Astro City Mail – February 2015

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Hey! Look at that fancy new 2015 postmark! Shiny!

The nice men delivering and installing the new Busiek family dishwasher have come and gone, so let’s check out the print lettercol for ASTRO CITY 20:

As I write this lettercolumn, I’m peering out of one eye while the other is red, itchy and gummy thanks to losing a fight with one of those vicious pollen street gangs that’s all in the news today. Pseudoephedrine lies in my immediate future. But for the moment, here I am, so who needs binocular vision? Let’s get this page on the road!

And to begin, here’s this month’s Letter of the Month:

Gerrad McConnell

I remember almost 20 years ago picking up ASTRO CITY 1. Superheroes were an escape from my life. I had a pretty good childhood, but superheroes always seemed to offer an escape to a world where even the meek or afraid could be great. In the mid 90’s I was hip deep in my love for comics, where style eclipsed substance on many of the books I read, Then I came across ASTRO CITY upon a friend’s recommendation.  Seeing Samaritan looking for the same escape that I was looking for really hit home. It began to change how I looked at comic books and what they could mean. Suddenly, the substance seemed infinitely more important than the style.

One should not read that as a slight against this book’s style though, Brent and Alex have always brought a quality to this book that perfectly befit the story, bringing an emotional resonance to the art that created real characters, however unreal the environment was. As I’ve grown older and grown up with the title, the three of you have continued to challenge my perceptions on what a super hero comic should be. From your beautiful ASTRO CITY 1/2 story, to the sprawling epic of the Silver Agent, to the most recent relaunch with Vertigo.

This issue, though, has really struck a nerve. In just a few pages, you have managed to infuse more humanity into Crackerjack than most titles can do to a character in years. Watching these heroes that I have ostensibly grown up with, start to age, reminds me of how much time has passed. I too find myself looking to the future, wondering what lies there. Again and again, you show how much the human in the word superhuman matters. Thank you, Kurt, for this title, for the past 20 years, and for hopefully 20 more.  I, along with our heroes, eagerly wonder what lies ahead.

You’re more than welcome, Gerrad. It’s been a blast.

Over the years, we’ve gotten used to the characters, too, to the point that it comes as a surprise when I start writing a story like this and realize that we’ve never actually put it into a story where the character lives, where they came from, how they put food on the table, and so on. And it’s even more of a surprise—a very welcome surprise—when characters like Quarrel and Crackerjack finally get some page time to be themselves, rather than being part of a short incident or a crowd scene…and the dialogue just spills out, relaxed and human and cranky and playful.

I’ve had Quarrel and Crackerjack in my head for so long that it’s a real pleasure to finally get to explore them, and show why they are who they are. I’m glad it’s working for you, and hope you’ll like where it’s going.

And for writing the Letter of the Month, Gerrad, you get a signed copy of this very issue. Just e-mail us your address and we’ll send it winging its way to you.

Now let’s see, what else we got…?
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Astro City Mail – January 2015

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Whoops! What’s the Astro City post office doing stamping this with a 2014 postmark? They must not have the new stamp in yet! What kinda Mickey Mouse operation are you running, guys?

Anyway. Let’s see what’s in the print lettercol for ASTRO CITY 19:

Here we are, chasing another deadline to bring you quality funnybook entertainment. We can only hope you’re enjoying it half as much as we are.

And for your aprés-comic text needs, here’s your Letter of the Month:

Zack Williams

I used to be of the mind set that whatever could get more ASTRO CITY into our hands, even if it meant other artists taking a swing at Astro City stories, I was for it. This was when ASTRO CITY was going through delays and after the first hiatus in the early 2000s and its return in 2003.

But then over those next few years, the more I came to realize how much Brent Anderson’s art was part of what drew me into the series, with his facial expressions and detail. I became more of the mindset that, no matter how long or painful the wait, ASTRO CITY by its core creators was worth the wait.

So, of course when you announced there would be guest artists I got my wish about ten years later with a little bit of trepidation. But I’ve come to trust you, Kurt, regarding this series. I thought you lost it when the next issue box told of a story about a cartoon lion in a world of superheroes. Then you delivered one of your very best Astro tales with “In the Spotlight.”

I’ve had a few artists that I’d like to see do Astro City stories, if you ever did go down that route, and one of them was always Tom Grummett.

