Mark’s Remarks – Marvel Age #139 (August 1994)

I’ve been writing comic books for sixteen years now, and I have kept every single fan letter I have gotten since the dawn of my career, all filed in manila envelopes with the title and issue the letters addressed, printed in the upper right hand corner. I’ve been doing “Mark’s Remarks” in some form since 1984 and, while my column hasn’t been a mail-getter as my stories (unless I – ulp – write about breaking into the industry), I also kept all that mail.

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.

“I compare the comix business to one of those trendy discos where the music’s loud and awful, the drinks are watered, and the people are obnoxious, but you grovel before the doorman to get in because you think when you’re in, you can convince yourself you’re really important. Mr. Gruenwald and Marvel remind me of the kind of people you find in those discos,” writes Michael Pickens of Newark, OH. Interesting metaphor, Michael. I take it I’m not the one playing the music, watering down the drinks, or letting grovelers in the door, I’m one of those obnoxious types enjoying the music, drinking the drinks, and groveling before doormen? Just checking.

“The problem with killing off heroes is that they are almost always resurrected, and that’s something that ticks me off. Comics are fantasy, but resurrection stretches credibility a bit too far. I’ve made a policy that if a title resurrects a character, I quit buying that title. I don’t mind seeing a character return from an ambiguous death – but resurrection, is a serious no-no,” writes Jeff Lacasse of Lompoc, CA. I agree with you, Jeff. I feel that we comic writers have devalued the dramatic impact of death by having characters cheat it so often. Archivist Peter Sanderson estimates that more than half of the people who appeared in the 1987 OFFICIAL HANDBOOK “Book of the Dead” no longer qualify for it. The only character I recall bringing back in all my years of writing is the Red Skull. Even then I had qualms.

“I wholeheartedly agree with you, that if a characters dies, he/she should stay dead. If you ever bring back Bucky, I’ll come to the Marvel offices and spit on you,” writes Will Mason of Carrollton, GA. I vow, Will, that as long as I’m writer on CAP, I will not incur your saliva.

“There is no reason to kill off any character. If you don’t like the character, the simple solution is for you to not use him/her. There’s a good chance that the reason you don’t like the character is because  you screwed him up in the first place. Death in comics has become a crutch, a method of boosting sales used by writers who are too incompetent to find some real ways to boost sales,” writes Jeff Melton of Wilmington, NC. Missives like yours, Jeff, caused me to rethink my position on trimming the “dead wood” of the Marvel Universe. I now believe that the only “good” death in comics is one that generates new storyline developments (like Snapdragon’s alleged death has done for Diamondback) rather than eliminates them.

“Why don’t you call your column ‘Mark My Words’? or perhaps ‘Before You Die, I’ll Tell You…’?” writes Ed Bloemendaal of Dallas, TX. Hmm. Thanks, Ed, you’ve just given me the title and subtitle of my autobiography!

“The best way for a reader to edit comics is with the almighty wallet; if he doesn’t like what’s going on, he stops buying the comic. End of story. I’ve used this method myself from time to time. Clearly readers are reactive editors rather than proactive editors like you or Ralf,” writes Alan M. Dionne of Rockville, MD. The flipside of this “you readers are the true editors” paradigm is I tell our editors that they are the designated readers for the titles they edit, representing the interests of the majority of cash-paying customers out there. I love reciprocity.

“In recent Marvel books, the U.S. and Canadian Governments have been shown in a poor light. Many readers think that the parts in comic books corresponding to real life are, in fact, realistic. For their sakes, you should show that the government does work for them not against them,” writes Stephen Weinberg. Stephen went on to support his observation with five instances of governmental obstruction culled from then-recent books. I agree with you that, ever since the 70’s, the government has been depicted unfavorably more times than not. The reason, I imagine, is that if the government weren’t in conflict with our heroes, it wouldn’t warrant being included in the first place. My objection to it goes beyond the inaccuracy; government-as-evil has become a comic book clichè.

“To survive, Marvel Comics needs to make a profit on its titles. But at this juncture of time, it is almost impossible to collect all the titles you would like. In a business sense, the opportunity to make money from more titles must be taken, but this is often at the expense of the reader who wants to read more, but can’t afford it. Does this situation bother you at all?” asks Saleem Ashraf of Middlesbrough, England. Sure it does, Saleem. In my collector days, I could barely afford to get all the Marvel line and there was but a quarter as many as there are today. But look at it from Marvel’s business perspective – comic book stores have finite shelf space. If Marvel puts out one title, we will get a far smaller portion of that shelf space than if we put out 100. To have “presence” in a store, we figure we have to put out a certain quantity of title, and if you didn’t have to choose between two of our titles, you’d be choosing between one of ours and one of somebody else’s.

“In MARVEL AGE #103, you presented the results of a poll of the paranormal you conducted among the ranks of Marvel’s staff. However, you didn’t expand on your personal feelings on the various questions you posed,” writes Michael J. Jones of Bensalem, PA. I did that on purpose, Michael. I felt I should spare my reading public my pompous view that what most people believe about the supernatural is too mundane for my tastes.

“Here’s something I’d like you to write about in a future ‘Mark’s Remarks.’ What if the comics depicted violence more realistically? The point needs to be made that violence is sickening and destructive, and by sanitizing it, we are defeating ourselves by making violence seems safe and even fun,” writes Phil Girvan of Bangor, Northern Island. I agree with you, Phil, that we should see the ramifications of a violent act, but I have a problem with the acts themselves being shown more sickeningly or graphically. What sickens and disgusts one person may actually tantalize an amuse another. In this case, we would be turning off large groups of people while titillating the perversities of smaller groups of people. That strikes me as being as irresponsible as glorifying and sanitizing it.

“Marvel’s ‘treatment’ of fandom is primarily aimed at the young. Just look at your Bullpen Bulletins, letters pages, MARVEL AGE, and various press released. It gives me a feeling that either you treat readers like morons who enjoy silly jokes or you don’t treat readers seriously at all,” writes Leslie Lee of Singapore. Well, I can’t speak for every syllable ever written by the “Voice of Marvel,” but I can tell you that it’s been Marvel’s intent from Stan on down to have fun and treat readers like the discriminating, intelligent bunch of folk they are. Part of that is letting them share the jokes and assuming they’re smart enough to “get” them. Not every joke we make will be a knee-slapper, but we hope we can at least get across the spirit of fun that goes into our mags.

“Just read your column in MARVEL AGE on Cap’s attitude toward flag-burning. I thought you handled the subject beautifully. It was as tough a topic as one could find to write about. Virtually any comments would be sure to anger somebody. Yet you did it smoothly, candidly and intelligently. If Marvel ever publishes a newspaper, I suggest you apply for the job of editorial writer,” writes Stan Lee of Los Angeles, CA. Stan Lee!?! The Stan Lee!?! Folks, having written more than a few fan letters to Stan in my day, it made my decade to have him return the favor with a praiseworthy note.

In all, it seems may column stirred up plenty of ideas in its run. And for my money, ideas are what make the world so interesting.

–Mark Gruenwald