Hey, if I get this lettercol done tonight, it’s still October! Happy Halloween and all that stuff, and let’s go!
First off, the text from the print lettercol…
It strikes me that I’ve been remiss in not saying much about our guest artists. Last month, we were graced by the work of Joe Infurnari, who draws the compelling THE BUNKER at Oni, but whose work I’ve loved since I first saw ULTRA LAD (and the deliriously insane TIME F*CKER), and I was thrilled to design a story especially for his versatile art skills. This month, we’ve got Australian cartoonist Gary Chaloner, known for series such as RED KELSO and THE JACKAROO, and superstar American inker Wade von Grawbadger (currently working on a stunning run of STAR WARS with penciler Stuart Immonen). I’ve worked with both Gary and Wade before, and it’s great to bring them together for this look into the life of Honor Guard’s Australian member.
[Special thanks to Gary for backstopping me on Aussie dialogue, so I didn’t have to suffer the humiliation of having someone say something was “fair dinkum” when it clearly and obviously wasn’t.]
I’ll try to do better by our guests in the future, since it’s a treat to see their varied approaches and they’re crucial to getting you this book monthly. But speaking of monthly, let’s now segue to the Letter of the Month, why don’t we? This month, it’s from:
So…it’s been twenty years since ASTRO CITY started, making it roughly eighteen since I started reading it. I was thirteen, we were on a family vacation in Arizona, we made a stop at one of the local comic shops (if I remember right, it was called Red Alert Comics) in Tucson, and the clerk said I should try out Life in the Big City, one of the best comics he’d read in years. I read it, I was awe-struck, and when I got home I started digging to find news on new trades. Once I’d gotten the Family Album trade, I started getting the book in single issues and haven’t really turned away since.
It’s only a year and a half ago, though, that I started realizing why ASTRO CITY is something that’s stuck with me so much. As much as I love things like the mystery of the Hanged Man, or the sturm und drang of the Enelsian War at the end of Confession, or seeing Samaritan or any of a number of dozens of different characters saving the day, it’s the human moments that stay with me. It’s Rex of the First Family arm-wrestling a 19th-century robot (I’m still waiting for an Ironhorse story, by the way). It’s the Crossbreed, who don’t just want to save people’s lives, but their souls, too (I’m waiting for their story, too). It’s the way it’s a world where common goodness rules, whether it’s adventure in a game of hopscotch, courage in chasing down a killer even when nobody believes you, or heroism in choosing fatherhood over crime-fighting. This last one hit me really hard; my dad had died when I was 11, and he was the person who introduced me to comics at a very early age. I like to think that he and I would have read ASTRO CITY together, passed issues back and forth, talked about our favorite parts.
So thanks for twenty years of great comics, and I’m looking forward to twenty more.
Thanks very much, Matt. We appreciate hearing it. And we’ll have to get to some of those stories! Meanwhile, send us your mailing address, and we’ll send off a signed copy of this very issue.
Here’s a note from a different MATT:
I remember long ago when ASTRO CITY was announced. I was so young and because it didn’t have Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man I though nothing of it…but when the revival was announced, I figured what the hell…why not?
I have made the right decision! This book is pure Silver Age mixed with modern characters and storytelling. I’ve been with you since issue 1 and will not be going anywhere anytime soon!
We’re very glad to hear it, sir!
On to RICK:
First of all, congratulations. Twenty years? It has been that long and “In Dreams 2015” is like a homecoming.
I have to admit that more often than not, I find myself placing ASTRO CITY at the bottom of my reading pile for the week. When I get to it, I smile, which is important because that means I love the story and go, “You got me again, Kurt.”
It then climbs up my personal cool-o-meter as one of the best reads of the week if not the best.
It’s another wonderful yarn is what is ASTRO CITY #26. I thought that it was wonderful to revisit that first issue and show how as much as things have changed for both Samaritan and Astro City, it is still the same—in terms of warmth, good old no frills storytelling, and wonderful characters. The book has evolved into being homages to heroes from other companies to characters who rightfully stand on their own. And many many characters from the ASTRO CITY pantheon make cameo appearances in this 20th anniversary issue, some only in a panel yet are meaningful. I love the Honor Guard and the First Family who all played supporting roles in this issue.
I keep telling myself I wish you’d do more titles about this amazing story you’ve spun but in the end it is just fine. Samaritan is my favorite character and yet I don’t mind us not seeing him all the time. That way it makes each and every appearance special and memorable.
While everyone gushes over the superhero films that show the wonder of discovery and having powers, right here in Astro City for the past 20 years, we’ve been treated to that wonder month after month (or close to it).
Having said that, are there any plans for adapting ASTRO CITY to another medium, say television or even the big screen?
I think the world at large deserves to discover the wonder that is ASTRO CITY. Twenty years later, I don’t think I ever left this title’s city limits.