And I have to say he did an excellent job.  I’ve always liked his nice clean style, and he didn’t disappoint. It would have been nice for him to do the full pencils throughout but for the most part the work stayed very strong. He’s not Brent, but there is something in the styles that make them seem very complimentary in continuing to expand this world. (Graham Nolan is a great artist too and I enjoyed his work, but his work is  more a cartoon style.)

I hope you can get Mr. Grummett’s services again down the line for a fill-in issue if need be. And naturally I’m curious to see the other potential fill-in artists.

Congrats too. 2014 is the year with the most ASTRO CITY stories/issues published in it. I think 2013 tied with either 1996 or 1997, but this year you guys got over the hump by far. Keep up the good work as always.

We’ll do our best, Zack.

I hadn’t realized that 2014’s been the Astro-est year in our history. That’s pretty cool. We had one skip month, so we had 11 issues out this year. We’re pulling for 12 in 2015! What better (if perhaps a bit embarrassing) way to celebrate our 20th anniversary year than full monthly publication for the first time in the series history? My god, it’s full of stars!

I agree, it would have been nice to have Tom do full pencils for the issue, but alas, things just didn’t work out that way. But I’ve always liked working with Tom, and even his layouts told the story solidly and well. As to the future, we’d love to have Graham or Tom back, but we’re also looking in other directions as well. I’m writing the next guest-artist issue now, and it’s going to look great, believe you me.

And you know the Letter of the Month drill, Zack: E-mail us your address, get back a signed copy of this issue. And as ever, more of all this can be found at the online lettercol.

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Astro City Mail – December 2014

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So, we’ll start off with the print lettercol:

When last I lettercoled, we were trying to get ASTRO CITY 17 out. As I write this, it’s the Monday before it should have come out, but didn’t. I think it’ll be only a week late, but I don’t know for sure. [Online Note: Yep. It was.] So I’m on tenterhooks all over again. But you’re not, because it’s old news for you by now.

Anyway. Sorry about that. We’ll try real hard not to make a habit of it.

Meanwhile, we have for you a fine, fresh, crispy Letter of the Month:

From MICHAEL A. BURSTEIN:

Regarding “Wish I May…” let me first start by saying that I did not see at all where it was going at the end. Major kudos for introducing the characters of this story and giving us a trans villain-turned hero. I honestly can’t think of any other trans characters from superhero comics, and I’m wondering if this is the first one.

I did have two other thoughts about the issue I’d like to share.

My first thought is that one of the audiences for this story who would really appreciate it—that is, of course, the trans community—might not know to look for this story unless it’s spoiled for them. If I know a trans friend who would get a lot of seeing someone like themselves as a superhero, I’d have to tell them that they should read this comic but I can’t tell them why. That might work with a fellow comic book reader and superhero fan, but it might not work with someone who doesn’t read in the form or the genre.

My second thought is that although this isn’t Chet Markham’s story, I really want to know more about him and his own motivations. The fact that Simon/Sarah/Starbright learns that Chet wasn’t a jerk is an excellent twist in the story, but I do wish we knew more about how this straight white boy, the “star quarterback” and “scion of the richest family in town,” as Simon puts it, came to embrace wanting to reach Simon Says. I suspect there’s a possibility of an interesting backstory there.

Then again, perhaps we don’t need another story about a white male superhero. 🙂

Thanks, Michael.

There’ve been trans characters in superhero comics before, from the Defenders’ Cloud to the Legion’s Shvaughn Erin to Batgirl’s roommate Alysia Yeoh. But glad you liked Simon, whatever her name turns out to be.

Originally, Simon was simply going to become a (male) hero, but as I developed the story, I realized it was a story about transformations, and people who aren’t what the world expects them to be. I broached the idea that Simon was trans to Alex, who thought it fit the rest of the story perfectly. So did the others. So I reworked the story—and I’ve got to thank Elle Collins, who gave me useful advice on presenting a trans woman with honesty and respect. Anything I got right is due to her assistance, mistakes are my own.

And sure, it may be hard to explain to readers (trans or cis) who might like the issue why they should give it a try without spoilers, but at that point, what’s a spoiler going to hurt? Revealing a surprise that otherwise, that reader wouldn’t even experience? I think you can go ahead and spoil, if you really want to recommend the issue to someone.

As for Chet, well, we can always see him again, and learn more about him. You never know, with this book.

Letter of the Month rules: E-mail us your address, Michael, and we’ll send you off a signed copy of this issue. Plus: More letters (and answers) await everyone at the online lettercol.

