Astro City Mail – Late August 2015

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September 18th is late August, right?

So, lots of stuff from travel to a funeral to kidney stones and more conspired to make us (me!) very very late this time, but if I don’t get this done now I’ll slam into the next lettercolumn, and make ’em both late! So.

Let’s start with the online lettercolumn, which was all about last month’s big anniversary…

Twenty years. It doesn’t feel like it, not from this side of the keyboard, but our first issue came out in August 1995, a full score of years ago. Mind you, it may feel like it to Brent—he was drawing that issue when his son was born, and Bryce is now in college. To me, sometimes it feels like just a year or two since I was showing around my pitch, a batch of Alex’s character sketches and the first five pages of lettered pencils. And sometimes it feels like forever.

But it has indeed been twenty years, and I should thank a few people.

ALEX ROSS was the first to join me on this journey, agreeing to do character designs and covers, and I never expected him to stay this long. But he’s still here, making us all look better—heck, he’s now redesigning outfits he helped design in the first place, because they got dated!—still pushing me to think things through better, to build the universe and find new ideas in it.

I know BRENT ANDERSON wasn’t expecting to be around this long—when he signed on, he said he’d stay ten years, and we laughed because that seemed like so long. Joke’s on you, pal. I’ve always said Brent can draw anything, and boy, do I keep making him prove it. WILL BLYBERG inked a batch of issues, and we’ve had help from a few others here and there, notably GARY MARTIN, ROBBIE GEISS and BEN OLIVER.

RICHARD STARKINGS and JOHN ROSHELL were on board even before Brent, lettering every issue, designing new logos at the drop of a hat and repeatedly saving our asses, with the help of JIMMY BETANCOURT, ALBERT DESCHESNE and a few others.

ALEX SINCLAIR wasn’t our first colorist—that’s STEVE BUCCELLATO, who did a beautiful job on our first six issues—but he’s hung around, too, performing miracles of mood and hue and the occasional art adjustment. And WENDY BROOME’s joined us with great stuff in recent years, when Alex’s schedule has demanded it.

Our editors: ANN HUNTINGTON BUSIEK, JONATHAN PETERSON, JOHN LAYMAN, BEN ABERNATHY, SCOTT PETERSON, the redoubtable KRISTY QUINN and newcomer MOLLY MAHAN. Sorry, Molly. We do mean well.

We’ve had the pleasure of guest art by GRAHAM NOLAN, TOM GRUMMETT, JESÚS MERINO (and more to come!), the talented who’s-who that did pin-ups for the Visitor’s Guide, ART NICHOLS and a smattering of other fine folks.

Special thanks to the Image gang for taking us on in the first place, JIM LEE for offering us a new home, SCOTT DUNBIER for regular encouragement and support and the whole crew at Wildstorm, DC and Vertigo for keeping us out there. Thanks as well to SHIRLEY JOHNSTON and T.J. ROSS for aiding and abetting. And doubtless, to others I’ll remember as soon as this book goes off to press.

And naturally, to YOU the reader. You’re the reason we get to keep doing what we do, and the people we do it for.

Thank you, everyone. It’s been a rare pleasure to journey with you on this long road, full of comics, kids, gray hairs, illnesses, arguments, the occasional ultimatum or two, a ton of stories and a whole lot of fun. And we’re still going. Plenty of road ahead.

No extra-sized multi-cover holo-foil fifth-ink anniversary issue, I’m afraid, but we’re always fighting deadlines. We figured a regular-sized story about where we’ve been and where we’re going would do, hearkening back to that first dream of flight. Hope you like it, whether you’ve been here since 1995 or just joined us this week.

And here’s the Letter of the Month, showing up online this time, because of all them thankins taking up the print space. It’s from:

WILL BERKOVITZ:

I’ve only ever written one other letter to a comic book letter column before, and that letter was printed in ASTRO CITY #9. I mainly focused on the revelations in the previous issue about the Confessor.

What made me write my second letter was my complete delight after I read #24 with its story about Sticks, aka Tuxedo Gorilla. I’ve read comics for a long time, and after reading that issue, I was even compelled to go on Facebook and say, “ASTRO CITY #24 is the reason I read comics.” The story was compelling and confusing in parts while being completely engrossing and weaving itself together like the finest tapestry hanging anywhere in the world.

It appealed to my personally too.  I’ve experienced some personal issues and the dilemma facing Sticks after the break-up of the band feels lot like the dilemma I’m currently dealing with. When Samaritan arrived to give Sticks some friendly advice, they were words that rung so deeply through my own experience that it was almost felt like a physical blow. Isn’t that all great fiction is supposed to do?

