Tabloia | Merch | Testimonials | Reviews | MONSTERS?! | Best Friends

| |


Doris Danger (vol. 1, Chpt. 6), page 043 – Commentary


Ah, the letters pages! For some reason, when people tell me they’ve read my comics, most often of all, what they say is that they hate to admit it, but their favorite part of my book was the letters page.


The idea for the letters pages came from a couple sources. First of all, I read the fantastic Image mini-series by Alan Moore, entitled 1963. He had GREAT, GREAT fictitious letters pages in that book. The editor was calling everyone Sahib, and rocket scientists were writing in saying how scientifically accurate the absurd comics stories were. And everyone was writing in that they loved the comic, but wished the woman superhero of the team would die. Just hysterical, poignant stuff about the readership of comic books. It was all a parody of Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics letters pages of the early 1960’s.


Which is my second source of inspiration.  Comics used to have letters pages, where fans could write in and say how much they loved this or that, or how much they hated this or that.  It encourages a sense of community, and belonging to a club with your same interests, all around the globe, reading these same stories as you, and having a dialogue about it.

I heard a rumor that Stan Lee, back in the early days of his editorship, used to write the letters that “fans wrote in”. All the letters of these old Marvel comics stories are like this: “Your comic is the greatest thing I’ve ever read, the most literary work of art I’ve seen – better than Shakespeare, better than Joyce, better than the Bible!” And then maybe ask a plot question. “Can it be the Green Goblin is dead??!” And then Stan would respond to hype upcoming stories or plug different books coming out that month or whatever.

And I just thought, BRILLIANT! But I’m going to do the opposite. I want everyone who writes in to HATE the book. I want it to be scathing. BUT THEN … I’ll have the editor CONTINUE the Stan Lee-style optimism, even after hearing these horrifyingly mean, brutally honest, perfectly valid critiques of the work. This is how the necessity for a fictitious editor came about for my book, and how the sickeningly excited tone of Rob Oder came about. It was a given that every sentence Rob used would have to end with an exclamation point!


This idea gave me an opportunity to criticize my own work, my own insecurities of the work, with an insightful self-loathing. I began using this technique regularly. Whenever I did something wrong, whether purposely or accidentally, or felt insecure about something, I would have an angry fictitious reader call attention to it on a letters page and have Rob make flimsy excuses about it.



So for example,  a friend pointed out to me that every army man in my story has three stars (see the first chapter), which designates them all as three-star generals. I just thought three stars made a nice decoration, and when I first swiped an image of an army man from a Jack Kirby image, it happened he had three stars. I liked the look of those three stars, and began using it as a motif for anyone in the army. I think that’s a fantastic accident, making them all three-star army generals, and Rob addressed this entirely three-star general army in the letters page above. (Kind $7 Patrons can watch that page’s Three Star Generals commentary video.)


See also the third letter, in which the writer is complaining about how much text the comic has. I was at World’s Best Comics in Sacramento, and the owner, Dave Downey, was going through a box of comics, and he stumbled onto this old maybe 1950’s comic, and it was literally just talking heads and no action, and each panel was literally filled with AT LEAST half dialogue bubbles. It was amazing. We looked it over.  It captivated us in puzzled awe, and Dave said, “There’s no way I’m going to read all that.” And he moved on to the next comic and basically tossed this one over his shoulder in disgust. And I just thought this was so hilarious, that a comics writer would decide he had so much to say,  he would take from the space of the artist. Even if the prose was a literary masterpiece (which it certainly wasn’t), when people flip though a comic, they just think, That looks like too much work to try and get through that one. I don’t want to devote that much time on a stupid comic. Not to mention, they want to look at more pictures of guys beating each other up.


And then of course, there’s the film documentary on Robert Crumb, CRUMB (1994, directed by Terry Zwigoff), about how he and his brother used to make comics as kids, which they still own. And his brother became gradually less interested in the visual side of comics, and as you flip through, each panel becomes more and more word-heavy, until he’s just barely squeezed a tiny head into the bottom corner of the panel, so you can at least see who’s talking, but the entire rest of the  panel is dialogue. From there it progresses to ONLY text, and THEN, it progresses to the text becoming an unreadable scrawl.  Here are screen shots from the documentary, showing the progression:

And so when I started writing comics, I felt like I was basically doing the same thing. Why would I do that?? But I’ll just get going and think, No, no, you know what would be funnier? If this were even LONGER. If I added this joke to the end of that sentence.  I’ve come to use this over-wordiness as a strong component of the humor I’m attempting.