…and that’s our cue to begin the online additions!

Let’s start with a letter from ANTONIO:

Usually I would ask you an overly long question about various aspects of Astro City, but this time I just wanted to know 2 things.

1. During the 80s to 90 when you were probably planning out AC, who was the first hero you, Alex, and possibly Brent came up with?

2. Are you ever going to have a cameo in the comic, like that group of three guys I heard were supposed to be allusions to you and Alex and Brent that were found in a sewer grate by Confessor?

Thanks for spending a few minutes to read this.

Thanks for writing it! To answer:

1. I think there’ve been heroes in ASTRO CITY who I created back in high school or earlier, but the first one consciously created for ASTRO CITY was Samaritan. I’d come up with the basic story earlier, as an idea for a 24-Hour Comic by pal Scott McCloud was bugging me to do, but I’d never named the hero. When I started thinking about doing ASTRO CITY, I knew that was going to be the first story, and unless I’m remembering it wrong, Samaritan was the first hero named and designed. Followed swiftly by Winged Victory, Jack In The Box, and the First Family. The Confessor was among the first characters conceived (he’s an idea, at least, that goes back to junior high) but his name took a long time to figure out.

2. Uh, that was a cameo. So, yes, we already did it. The kid on the cover of ASTRO CITY: LOCAL HEROES 1 is also a cameo by me, albeit a much younger me.

Here’s BYRON:

Thank you so much for ASTRO CITY 16.

This is the first I’ve ever written anyone about a comic book. For years, ASTRO CITY has been my favourite comic to hit the stands. I’m actually struggling with the words to say thank you. I work with LGBT youth here in Chicago. It’s hard to refer to them to material that addresses transgender. Especially kids. Youth that age is so impressionable. I don’t think I’ve ever become emotional over a book before. It just really hits home for me personally, I am queer so first off it is nice to actually see us represented in books and it also means a lot to younger kids as well so I can be like “Yes, there are some great books. Here, read this” and it’s just wonderful and uplifting and powerful. Thank you again.

Our sincere pleasure, sir.

Next up is NATHAN:

So Astro City is branching out to other corners of Earth. Pretty nifty. I can’t say I was stunned by ASTRO CITY #14-15, because I was expecting something this good. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. ASTRO CITY is shaping up nicely as a series. It currently ranks in my estimation with X-MEN, IRON MAN, DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU, DAREDEVIL and CAPTAIN MARVEL as one of comics’ top titles.

Nifty things this issue: The cover was gorgeous! It was good to see Mechizmo upside down. It heightened the idea of him and Ball-Bearian as robots. They’re two of the most robotic robots I’ve seen, without their being clunky. The first shots of the museum were great. I’ve never seen such an impressive set of backyard furniture. Fred, the cocky nephew, was also great.

NO-NOs this issue: Tom Orzechowski didn’t letter it. The Microverse looks small…the buildings, the ships, they look like toys, and there’s no reason they should. Oh, sorry. Talking about another comic there for a second.

But the nifties outnumber the non-nos by far, so you can sure be proud of yourselves.

Confused? I’m going on memory, but I believe Nathan’s taken an old fan letter of mind, when I was a mere sprat, and rewritten it to be about ASTRO CITY…at least until it got away from him.

In a PS, he adds:

A little tribute and nod to the olden days for you, all in good fun. I actually read ASTRO CITY 16 today and loved it so much. This whole series is just nifty without any no-nos! Thanks so much for putting it out. Cheers!

Now I want a nice oversized hardcover of MICRONAUTS 1-12. See what you’ve done, Nathan?

Let’s hear from MARC:

I just read the ASTRO CITY story involving Simon Says and almost started weeping. I’m a straight, married father of two girls but the story was so powerful and moving that I wanted to commend your skill and your courage.

Thanks, Marc. It didn’t take much courage, since everyone involved was wholly supportive, but I appreciate the thanks. You’re welcome, from one straight, married father of two girls to another.

On to DINA:

There was some stuff in this latest issue I found questionable and basically conservative (I was really confused at some of the implications you were using in the Winged Victory story, for instance): still, I don’t think I ever hugged a comic after I was finished reading it before.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a comic of mine hugged before either, Dina (or at least hadn’t heard about it), so I think we’re even on that score. Glad you liked it despite whatever faults it may have had.

