Through the Mail Slot


Ahh, five hours of fitful sleep interspersed with bouts of uncontrollable, painful coughing. Just what a fellow needs to meet the day. Well, as long as my brain’s foggy and concentration ain’t happening, let me guzzle herbal tea, slurp delicious homemade soup, go through several tissue boxes and answer the blog mail.
From MARK:

Do you have any memories of Uncle Elvis at the Dream Factory or in letter hacking in general?
I don’t think I ever met “Uncle” Elvis Orten, Mark. I’ve heard he worked at the Dream Factory, which for years was my local comics shop and a favorite hangout, run by the gregarious and enthusiastic Mike Raub. The Dream Factory was also where Ann was working when we got engaged—we’d known each other in college, and she’d gone to work for Mike when she was back home in Connecticut, and I’d drive up to the Dream Factory on Friday nights to get the week’s comics and meet up with Ann, and after closing up she’d drive back to her parents’ house, switch over to my car and we’d go out to dinner or to the movies or something.
In fact, I almost proposed to her in the Factory—I had a big bouquet of flowers in my car, and was planning to wait until closing time and propose in the store, when we were alone. But Mike, who knew I was planning to propose but didn’t know the details, wouldn’t take the hint and leave. He decided he’d close up that night, to give us more time with one another, and not all the “No, no, don’t bother, it’s fine”s would get through.
So we weren’t alone, Ann drove back to her parents’ house and switched to my car—which had a very large and fragrant bouquet of flowers in it, hard to miss—and said, “What are those for?” So I wound up proposing in her parent’s driveway.
Ah well. It worked.
But Uncle Elvis’s time at the Dream Factory must have been post-1990, after Ann and I moved out to the Pacific Northwest. I have no anecdotes, aside from reading his letters. Sorry.

Longtime comic book fan from Germany. We’ve crossed paths at Comicboards a few years ago when JLA/Avengers came out (has it really been that long?). I’ve been one of the guys defending you over that dreaded Superman/Thor matter, and we ended up making fun of the complainers together. (I also bombed you with dozens of detail questions about the comic.) Still have all my various copies of JLA/A (US singles, US singles signed by Tom Smith, German singles, German variant cover singles, US hardcover).
I can’t believe you’re still getting angry comments about the Superman/Thor fight. I said it then and I say it again: I don’t care about superheroes fighting each other. I want to see them work together. The occasional conflict is okay as long as it comes from the story and isn’t just there for its own sake. “Who will win the fight?” got old when I was 17 or so. Was the first kind of topic to annoy me when I started posting on internet boards. So while I still liked the pairings in JLA/A #2 (Wonder Woman/Hercules, anyone?), I was even more happy to see less confrontative interactions in issues 3 and 4.
Anyways, I mostly dropped out of “mainstream” comic books around the time JLA/A came out. Too many retcons, reanimations, character regressions and multi-mega-giga-crossovers for my tastes. Only reading creator-owned and crossover-free stuff like Rising Stars, Supreme Power (yes, I know, it’s followed by Ultimate Power. I’ll ignore that one.) and Astro City these days.
Yes, Astro City. If I ever get around to do my own comic, Astro City will be one of the main inspirations (though I plan to keep the character focus a little more consistent). You’ve probably already heard all the praises I could think of, so I’ll give you a very minor bit of criticism instead: The ever-changing character focus makes it difficult for me to actually attach to any of the characters. Yes, it’s all very nice, but I still sorta miss the feeling of getting to know a character for a significant part of his or her life, like on ongoing character-specific titles. It’s all just glimpses here and there.
But, as I said, it’s a minor complaint. I’ve read Astro City through two German publishers (both of whom eventually discontinued the series), and I’ve resorted to English trade paperbacks now. Dark Age 1 was great, looking forward to part 2 and Shining Stars.
Thanks, Torsten.
When it comes to ongoing-character stuff in Astro City, my feeling is that, if I did a lot of that, I wouldn’t be able to do the other stuff we do—look how the focus on Charles and Royal left us not getting to see into the lives of most anyone else, during that run—and there are a lot more sources out there for ongoing character drama than there are for shifting-spotlight stuff.
But you will be seeing some recurring background characters—plus the return of some established characters you probably never expected to see again—as the series takes a (slightly) different focus in coming issues. Won’t be the same as following a single core cast in every issue, but then, if it was, it wouldn’t be the same as other stuff you like.
From ADAM:

I am a huge fan of your work: Marvels, Astro City, and Superman: Secret Identity is one of my favorite story arcs of all time.
Due to my work schedule, responsibilities as a parent, and geographic location it is nearly impossible for me to make it to any major comic book conventions.
I would absolutely love to get your autograph on my copy of Astro City #1
Is there any way that I could mail it to you and you could sign it and send it back to me? I would be willing to pay ALL shipping costs.
Alas, I hate saying no to this sort of thing, but here’s the problem:
We lose things.
I used to sign comics by mail, back before we didn’t have any kids and the house wasn’t a wreck, and if we’re ever organized again (something I suspect won’t happen until at least a decade from now, when the girls are both in college), I might go back to it, but in the meantime, mail comes in and a certain percentage of it gets lost in the drifting piles of paper that seem to fill the house unbidden.
Almost all my business correspondence happens online, and things like checks, contracts and Amazon packages get dealt with instantly when they come through the door, but envelopes with a single comic or two get lost in the drift, and may never be seen again. Sometimes I never see them at all.
[We had a recent episode—I have to/get to join the WGA as part of working on the Astro City film, and we talked with the Guild and e-mailed them things that indicated I’m qualified to join, and they sent off an application package. And a couple of weeks later we had a round of “Did that application package from the WGA ever show up?” “Oh, sure, it came in a few days ago. It’s…somewhere.” And it took three days to find it.]
Not the best way to go through life, but we haven’t found a working alternative yet, or at least not one we seem to be able to manage.
So after someone sent me a comic to sign, and I didn’t see it for over a year—and the guy who sent it was very patient and never complained, but still—I decided it was perhaps for the best if I stopped doing that for a while.
Thus, my apologies. I don’t mind losing stuff I paid for (or at least, I bear the responsibility for it, and if it’s important I can be dragged away from work to help search), I hate losing stuff that someone else paid for, and really doesn’t want lost. If comics could be sent for signature via e-mail, it’d be different.
But if we ever get organized around here…
From DAVE:

Hey Kurt, I’m a big fan of your work in general, and I have a quick question. I am really interested in getting the Astro City books in hardcover, I want to upgrade from my trade paperbacks, but to get the earlier books now is a fairly expensive endeavor and as a teacher I’ve got to watch my shekels. My question is, do you know if there are any plans to do nice new hardcovers, similar to what is being done with Y, Powers, Preacher, Fables, etc?
Thanks a lot buddy, and for all the years of great writing!
And thanks for the kind words, sir! No current plans to do new hardcover collections, though I’d certainly love to have them. And they’ve been discussed, at least. Maybe once (a) we’re back on a dependable ongoing schedule, or (b) the movie’s imminent, or (c) both.
But it’ll be DC who make that decision, and they’ll do it based on costs and terms like “sales velocity” and such. I’ve never understood fully how the process works, not since Superman: Secret Identity was changed from a hardcover to a trade paperback and moved on the schedule because another book had “fallen through.”
From DAN:

I recently bought the entire run of the 1980s fanzine Comics Feature via eBay. What struck me immediately as I recently began reading the set from the first issue was that you were apparently an early (and extensive) contributor. Seeing your name really excited me. I have been a fan of Astro City since the original limited series, which I picked up (like so many other people I assume) because I was so blown away by Marvels.
I’m not sure how long it’s been since you’ve had occasion to revisit your early work in Comics Feature. But in case it’s been a while, I thought you might enjoy that:
1. In issue 9, you wrote a ‘year in review’ of X-Men in which you characterized the Dark Phoenix Saga as an example of “bad writing,” and a “silly mess” with an “embarrassing ending.” (I actually agree with that assessment, and never fully understood the reverence with which many held that storyline at the time. But given your professional reputation today as an online ‘peacemaker’ among pros and fans, I thought that these youthful ‘harsh words’ were notable and sort of funny.)
2. In issue 8, you wrote of Bill Sienkiewicz’ run on Moon Knight that, “As an Adams rip-off, Sienkiewicz isn’t even a particularly good one… Moon Knight should never stand a chance in the market.” (I never read Moon Knight myself. So I don’t have an opinion that. But I thought it was sort of funny for the same reasons.)
In conclusion let me be the millionth person to congratulate you on the Astro City movie deal. I really hope that comes to fruition.
Best of luck and best regards from a long (long) time fan.
Thanks, Dan. I still have copies of those issues of Comics Feature (and its sister magazine, LoC) somewhere in the basement, but I’m sure it would take weeks to unearth them. They were edited and packaged by Richard Howell and Carol Kalish, and I was assistant editor on them for a summer, some of the last work all of us did on the fan side of the industry before Carol got a staff job at Marvel and Richard and I broke in as freelancers a couple of months later, selling a story to DC.
As I recall, I also predicted the certain and imminent failure of this just-debuted New Teen Titans thingie from Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, which shows just how good I was at prognostication. But back then, as a reviewer, my job was to make an analysis and support it, not be a peacemaker. So that’s what I did. I did positive reviews, too—of Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula and Jo Duffy and Kerry Gammill’s Power Man and Iron Fist, to name two—but as with most things, it’s the negative remarks that live on.
It was a treat to work on those magazines, and to get to do things like transcribe a long and genial interview with Don Heck, get a look at Joe Kubert’s samples for a proposed revival of Terry and the Pirates or have the inside track on the announcement that there was going to be a JLA/Avengers crossover, and George Pérez would draw it. And for the record, I think that Sienkiewicz guy got a whole lot better when he started experimenting and finding his own voice.

I’ll also note, as long as I’m here, that I’ve updated the “Find” section of the site with several upcoming conventions I’ll be appearing at, in Columbus OH, Portland OR and Memphis TN.
I’ll also note that that bit at the end where it says to sign up for the newsletter to be informed of future appearances is, well, optimistic. I’ve got a long list of names and e-mail addresses to send the newsletter to…once there is one. But we haven’t gotten that far in the process, yet.