The advice Samaritan gives Sticks is similar advice that my friend Bill has been giving me. When I told Bill about this issue, he said, “That’s what I’ve been telling you all along!”

My response?  “It’s different when it comes from a Superman analogue and a talking gorilla!”

He can be rather shrill too.  🙂

The guy at the comic store asked me about ASTRO CITY because he hadn’t read it since THE DARK AGE. I told him it’s been just as good as ever. There have been issues that haven’t affected me as much as #24 did, although I love #1/2, but as I told the guy, even an ordinary issue of ASTRO CITY is better than any comic out there.

I love spending time in Astro City, and in terms of fictional places, I don’t think I’d rather spend my time anywhere else.

We’re glad to have you, Will. Send us your mailing address, and we’ll send you off a signed copy of the issue. Because we’re nice like that!

On to the rest of the mailbag (er, folder). Here’s CRAIG:

I’ve been reading comic books (not “graphic novels”—who cares what someone thinks if you say you read “comic books”) for about 25 years now (I’m 36), but this is the first time I’ve written to a lettercolumn.

Comic books were the first love of my life but SKA was the second love of my life (quickly followed by punk rock). I don’t know how much you know about ska, but in the late 50’s people like Prince Buster and Coxsone Dodd in Jamaica caught American R&B and Rock N’ Roll on their radios broadcasted from the Southern US, mixed it with the popular music of the time, Mento and Calypso, and created SKA. Imagine my surprise when you depicted “Sticks” hearing music for the first time the same way Jamaicans in the late 50’s did, and SKA being one of the things he heard! Whether or not it was intentional for you to depict it that way, thank you for it.

Also, what was your introduction to comic books? When I was about 11 or 12, an issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA came bagged with a video game magazine I had a subscription to. It had “Capwolf” (Captain America + werewolf) on the cover and I instantly loved it.

I should be smart and claim that we did it on purpose, but I had no real knowledge about the history of ska. I just wanted to show Sticks listening to something cool. So I’m very glad the parallel works!

My introduction to comics books? I don’t remember, offhand. My parents didn’t allow American comic books in the house for a long time (they were exactly the right age to be hit by all the fuss over Fredric Wertham’s SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT and the Congressional hearings about comics and juvenile delinquency back in the 1950s, so they thought American comic books would rot their children’ minds). But they did have newspaper strip collections like BEETLE BAILEY, DENNIS THE MENACE and POGO (and oh boy did I love POGO), and European comics albums such as ASTERIX and TINTIN, which they got in various languages to encourage us kids to get interested in languages. It worked on my sister Amy, who became a language major in college and a language specialist in the Army, but me, I just dug the comics.

So there was that, there were comics over at friends’ houses and at barber shops and such, so somewhere in all that I got to know and like comics. And I’d occasionally buy a comic book myself at the Colonial Pharmacy in Lexington, where I grew up, read it on the walk home and then dump it. The comic that changed my ways was DAREDEVIL #120, when I was 14. I liked that—and all the continuity references—to the point that I kept it and sought out more. But that was long, long after I was reading POGO and ASTERIX and TINTIN…

Here’s ANTONIO, with numbered questions. I love numbered questions!

I have only 3 questions.

1. Why didn’t we get a June letters page?

2. Will we ever get an issue where that gold monkey villian is the main character?

3. Will we ever see Point Man again?

1. You did. It was just a little late. But not as late as this one.

2. The Brass Monkey? Anything’s possible.

3. Probably, at some point. But he’s kind of a dick.

Who’s next? Ah, here’s GARY:

The ending of “Apeman Blues” left me feeling strange. Sticks’s solution of forming a rock band of super-powered musicians felt corny, sentimental and a little too easy. At first I thought this is silly but this is just one part of the larger ASTRO CITY story and the type of story we don’t get much of anymore.

Complaints aside, there was so much to enjoy in this done-in-two story.

Page one opens with the First Family, then we discover the Fursts protected Gorilla Mountain but also introduced guns and the military obsession that forces Sticks to leave. Finally Sticks ends up on a team lead by Astra, tying the story thematically together. The struggle of being born into the fight but also the individual’s desire to choose one’s own life—in this way Sticks and Astra are similar.

What really stood out was the art. Alex Ross’s covers were top, I could feel the raw power of a gorilla drumming on issue 24.

Brent Anderson killed it. I love the energy crackle and the sound effects. The expressiveness Brent can bring out from an ape is masterful. Dug the humorous big eyes, Sticks drinking a beer, the silliness of Tuxedo Gorilla. I really sensed Stick’s sadness on top of the Astro City tower. (I don’t think of this as a King Kong nod—it felt to organic to be easter eggy).