With some thoughts on an earlier issue, here’s STEVEN:

I finally had a chance to re-read “Waltz of the Hours” (#13) on a flight last week—once as printed, and once in chronological order. Afterwards, I picked up my hotel copy of USA TODAY to do the puzzles. The “Don’t Quote Me” (in which you use words from a list to fill in the blanks in a quote) had this gem from Maya Angelou: “Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances.” Very appropriate, wouldn’t you say?

Reading the issue chronologically helped me make some connections and understand a couple of things better, but I thought that reading it as printed (confusion and all) was much more fun!

Re-reading it, I was impressed by the plethora of names and the deep mythology you alluded to for the Dancing Master and the Hanged Man. And I still think “veli-bugs on rotten moonfruit” is hilarious for reasons I can’t understand—that’s an image that may come to mind the next time I make the mistake of going to CostCo on a Friday.

I also love the subtle nods to other things, and feel like I need to start doing a Google search on every unusual word or name you use. I assume that “Ryman sphere” was inspired by a Riemann sphere (who’s the mathematician?”, and I’m sure that N.R. Gistics’s founder, Davison Royce, is a nod to Robert Noyce (co-creator of the first integrated circuit), and I’m sure that Ed Nicholls is an allusion to somebody else, though it’s eluding me right now.

The first time I read through, for some reason I was thrown off by Zvi’s name (Sleep deprivation with a new baby? Not enough Jewish friends?), so when I re-read the issue and saw the name “Heraclio”, I Googled it, and found Heraclio Bernal, a 19th-century bandit from Mexico known as the “Thunderbolt of Sinaloa.” Was this a sneaky nod to your stint on THUNDERBOLTS, or a hint at Tom Grummett’s upcoming issue, or a happy accident?

And I finally figured out what bothered me about the issue. Assuming my letter shows up in your letter column at all, I’ll understand if you choose to leave this part out (or heavily edit it) if it will risk turning into a religious debate or otherwise dominating or derailing the discussion about the comic.

Somewhere in a letter column or interview (that I can’t find), you mentioned that whenever you wrote a comic that dealt with issues like feminism, you would inevitably get criticism about some aspect of the way you handled it. So I wondered what complaints you would get about your portrayal of gay relationships in the story. At the very least, I expected a complaint or two that it was in there at all (and from the online letter column, it looks like I was right), and maybe a complaint that you used Zvi and Dennis’s relationship as a bit of a twist ending (with Laura used as a red herring). So what complaints have you seen?

Regarding Yaakov’s letter in the online letter column (which I think you responded to wonderfully), complaining that you portrayed “them as being in a normal relationship,” my first reaction is that there’s no such thing as a “normal” relationship—every relationship is weird in its own way!

But more seriously, I think he’s missing one of the key points of ASTRO CITY that I (and many others) love so much—that everybody is a “normal” person (as much as there is such a thing as “normal”)—from the bellhops and bystanders to the heroes and villains, despite their extraordinary circumstances, every one is a normal person with hopes, dreams, fears, weaknesses, quirks, problems, challenges, and everything else that is part of being human.

The series has portrayed plenty of other characters doing things that you or I or most other people wouldn’t approve of—from stealing, killing, and attempts at world domination (have there been any issues of ASTRO CITY that didn’t include a “normal” person engaging in objectionable criminal disclosure? Here’s a challenge: make a single interesting story, much less a whole ongoing series, under those constraints), to things that most people would object to, but which I and others would disapprove of for religious reasons, such as drinking alcohol and coffee, smoking, cursing, and Samaritan and Winged Victory’s fornication (per the Bible, I believe that they are also eligible for death by stoning), to more mundane things based on personal preference, such as using guns (have you shown anybody watching reality TV or eating sushi?). Yaakov, do you object to those people being shown as normal?

And guess what? The real world is the same way—it’s filled with billions of people who will do things you don’t agree with and view as sinful. But they’re still normal people. Perhaps it would be wonderful if everybody could agree on the same set of religious and moral beliefs—but there are plenty of villains, both imaginary (Doctor Doom, Karnazon) and real (ISIS) who do horrible things while trying to force their preferences on others, and it only leads to tragedy.

And even in more mundane things, if everybody was the same, the world would be a boring place, and probably difficult. What if everybody in the world only wanted to be a comic book writer? We’d be in trouble without doctors, teachers, engineers, and most other professions. What if the only fruit everybody liked was peaches? Their price would skyrocket! What if all of the men in the world had the exact same taste in women? A few ladies would be fought over, and all the rest would feel very left out.

