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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 01/ 4/2011

The Riff: Why DC Comics is right to bring back the letters columns of yore

By Michael Cavna


Dear DC Editors:

Although I am a die-hard comics fan, I haven't written to your letters page in years, mostly because -- and I hold this to be no small correlation -- you haven't had a letters page in years. Since 2002, if memory and back issues serve.

Some things, however, all but required being brought back from the dead. Two things, especially: the Man of Steel. And the Metropolis Mailbag.

Which is why Comic Riffs hails the return of DC Comics' letters pages, which your esteemed David Hyde announced Monday like a belated holiday gift that was held until DC had all but taken down the office Christmas tree. One last surprise with which to greet the New Year.

Now, I know what some very young and green recipients of DC's gift will say. They will snipe and gripe that resuscitating a comic-book letters page in an era of Big Social Media is an exercise in futility, a practice as pointless as Clark Kent attempting to write a great piece of journalistic prose. As in: Why clutter a comic book when we've got Facebook?

These recipients, thankfully, will be wrong.

DC these days has been all about Superman returning to "his roots," getting back to the heartland and back in touch with what is important. Well, what could be a rootsier return for longtime readers than the hearty return to readers' letters?

Will these resurrected letters pages summon nostalgia for some of us? But of course, and gratefully. But by the beard of "Uncle Elvis," that whiff of back-to-the-future enchantment, as welcome as it is, will fade. No, the real and lasting potential value of these letters pages will be to have a fairly prominent common meetingplace in our ever-fragmenting landscape of fanboy communication. When everyone has a message board, we risk hearing almost no one.

Comic-book letters pages are no Big Fix. They are merely a simple statement, but one as distinct as Ray Kinsella plowing down those cornstalks and building that nutty ballfield in the thick of the heartland. As America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers, to shamelessly spin that sonorous line from "Field of Dreams," one constant for decades has been superhero comics. And the pulpy letters page is no grand panacea; it is simply another small and humble patch of turf on which to remember what is good about geeked-out community that isn't as unwieldly and cacophonous as a San Diego Comic-Con floor.

That said, DC Editors, I do have one request. Somewhere, somehow, the name of one of your "mailbags" should rightly pay tribute to one man: "T.M. Maple."

T.M. Maple, as you no doubt recall, was the shortened name of "The Mad Maple" and the handle of famed Canadian "letterhack" Jim Burke ("maple," of course, being a symbolic nod to Burke's home tundra). Burke was a letter-writing legend both for his passion and his prolificacy. According to lore, Burke dashed off some 3,000 published submissions to comic-book letter columns between the mid-'70s until his reported untimely death in 1994 -- when Mr. Burke was not yet even 40.

T.M. Maple left us right as the Internet was taking hold, his letters seemingly frozen in pop-cultural amber as a symbol of another time, when Selectric typewriters and DeLoreans still roamed the earth. So as long as you're tapping a profound sense of nostalgia for much of your readership, DC Editors, let us plant that one seed:

Use your power for good and dedicate some feature of your new letters columns to the memory of T.M. Maple. Burke's favorite character, it was said, was Superman, whose high moral code appealed to the great letterhack. Well surely now, somewhere in Metropolis, there is room to plant a Maple.

Thank you,
-- M.C. Comic Riffs
1150 15th St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20078

P.S.: We here at Comic Riffs have many loyal fans of former "Judge Parker" artist Eduardo Barreto, so it is especially gratifying to see this letters page from the '80s that mentions him. The power of nostalgia, indeed.

By Michael Cavna  | January 4, 2011; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  The Comic Book  | Tags:  DC Comics, David Hyde, Jim Burke, T.M. Maple  
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Of course, printing reader-generated content is the cheapest way to fill up the already scant number of pages in the modern-day $2.99 comic book.

Posted by: seismic-2 | January 5, 2011 2:54 AM | Report abuse

I always enjoyed reading the letter columns in my comics. I remember being pleasantly surprise when reading a silver-age issue with a letter from future writer Marv Wolfman (can't remember which title at this time). I remember TMMaple as well. Some letters were from fanboys (including we gals) but many letters were insightful on plot and character development and were a delightful read. I haven't read comics in years due to budgetary cutbacks but if the comics I remember made a comeback I'd start again--main story, backup feature, columns, and letters I'd think it was worth the cover price.

Posted by: picmajik | January 6, 2011 12:34 PM | Report abuse

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