Thanks for the very kind words, Rick. All I can say at present about ASTRO CITY in other media is that there’s always interest. We’ve had deals come and go, because the nature of Hollywood is such that most projects that get started fall apart somewhere along the way, and we’ve done that a few times. But there’s always more interest, and we find ourselves talking and/or negotiating with some pretty amazing people. Nothing to announce at the moment, but that’s the thing about announcements—there’s nothing to announce until suddenly there is. So who knows? Time will have to tell, because I won’t…
Happy 20th Anniversary! I would like to say I was there from the start but I was overseas when the book launched 20 years ago and didn’t start reading the series until the second volume.
ASTRO CITY has always acknowledged the entire crew that put the book together on the cover so that shows you have always been a forerunner in comics. The cover by Alex Ross really captured the story in one beautifully drawn image. It is now my second favorite cover of the current series right behind issue #5.
I was glad it was a single-issue story and followed up on the dream in the first issue of ASTRO CITY. It was nice nod back to the past. I wasn’t sure what you had planed for the anniversary issue. In my dreams (a nod to the issue) I thought maybe a origin story (The Gentleman) or a name change on the logo to ROMEYN FALLS and tell the founder’s story, the first HONOR GUARD adventure or maybe a tale through time with THE OLD SOLDIER. A true test to a great comic is that I still look forward every month to where you will take the series. Congratulations Again to the entire crew on 20 years. The book has been a inspiration to read and now I’m going to go live my dreams.
Hey, all of those sound like good ideas. We’ll have to get to most, if not all of them!
A query from PERRY:
Quick question: I see that the next AC collection, Lovers Quarrel, skips over issues 17 and 22. Will they be in the following one, or should I resort to picking up the back issues? BTW, I’ve just read the first two chapters of AUTUMNLANDS, and am definitely intrigued. I’m not particularly drawn to the epic trek/quest sub-genre, but trust that you’ll find ways to keep me hooked—even after the references to Cabinet departments and Congressional committees have lost their humor value. (Do I get a no-prize for recognizing that the “Autumnlands” timeline diverged from our own sometime before 1979, when Education became its own department and HEW became Health and Human Services? ;-)) As always, thanks for all the enjoyment you and your collaborators are providing me.
No no-prize, sorry. Departments and names come and go, and mythology doesn’t obey strict rules. And…humor value? Or something more?
Anyway, as to issues 17 and 22, they’ll get collected along with 25, 27-28 and 31 in a guest-artist collection of their own, called ASTRO CITY: HONOR GUARD. But you should collect all the back issues anyway, just because!
And here’s a letter from JAMES:
Hi, Kurt and the ASTRO CITY team. Just read issue 26. It seems like the 20 years of the title have passed in a blink of an eye. I remember seeing that first Alex Ross cover bagged and on the wall of a local comic shop. A very eye catchiug image. I had missed the title when it first came out, but soon caught up via the trades. I can honestly say this is the title that has never disappointed me. Unlike so many other superhero ‘universes,’ it has never felt the need to reboot or ‘re-imagine.’ Why? Firstly, it got it right the first time. Secondly, it is a whole universe in just one title, No need for overblown crossover ‘events’. Very handy if you are on a budget, like me! ;-).
It is more than that though. It can come at the genre in a new way. By focusing on individual character stories (both super-powered and non-powered ‘civilians,’ if you like), it has a real depth and scope to its storytelling that other titles just cannot have, focusing as they do on either a main character or a fixed set of characters to drive the narrative. It allows you to celebrate the concept of the ‘superhero,’ to pay homage to the classic style of storytelling, but also to view it from a modern perspective, which makes for much more interesting and rewarding reading.
It is also great you have been able to keep your ‘band’ together. I have always liked Brent’s art style and it is such a great fit with this book. Richard and the Comicraft people, whose text is always clear, well laid and out never feels intrusive on the art and helps make the book such a great read. The redoubtable Mr. Ross of course, Such great covers, and the fact you mention he is redesigning his character designs to keep the look fresh doesn’t surprise me at all! It just shows how much he cares about this book, too.
That is, I think, the final reason it is such a good book. It clearly is a labour of love from the team, and therefore the reader can’t help but be caught up in this book and care about the characters and their stories. So, here’s to the first 20 years, and in hoping there are many more stories to come.
We’ll do our best to keep ’em coming, James. And thanks.
So who’s up next? How about ZACK:
Congratulations on 20 years—and hopefully far more to come—of wonderful comic storytelling. I’ve been visiting the city since November or December 1996 with “New Kid in Town,” and have enjoyed the journey.
“In Dreams 2015” is a nice follow up to the original “In Dreams.” It blends the past of that story with Samaritan and the ongoing themes in the present of ASTRO CITY. I’ve liked how Samaritan has been drawn since the start of this current volume. Previously there was the stoic face hiding in the shadows, but currently there is more life and emotion in how he is portrayed, which matches up well with how his life has changed in some ways.
