Since this feature in MARVEL AGE is soon to reach its end, I thought I would devote my second last column to the highlights from all of the remarks my columns have elicited. You’ll have to excuse the savage way I’m extracting readers’ comments out of context – I’m trying to cover a lot of ground.
And away we go…
“I have chosen today to write my farewell letter. I think reading ‘Mark’s Remarks’ in MARVEL AGE #79 convinced me that today would be the day. I’ve come to realize my relationship with Marvel is like a bad marriage, and I’ve been hanging around thinking things would get better. I realize now that it’s not,” writes Michael Holguin, Rowland Hts., CA. You know, Michael, your letter, written in 1989 is not the first I’ve ever gotten from someone telling me they’ve outgrown our comics. Not only does every single comic book have the possibility of being someone’s first, so might any be someone’s last. People must stop reading our books every day or else, with every year, our readership base would only increase. In point of fact, it fluctuates slowly. I’m sorry you’re no longer reading us, and hope someday we’ll capture your fancy again.
“In MARVEL AGE #111, you mentioned that the aspiring artists put too many tangents on panel borders. Out of curiosity, I checked out a few current comics, and noticed many professional artists drawing tangents. And you know what? I never noticed them before. They never affected my enjoyment of the story. Now, of course, they’ll be the only thing I notice,” writes Augie DeBlieck, Jr. of North Haledon, NJ. Sorry about that, Augie. So I’m like the wise guy sitting next to you in the movie theater who explains how they did the special effects instead of just sitting back and enjoying the picture. Sheesh.
“What are the odds of two or more artists breaking into the industry as a team? I have been told that my page layouts show good storytelling but I need to work more on my finished art. On the other hand, there is an artist at my college whose art is more developed than mine but lacks storytelling skills. Could we break into the business together?” Asks Danny DeAngelo of DeLand, FL. It’s possible, Danny, but rare. Ian Akin and Brian Garvey used to ink as a team (and would never tell me who did what) and while I can think of layout/finished pencil teams, I can’t think of any who “broke in” that way.
So I asked Stan Lee, “where did the idea of Bullpen Bulletin page, one of the fundaments of Marvel Comics, come from?” He told me:
“When I was a kid, there was this series of hardcover juvenile adventure books featuring a character named Jerry Todd. They were something like the Hardy Boys, but they had a lot of humor mixed in with the adventure. And at the very end of each book, the publisher printed letters from the readers as well as responses from the author himself. It was so informal, so warm…it made me feel like I knew these guys and they cared about what their readers thought. I was surprised at the time other books didn’t see what a great idea this was. I don’t know if I consciously remembered those books when I set out to do the Bullpen page years later, or if I was unconsciously influenced and only afterwards realized where I got the idea from. I do know that talking to readers informally and indirectly seemed like the natural thing to do.”
There you have it, another secret behind comics, from the man who wrote the book on secrets behind the comics.
In the beginning, there were letters pages – or “letters sections,” as Stan liked to call ‘em. Starting with FANTASTIC FOUR #3 (cover dated March 1962, it came out in late 1961), Stan ran a page of fan mail in his flagship title and, with FF #11, expanded it to two pages. With issue #13, a “Special Announcements Section” appeared at the end of the second page of letters to respond to general fan mail topics and alert early Marveldom to other titles in the line. (Most titles wouldn’t get letters pages of their own for a few years, so I’m tracking the Bullpen Bulletins’ genesis through the pages of FF.)
By FF #24, this “Special Announcements Section” often took up a whole column of the second page of letters, and by FF #33 (December 1964), “The Mighty Marvel Checklist” appeared imbedded within the “Special Announcements Section.” Then with FANTASTIC FOUR #41 (August 1965), the page before the letters section, which had been an ad for Marvel’s first fan club, the Merry Marvel Marching Society (MMMS), was labeled for the first time (ta-daa!) “The Merry Marvel Bullpen Page.” Still hand-lettered and mostly featuring information and coupons for cool Marvel t-shirts, this first Bullpen Page had typeset names of 25 MMMS members. The checklist and special announcements were still on the letters pages.
