Here’s a few comments on the recent thread on the “Let’s Rap with Cap” letters columns.
Chris Hlady: I was born too late to get into Jack’s golden area of the 60s. When I leafed through the comics in the 70s, Jack’s stuff came across as odd, so I can definitely relate to those letter-column comments. In retrospect, I definitely missed something amazing, but letter-columns aren’t done in retrospect, but as a reflection of the current comments running around. In that sense, I think that page of letters reflect fair comment. It certainly shouldn’t be a puff piece that does not reflect the common sense of the average reader. I can’t say I see the point of nit-picking people’s honest comments. That said, I really do enjoy these insights into the Kirby phenomenon. Cheers.
Thanks for the comment. First of all, most folks I’ve discussed this with over the years agree with you completely. A lot of the kids who read Jack’s comics in the 1960s grew up, got married, and moved away from comics; kids like me who were around 10-years-old didn’t really like Jack’s weird 70s art, we drifted towards artists like Sal Buscema and Romita who produced pretty, conservative art. So the letters columns were a genuine reflection of a shift in fandom away from Jack. Sort of like how we recently shifted away from rock music to rap in American culture. So I get that.
Here’s the main point I’m trying to make: yeah, sure, some readers were writing in and saying they don’t like Jack’s Cap comic book. That’s inevitable; I’ve never heard of any artist in world history receiving zero criticism. But let’s say Marvel gets 100 letters about Jack’s Cap a month (and that could be either a high or low number, if anyone out there knows the average number of letters a Marvel book got in the 70s, please share) — if Marvel got 100 letters do you really think 5/6 of them were negative? And even if you only get 4 positive letters out of 100 — print the 4 positive ones. If you accentuate the positive, you’re not Hitler encouraging Nazis to load Jewish men, women, and children into a gas chamber; you are a low-level Marvel employee at a comic book company trying to promote your product by praising your co-workers. It’s not like “Marveldom Assembled” would have turned on the company if Scott Edelman printed a few letters praising Jack Kirby.
So in my ever so humble opinion, the “staffers” overloading Jack’s Cap letters columns with negative letters were not trying to provide a public service focused on giving the “Merry Marvel Marching Society” fair and balanced journalism, what we’re witnessing here is a couple staffers who hated Jack Kirby’s writing using the only forum they had to start a mutiny. Remember, this was before the internet, and I know I didn’t read fanzines as a 10-year-old. These letters columns were the only avenue these “staffers” had where they could express their distate for Kirby’s work and reach 10-year-olds like me. And as you will see as I wrap this up — it gets worse…
You also have to understand if you get 96/100 negative letters, if you are the staffer editing the letters page, you can cherry-pick them and pick negative letters that (a) reflect your own agenda and (b) you can create a theme to the letters page. As we are seeing the themes this staffer chose to focus on earlier on were (a) readers want Nomad back, and (b) they want Englehart back, and (c) basically Jack sucks.
Now the new theme we will see in letters columns coming up soon is that (a) supposedly the readers don’t want science-fiction in Cap (which makes no sense since comics are science-fiction), and (b) they want more “Marvel universe” content in Cap, and (c) they want Jack replaced. They want him fired. Clearly the staffers doing this are directing the flow of this pseudo-debate taking place by their selection of the specific content of the negative letters.
And it makes zero sense to do this. What we are seeing in these columns isn’t a couple letters asking Jack to bring back Red Skull, this is about 4/5 letters per month demanding specific change, supplemented with that god-awful fake “Aunt Petunia, face front” gibberish from the Stan Lee clone editing the columns. If you get 100/100 negative letters, run an ad for the Howard the Duck presidential campaign. Your job is to sell the next issue of the comic book. But, in my opinion, the contempt for Jack by these staffers was so great, they absolutely had to try and get rid of that guy. And Scott Edelman admitted on his weblog that 40 years later, to this day, he still feels utter contempt for Jack’s writing; so I contend the staffers aren’t just reflecting fandom, they are influencing fandom — they created this anti-Kirby campaign themselves by the selection of negative letters.