Continuing the 20 year theme, I’ve always liked that this book moves in real time. The characters that we got to know in the first two volumes have all grown older and we’ve seen some recently retire. Samaritan is still worrying at this, with the aging Furst brothers getting up into their mid-80s. All the while we’ve gotten glimpses and mentions of some of the new kids on the block. While we didn’t get many stories set in the present during the 2000s, it got to me to thinking about the younger heroes at the time in the volume two era. We haven’t heard from the Irregulars in ages. Brian Kinney is now 33 and has been under the mask for almost 14 years. Roscoe James has to be close to that age and is older than Zachary Johnson when he stepped away from being Jack-in-the-Box! It hasn’t seemed that long since I was reading about their initial adventures…
And I have to add a special shout out to Jesús Merino for his work on issue 25. He did a fine job on the Starfighter story, but he knocked it out of the park with this one. Very strong detailed images throughout. The opening underwater panels and the Greymalkin page were standouts. I’m definitely up for more of his work on the book.
And you’ll be getting it, Zack. As I write this, Jesús is working on issue 31, and we hope to keep him coming back as long as he cares to visit.
As for time passing, it sure does! The elder Fursts are actually in their 90s now, since their adventures began in 1950, sometime after Augustus got his doctorate. Thank heaven for vitamins, huh?
On to MATTHEW:
Great follow-up to the very first ASTRO CITY story!
I was a little surprised to see Augustus and Julius Furst alive and on the job. I’m not sure where, but I had somehow gotten the idea they had passed on off-screen. As the Samaritan says, they must be very old. In a way, it’s a counterpoint to the Crackerjack/Quarrel and Starfighter stories you’ve done recently. Some people can’t retire, not fully.
I guess that includes Samaritan himself. Speaking of, there’s something about Samaritan I’ve been wondering. His name is a play off the Biblical story, but the Samaritans were, or rather are, an actual religious/ethnic group, not just a punchline in a parable. According to a quick google, there are still people today in the real world who consider themselves Samaritans.
I like to think that in the world of ASTRO CITY, Samaritan eventually went to those people and got their permission to keep calling himself that. I know you’ll say it’s open to whatever you might think is a good story, but I’ll just make that my headcanon until then.
I realize when you named Samaritan back in the mid-90’s “a quick Google” wasn’t a thing. Do you think you would have still named him that if you had known there were actual Samaritans still around, even if only a tiny number of them?
Sure. For all that there are Samaritans out there, the term has become a colloquial one as well, so it not only refers to them, but anyone who makes the time to help others when help is needed. So I don’t think there’s an “ownership” to the name, any more than, say, “Caucasian” refers only to people from the Caucasus region. Now, how Crackerjack got away with his name without trouble from Frito-Lay, that might be a whole different story…
In any case, let’s move on to GARY:
At first I thought ASTRO CITY #26 was incredibly dark but it’s really quite hopeful. Samaritan is now able to call on so many heroes, inspired by his heroism, to help him. The only downside is that comparisons with the your very first issue are inevitable, which is tough, as that is one of the great ASTRO CITY stories.
Here are a few things I noticed:
• When the Samaritan is in his induced dream state he is wearing pants.
• Augustus Furst’s coffee gives off energy crackle.
• Sam aging his Asa disguise is a lovely touch.
• Tony Moore’s advertisement for Cincy Comicon is really nifty.
I understand the deadline pressures prevented holo-foil and variant covers but I do hope you celebrate your 100th issue in the style it deserves when it comes around. I’ve already thought of a couple of ideas.
A #97 1/2 issue as a back-up story & advertisement in all the Vertigo books.
Instead of a Holo-foil variants how about some variants celebrating the publication history of ASTRO CITY. The regular Vertigo cover, an Image variant by Ben Dewey, an Homage variant and a 1:25 Jim Lee Wildstorm variant.
Hm. Hopefully, we’ll have a little more time to plan things, although it depends on whether we can get on top of the deadlines for a while. Personally, I’d be happy just doing an anniversary story, as we did for issue 26, and letting that, not the bells & whistles, be the celebration. But we’ll think about some of that, at least!
This is a thank you letter. I have been around for every issue and hope to be around until the last one. In my prior life, before a wife and two kids made my schedule Asa Martin-like, I ran the Astro City Rave to proclaim my fandom. Unfortunately, that has gone to the wayside.
Now, I get my treasured comics once a month via the mail, instead of the corner store. And the first comic I read every month is ASTRO CITY. I carefully hide it from my 5 and 3 yr old. It is one of the few items that belong to only me (for a little longer anyways). I hope to teach them why ASTRO CITY is so special. How Samaritan can mirror many of us, as we juggle the responsibilities make schedules so busy as we grow and change. How to face our daunting schedules with determination and patience. So thanks for Issue #26 (the Vertigo volume).
