Brave and Bold #1: Dear Editor: The Importance of Letters Pages

Face front true believers! My name is Joshua Lowe and I would like to formally invite you to the very first post on my comic book history site Brave and Bold. Hot off the presses of the internet super highway all the way to your screen!

Today, to kick this site off, we are going to start with something a little different. We are not going to talk about art, we are not going to talk about writing, we are going to talk about the letters pages!

Now, you may be wondering, “why are letters pages important?”, “what do they say about how great comic books are?”, “what do they say about history?”, well dear reader! Allow me to show you!

One of my main eras and topics of study has been the Vietnam War and reactions to it in the 1960s, so we shall use that today as a frame work!

letter1
Cpl. Leonard R. St. Clair’s letter from The Amazing Spider-Man #50 (July 1967)

In this heartfelt letter from an American soldier in Vietnam, we get a glimpse into the diversity of Marvel’s readership and also a glimpse into Marvel’s reach. As I have been researching the relationship between comic books and American society, letters like this are highly important. It shows a very human experience of the Vietnam War, and it is just as important as other primary sources that historians have used for centuries to demonstrate the human experience of war, society, and culture. Letters pages like this should be placed alongside diaries, and formally written letters as a viable resource.

letter2
India Company 3/1 3rd Bn., 1st Mar. 1st Marine Div. (REIN) FMF, FPO letter from The Amazing Spider-Man #52 (September, 1967)

Sadly, Corporal St. Clair was not able to latch onto his favourite mags by merely going to a corner newstand. He was killed in action in Da Nang. Having both of these letters presents a valuable resource. The real story of a soldier and the story of a company in the jungles of Vietnam is something that you would not expect to find in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, and particularly in a letters column entitled The Spider’s Web. If these had been a letter home to a family member or something of a more formal sort, they would have been extensively studied, but because they are placed in the back of a Spider-Man book, they may have been missed by more supposed “high-brow” historians. However, here at Brave and Bold we aim to shed light on what has been considered “low-brow” and give it the true, academic light it deserves.

letter3

Peter Tartsch’s letter from Action Comics #338 (June, 1966)

Contrasting with the very human interactions Marvel had with its readers, here is a letter from DC Comics discussing the Vietnam War. By using this as a comparison to the previous letters in this piece we can see how DC’s relation with American society was very different to its competitors over at Marvel. DC represented the old guard, and saw itself as having a certain superiority. Marvel was young and hip and much of Marvel’s success can be put down to how they spoke to their readership.

So, in conclusion dear readers when you are reading through your comic collections, please spare a moment for the letters pages. They can shed a great light on the readership of the day, and how the editors presented themselves.

Until next time!

Joshua Lowe.

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2 thoughts on “Brave and Bold #1: Dear Editor: The Importance of Letters Pages

  1. You may have, I hope, resurrected a comatose giant. It is infuriating that reprint volumes generally remove the letter columns. Especially when they were just as responsible for the success of early Marvel, perhaps more so, than the stories themselves.

    Like

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