Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Let's Read Amazing Spider-Man #12!

CGC ASM #12...so crack open that plastic CGC case on your copy and let's get to it! Ahhh, don't you love that whoosh as you pop open the plastic seal? It's like opening a brand-new can of nuts. Fisherrrrrrr. And as we pull that glossy slick comic out of its shell, take a gander at that glorious Ditko cover! It's another in a series of comics where Peter is doing a dandy job protecting his secret I.D., ain't he? Oh, Peter Peter Peter Peter. It's a wonder Aunt May hasn't been mowed down by mob bullets before now. What's that? Oh. Sorry. Never mind.

What's that? You're reaching for your Essential Spider-Man Volume 1 or your Marvel Masterworks: Spider-Man volumes to read along with the reprints? Well, you're S.O.L., buster (sorrily out of luck)! Because we're not looking at the comic story itself, we're gonna look at some of the ads and text pages! Since those aren't reprinted in the...er, reprints, why don't you follow along as I fold back the pages of my ASM #12 and take you back to the world of 1964. Too late to save Jack Kennedy, too early to save John Lennon—so just enjoy the trip!

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Up to half off! Why, you can't pass up a bargain like that on one of America's finest accordions! Legend has it this ad is what got Art Van Damme started. That legend is, of course, one I just made up. I just like saying the words "Van Damme."

Can't afford an accordion, even with little money down and low monthly payments? Well, I think we all have twenty-four cents in our pockets, so it's fine used dresses for everyone! Me, I'm partial to a lovely used party frock. I'll have to save up for those thirty-nine cent used shoes, though.

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Now that he's such an icon, isn't it fun to see how Pac-Man got his start...repairing electrical appliances.

What's more profitable than selling seeds? Selling Grit! Note: please sell the actual periodical Grit and not the substance grit. Incidentally, didja know Grit is still around? "America's Rural Lifestyle Magazine for Over 125 Years," it brings you bimonthly articles on canning, mulching, self-sufficiency, farming, nature and country life...and "Down Home Ringtones" of pigs squealing, tractor idling, geese, chicken coop, and many more for your cell phone? Me, I'm gettin' the 'cattle moo' ring tone for the BullyPhone!

"Are you facing difficult problems? Poor health? Money or job troubles? Unhappiness? Drink? Love or family troubles?"

Well, stop reading freakin' Spider-Man comic books and go out into the world and do something about it. Notice how the instructions say "clip this coupon now?" Oh, yeah, that'll help your money problems when you try to sell your copy of Amazing Spider-Man #12 and it's missing a chunk out of one of the pages.

Incidentally, the Life Study Fellowship is also still around. I ain't linking to them.

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Sure, you've heard of Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel and Marvel Girl and Professor Marvel...but who in these fast-paced modern technological times remembers the poor man's Charles Atlas, Mike Marvel? I won't say more, since Mark Engblom has a wonderful and funny look at Mike Marvel over at his beautifully-designed and entertaining blog Comic Coverage, and you oughta check that out. I will however mention that Mike Marvel promises to reveal to you his patented Secrets of Being Attractive:

Secret #1: Stand around with your shirt off and your beefy he-man arms crossed.

Here's a full-page lovely house ad for Tales of Suspense #53 and Fantastic Four #26! The landscape oblong layout didn't fit on the comic page? No problem: just flip it on its side! I'm flipping my comic book sideways; feel free to do the same with your computer monitor. (Please make sure you haven't been eating buttered toast first!)

Long before the Internet was even a twinkle in the bespectacled eye of J.C.R. Licklider, comics fanboys and fangirls had to rely on a startlingly-retro and old-fashioned method of blogging about comics: writing letters into the magazine. Most comics had one or two pages of LoCs (letters of comments) and in these early days of Marvel Stan and Co. set the standard for an easy-going, friendly, enthusiastic give-and-take between Marvel and the fans, contributing to the cementing of Marvel as a fan-favorite to overtake the then-perceived slightly-stodgier National Periodicals (DC). Stan's (or whoever was writing for Stan) responses to fan letters were jokey, self-effacing, friendly and chipper, cheerful hucksterism that suggested more involvement and participation in the process by the fans. Let's look at a few of the letters, huh?

Here's a letter that's very telling as to the strong sales of the Marvel books and Spidey in particular: a fan who confesses "I have the same problem so I feel akin to Spider-Man." Such audience empathy and identification with the "everyday problems" of Peter Parker was surely one of the secrets of Spidey's success—even though we weren't fighting guys who could shoot electricity or robotic octopus arms at us, we the readers could still identify with the feeling of feeling alone, being picked on, or bearing a terrible secret. Then again, Jodene expresses the wish that poor Pete can't get a break, and that Spider-Man shouldn't have a girlfriend. Hey Jodene! If you're still readin' Marvel Comics, have we got a book for you!:

Speaking of girlfriends for Webhead, here's a letter that suggests maybe Spidey and the Invisible Girl oughta be smoochin' the night away! Stan poo-poos the idea (even though he was the one who put the idea in our impressionable heads back in Amazing Spider-Man #8) and suggests that maybe a better love match-up would be Sue Storm and J. Jonah Jameson. Hmmm. Hmmm.


