I think that in the 70’s, people were so used to having Jack around that they took him for granted. I’ve read the letters pages in some of his 70’s Marvel titles like Cap, Eternals and Black Panther and he definitely gets a lot of negative feedback. It seems to me like a case of too much of a good thing. These guys had grown up on his stuff and his style at Marvel was kind of omnipresent, and if it wasn’t him drawing a book in a lot of cases it was someone drawing just like him, and then in the 70’s you had guys like Starlin and Barry Smith which for the fans were a new style and a kind of a breath of fresh air, and they didn’t want to go back. They were like teens who’ve gotten do drive and have some freedom for the first time, and now they don’t want to go to grandma’s house every sunday with the rest of the family.
I didn’t get into Kirby until the early 90’s when I was in my early 20’s. I ate up his 70’s stuff. The time was right for me to discover and fall in love with it. I understand how the kids didn’t want it at the time, but I wish they hadn’t been so mean about it. Anyway, I see every Kirby issue as gold.
Jack’s titles got plenty of positive mail, too, especially early on, but because the people putting together the lettercolumns then used a lot of negative letters, that had the effect of generating more negative letters. In those days, it was a very cool thing to see your letter in print. Show the readers that negative letters are likely to get printed and you’d get lots of them.
I cannot imagine what the people putting the letter columns together were thinking. Were they trying to be “fair and balanced,” and show that some people were disappointed with what Jack was doing? Was it that they, themselves, were disappointed with what Jack was doing and weighted the lettercols to express their POV? Putting together a negative lettercol is stupid, amateurish and/or malicious.
Lettercols in commercial, entertainment publications are PROMOTIONAL INSTRUMENTS (and entertaining, if done right). Like it, don’t like it, or whatever. If you’re a professional with the brains God gave a goat, you know this and you act accordingly. This isn’t journalism.
Ideally, you select letters positive letters, especially thoughtful, thought-provoking letters, including some, OCCASIONALLY that express thoughtful criticism along with positive comments. A critical letter that is clearly biased or dumb enough to incite the readers to rebut it, if only in their own minds, works too. Publishing 101.
Stan told me that when John Romita replaced Steve Ditko on Spider-Man, the mail was overwhelmingly negative. Stan ran only the rave letters, almost without exception. Soon, the mail became overwhelmingly positive. And, P.S., people got used to John’s style and sincerely started grooving on it. This happened, in part, because the lettercols promoted the new look. That helped to start a movement.
P.S. That wouldn’t have worked if John’s work wasn’t really good. Trying to promote in a lettercol something that’s really lousy usually is a non-starter.
A possibly interesting fact: though Jack’s books did not sell well on the newsstands, because, I think, to casual readers they seeemed old-fashioned and un-hip, they sold gangbusters in the nascent direct market, as well or better than the X-Men, and far more than all other titles. I remember noticing that a couple of Jack’s books were selling upwards of 30,000 copies — just about enough to break even all direct — at a time when Spider-Man, the Avengers, etc., were selling closer to 10,000 direct. That observation was part of the genesis of the first major all-direct book, Dazzler #1. So, it wasn’t that Jack’s books were universally hated. The more comics-sophisticated/collector direct market patrons liked the stuff — enough of them, anyway. I wonder how many copies direct Jack’s books would have sold when the direct market had developed a little more and X-Men was selling several hundred thousand direct each month.
These days, lettercols have largely been obviated by e-communication. The readership community is far more aware of overall trends and opinions. Stan’s lettercols promoting the new look on Spider-Man would have made not a dent, because everyone would be talking about it online and the lettercol couldn’t influence opinion at all.
A Few Observations
The discussions that follow my posts are better than my posts.
I read Waid’s Daredevil last night. Unsurprisingly brilliant. I expected as much. How does he get such wonderful art?
This just in: Janet Claire Jackson continues to deny that she is an alien vegetable clone grown in a vat on the planet Vegetron who is here on Earth to confuse us to death by posing as Penelope Muddlepud.