Yes, Kurt could have told the story with a heterosexual couple, perhaps making them inter-racial, or making one of them an extraterrestrial, without changing the story too much (except perhaps losing the “twist” surprise as I mentioned above). And if it helps you, go ahead and think of them as the issue’s villains, or draw a wig on one of them, or whatever. But I think the world would be better off if everybody could see those around them, even those who do things they don’t approve of, as “normal.”

Yes, there are some horrible actions, such as murder, that we need to stand against, but for the most part, we need to let people make their own choices. Deuteronomy 32:35-36 say that vengeance and judgment belong to the Lord, so leave those jobs to him.

I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a “Mormon”, as some might gather from my comments about coffee and smoking), which, for reasons far too lengthy (and off-topic) to go into here, disapproves of same-gender sexual relationships. A couple of years ago, a dear friend of mine called late at night, obviously drunk, and came out of the closet to me. And then he said he was going to kill himself because I was going to reject him and hate him.

Admittedly, I probably didn’t react as well as I should have. But I told him that over the years, he (and many other people I love) has done many things that I wouldn’t approve of. But I didn’t hate him for drinking (and being an alcoholic), or for smoking, or for the other things he did—and neither did I hate him for being gay. I might not approve of some of the things he does in his life, but I love him just the same. It took a few hours on the phone (and, incidentally, a quote from ASTRO CITY) to convince him that this didn’t change anything, and I still expected him to be just as much a part of my life.

I grew a lot that night and since, and I still struggle with the balance between standing up against things I believe to be wrong and allowing people and society to make their own choices. I think it would be great if everybody in the world decided to give up alcohol, tobacco, and reality TV, but I wouldn’t force them to against their will even if I could. I know many Mormons who choose to indulge in those things, even though they go against the doctrine of the church, but that’s their choice. And when I see people doing things I don’t like, such as the way they choose to discipline their children or what they let them watch on TV, I try not to judge, and let them be “normal.” Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we have to be disagreeable.

Though the people around me don’t have superpowers or have to deal with extraterrestrial invaders, they’re just as “normal” as the people in Astro City—and just as varied in every way and behavior imaginable. I think that the world would be a much better place if everybody—from me and Yaakov, to gang-bangers and ISIS—would do a better job of recognizing and accepting the “normal” in those around them.

I look forward to seeing many more unusual, flawed, “normal” people for years to come. Maybe some day you’ll even come up with something interesting to say about a “normal” Mormon character. Keep up the good work.

Thanks for such a lengthy and heartfelt letter, Steven.

I’m sure there are Mormons in Astro City, and sure, someday we may well meet one (or find out that someone we’ve already met is Mormon). And just to be complete: We’ve certainly shown people watching reality TV, as long as you count the 80s-style reality TV we saw in THE DARK AGE. And while I don’t think we’ve shown anyone actually eating sushi, we have had characters talk about it. The Silver Adept and Raitha certainly like it.

To address your other questions: Not everything in ASTRO CITY is a reference. Ed Nicholls and Davison Royce were named that just so their company could oneday be called N.R.Gistics, with an “NRG” in it. And to provide a reason the N-Forcer’s energy is called what it is. “Ryman sphere” may have been subconsciously inspired by Riemann, but was more properly a reaction to Dyson spheres—I wanted something that sounded like that but which (clearly) had different properties.

And Heraclio’s just a guy named Heraclio. Since I’ve never actually run across references to Heraclio Bernal, he’s probably more likely to have been named due to Heraclio from Gilbert Hernandez’s great “Palomar” stories, or some other use of the name I’d seen.

Carlsbank, though, was named for Carl Barks, creator of Uncle $crooge, Kremer Street for Warren Kremer, co-creator of Richie Rich, and the Plunkett-Winsor Facility for Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett and Winsor McCay, respectively the fantasy writer better known as Lord Dunsany (who influenced a lot of that mythic background you liked) and the cartoonist best known for LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND. [Place names are more often references, in this book, than character names.]

And as far as I can recall, we didn’t get any complaints about the gay characters in #13, other than from Yaakov.

So who’s next? How about JEROEN:

This story is really filled with elements that I love. It touches on so many subjects and does so in such a wonderful way, it is hard to believe this story is only one issue long.