Also, thank you and the rest of the team for twenty years of ASTRO CITY. Twenty years of describing the power of human emotions via words and images through the eyes of heroes, villains and those in grey whether they be “gifted” or not. And maybe further, that emotions are truly for everyone and everything, human or otherwise.
Here is to 20 more years of ASTRO CITY!
Another 20 years is a lovely idea, Danny, but I’m not sure we’ll see it. I’ll be about to turn 75 by then, and Brent will be 80. Even Alex will be a young punk of 65. Not exactly the Furst brothers, but no spring chickens, either. We’ll have to see what comes.
But thanks for sticking around, all this time, and I hope we earn your support for the rest of our time, however long it may be!
On to a missive from LYLE:
Late to the party, but so glad I came.
In 1995, when I was a junior in college, I was just getting back into comics, specifically Spider-Man comics (my favorite as a kid). Even though it was in the middle of the much-maligned Clone Saga, I fell in love with the comics again. Later that year a new title popped up called UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN. I grew to really enjoy that title and the writing style of it in particular.
It was the summer of 1996 when I was picking up my latest batch of Spider-Man comics that I was asked a few casual questions by the owner of the comic book store:
“Do you like UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN?”
“Yes I do.”
“What do you like about it?”
“I really like the writing in that title.”
“Yeah. That’s Kurt Busiek. If you get a chance, check out ASTRO CITY.”
As I walked out the door I filed the name of that title away, but it was soon forgotten. I would casually look amongst the new comics periodically and see if something would trigger my memory, but I just couldn’t remember the name.
Then it happened. In October of 1996 I was back home for the weekend and went to the local comic book store to see if there was anything interesting going on, and there it was…in the new comics section…a sign. An actual sign that read, “Buy this comic! If you don’t like it…we will buy it back.” I look next to it and see KURT BUSIEK’S ASTRO CITY #1. A multitude of thoughts rushed through my head in the next few seconds.
“Kurt Busiek…that’s the guy who writes UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN.”
“ASTRO CITY…isn’t that the title that was recommended to me?”
“#1???? If it was referred to me months ago…how could this be #1???”
Needless to say, between those thoughts and the money-back guarantee, I had to buy that comic. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. That issue gripped me all the way through. Every time I read that comic I still get goosebumps, a goofy grin, and almost some tears as I read that last page. From the moment I read it the first time I said right with Ben Pullam, “I think we’ll stay.” That issue of ASTRO CITY, to this day, is still my favorite single comic of all time.
So I got to the party a little late, but have been attending faithfully ever since. I was pretty sad when the party stopped for a while about 15 years ago but rejoiced when the party was back with LOCAL HEROES. The party was a little irregular the next few years with all the one-shots, minis, maxis and such but it was still definitely worth going to. Since a few years ago, the party has become regular once again, and life is good. I just finished reading issue #26, also with a goofy grin as I wondered where the time has gone.
Thank you, Kurt. You throw a good party. Astro City is the perfect location for it. Happy 20th Anniversary.
And thank you, Lyle. We’re glad when anyone gets here—whenever you arrive, you’re right on time!
And we’ll wrap this up tonight with a remonstration from JOE:
I am upset with all of you. I have a long standing (40+ years or so) of not liking,
being disappointed by, and specifically avoiding talking gorilla stories. I heard the
stories of the sixties editorial minds equating monkeys/gorillas on the cover with
success. I never liked (and still don’t) King Kong, Gorilla Grodd, Solivar or even
Grape Ape. But you guys have ruined my almost perfect record of disliking gorilla
stories. James Robinson’s Congorilla in JUSTICE LEAGUE being the sort of exception
(him being a man in a gorilla’s body I liked very much).
I liked this story, these characters, including our gorilla Stekk/Sticks. I have been a reader, follower & enjoyer(??) of ASTRO CITY from the first issue (more Hanged Man please). You haven’t hit a sour note with me yet. Being a gorilla gets in the way of musical success. Stekk following his dream, not a coward, but not wanting to be a fighter
as a career choice. Being a hero is not for everyone. Personality like a normal
person…wonderful. Funny as a person, not a gorilla. Willing to help when he can. But not glorying in the fight or the attention. Your characters have this wonderful feel to them & I get attached to them. Want to talk about life, sports, comics, whatever, with them. Keep up the good work (but no more gorillas, please).
No promises, Joe! I like gorillas. Brent likes to draw gorillas. Alex paints one heck of a gorilla. I even was part of an imprint called Gorilla Comics once! (“Ook ook. Say it with us.”)
Besides, could we really send Sticks off into his new career and then never see him again?
As Joe ponders that, I’ll sign off. See you all next time, I hope!