Friday, September 2, 2016

Bulletins, Currents and Journals: Comics News in the Bronze Age


Redartz:  Happy Friday, everyone! Today we will look back at the time long before the internet, when comic book conversations involved either letters pages or a group of friends. We loved our comics, and wanted to know what was coming up next: new titles, new characters, different artists or writers? Some of us may have had access to privileged information as members of F.O.O.M. (guilty as charged), or subscribed to the Amazing World of DC Comics. But for most of us, the news came from the comics themselves, in the form of editorial news pages. And for the really die-hard fans, there were the fanzines...


Marvel's Bullpen Bulletins began back in 1965, with Stan Lee using the page to promote the Marvel name and image, and to give the whole thing the feeling of a cool, exclusive club for those in the know.  It started with the inclusion of a checklist on the letters pages, but soon an entire page was devoted to Marvel news, previews and profiles. A major feature of the Bullpen Bulletins page was "Stan's Soapbox", a monthly column in which Stan Lee himself would pen a few words for the Marvel masses. Sometimes he would speak about an upcoming project, other times he would editorialize a bit. And sometimes, there would be a guest writer (as in this example, wherein Roy Thomas fills in).

Reading the new month's "Bullpen Page" was always a highlight of the first books in a new month. I really liked the inclusive, 'part of the gang' feel of the page.


 



DC followed suit in 1966 with "Direct Currents", which gave news of upcoming titles and teasers for other comics then on the stands.  This was more a partial checklist than a news page, and would give brief descriptions of a few current titles (and feature cover illustrations, as well}. Unlike the more personal feel of the Marvel page, "Direct Currents" had the sensibility of a movie theater "Coming attractions" trailer. 

Years later, by the later 70's, DC had a full news and feature page of it's own, called "Meanwhile" . This followed more closely Marvel's format of discussing not only the comics, but the creators as well.

Once I'd really gotten bitten by the comics fandom bug, I took the next step and tried this:



Available by subscription, the Comic Reader had articles, comic strips and nice, pro-illustrated covers. This issue's cover shows lets John Byrne give the 'new' X-Men an old  treatment (image courtesy of the Grand Comics Database). My favorite feature was the listing of the month's comic titles by company; every title was provided along with a brief description (and frequently a humorous comment or two).

Then there the larger, more in-depth publications, such as Gary Groth's Comics Journal. It had previews, reviews, articles , and interviews aplenty.  At times controversial, but always interesting. This issue featured a lengthy article by Harlan Ellison. It also featured the pictured ad below, which seemed likely to provide some interest: check out the prices for that original art for sale. Yes, I said Original Art...







Finally, in the 80's at my local comic shop, I discovered "Amazing Heroes". This became my favorite fanzine: lighter in tone than the Comics Journal, with the previews, articles and reviews one would look for. It even reprinted, in serial form, Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson's "Star Wars" strip. But the big attraction, for me, were the covers. "Amazing Heroes" regularly sported incredible covers with the best of talent. This issue had one of my favorites- a "jam" style cover of some of the era's Independent comics characters, each drawn by their individual creator.


Another issue had a beautiful cover of Jonny Quest by his illustrator Doug Wildey (and a great set of articles, as well). 

Nowadays we can get our information anywhere, at any time, on any subject. We have news sites, fan sites, and we have BAB! But this certainly wasn't always the case, and these pages and publications remind us of the era when you actually had to 'wait for it'. Has the internet, and it's ability to shower us with information, been a good thing for the hobby? Or was there something more special about it when it all wasn't so readily available? Did you have a favorite fan page or fanzine? Your thoughts, please...

11 comments:

Doug said...

Great idea for a post on a beautiful Friday!

I was mainly in the first camp of which you write -- getting my news only from the Bullpen Bulletins and Direct Currents. In the 1980s I did try to pick up Comics Scene magazine when I could find it, and in the 90s I bought the first few issues of Wizard. I tired quickly of Wizard's bombasticism, the excess of their "price guide" (which seemed like the editors just made up based on what they'd like to have gotten for their comics), and generally what we now know as "basic 90s schtick".

