-swapped struggler against decades of continuity. It was just a straight out great superhero. I re-read ASTRO CITY #26 and felt ready to meet my day. Samaritan saved me. Of course he did, ’cause that’s what he does.

Thanks for 20 years of great stories. See you in issue #32.

You are more than welcome, sir. Thanks to you and everyone who supports the book—you’re the reason we get to keep going.

The next lettercolumn will come sooner, I promise!

One thought on “Astro City 33 Online Lettercol

  1. You are correct sir, I did not expect to see that particular Herocopia status note circulated here. But I thank you for doing so. The tinkering at the site continues and is ever ongoing. Shortly after penning the note above, I added a few more features to the issues templates, including a link to these online letters columns. You can see them in action by clicking here.
    http://herocopia.com/Astro_City_No.33

    Then clicking on the Astro City Mail entry on that page, which will send you right back here(sorta) in a endless loop. Similar to what John Lennon with audio tape to add all those interesting background noises to Beatles tunes.

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