One of the strong points is how you treat the subject of transsexualism here. Even though you flag it rather early in the story, you refrain from making Simon or other characters talk (or think aloud) about it all the time. Instead you have it inform the entire plot without making it too overtly present. It is the unseen foundation of everything that happens to Simon. Well, unseen by Simon at least. He is an outcast among outsiders and for a long time he can’t put his finger on the reason why. Until Starbright sort of spells it out for him. The artwork reflected this very well by not showing us the new Starbright in full body view until the end of the story. We only see closeups of her masked face until the moment when Simon in the flashbacks comes to realize he should have been born a woman. That is a nice symbiosis of words and pictures. I think you treat the subject very well. I am very interested in seeing what the fan and critical response to this story element will be.

Secondly, it is a story that focuses on the villain. I really enjoy those, when done well as is the case here. By letting her narrate the story in a very pleasant and not-maniacal-at-all voice, you manage to give her a lot of depth and make her a very sympathetic person. And she has a very respectful, almost warm, relationship with her enemy. When they are talking one can almost confuse them with two bickering friends. They have a lot of respect and admiration for one another that I really hoped this story would end with Simon Says and Starbright becoming actual friends. But the ending you had in mind is probably even more powerful. The villain chooses to redeem herself by stepping into the footsteps of her former enemy. I think there are few greater victories to be had than that. Starbright has gotten his enemy to live up to the potential he always saw in him. It is a shame he isn’t around to see it though. As a sidenote, I appreciate the fact that Starbright got killed in a totally unrelated case. It makes Simon’s redemption much more acceptable than if he had been the one to kill Starbright.

The aspect that surprised me most was the impact that finding out Starbright’s secret identity had on Simon Says. Seeing that his respected enemy was “one of the jocks” totally changed his outlook on people. He realized that people aren’t always who we think they are and that the assumptions we have of them can be totally wrong. Simon, who probably always felt misunderstood by the people around him, found out he also misunderstood his enemy. He had created an image of Starbright in his head that was proven false. And the wonderful thing is that this realization made Simon respect Starbright even more and paved the way for his road to redemption as Chet’s successor. This is a great twist to the story. I don’t think I have ever seen stories where revealing the superhero’s secret identity had such positive consequences. It’s really fascinating how you use the cliche of secret identity as a vehicle for a storyline about how we (yeah, probably everyone) tend to put labels on other people that are often incorrect. And you show us the wonders we miss out on by not looking past our assumptions of who people are.

And all this philosophy and character development is wrapped in a story that when summarized sounds like a rather silly episode of SUPER FRIENDS. After all, “villain helps his archenemy fight crime in order to convince him to organize a birthday party for his 16th birthday” sounds rather goofy, doesn’t it? But you make it work and turn this issue into a winner.

We’re all very glad you liked it, Jeroen.

And on a lighter note, here’s a question from GARY:

Dear Kurt,

Last week I read the ASTRO CITY story ‘Adventures in Other Worlds.’ On page 16, Astra mentions the television show TOOTH & CLAW.

TOOTH & CLAW is also the name of your new creator-owned book.

Is this the same TOOTH & CLAW?

Good eye, Gary!

Actually, it’s not. The TV show Astra likes was mentioned elsewhere, though, in a story I wrote for an issue of CREEPY. There, TOOTH & CLAW, also known as THIRST & HOWL (sorry, Jim Backus fans), was a show about a vampire and a werewolf who fight crime.

My new TOOTH & CLAW (now called THE AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH & CLAW) is, well, something rather different. And I hope all of you are checking it out!

On to PHILLIP:

Simon Says…

…thank you. Thank you so much. I just finished reading this issue twice over now. There was a throwaway line you made about American Chibi (about ‘some middle-aged guy who got his fantasy’) that made me cringe a little when I read it, but then you go and give us this story about someone driven to a lonely place because they feel like the world will never understand, only to be drawn back by the shame of realizing that someone did.

I look forward to more of her adventures, whatever name she chooses.

And we will indeed be getting back to her, as the Broken Man indicates.

Here’s JIM:

I was just wondering who was responsible for the gag with the holder’s name at the high school football game, you or Brent.

Brent. All Brent.

Or perhaps I should say mostly Brent. He put it in as a gag, expecting it to be taken out, and everyone else insisted we keep it. So keep it we did!

