My daughters’ schools called this morning at 6AM to tell me school was delayed two hours due to snow, so they got to sleep in, which is nice for them. But one of ’em’s home sick anyway, and I couldn’t manage to get back to sleep, so I’m kind of groggy and you wouldn’t want me writing comics for publication today.
But ASTRO CITY 7 comes out tomorrow, so I’ve got an online letter column to do. Why don’t I do that?
I should start off with the Letter of the Month, even though it gets printed in the comic itself. That way it’s here for easy reference, it can be part of the online conversation, and hey, it’s a way to remind you that you should write in, too, and maybe you’ll get a signed copy of ASTRO CITY for contributing the Letter of the Month yourself. Word to the wise and all that.
So anyway, we start off with ANDREW:
Once again, I’m at a loss. I think there is an issue upcoming where you actually write about Astro City’s actual heroes again; here’s hoping that that becomes the norm instead of characters and situations like recently that we only see once, and then nada. To me, a new character is meaningless if they never appear again or stay in the background.
That said, this ish was indeed a page-turner…it exhausted the hell out of me, and I wasn’t quite sure what time period(s) it was in, but still.
Generally I’m on a crusade: Not to make the world of comics live up to my needs, but to see everyone’s full potential come to fruition!
I’m not sure what to tell you, Andrew.
I can’t agree at all that a character is meaningless if they only star in one story—lots of great stories haven’t needed to be about serial characters, whether it’s Freddy from the great SPIRIT story, “Ten Minutes,” Jack Kirby’s knockout “Toxl the World-Killer” or Richard Madoc in the SANDMAN story “Calliope,” just to name a few of my favorites. And then there’s all those movies, novels, short stories and plays—it wouldn’t have made CASABLANCA better if they’d followed it up with BRAZZAVILLE, the awful sequel they worked on for a while, and I can’t say I’m hoping to ever read THE STAND II.
I like the variety. And given that the ASTRO CITY audience has often responded really strongly to singleton stories about relatively ordinary people, I think most of them do too.
That’s not to say we’ll never do stories about heroes from time to time. We’ve started a four-parter like that this issue, and we’ve got some others planned for the (relatively) near future. But ASTRO CITY becoming a book where it’s the norm to follow a regular cast in open-ended serial stories—or to focus steadily on costumed heroes over and above ordinary citizens—is simply never going to happen.
Luckily, for people who want ongoing serialized hero adventures, there are plenty of those on offer. But we’re going to keep doing what we do. I think that’s the best way to live up to our potential—to do things our way, rather than becoming more conventional. If that’s not for you, so be it—but I hope you’ll like enough of what we do to stick around.
All that said, I’ll note that we’ve hardly been focusing on characters you “only see once, and then nada,” given that the Broken Man, Ben Pullam and Mattie Sullivan have all appeared at least twice by now. And the lead characters in #5 all are heroes, or see themselves as such (the Broken Man, the Blasphemy Boys, Dame Progress and Mister Cakewalk) or are at least costumed figures (The Serpent’s Tongue), and every single one of them can be expected to return.
[And was it really that hard to tell when the stories were set? The framing sequence references the previous issue, so you know it’s current, and two of the episodes told you flat-out what year it was in the captions.]
Sorry to give you so little joy, but I figure it’s best to be straight with you. We’re not doing this kind of story by mistake—our approach is very much intentional.
Still, Andrew, thanks for writing the Letter of the Month! If you send us an e-mail with your address, and we’ll send you off a signed copy of this (thankfully hero-centric) issue!
And now onward, starting with ZACK:
While the (re)introduction issue of issue #1 left me wanting a little more, the following three issues got the job done, with great storytelling, pacing, artwork and exploring the different angles of living in superhuman world. Martha Sullivan’s story was one that has to exist in universes with superhumans. Not everyone with powers would be a hero. Just as in real life, people with talents don’t always use them to the best of their abilities or for simpler or nefarious reasons. I’ve always wondered about the super strong person, say working in a factory setting or something similar, and happy where they’re at, not having to deal with the pressures and lack of life, that comes with bearing a costume. Bravo on the execution guys.
And as for issue #5? It was even more of a set-up issue, with even less of a deeper look at characters, but I liked the issue a lot more than the first issue. The more we see the Broken Man, the more intrigued I get.
Even with three different storylines starting and ending rather quickly, it felt like we got a lot of juicy stuff. A bunch of new characters, in three different eras (and genres) we haven’t really seen. And more questions to be answered…
Glad you enjoyed it, sir.