I've dabbled frequently in TwoMorrows' offerings, but those are mainly books and magazines of history. As far as new information for coming releases, about creators, etc., I simply use Twitter now.

Doug

Martinex1 said...

Hi Redartz - very interesting stuff.here. Like Doug I didn't really see many fanzines - I wish I did. Most of my info came directly from the comics, and I would have liked to see some of those interviews.

Those prices on the original art are crazy.... Ohhh, if I had a time machine! Cover art for under $100. And Byrne Champiions, Ant-Man and Avengers work for so cheap! I wish I got into that collecting sooner.

Doug said...

Yowza -- and all those art prices included shipping and insurance!

Having recently sold some pieces for a very nice return, I'd love to have the pages pictured! Man...

Doug

Anonymous said...

I wasn't even aware of the fanzines or "trade journals" back then; I just got my news from the back of the comics. Stan's style was a bit over the top sometimes, but I liked it. I loved the checklists...I always wished DC had full checklists like Marvel did.

I really like the TwoMorrows stuff (Alter Ego, Back Issue, CBA, etc.) but as Doug said, they're more like History than Current Events...but I like History, so it works for me.

Mike Wilson

spencer said...

I always enjoyed No-Prizes, although I never got one. In fact, I don't think I ever wrote a letter. Stan's soapbox was great, and went along great with the whole "recognizing the fans" schtick. One of the best things about today's omnibuses is looking back over these pages.

Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, like many others, the Bullpen Bulletins and Direct Currents is where I got most of my information on comics. Never read any of the fanzines at the time. The closest I got to that was the FantaCo Chronicles from the early 1980s, which covered the X-men, FF, Daredevil, Avengers and Spider-man. Here's a link to the sale page at mycomicshop.com. I see they can be purchased quite cheaply. As the descriptions note, they had a bit of everything: creator interviews, commentary, complete checklists of all issues, and lots of art. I had all five of those, and just devoured them.

Anonymous said...

I got one letter printed in a Marvel mag, one letter, and my handwriting was so bad they misread it and misspelled my name and my town.
X!@#&%!X*!!
M.P.

Humanbelly said...

Say, that issue of the Hulk they mention in the Mighty Marvel Checklist, there? That they neglected to include the number on?

Issue #175.

(I know you folks were anxious. . . )

HB

Thomas F. said...

HB, your research skills are second to none.

Thomas F. said...

I actually have Hulk #175 . . . guest-starring Black Bolt.

But as to the topic above, I too used to read Bullpen Bulletins, and the checklists were useful too. They gave brief descriptions of relevant issues, which I was sure to take note of. I must say I found the Bullpen Bulletin page more interesting in comics from the 70s and 80s than the modern era, however.

Redartz said...

Thanks for commenting, everyone! I'm with everyone who loved the Bullpen Bulletins page, and always looked forward to the checklist (additionally, I liked the teasers that Marvel ran along the bottom of pages in the 70's). Also love the work produced by TwoMorrows; some very authoritative and entertaining publications.

Doug- you're right about Wizard. I had a few issues, but was less than impressed. Thought their humor, and their tendency towards 'cheesecake' was a bit sophomoric.

Martinex- yes, if that time machine ever becomes available, it had better have plenty of room for passengers. I'll save you a seat...

Spencer- yes, a big plus to the Omnibuses (Omnibi?) is the inclusion of the letters pages. In the early books the checklist is still there as well, before they went to the Bullpen page.

M.P.- impressive that at least you got a letter published! I tried several times, unsuccessfully. Of course, from your experience with the handwriting- perhaps it's for the best. My writing is excruciatingly bad...

HB- hats off to your skills at comic book minutae! That particular checklist is special to me as it was the first month I started buying comics, and features many fondly remembered books (including that Hulk issue).

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