You and Brent are fearless in throwing ideas onto the page. In three pages you introduce the Freakeasy, a fight and G.A.L.A.K.T.I.K. What ASTRO CITY does in a page, other books take an issue.

P.S. Sometimes my single issues have had glossy thick covers and sometimes the covers have been made of the same paper as the interiors, is there any reason for this?

P.P.S. I do not like the name Powerchord. Just keep it to Sticks.

P.P.P.S How is Becca going to defend herself?

Brent had a blast drawing Sticks. He’d been itching to do a gorilla story at least as long as I had. And I figured it made sense for Sticks to team up with people who had the same goals he did, but who could defend themselves if attacks. Still, different things work for different people.

The cover stock is a DC thing. We’re a longer comic than most at DC (they run mostly 20 pages of story, I think, and we run 24), so we’re of necessity a more expensive book. That extra buck has occasionally meant extra publisher promo features in the back, sometimes it’s meant better cover paper (which Alex likes a lot) and at this point I think the economics of it all mean you get those extra four pages and the lettercolumn. It varies, but as long as we wind up with a good package, we’re happy.

Sticks is still Sticks’s name. Powerchord is the name of the band.

Becca’s a robot. Aside from whatever onboard weaponry she wants to have built-in, she’s super-strong, super-precise and made of steel. She should do okay in a fight.

Here’s NORB:

Although it was my favorite ASTRO CITY story in millennia, please register my great outrage with issue #24. How dare you suggest Sticks’ band be playing any Ramones song other than “Apeman Hop,” off the ANIMAL BOY album? Also, “Powerchord” is a lame name. You should have put a silver guy in the band and called them “Weird Herald.”

And where’s the cover gloss?? If you licked the cover of issue #23, it made your tongue feel all slippery and naughty! If you lick #24, it just tastes plain! Like a monkey! Who’s not wearing pants! Who draws your covers anyway, Carl Barks? Also, there was no one in the band who looked like Giant-Man. Register additional disgruntlement. Wait, the cover of #25 has someone on it that looks like the Wasp. You may be off the hook for now. I’ll let you know after I get the cover licked.

Sticks isn’t prejudiced. He likes songs about humans, too.

A note from ROBERT:

First off, longtime reader, first time writer, yada yada. Secondly, I’d like to specifically request not to be chosen as the Letter of the Month, as I consider myself more of a “reader” than a “collector” (though my place is overflowing with comics, both floppies and trades), and someone else would undoubtedly be even more joyous than I upon receiving a signed issue. Thirdly, thanx for the handful of my questions you’ve answered regarding ASTRO CITY on your Formspring account. Since this time I have a few, and you’ve been stumping for letters anyway, I decided to go the email route.

Now that that’s out of the way, I wanted to drop you a line concerning some lingering questions I had about AC #24. I often spend a bit of time cataloging the appearances of characters and teams from AC over at comicbookdb.com. This issue left me with some lingering queries.

1. What are the names of the other two powered male members of Powerchord? For the moment I’ve decided to call them Electric Eli and Psychedelic Steve.

2. Is Shako an official member of the group? I know Carnie and Dave aren’t, but he didn’t seem to mind the possibility of supervillain attacks. On the last page he’s standing with the band, but not holding an instrument, and Becca seems to have taken his role as keyboardist. Is he their manager? An associate? Roadie? What, man, what?!?!

3. Completely unrelated to this issue, but are we ever going to find out the identity of the Unknown Green Guy who helped carry off Supersonic after the battle with Lady Lethal? You guys have been so great about identifying every character during the whole run of the series, and this dude’s driving me crazy!

That about wraps it up for me. I just want to reiterate how thankful I am to you, Brent, the Alexes and the whole team, how much I love ASTRO CITY and how much I look forward to each and every new issue. (THE AUTUMNLANDS is quite good as well, and the possibility of more ARROWSMITH makes me giddy.) Here’s to another twenty (or more!) great years of ASTRO CITY.

I don’t know if I’ll still be doing ASTRO CITY at age 75, Robert, but I guess you never know!

As for your questions:

1. We haven’t revealed their names yet. Maybe another time. But Steve’s a good name for the bass player, considering he’s loosely (ha!) based on comics titan Steve Leialoha.

2. I’m tempted to say Shako’s the costume mistress, but maybe not everyone reading this has seen THAT THING YOU DO. If not, you should all fix that—and get the Extended Edition, it’s even better.

