Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sa-gasu Ne-rbu Senta-

The letters page. It's a staple of comics and magazines the world over. A chance for editors to fill a page without having to come up with original material, and a chance for readers to believe that they have an impact on what happens in future issues. -sorry for the double helping of cynicism there. In fact, I get the impression that editors probably struggle with these pages quite hard (even if they're cheaper to produce than commissioned material). Also, it's pretty clear that readers do affect a comic book with their letters, as the bulk of praised material gets reprinted or continued, and the hated stuff gets locked away.

To be honest, I used to skip past the old Nerve Centre/letters pages in 2000AD for many years. I'd look at the fun pictures sent in (alas, this hasn't happened for ages), and occasionally read one of Tharg's trademark terse replies - often funny and clever as well as deeply withering of the hapless writer. But I couldn't be bothered to read an editorial when there were stories waiting for me - and as for my fellow readers, well, what could they have to say that I would care about?

In my re-reading days, I've actually begun to enjoy these pages almost as much as the strips themselves. Admittedly, current Progs are at an all-time low for fun editorials and interesting letters (my own included), but the older ones are surprisingly fun. Too formulaic, I think, although I can't say how it's possible to recpature the old magic unless more and younger people magically start writing in... As it is, one can learn a lot about what the readership of the time was like in a random Prog from yesteryear, as well as getting the occasional laugh from some, or gasp of astonishment from others as you notice someone who would later go on to be a professional in the industry (not to mention finding fame in Hollywood).

Good on you, Simon Pegg. It warms me to know that you loved the comic as much as any squaxx ever has. Hell, even Tharg couldn't bring himself to mock.

Nowadays there are internet chat forums, so I suppose people who want a response to a question have less incentive to write to the comic and wait four or five weeks to see if they get a reply. Certainly 2000 AD seems to receive fewer letters now than it used to, judging by the number of names one sees repeatedly. Ever since the heyday of Floyd Kermode and Linton Porteus (two of the best nomencltures of all time), it seems that the same names come up time and again (yes, Stephen Watson of Paisley, I'm looking at you. Even with your standard issue name your profilicness has not gone unnoticed). Hell, I've had about 5 or 6 of my own letters printed. Before the Year 2000 such high hit rates were nigh unheard of. Sadly, this could have more to do with an ageing and dwindling readership, and not so much to do with the internet...

Back to the letters. Being honest, most are not very exciting or funny or informative, even the ones from before I was born. And I'm sure reader fun was largely had by waiting to see if their own missive was chosen that week, which is pretty exciting, I can tell you. Even if the free gift is something you've already got! More often than not people write in to say how much they like or dislike one story/artist or another; occasionally they demand the return of a favourite character. And there are plenty of people trying to be funny, presumably in hope of getting whatever free gift is available at the time. Often the least funny of these are the best, as Tharg gets free reign to unleash his arrogance. But the ones that stand out for me are the strange, moving, and strangely moving letters that have no precedent...

This kind of letter can appear at any time, without warning. However, as time goes by, it seems that those who write in to 2000 AD are getting older or at least less childish (not meant to be a put-down, honest). Alongside this, when art was still being printed, the artistic ability improved, which was fun to see. However, art over the years has remained permanently divided between cheap or odd puns, like this:

NB 'Snork' is a reference to Citizen Snork, an occasional foil to Judge Dredd who has a large nose; 'Conkerer' is an added joke which seems to exist for no reason, except perhaps to disguise the fact that this picture is copied (rather well) from a John Hicklenton-stlye Torquemada.

Top marks for the lettering, though!

And the occasional picture clearly inspired by deep love of the source material.

Nothing to say about this, except nice job. Although I'm curious to know if the eye represents a character from Slaine's world.

So, from time to time I'll post some of the better efforts
along with the credits as originally published. Hell, they're part of 2000 AD's history as much as anything, and they're unlikely to get reprinted any other way... No free gifts, though. And I still can't believe that people used to get £10 for the letter or picture of the week! £10! In 1977!


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