Next in the stack, ANTONIO:

Finally got to read issue 16, and I just want to say thanks. Back in June I was amazed to see my first letter answered, and one of my questions was about Connecticut. You said an issue would take place around the east, near Maine, and you said the story could be in Connecticut. This issue really made me feel enjoyment because it felt like you thought about using Connecticut.

Finally, the name of the mountain where Simon and Starbright met also was an added bonus because It’s the name of the lake in my town. Great issue.

Since I’m both a Stephen King fan and a Pat Conroy fan, it probably would have been set in Maine, or maybe the Carolinas, if you hadn’t suggested Connecticut, Antonio. I figured, “Why not?” All I knew for sure going in was that it was a coastal town, to differentiate it from Smallville, and Connecticut’s got plenty of those.

Glad you liked it.

Onward to JOHN:

I would just like to say first off that I am a huge fan. LIFE IN THE BIG CITY was my first look at Astro City, and I have been a fan ever since. I applaud you for revolutionizing the nature of comics and for making great characters that are somewhat familiar and at the same time their own people.

I have a question: Is it possible to see the origin of Quarrel or at least a day in her life? I have always been a bit fascinated by her and would like to get a look inside her head. Like what she sees in a gloryhound like Crackerjack.

I also would like to know if Steeljack will be making a return. I know that his story has been told and it was a very satisfying conclusion, but I’ve just been wondering if it would be cool to check on the old guy, see how he’s doing.

Also, I enjoyed the conclusion to Winged Victory’s story arc. It was a very heartwarming story and I enjoyed the return of the Confessor.

Keep on writing.

I certainly will. And I hope you’re enjoying the current story, which will pretty much fill all your requests about Quarrel.

We do have plans to check in again on Steeljack, but I’m not sure how soon we’ll get to them. In time, though, you bet.

And to wrap up, here’s ILYA:

Hello Mr. Busiek, I wanted to ask you DC has any plans on Astro City Omnibus, or I’ll never collect whole Astro City story? =)

No current plans for an omnibus (though you never know what’ll get decided in the future), but we are going to be getting all the TPBs back in print (and even a new hardcover of CONFESSION, for those readers who’ve been patiently awaiting one), so it’ll certainly be possible to collect the whole story even without an omnibus edition.

Heck, it’s possible to collect it all now digitally, as well, via Comixology, for those who like that approach.

And that’s it for another online lettercol. Sorry it was a few days late, but we made it half-price to make up for it. Hope to see you next time, when we start answering the question of why Quarrel hangs out with a guy like Crackerjack. Until then…

Astro City Mail – November 2014

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Okay, I’m running late getting this written, so let’s get right into the lettercol as published, which is coincidentally about things running late…

As you can tell by the credits list in the comic, it was something of a scramble getting this issue out, and much credit is due to editors Kristy Quinn and Jessica Chen for marshaling the squad of artists that got it out the door.

I don’t know yet, as I’m writing this, whether we’re going to make it on time, but if we don’t, we won’t be very late, which, frankly, is a miracle. It’s embarrassing to run so late on an issue, and all the more embarrassing that it’s on one of our guest-artist issues, specifically scheduled to keep the series from running late. Aiee.

[NOTE: We were a week late, as it turned out.]

We’ll do our best (such as it is) to avoid this happening again.

Meanwhile, where’s that Letter of the Month? Oh, here it is!

JEFFREY DANIELS

I stopped writing to comics decades ago.  Not because I don’t enjoy them, I just kind of…stopped.

Occasionally, I get a nostalgic twinge (or maybe that’s just early arthritis) to contact one of my “oldies” and say how much I appreciate them and their current or past work.

But I don’t.

Still, early on Sunday morning, as I sat reading ASTRO CITY 15 and eating some cold Mallomars and milk (Sunday morning is my “eat something sugary and bad for me” time), I came across another reason I so enjoy your writing.

Sure, the plots are great, the characters engaging and the mythology exciting to see build, but there it was, innocuously but critically there in the middle of the book: Oksner College.

Having grown up on Superman, I became acquainted with Bob Oksner first as an inker. It wasn’t until later, during my expansive reading period, that I came across his spectacular humor work and more.

I love the fact that you continually find the opportunity (and the desire) to tip the cap to the greats of the industry, well-known and not-so.  Mark Waid also seems to enjoy those chances.

Thank you for that little “game” within your stories.  Oh, and thanks for ASTRO CITY, as well…it’s a terrific book!