But as of the end of #24, Shako’s just helping out. He’s not a band member, and he’s not really qualified to be their manager. But he might find a role of some sort—he’d be happy to find a steady gig in the music business, even if it’s not as a musician.

3. We might, we might not. I kinda like the fact that there are super-types who’ve been named but not seen, and those who’ve been seen but not named (there were a few more of those in #26, just to drive you battier). It underlines that this book isn’t only about the super-types.

Here’s DANIEL:

Doing a search for the upcoming issues, it only takes me to graphic novels or older series issues. Even in the current series, if you look for issue 22 its like its not there. Is there a way to subscribe via Amazon so I dont have to worry about missing one or being unable to find it?

I had no idea what this was about, but I passed along Daniel’s note to DC, and it turned out there was some sort of glitch with digital copies of ASTRO CITY being available for the Kindle via Amazon. The folks at DC were glad to hear about it, because it meant they could fix it.

By then, I’d also pointed Daniel at Comixology, and he liked that option too.

On to GRANT:

I picked up a bunch of ASTRO CITY back issues in for an overseas flight. Though there are many issues missing (including the ending to the lovely story of the old woman who fixes hurt robots), I think it was one of the most engaging experiences I’ve had reading comics in a long time.

I feel there’s a movement away from more practical superhero adventures, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I think it’s making this underestimated little medium we all love broader and more open to new readers who wouldn’t have picked up a comic otherwise, just it’s not what I’m into. I’ve quickly fallen for your series, there’s so much humanity in the ever expanding cast. Every issue is just packed with story. I have a hard time believing it only was twenty or so pages. I can’t help but suspect some level of wizardry is involved. I’m making it my mission to collect the issues missing from my collection, curse you!

My favorite stories so far have been from issues #16 and #22. With the first I loved how the cover is effectively just another page but a proper cover in and of itself. The idea of a hero motivating his arch-nemesis to change their ways is such a wonderful story of people helping other people. The story of Starfighter is a grand one. I recently finished reading the Abnett and Lanning GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and I loved the sprawling space epic that capped off in only one issue. It felt like reading some twenty years of stories all in one afternoon. Also I’m a born sucker for high concept outerspace adventure, so there’s that too.

After reading all of these great tales (the parts I had at least,) I found myself on a day with little to do and read through every letter’s page. It’s so lovely to hear what the fans out there have to say! Especially the ones that have been reading since ASTRO CITY’s first run. I don’t usually send in fan letters, but this book sold me hook, line, and sinker! It’s such a lovely and refreshing read.

Very glad you like it, sir!

And to wrap up, here’s TRISTAN:

I think I have finally collected every single issue of ASTRO CITY (including the Flip Book, Supersonic, A Visitor’s Guide, Pastoral, etc.) but I am uncertain. I have searched in vain endlessly for a complete list of all the issues. Is there any such list to be found?

I think there’s probably a list over at herocopia.com, but I’ll admit to having not checked (and I’m late for a pre-convention get-together over at Casa DeFraction), so I’m not checking right now. But let me see…

KURT BUSIEK’S ASTRO CITY (1995 series) #1-6
KURT BUSIEK’S ASTRO CITY (1996 series) #1-22, plus the #1/2 issue
ASTRO CITY: LOCAL HEROES #1-5
ASTRO CITY SPECIAL #1 (with Supersonic)
ASTRO CITY: A VISITOR’S GUIDE
ASTRO CITY Flip Book
ASTRO CITY: THE DARK AGE Book One #1-4
ASTRO CITY SPECIAL: SAMARITAN
ASTRO CITY: THE DARK AGE Book Two #1-4
ASTRO CITY: BEAUTIE
ASTRO CITY: THE DARK AGE Book Three #1-4
ASTRO CITY: ASTRA #1-2
ASTRO CITY: THE DARK AGE Book Four #1-4
ASTRO CITY: THE SILVER AGENT #1-2
ASTRO CITY (current series) #1-26 (so far)

Plus, there are two other stories:

ASTRO CITY: “After the Fire” — this is a short comics story that appeared in DC’s 9/11 fundraising book, and was later collected in the LOCAL HEROES collection. I don’t think it’s been made available digitally; we should do something about that.

ASTRO CITY: “Alien Conqueror Captured in Suburbs” — this is a very short prose story, a newspaper article, that ran in various Wildstorm books on the publisher promo page years back. It’s also in LOCAL HEROES, it’s also never been made available digitally, but then, it’s only 6 paragraphs long and takes up about half a page.

And that’s the list, at least until next week, when #27 comes out. See you then!

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