Reader Doug Garlinger declares the cover of ASM #8 "good" and that of ASM #9 "crummy." Hmmm, let's take a look:

Reader Doug Garlinger: you have no taste at all.

That said, here's Doug today, and I bet with the wisdom of a few more years, he'd admit now that Electro cover is pretty great. Wouldn't you, Doug? Honestly, I'm not making fun of Doug at all, because during the same period he wrote this letter, he was putting together a pretty freakin' amazing collection of QSL radio cards. Check 'em out!

Here, Stan patiently explains Steve's trademark "half-Spider-mask" artistic shorthand to a puzzled reader...

...and here he gives the real reason behind founding Marvel Comics in the first place: so he can buy a snazzy new luxury car. And we all know what happened to that car.

But by far my favorite fan letter in Amazing Spider-Man #12 is from the late great Dave Cockrum, expressing his love of the characters and the book. This is one of the things I miss most about the letter columns disappearing from comic books: the chance to, years later, discover that the writers and artists of comic books were die-hard fans themselves. Although he's best known for his work on X-Men and Legion of Super-Heroes, in the next decade after writing this letter Dave would be actually drawing the character he praised:

You're missed, Dave.

At the end of that action-packed two-page letters column there's some space devoted to the precursor of Marvel's famous "Bullpen Bulletins," the "Special Announcements Section." This friendly, chipper and gossipy column covers a wide range of subjects from Betty Brant's new hairstyle to the imminent return of Doc Ock. There's some Stan-ish hucksterism to promote upcoming issues of Daredevil (the premiere ish) and Fantastic Four...

...plus a teasing blurb for the next Spider-Man, featuring "the most rootin'-tootin' swingin' wing-dingin'est arch-foe you ever did see!" With Stan's usual hyperbole you'd expect there's no way the introduction of that villain could live up to the hype, right? It's gotta be a minor villain that Stan's over-promoting, and we'll never see this bad guy again; he'll never make a significant impression on the Spider-Man universe after Amazing #13...:

Say what you will about Stan...but when he promised us a classic, he often would knock one right out of the park.


FoldedSoup said...

There's a special place in my heart for those multi-panel Ditko covers.

And Mysterio.

Novice said...

I find it hard to believe that a teenager wrote a letter using "akin".

Steve Flanagan said...

They really were worried about Peter Parker dating women even slightly older than him weren't they? Two mentions in one letter column. Sorry, Peter, no Mrs Robinson for you!

fishheadned said...

Anyone who enjoys the ads 'n' such in the old books should check out the Marvel "comics on DVD" PDF collections. No, reading them on a screen isn't quite the same as holding an actual book in your hands... but the price can't be beat ($30 for 40+ years of comics) and the entire book, including ads and letter pages, is there. Once you get past feeling sorry for the poor intern who spent six months placing comics on a flatbed scanner, they're a lot of fun.

Bill D. said...

I love that even as a kid, Dave Cockrum still had an eye for a snazzy costume.

SallyP said...

Ah, the letter's columns. I used to love those. Heck, I STILL love those. Roy Thomas wrote letters, so did Beau Smith, and many many others who went on to fame and fortune in comics.

And the use of "akin" is perfectly appropriate. See back in the old days...before microwaves and computers and such, we actually learned how to READ!

Sorry, have to go and shake my cane at the kids on my lawn.

Anonymous said...

I would be impressed with Mike Marvel's impressive masculine impressiveness...but somehow I don't think us girls are his target demographic, exactly.

Also: that it was possible, way back then, to spin a tale featuring Spidey seeing a psychiatrist is one of the reasons I totally adore this character.

Anonymous said...

I agree with both sallyp and david, the old letter columns were great, especially when you recognize a now-famous name, and the archived DVD editions are well worth it for those things alone (and a darned fine value, too).

Just the other day I came across a Cockrum letter in Avengers #35. It's pretty cool, and he even admits to being an "amateur herpetologist"! I put it up online, for the curious, at:

Cockrum letter

It's clear from the reply that by this point, his name was pretty familiar to Stan and the others, and I have no doubt this all helped him get a foot in the door when it came time to trying to work for the company later on. It's pretty cool that these sorts of personal-touch possibilities were available.

Also, I take it from the addresses given in the two letters, Cockrum was either a military brat, or a military man himself? Anybody know?

Anonymous said...

So I answered my own question, and just looked it up. Cockrum was both a military kid and a military man. His father was an officer in the USAF, and he joined the Navy hisself after graduating highschool.

Given the dates, it seems that he was writing these letters during his own post-school days (he would have graduated in '61-'62). Went to work for Marvel soon thereafter. Innaresting.

The Doc said...

I just have to say, that was a great read. Looking at the old letter columns especially; my, we've come a long way since then with our "internets" and "anonymous troll comments". *sigh* I miss the letters pages...

test said...

hilarious, especially the hunting down and linking to doug!

Anonymous said...

My favorite discovered fan letter: reading back issues of TOMB OF DRACULA, I found an enthusiastic letter from Frank Darabont, who went on to direct THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King's THE MIST.