Thanks, Jeffrey. Glad you enjoy it.

And to tip a cap to our cap-tipping inspiration: While ASTRO CITY has been mentioning the greats of comics history here and there from the beginning, we were inspired to do it by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’s run on DETECTIVE COMICS back in the 1970s, which named bits of Gotham City after Batman writers and artists of yore (Finger Alley, the Sprang Museum, and so on). I liked the effect of it so much that I just lifted it whole-hog for ASTRO CITY, considering how steeped in comics history and influence the book was going to be.

And Bob Oksner, who drew adventure and humor comics from DOBIE GILLIS to SHAZAM, wrote the comic strip DONDI for years and co-created ANGEL AND THE APE, was name-checked in Ellie’s alma mater both for his skill at drawing attractive young women and for drawing “The Faculty of Fear” in THE ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE. Admittedly, they weren’t college-level, since they taught at dear old Benedict Arnold High, but it seemed like the right choice anyway.

Secrets behind the comics revealed.

For writing the Letter of the Month, Jeffrey, you get a signed-by-me copy of this very issue. E-mail us your address, and we’ll fire it off to you swiftly. Or slowly. One of those two.

And for the rest of you: What else we got?

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Astro City Mail – October 2014

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Over the last few days, I kept reminding myself that I had to write an online letter column Tuesday night, but something kept feeling somehow wrong about it.

Finally, it dawned on me: I didn’t have any copies of the issue yet! DC’s advance copies always arrive about a week before the book comes out, and…wait, what’s this unopened box here in the corner that came in when I was overwhelmed?

Ah. Here it is.

Okay then.

Starting out with the print lettercol…

There’s a story behind this particular story, so if you’ll indulge me a moment.

Back around Thanksgiving 1981, I traveled to New York City to interview Dick Giordano for a college term paper I had to write for a course in Magazine Publishing. At the end of the interview, I told him I wanted to be a comic book writer if I grew up. He very kindly invited me to send him some sample scripts.

So I went back to school, and in early 1982, I wrote four sample scripts for various DC titles, and sent them to Dick. None of them actually sold, but they did lead to my first professional work. But that’s not quite the story here.

One of them, “The 24-Hour Truce of Lex Luthor,” was an 8-page script for the “Superman: The In-Between Years” backup feature that ran then in SUPERMAN, detailing his early college days. Like I said, it didn’t sell—Associate Editor E. Nelson Bridwell told me it was “perfectly publishable,” but that they’d ended that particular backup feature, and so there was no place to put it.

But I always liked the story, and thought about it over the years. And a few years ago, I realized that if I added a framing sequence, modified the characters a lot, and retooled the script somewhat, I’d have the basis for a workable ASTRO CITY story.

And that’s what “Wish I May…” is. That 8-page script got reworked into pp. 3-18 of this issue. Admittedly, there were a major trompload of alterations and reconfigurations along the way, but he heart of the story’s still there. [For those of you who are curious, I’ll put the original script up at my website , in case you really want to compare 1982 versus 2014 Busiek wordsmithing. You can find it right here.]

So that’s how this issue is simultaneously my latest release and one of my first-ever scripts. It feels good to see it finally come to fruition, and I’ve got to thank Brent, Alex, Kristy and everyone else listed over there to the left for helping make it happen. Now, about these other three scripts, gang…

Ahem. [coughs] Is there a Letter of the Month we can fit into the space we’ve got left? Why yes, there is!

From STEFAN:

Just love that the protagonist of the latest ASTRO CITY is a woman and an old woman at that. She looks like my grandmother.

Thanks for another interesting perspective, I look forward to next month’s conclusion!

There you go. Short and sweet.

As it turns out, Dottie Thomas, Alex Ross’s model for Ellie on the cover to #15, is a relative of his…but when he did the painting, we here at Casa Busiek were startled by how much Ellie looked like my late and much-missed mother-in-law, Phyllis Huntington. The resemblance was so strong that we sent Brent photos of Phyllis from her college days for Brent to use as reference for that scene.

So it just may be that Ellie reminds everyone of someone they know. Glad you liked seeing our world through her eyes, Stefan, and I hope you liked how it ended.

And as ever, since you wrote the Letter of the Month, you get a Busiek-signed copy of this very comic. E-mail us with your address, and we’ll package it up and get it out to you just as soon as we remember where we left the comics.
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