You’re a tease, you know that? Of course you do. The abrupt cut-offs of all three stories-within-a-story that constitute ASTRO CITY #5 were frustrating, yet pleasing. Pleasing in the sense that in a mere handful of panels we met some new, well defined characters, with uncommon depth and interesting back-story. But just as things get interesting, just at the point when we the readers have a vested interest in them and what happens next, your manipulations via the Broken Man pull us out of our suspended disbelief. And that is the frustration. Even the last story piece, while that played out to something of a sort of minor plot resolution and came with the wonderful environmental pullout using the snow that then isn’t snow, is still tinged with more questions than answers, more desire to read more. More of that (quoting Kurt Busiek the young reader here) “anxiousness to want to know what happens next.”
Several hours after my second or third reread, you posted a link on Facebook to a nice review of issue #5. I don’t disagree with the reviewer that the Baltimore scenes and the characters within that vignette are well realized, intriguing and fun to read. But I really enjoyed the exquisitely choreographed and wonderfully staged landscapes of Romeyn Falls from the turn of the century. I found this to be the superior episode.
The “production” pages that Brent shared on your Astro City Facebook wall were fascinating and in fact have a clarity that the final color work kinda blurs and distracts. I especially love all the set up study sketches and designs done for the heroines secondary lab and the reveal of Dame Progress’ fighting machine. That panel alone was stunning. But the page layouts, the poses, the relationships between the adversaries, the viewpoints selected, all show a tremendous skill at visual storytelling. These pages are stunningly beautiful.
The now famous (hell it was famous in the 60s when John Benson first recorded it) interview with Gil Kane, published in the return issue of ALTER EGO has a section where Gil talks about comic artists not commonly using intricate perspective scenes, except in a very rudimentary fashion. Not here. I’m sure Gil would have loved this fight and the scenery where it transpired. I know I did.
Now, getting back to those taunting and abrupt story cuts. Most of the time, a serialized, ongoing story has but one. This issue had four. Yes, four! After the three vignettes are prematurely broken(word usage intended), the Broken Man kicks us out. As we leave, we realize that he is still just as much a mystery now as he was 24 pages ago.
P.S. I loved issue #1. I loved issues #2 and #3 even better. Issue #4 was the best, that is until now. This was a great issue. What happens NEXT?!!!
Next is #6! And here we are at #7!
And for those interested in John’s comments about the Astro City page on Facebook, you can find it here.
Next up is TODD:
I’ve wanted to write this letter to you for a long time—and by a long time, I mean like 20 years. The recent re-launch of ASTRO CITY is the perfect opportunity.
I have been collecting comics since I was 12 years old back in 1986 and continue to buy every week religiously. In the past 27 years, I have read quite literally tens of thousands of comics from all the comic book companies.
Of all those books, all those titles, all those characters…there has quite simply been nothing that compares to ASTRO CITY. This series—which I have followed faithfully and waited for patiently thru all its incarnations—is the finest example of comic book storytelling ever published. It represents the best of what this fantastic medium can do…in a wonderfully understated way.
Its richness and layers are woven together masterfully—giving readers tantalizing snapshots and glimpses through years of both standalone storylines & larger arcs—all the while encouraging us to use our own imaginations to help build the world that is Astro City.
It’s clear that ASTRO CITY has been a labour of love for its team of creators over the years—thru illness, long hiatuses and publisher changes. Please know that it’s also been a labour of love to read.
Thanks for years of magic and wishing for years of magic yet to come.
That’s very strong praise, Todd. Thanks very much. We’re all thrilled we’ve been able to do a book that gets this kind of reaction from people (even if, backed to the wall, we each might pick something else as the best ever). I can only hope you continue to feel that way as we roll on.
And now here’s JOHN again (yeah, same John):
Hey, Kurt. Hi!
I visited him again, the Broken Man. Yeah, his room is weird. You go in there and he’s got all this stuff connected with ‘Thumbtacks and Yarn,’ just like you said.
Even weirder…you see an object of interest, and after staring at it for awhile, a story relating to the object starts to unfold. But here’s another weird part, there’s no audio, just these big word balloons, hanging over people’s heads. Yea just like a comic book. It even showed the creator credits at the end. Couple of artists, couple of letterers. The artist and stuff were real names, award winning people. We both heard of them. But get this, it listed YOU as the writer. Yeah, I know, crazy stuff.
Whatever is going on, it is totally submersive. Everything is well realized. I was especially impressed with the John Roshell guy. His designs, typography and “window dressings,” they really enhance the sense of being there in the stories.
Look! Just before Broken Man shooed me out of the place, I snuck this ‘Wonder Science Western’ magazine off that wall. I tried opening the cover, but it’s odd. Even though I can see the thickness of the 132 pages, when I touch it, it feels flat, like there’s no third dimension.
Anyway, yea the stories. Three of them in all. On the one hand, this writer, whoever he is, makes for scripts that are exciting and challenging to draw. Yet on the other hand, his stories are also very difficult and require lots of work and detail. Lucky Broken Man “assigned” Brent Anderson the job. His talents are up to the task, he does the research and then executes on it. There were some especially beautiful pages for one of the stories, the one Broken Man reluctantly told me at the end. It’s a period piece, set in the early 1900s and the scenery is lush, as is the steam-age technology of the crazy craft that Dame Progress character has on hand.