I rationalize that Stan Lee’s comics, and generally all older comics, they had a much higher text-to-image ratio. Writers felt more expostulation was necessary – to the point old comics are often redundant, because the art is telling you something, and then for some reason the writer felt s/he needed to really hammer this point home and bring attention to it AGAIN in the text. You see Spider-Man changing into his clothes, and he’s thinking to himself, “No I’ll simply change back into my clothes!”  WE KNOW YOU’RE CHANGING INTO YOUR CLOTHES.  We can SEE it.  Things weren’t so stream-lined and slick as they are now.  They were still learning the language of comics, and MTV hadn’t invented this frantic view-shift mentality to keep us from getting bored.


The first letter on this page, about the importance of panel bubbles for flashbacks and using all caps, actually came from Dick Ayers. When I first met him at San Diego Comic-Con way back in 2002, I was taking around copies of my Dick Hammer comic that I’d recently drawn. If you notice, I was trying to make the captions look like they were entries in Dick Hammer’s diaries, so I used a slightly sloppy, lowercase font, to differentiate it from the dialogue. (Specifically, incidentally, I had looked at the letters that the Zodiac killer mailed to newspapers, because I wanted to give Dick Hammer’s handwriting a psychotic edge. A number of copy-cat letters were mailed in, and I chose the “font” I liked best, and then made any inclusion of a letter “A” in uppercase – something I’d noticed a friend of mine had done in a postcard he sent me, which I thought looked really cool. I wrote out a complete alphabet in this “font,” which I used for reference whenever I wrote a Dick Hammer story.)

So I took these Dick Hammer stories around at the convention, and showed them to artists and hoped the artists would give me some feedback. Dick Ayers looked the stories over and said I should use all caps for fonts, for better readability. I think I mentioned the panel borders I chose to use, hoping to give the whole story a sort of more surreal, dreamlike, nightmarish feel – which is so often the purpose of noir as a genre. And I believe that is when he mentioned that traditionally, dream sequences would be delineated with a cloud border, and I could even draw a face at the top of the panel, to show who’s dreaming what we see. These are all very specific conventions that Dick and comics used unerringly throughout their stories of the 1940’s through at least the 1980’s. Beyond then, however, the “bubble”-flashback panels, and absolutely the head-who-remembers convention dropped away, because readers have come to understand the language of comics so intricately, they no longer need these visual cues to understand if a flashback is being told, and who it’s being told by. Lettering, however, mostly continues to be in upper case. The purpose for uppercase lettering, in addition to legibility, is that all letter heights are uniform. If letters were lower case, some letters would be higher and some lower, and this creates issues of spacing, because letters could bump into each other, thereby causing even worse readability.


I kind of wish I hadn’t used the word “assed” in this letter, as I’ve attempted to “all-ages”-ify the Doris Danger books as best I can. Somehow, it just wouldn’t be the same letter. That said, when I published the original letter in the pages of “Tabloia”, where Doris originally first saw print, I believe I swore instead of using “?!&%”swearing.


And then we rounded out this letters page with a mention of “teensy weensy mini-men,” thereby making it a recurring joke from the fifth story. (I go into more detail about the offensiveness and intent of this gag on page 035 – Commentary.)

The letter ends talking about racism, and is cut off before finishing the thought. I had actually intended to go into another topic on racism, but felt it wasn’t as good a concept as I’d hoped. So I chose to pull it, but hoped it would be a fun gag to build up to it, and then fail to deliver.

Notice Rob keeps insisting on the nonfictionality of the stories of Doris Danger, which are of course impossibilities. Just the idea of a story being “true” is absurd, because you can just never know what people are thinking, and exactly what they did. People can’t remember what exactly everything they did all by themselves, and then you have to figure in their biases, lies, things they wished they’d done instead, things they don’t want to admit they did because they’re ashamed. The whole “based on a true story” doesn’t really mean much – it’s still all dramatizations. So I tried to make the most absurd dramatizations I could come up with, and then claim it’s all true. Tabloid papers claim everything they print is true, why should “Tabloia Weekly Magazine” be any different?

Chpt. 5   CHPT. 6   Chpt. 7

Liked it? Take a second to support Chris Wisnia on Patreon!

Comments are closed.