But, of course, obviously tastes were changing too — the fans were drifting to a sort of Jack Kirby/Neal Adams style that Byrne/Austin popularized and to this day permeates the superhero branch of the comics industry. Then you had Miller with his “dark” shadowy Daredevil, and other phases. The point here is, yeah, some fans didn’t like Jack’s 70s stuff, and, yeah, I can understand the staffers putting a few negative letters in the mix so that they aren’t complete and utter phonies (as you said you don’t want to create a “Let’s Rap with Cap” column that’s a “puff piece that does not reflect the common sense of the average reader”) but why so many negative letters? And why so many focusd on getting rid of Jack?
And listen, this is one of those topics where even some of Jack’s most ardent supporters disagree with me, and obviously the Pro-Marvel Corporation camp disagrees with everything I say. I’m just a wacky “conspiracy theorist” who sees a picture of Jesus on a pumpkin.
All I can do is read the letters for the first time and report on what I see. And in them I see what looks to me to be a concentrated effort on the part of some Marvel “staffers” to get Jack fired. And let me tell you, when I wrote that last post, I had never seen the rest of the letters. Jim Shooter mentioned somewhere (maybe even to me) that when he caught wind of what these staffers were doing he put a stop to it. But as I just found out yesterday as I read all the rest of the letters, not only does this campaign to oust Kirby continue until the very last issue, wait until you see how much worse it gets. What I’ve posted thus far is actually constructive criticism compared to what’s coming next.
So although I agree fans were turning on Jack in the 70s because times change, I’m still going to contend these Marvel staffers used the “Let’s Rap with Cap” letters page as their personal megaphone to try and get Jack Kirby fired, and I think this campaign turned a lot of fans against Jack who may have simply continued to enjoy his books if they hadn’t been subjected to so much peer pressure.
Now, does this mean Edelman and his fellow staffers were evil people? I doubt it. Hell, if I had been a staffer at that time? I might have done the exact same thing. I’m not playing the role of God doling out justice. All I can do is report on my reaction to what I’m reading, and as a fan of Jack, as someone who thinks he was genuinely a great man, I still find what these slimy little rat staffers were doing contemptible. If I had done this myself? I’d be heartbroken and apologetic. But as we saw when I talked to one of the “staffers,” Scott Edelman, he still feels contempt for Jack’s work, he defended his work editing the letters columns, and he basically mocked me for criticizing him and told me to provide “proof” backing up my assertions.
That’s what I’m doing. Read the letters columns for yourselves.
And I’m wondering, where was Jim Shooter during all of this? When did he supposedly put a stop to this? If any of you follow Jim’s blog, maybe ask him for me. If I don’t hear back, I’ll go over there at some point and see if he wants to discuss this with us.
Anyway, I appreciate the feedback, your opinion quite frankly is the one I’ve heard the most frequently. My “conspiracy theory” (I guess I should spell it “konspiracy theory”) is considered speculation by most. But since there isn’t video tape of the staffers discussing their plan to publish negative letters trying to get Jack fired, if I was a judge and I had to make a decision… based on the evidence at hand, my verdict as of now is this: some Marvel “staffers” in the 70s did indeed try to use the “Let’s Rap with Cap” letters column to get Jack fired from the book, and at the very least they wanted him replaced as the “scripter.” They used the letters columns as a means to achieve that end. And as you’ll see, the letters columns just keep getting worse…
Finally, here’s a comment from Patrick Ford:
Patrick Ford: Yeah, It’s hysterical the denial. Even Jim Shooter said it was happening. He wrote about it at his blog. As I recall Shooter even mentioned Stan Lee had told him when Romita replaced Ditko on Spider-Man there were a large number of negative letters. Lee told Shooter he didn’t print the negative letters and instead went to extra lengths to praise Romita in the Soapbox, on the LOC page in his answers to letters, and he printed only positive letters. In a short time as was typical at Marvel the fans began singing Romita’s praises using the exact same words Lee had used. There are probably 100s of examples of this. One example is the idea Colletta’s inks look like “old woodcuts.” Well no they don’t, they don’t look anything like woodcuts. Where did the “woodcut” idea come from? Stan Lee of course. Lee knew how important marketing is. “Woodcuts” sounds a lot better than “scratchy.” It sounds respectable. In short order everyone was saying Colletta was “right” for Thor. Even people who didn’t like Colletta inking anything except Thor, said he was “right” for Thor, because his inks looked like “old woodcuts.” Once you notice this it’s comical to see it being mouthed by people over and over again. It’s good evidence of the power of salesmanship.