The fight scene is so well choreographed you’d think they hired one of them theater people to co-ordinate it all. And the coloring was stunning. Night lights, city bright, glaring, wintry and snowing. All the illusions and all the actions…
Huh? Wh-what do mean there is no Brent Anderson? No John Roshell? Next you’ll be telling me the writer doesn’t exist either.
Damn, I wish I could get this cover to open. This Ironhorse guy looks really cool. Here maybe you can…Kurt? Kurt, where are you?
At this point, I think we’d better leave John to his pulp magazine. Let us know if you ever get it open, John!
Meanwhile, from DANIEL:
Crying (got to see Roy Orbison a few months before he died by the way):
Theres: David Lynch, THE ELEPHANT MAN, where he starts pulling the pillows off.
Mark Knopfler, mournful guitar riff on “Telegraph Road.”
Steven Spielberg, Danny Glover busting up the sisters in THE COLOR PURPLE.
Korean movie BLIND, the last look from a seeing-eye dog at his rescued mistress.
Oh and: The Confessor charging the stake-shooting gun armed aliens, giving up his life to save everyone.
Thanks for making me cry, boy am I glad for new ASTRO CITYs.
Glad to have you, Daniel.
This is getting really strange, and really good. I can hardly wait to see how you’re going to tie this arc together. I must express high admiration for all of you continuing ASTRO CITY with the highest level of quality, as you always have, with an an almost seamless feel in story and art.
I’ve got some totally off-the-wall questions/suggestions for you beyond this initial re-birth series.
Can we have one more great, pure Samaritan story? Here’s an idea. A classic Samaritan story, perhaps with a couple of shorter features, maybe some retro touches. It’d be more pages than a regular ASTRO CITY issue, but you’d do it on newsprint. Reduced printing cost. More pages. Same cover price. Just one time: one more great, true comic book for those of us that were weaned on these, and just once for the younger audience who never had the pleasure we took for granted.
How about it? If there is ever going to be one more real, top-level superhero comic the way we knew them, it should be Samaritan and ASTRO CITY.
I mean, we’re of the same generation. Doesn’t it, just once in a while, seem crazy to pay four bucks for a comic book with no supplementary features or even a real letter column anymore. (Please don’t let younger ones know what we used to get for 12, 15, or 25 cents because, even accounting for inflation over the years, it just doesn’t correlate.)
I understand that the comics industry as it is today is what it “needs” to be to survive at all. I’m just suggesting that the company that was built on the first superhero might give us just one more. (Here’s a twisted idea: remember the old “Superman DC” logo? How about a “Samaritan DC” logo just this once?
Please, just try to have DC give us just one more “real” issue of a real comic book.
Anyway, thanks for listening to an old fan’s rant; and thanks, most of all, for bringing back ASTRO CITY.
I hope we’ll be able to give you more than one more great Samaritan story, James, but if what you’re asking for is a pastiche Silver Age Samaritan story emulating the Weisinger SUPERMAN era (and asking for that paper, that logo, that really sounds like what you’re after), that’s just not something I’m interested in doing. I don’t want to imitate other comics and other eras so much as use comics history as a springboard to do new stuff, to go in new directions.
I’ll also mention that, alas, printing comics on newsprint doesn’t actually save any money any more—newsprint has gotten so expensive that to print an issue on it would wind up costing just as much (or more) than the paper we use now. Sorry, but the economics of the game have changed, and we can’t set the clock back, no matter how much fun it would be.
[I will say that I do have a story I’d like to do someday that I think of as the last great Weisinger Superman 3-part novel, a story as big and operatic and screwy as what you’d have gotten back then, that goes right to he heart of who Superman is and why. But it’s a Superman story, not a Samaritan story. It only works in a world with Metropolis and Lois and Luthor and Brainiac and Kandor and a variety of other concepts. Samaritan’s got his own issues, his own themes, his own world. But you never know, maybe I’ll get a chance to do it someday.]
I miss comics letter columns, too, which is why I do this one, and appreciate the ones that others do, in the books I read. But I’ll confess, I didn’t start reading comics ’til 1974, so they were already 25 cents—and only 17 pages of story. Inflation, shminflation, I’ve gotten used to having more than 17 pages in a comic.
But for all that, I’m glad you’re enjoying what we’re dishing up, and hope that even if we can’t do a throwback issue, we’ll still manage to please.
I can barely believe it…
…but you have actually done it, Mr Busiek; you have been shipping on time and it is oh so good!