Then with FF #45 (and all other Marvel titles cover dated December 1965) the first modern “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins” page appeared with tidbits of news, the checklist (containing a mere nine other titles), a list of 25 more MMMS members, plus an ad for an FF t-shirt and Marvel stationary. In FF #46, there was a subheading beneath the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins banner: More Nutty News and Notes from One Marvel Madman to Another!” Within a matter of issues, the typeset text began to dominate the page, crowding out all but the tiniest of illustrations. Here was a page of information presented in Stan’s uniquely informal style, filled with straight-from-the-hip chat from The Man himself, using all sorts of pop lingo and cool catch phrases such as “true believers,” “no-prizes,” “‘nuff said,” “frantic one,” “Branch Ecch,” and “Make Mine Marvel,” as well as the occasional Latin quote!
With the April 1966 edition in FF #49, alliterative subtitles began to adorn the Bullpen page, the first reading “More mirthful, monumental, mind-staggering memoranda from your Marvel madmen!” (My favorite read “A profound potpourri of perplexing pronouncements and preposterous philosophy, all portending practically nothing!”)
In FANTASTIC FOUR #63 (June 1967) the first ever “Stan’s Soapbox” appeared on the Bullpen Bulletins page, where our Leader waxed sincere on the topic of “The Marvel Philosophy.” Here Stan really connected with his audience. The soapbox was somehow more specific and more intimate than Stan’s writing anywhere else. The Bullpen Bulletins Page was the definitive place for everything in the medium that was uniquely Stan.
But all things had to come to an end, and, with the September 1972 Bullpen Page (FANTASTIC FOUR #126), Stan preempted all items (except the Checklist) to make room for an expanded Soapbox explaining how he was not only stepping down as editor of the whole Marvel line, but he would also be foregoing all regular comics writing. Not stated (but certainly implied) was that the Soapbox, of course – would pass on to his successor. Through the ’70’s, the Bullpen Bulletins more or less followed the template established by Stan, and featured an alliterative subheading, various news and promotional items, a checklist (albeit an abbreviated one, since Marvel was now producing almost three times the number of titles it was in Stan’s heyday), and more-or-less regular Stan’s Soapboxes.
With the June 1977 issues (FF #183) the last alliterative subheading appeared (“Zounds! A Zealful Zetetic of Zestful Zanies to Zap the Zeitgeist”) and, in the issue after, a listing of Marvel’s editorial staff – a mere 14 in number – appeared in the masthead. This listing lasted until June 1978 (FF #196), ending the month before my name would have been annexed to the masthead. (Coincidence? Conspiracy? You decide.) From 1978 though most of the ’80’s the Bullpen Page underwent various format changes, January 1980 (FF #214) brought back the Checklist, while #215 dropped all the items in favor of just Stan’s Soapbox and the Checklist, a format that continued for almost a year before paid advertisements ate into the magazine’s editorial page count and the BBP mysteriously vanished for a number of months. With FF #238 (January 1982), the BBP was back, minus the checklist and Stan’s Soapbox, and signed for the first time by the pages’ author, then-editor in chief Jim Shooter.
Throughout most of the ’80’s, all Stanisms of the previous two decades were eradicated in favor of a new idiosyncratic tone for the page. There were various new innovations, such as guest columns written by various freelancers, the Hype Box, and tongue-in-cheek photo features (editors wearing hats, and the Hunk of the Month). The Checklist was expanded to fit the number of titles Marvel was publishing. FF #299 (February ’87) featured the last of this style ’80’s Bullpen page and, after three months with no Bulletins, I took over as editor of the page, a position I’ve held ever since.
My writing staff and I have put that poor page through a lot in an effort to regain a consistent voice and the best balance of features – way too much to fit into this month’s column. Tell you what, if enough of you request it, I’ll convince my editor to let me write a behind the scenes look at the Bullpen Bulletins Page as it stands today. Till then, shoot the bull!