Todd McFarlane has had a huge impact on the comics industry. McFarlane’s distinctive renderings of Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man character made him a fan-favorite artist in the 1980s and 90s. In 1992, he and several other creators founded Image Comics, a comics publishing company noted for promoting creator ownership and creative freedom in the comics industry.
But before McFarlane was a renowned artist and groundbreaking comics innovator, he was a fan who submitted letters to the letter pages of comic books.
In 2012, I purchased three anthology horror comics (or “weird mystery comics”, as they were marketed at the time of their publication); all three of the titles (Secrets of Haunted House #44, The House of Mystery #300, and The Unexpected #218) were published by DC Comics and cover dated “January 1982”. I was pleased to discover that all three issues contained fan letters from Todd McFarlane. At the time the letters were published, McFarlane was in his early twenties, and living in Calgary, Canada.
McFarlane’s letter in Secrets of Haunted House #44 begins with compliments for another DC Comics weird mystery anthology comic, Ghosts #103, and summarizes each story in the comic. However, McFarlane notes that the current editorial team has different ideas from “Jack” (former Ghosts editor Jack. C. Harris); he complains that Ghosts is missing its regular feature character, the occult detective Dr. 13, and that the letter pages have been missing from the comic for several issues.
McFarlane goes on to reveal some biographical information about himself, and issues an ultimatum to DC Comics – he will be playing semi-pro baseball in the summer, and plans to give up buying DC’s weird mystery comics if Dr. 13 and the letter pages do not return.
The biographic information is interesting, documenting a point in McFarlane’s life when he planned to be a professional baseball player. McFarlane did not achieve his baseball ambitions; an ankle injury ended his baseball career. Thereafter, McFarlane would focus his skills on comics, and achieve great success in the comics industry.
McFarlane’s confidence in declaring his intention to cease purchasing DC titles (should the letter pages and Dr. 13 not return to comics) is also interesting. Although it is not uncommon for comics fans to threaten a cessation of purchases should their expectations not be met, McFarlane’s demands are well-written, providing a reasonable rationale for his ultimatum, and his demands are clearly delivered.
McFarlane’s fan letter in The House of Mystery #300 praises the creators and stories of issue #294, and makes it clear that he is hoping to be published in the letter pages. Note McFarlane’s determination in the first paragraph: “Well, I’m going to try my hand at doing just that. If I fail, then I’ll be back at it again next month so don’t think you have won.”
McFarlane indicates that he intends to have his letters published, and even takes a tongue-in-cheek confrontational tone with the editor: “If I fail, then I’ll be back at it again next month so don’t think you have won.”
McFarlane’s letter also gives much praise to the creators of the stories that he is reading. McFarlane clearly has admiration for the comics creators who craft the stories.
McFarlane expresses his appreciation for former editor Jack C. Harris in his fan letter to The Unexpected. He also mentions his favorite story in that issue, and challenges the DC creative team to “top it.”
In his response, McFarlane reveals his strategy for getting his fan letters published, and also provides an estimate of the number of his fan letters that were published. He also gives readers an indication of why he wrote the letters in the first place: “You’ve got to start someplace with your passion.”
Indeed, just ten years later, McFarlane would walk away from a lucrative work-for-hire comics job to co-found a comics publishing company that would allow him and other creators to follow their passions.
McFarlane’s fan letters to DC Comics provide insight into his love for comics and his respect for their creators, and also demonstrate his willingness to be confrontational and demanding in his pursuit of great comics.
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