While some comic books might go for “experimental” issues every once in awhile, like the famous Byrne FANTASTIC FOUR “widescreen” issue or the recent Morrison BATMAN “Clown at Midnight” to spice things up, somehow you manage to make almost every issue feel fresh by updating concepts like the classic “spooky host” narrative which, just like ASTRO CITY, might seems to be straightforward at first glance but show their true depth as the story unfolds.
I found myself grinning while reading the current issue, getting all these wonderful flashbacks of sneaking some looks at Uncle Creepy & the Crypt-Keeper while my older cousins read “comics for grownups.” I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that moody art style from the first flashback for a Hanged Man story, it reminded me a lot of Tom Mandrake´s superb SPECTRE run. Kudos to Mr Anderson!
Mr Cakewalk looks really snazzy and captures perfectly a superpowered Gene Kelly and I would like to see more of him…he is definitely my favorite new character from the current ASTRO CITY run.
All in all I couldn’t be happier that your health is holding up and that I am getting my wish granted beginning with issue 7…
When it comes to “experimental” issues, #12 might fit the bill. But yeah, as you note, we’re experimenting most of the time. If it ever seems too normal, I know we’re doing it wrong.
Darn it, Kurt!
When I went to buy ASTRO CITY #5 at my FLCS (Fantasy Books and Games, in Livermore, CA), after the owner (Bob) told me that you had visited the store once, years ago (come back any time!), he asked me how I was liking the story so far. I said it wasn’t “the story”, but rather “the stories”—because each story happened in only one or two issues, and they were pretty self-contained. And then when I read the issue, I saw that you’d made a liar out of me.
After watching the second PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie, I turned to my wife and said, “that wasn’t a movie, that was a commercial for the next movie,” because it felt like nothing actually happened, other than setting up a cliffhanger, and it was unsatisfying. I’m sorry to say that I felt the same about this issue.
Ranking high on the list of things I love about ASTRO CITY is the way that the issues generally stand as excellent stories on their own, so a first-time reader can enjoy the story. Meanwhile, however, the story is peppered with subtle things that are fun to long-time readers (or will become relevant in the future), without being crucial to the story. This issue felt like somebody unscrewed the lid on the pepper shaker! You even acknowledged in the letter page that your clue-dropping was more obvious than usual, but this felt as subtle as a kick in the shins.
I admit that it’s an interesting, different take on your usual approach, and that somewhere down the road, it will all fit together (probably with dozens of Aha! moments over the next few years), and then I’ll say it was brilliant. But for now, I’m feeling pretty miffed.
I need to apologize, though. Comparing this to PIRATES 2 is pretty insulting, as this issue had most of the other hallmarks of a great Astro City story. I loved the designs of most of the new characters, expecially Lord Saampa (though Serpentor may come asking for his suit back), Mister Cakewalk, and the period-piece Steampunk Dame progress. I added a few words to my vocabulary (kraits and garbage midden), and I loved the Dame’s dialogue (“Blast you, Sir!”, “My fine dandy–“). And lest I forget, I was quite surprised—the cover had me thinking that Mister Cakewalk would be the one protecting the city from the menace of the sinister Dame Progress, and I was pleased to see my expectations turned on their head.
I’ve gushed before about the attention to fine details (this is the last time I’ll mention the actual text in newspaper clippings—until you start burying hints in there), and that continued. The Broken Man’s purple eyes really caught mine, and I loved the vase that was off to the side when Cal found his team in the sewer (that hint paid off quickly). And hey, was that the Hanged Man’s hood in Seamus Finneran’s office? (He did fight a tentacled monster in CONFESSION…). And since “I collect spores, molds, and fungus,” not a single, funny line of dialogue has told me so much about how truly quirky somebody is, until the instant classic, “there are so many things I think about, from music to politics to hemlines, and they way they interrelate…” Part of me can’t wait to learn why hemlines are so important, but I almost think that’s better as something never explained, like the infamous “noodle incident.”
So it had most of the ingredients for greatness—but from now on, please try to be a little more judicious in the use of the pepper.
We’ll see how it goes, Steven. I actually think of #5 as a complete single-issue story, one that’s accessible to newcomers—but the story structure isn’t about the plot chunks in the sub-stories, it’s about the Broken Man and how he reacts to them. But we’ll see how it goes from here.
That’s not the Hanged Man’s hood in Seamus’s office, it’s a painting of a scarecrow. Or at least, what the artist thought was a scarecrow, so it might be the Hanged Man after all.
And clues in the newspapers? All the time, my friend. All the time.
And to wrap it up, here’s STEVEN, once more:
Happy Halloween! As threatened, I carved an Astro City-themed pumpkin this year. Thanks to Brent for the great art for me to copy (Dark Age, Book 4 #3), and likely to Alex and Kurt for input on the character design.
Ha! Looks terrific, Steven. We’re flattered and honored.
And with that, we’ll see you next time! Let us know what you thought of #7, all!