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August 06, 2007

Comments

Brian Disco Snell

Not ready for the all-napping issue of Thor? What about the first two issues of the Straczynski run, which seem to be all about Thor napping...or at least the audience...

Mark Engblom

Yeah, some characteristically slow-building stories from JMS...though I was impressed with Thor's power levels. I don't recall him able to create floating castle-fortresses out of thin air before. Hopefully, JMS will keep the presense of the Mayberry Folk at a bearable minimum.

cinephile

Mark--
Great post! I've been re-reading old marvels this summer, and one of the real pleasures is what a professor of mine once called "the paratextual materials": the letters pages, ads, Bullpen Bulletins, etc. I love the Essentials, and other volumes that collect and preserve 60s, 70s and even 80s comics, but one thing I miss when reading them is the sense these materials give of being thrust into a whole universe of communication between creators and fans (even if that was a somewhat staged interaction; that it was as much a marketing brainstorm of stan lee's as anything else doesn't really cancel out how real it felt for me when I read comics as a kid). In the 80s in particular, Mark Gruenwald's letters pages seemed geniuinely friendly and inquisitive about fan interest.

Mark Engblom

..."one of the real pleasures is what a professor of mine once called "the paratextual materials": the letters pages, ads, Bullpen Bulletins, etc."

I know exactly what you mean, Cinephile...though I wasn't aware of the official term for that kind of thing. "Paratextual materials". I like it.

When I think back, it's those sorts of things that are almost as big a part of the comic book experience as the stories themselves....especially with Marvel Comics. They did a wonderful job of "setting the whole table" in a way that...yeah, you were aware they were trying to sell you stuff..but in a way that really made you feel comfortable at "at home". Whether it was Stan's Soapbox musings, the tongue-in-cheek house ads (I fondly remember the ads where they were desperate to unload a ton of shirts they'd had printed up), or even those little one or two-sentence blurbs at the bottom of pages enticing us to check out other "Marvel Mags".

Same with the letters pages. Some editors really brought their A-game and made it a fun, friendly experience (like Gruenwald...or James Robinson's excellent Starman letters pages).

Nice to see others experienced some of the same fun stuff.

cinephile

Mark,
Speaking of Gruenwald-- I'm sure you've read this, as it's a few years old by now (but I just discovered it recently, so as those old tv promos used to say, "it's new to me!"), but Scott Tipton did this lovely, semi-autobiographical tribute to the late Marvel writer/editor/artist:

Mark Gruenwald: Part One

Mark Gruenwald: Part Two

Mark Gruenwald: Part Three

I hope Mr. Tipton won't mind the link pasting/shout-out, but it's a wonderful overview of a man who, without my even being aware of it at the time, ended up shaping a lot of my marvel reading experiences as a kid/teen (among my favorites back then were several books-- avengers (west and east coast), captain america, thor, and the immortal iron man-- that gruewald either edited or wrote). Also nice to see a detailed look at the underrated Hawkeye mini-series. It sounds, from Tipton's writing, that Gruenwald was every bit the gent he seemed to be from his work.

Mark Engblom

Cinephile-

Thanks for drawing attention to Scott's excellent series on Mark Gruenwald. I've only recently started realizing the huge impact he had throughout the 80's...since I'd largely abandoned Marvel books during that time (though I'm playing catch-up now). He almost seemed to be a sort of "Stan Lee for the 80's" type of figure.

By the way, I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty of changing your URLs to clickable links. It'll make it even easier for curious readers to check out the articles.

I'm sure Scott Tipton won't mind you highlighting his (typically) excellent and thorough work. I've been writing "Guest Lecturer" columns for him for the past year and a half, and he's a great guy to work with.

cinephile

Mark--
No, thanks for changing them to "real" links-- looks much better than my paste!

I hadn't thought about Gruenwald as an 80s Stan Lee (I'd always thought-- for better and apparently for worse, if you believe some stories-- that Jim Shooter filled that role), but in the sense of pushing his writers/artists to do superb work, and in terms of getting fan interest going, I think that's true (I love Tipton's story about throwing the bran muffin around a con panel room). I think the first time I really noticed Gruenwald (because, really, how many 12-year olds read editorial credits? Artist credits, sure, but not the names on the letters page) was when he did a tongue-in-cheek "plea" on a letters page about "only" being voted sixth favorite editor, and asking for more votes. I thought it was funny (and it also caused me to seek out the brilliant tv show, The Prisoner, which Mark's "number six" status had caused him to reference), and it suddenly made me aware that there were "people behind the people", so to speak, who were writing and drawing my favorite books. When I realized that he edited nearly everything I read from Marvel (save Fantastic Four, but even there, that title was being edited by his old assistant Mike Carlin, so the influence continued), I suddenly got his importance in making those titles interconnected, coherent, and fun. I can't think of a better place to dive into and catch up with 80s Marvel than Gruenwald's titles (I'd start with The Avengers and his Hawkeye mini, then go from there). The book Scott Tipton's excellent tribute made me curious about was Squadron Supreme, which I somehow missed in the 80s, but which sounds fabulous.

Mark Engblom

The Squadron Supreme was one of the Gruenwald projects that I caught the first time around. As you may have read here, I'm a nut for "opposite numbers" or alternate earth doppelgangers, and having enjoyed the appearances of the Squadron before that, it was a natural for me to pick up.

What hit me about it at the time was how Gruenwald (freed from the contraints of Marvel's ongoing continuity) was able to take the superhero team concept through to its logical conclusions...such as the ersatz JLA solving all the world's major problems in short order. Keep in mind the series predates Alan Moore's Watchmen by more than a year, so Gruenwald wasn't simply jumping on the zeitgeist with this one. Sure, Moore and Frank Miller had already begun bending and twisting traditional notions of superhero comics before that time, but Gruenwald's Squadron Supreme is the first work I can recall that really focused on the more positive implications of such powerful people banding together....implications the "mainstream" characters from DC or Marvel really weren't allowed (by necessity) to follow through with.

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