Well, that was fast…


As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to have to have sinus surgery, to deal with the return of the polyps that contributed so much to my health woes in the past.
What I’m amazed at is how quickly things are happening. In more than one way.
Back when I had this kind of surgery the last time, a little less than a decade ago, I had it done at the Oregon Health Sciences University, a teaching hospital and one of the best medical centers in the region. And everything took forever.
They were so jammed up that it was usually a month, six weeks, sometimes even three months before an appointment was available, and when we’d go in, it took a long time to get up the hill to where OHSU is located, a pain to find parking in the crowded garage, and then we’d check in at the ENT clinic and wait an hour or two beyond our appointment time to see the doctor. I can’t complain at all about the quality of care, but everything was just interminable, at every stage.
This time, things have gone a bit differently.
Last Thursday, I saw my G.P., to discuss the CAT scans of my sinuses that had been done earlier that day. He said they my whole left side was pretty well swollen shut, but there didn’t seem to be any infection to account for it, so I’d better see an ENT specialist. Where was I treated last, OHSU? That sounded good. I started to protest that maybe we should see someone else, it always took forever to get anything done at OHSU…
He picked up the phone and called down to them, explaining that this was an old patient of Dr. Hwang’s (no longer with the university; he’s at Stanford these days), and I needed an ENT consult, and when could they fit me in? Tuesday.
Tuesday? That’s fast. Since Monday was President’s Day, it’s even a little faster than it seems.
Tuesday we go in to OHSU’s relatively-new Center for Health and Healing (pictured above), which is down at the bottom of the hill, right off the highway. Very easy to get to. It’s linked to the main campus by a ski-lift like tram that runs up to the top of the hill on cables, and I’d like to see the view from that thing sometime, but haven’t needed to yet. There’s a brand-new underground parking garage, and we easily found plenty of parking space on the second level.
In to the Center, and instead of being told that we had to trek to the Administration Building to be issued a new “burgundy card,” a standard part of the old procedure, we checked in for the appointment and within ten minutes were seeing the doctor. He scoped my sinuses, confirmed they were full of polyps, recognized that I’d had previous surgery and that Dr. Hwang must have performed it, and discussed my options with me, confirming that I’d need surgery.
Probably two to three weeks from now, someone in Scheduling would call to set it up. Okay.
The next day, Lea in Scheduling called. The doctor had a cancellation. How did next Tuesday sound?
Well, okay, that’s great! But Tuesday’s now less than a week away, and I’ll need to be on pre-op meds for a week before the surgery, is that enough time? She’ll check.
She checks and calls back. It’s fine. Just start the meds tonight.
So I’m having surgery a week after seeing the ENT surgeon, and only twelve days after being referred to him. That’s the speed of light, compared to our previous experiences.
And today, I had to go on to the Center again, to do some pre-op stuff—a new CAT scan to use in the computer-guided surgery process, and a few other things. They tell me to get there at 2:05 for a 2:15 CAT scan, then I’ll go to the Pre-Op clinic for a 3:00 appointment with a nurse practitioner there for the other stuff. I’ve got a little work to do, so I figured I’d bring my laptop and do some writing while I’m sitting around in waiting areas. Just in case, I have a book and my Kindle, too. Can’t be too prepared.
We get a slightly late start, but traffic was light, we get there right at 2:05. By 2:10 we’re sitting down in the Imaging Center waiting area, and I crack open the laptop. Half a sentence later, I’m being ushered in for my CAT scan, and five minutes later, I’m done.
It’s not yet 2:30, and my next appointment’s at 3:00. So should we sit where Ann’s already settled, and head up to he Pre-Op clinic around 3? What the heck, we’ll go up and check in now.
We go up, we check in, we sit down. I start typing. Three words later they’re calling my name.
We’re whisked into an exam room, where my blood pressure, temperature and pulse are taken all at once, and they ask a lot of questions about what medicines and vitamins and such I’m on, to make sure there won’t be any anaesthesia problems. They need to do an EKG, though, so if I hang on, someone will be in shortly.
Great, no problem, back to typing.
Two words later, here’s a nurse practitioner to do the EKG and answer questions about what I can/can’t eat and whether Ann’ll have time to ferry the family down on Tuesday, drop me off, ferry the girls to school and then come back and find me. No problems.
We’re done and out by 2:55, five minutes before we were supposed to check in for our final appointment of the day.
I could get used to this!
Reality reasserts itself on the way home, as we run into traffic and construction, and what took 30 minutes one way taken almost 90 going back. I pop open the laptop a couple of times to add in a phrase or two before I forget it, but I can’t really write in a moving car. Still haven’t opened the book. Or the Kindle, and I have the new Joe Hill novel, Horns, waiting for me on it, too.
So that was the day. I finished the thing I was working on back at home, and it’s printed out for Ann to proofread, but I’m still a little dazed by how fast everything’s happening.
Or maybe it’s the Predisone.