Todd McFarlane’s Fan Letters to DC Comics

Todd McFarlane
Photo of Todd McFarlane

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.

Secrets of Haunted House 44
The cover of my copy of SECRETS OF HAUNTED HOUSE #44 (January 1982)

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.

McFarlane Secrets of Haunted House 44The 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.

House of Mystery 300
The cover of my copy of THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY #300 (January 1982)

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 House of Mystery 300McFarlane 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.

Unexpected 218
The cover of my copy of THE UNEXPECTED #218 (January 1982)

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.”

McFarlane Unexpected 218In 2012, I sent a fan letter to Todd McFarlane’s Haunt comics series.  I noted the letters discussed above, and McFarlane responded to my letter in Haunt #23.

Haunt23FHaunt23SIn 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.

The images above are the property of their respective owner(s), and are presented for educational purposes only under the fair use doctrine of the copyright laws of the United States of America.

18 thoughts on “Todd McFarlane’s Fan Letters to DC Comics”

  1. I guess its not surprising McFarlane likes the gothic horror comics. When he started writing Spider-Man all the stories had dark and horrific elements to them(Venom, Lizard, Wendigo, Hobgoblin) which eventually lead him to butt heads with Marvel and resulted in him leaving and starting Spawn.

    I do miss the letter pages in general in comics. Why DC insisted on printing those 52 channel spots instead of letter pages I’ll never know but I guess with the internet and blog sites, letter pages became an obsolete idea.

    Good find, Reed. It’s like watching old tv shows and movies and spotting extras that will eventually became famous. I spotted Kevin Sorbo of Hercules fame in an old episode of Cheers the other day.

  2. Thanks, Jeremy. I find it disappointing that both DC and Marvel have abandoned the letter pages. The letter pages build a fan community around a comic book, and allow interaction with the creators and editors. SAGA has a really great letter column, and Dark Horse does a great job of keeping the letter pages going.

    Cool Kevin Sorbo pic, by the way!

    1. Marvel still does letter pages on some of their books, usually depending on the writer or editor. That said, it’s sad that most titles don’t bother anymore. A lot of the current writers can be traced back to old letter pages, whether they write in comics or prose.

      1. Thanks for the information on the Marvel letter pages. I haven’t seen any Marvel letter pages in awhile (although, admittedly, I’m reading fewer Marvel titles these days), so I appreciate the information.

        Also, I should note that MAD magazine and ASTRO CITY are the only DC published titles that still have letter pages, as far as I know. My dream is to have a fan letter published in MAD, but so far it still eludes me. 🙂

        1. I know Avengers Arena and at least parts of Avengers Undercover had letter columns, and Jason Aaron’s entire Thor run has had letters so far. It seems like most writers these days prefers to interact with fans online. Bendis’s tumblr page is a bizarrely awesome mix of sarcastic answers, trolling and deep, sincere answers to fan questions.

          1. I think social media is great, but it’s not a good substitute for the letter page. Everyone who buys the book can see the creator and fans interacting, and it’s a positive experience for all, I think. However, it is commendable that creators interact with fans, in any medium.

    1. I regret that I have fallen away from reading SPAWN. I used to read it quite a bit. I’ll have to check the new creative team, as well.

  3. This is the coolest thing. McFarlane is my all-time favorite artist. His art really captured my imagination as a child and still gives me a sort of nostalgic buzz when I crack open the pages of an old Spider-Man book from the crypt and catch a whiff of a long entombed tree.
    Fine work, Mr Spock. 🙂

    1. Yes, I did try. The comics were in very poor condition, and the effort looked like it might take off chunks of the covers if the stickers were removed. so I chose to leave them on rather than do further damage to the comics.

    2. This was one of the best comic related articles I’ve ever read. Let’s try to focus on what’s important here, right keythd?

      Besides I’ve heard that 50cent clearance stickers are all the rage now. Big money in those; I’d advise you to get a bunch of them and stick them on all of your comics Keythd.

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