The trade for Squirrel Girl recently came across my desk to be added to our library’s collection. As a cataloger, it is important that I thumb through the book looking at the publisher, copyright date, pages numbers…and occasionally, perhaps, spending a bit too much time reading the book. What, I can’t help it when an amazing GN comes across my desk!
Anywho, I noticed something very interesting about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, the letters columns were included in the trade. How the heck am I supposed to include THAT in a MARC record? This is one of the few trades I’ve seen which includes back matter other than character sketches. And back matter can be an amazing addition to collected works.
Now, I know there are several reasons why trades do not include letters columns. Printing trades is expensive and if you are trying to encourage more people to read the book, you want those trades to be at as low of a price point as possible. Plus, the letters columns and other back matter are one of the ways publishers encourage readers to buy the single issues which often determines if a book continues or not.
However, as a librarian, I have a few reasons why I think more comic book trades should have letter columns and more back matter.
Gives creators the opportunity to talk about their work
Scott Snyder is an amazing author. I’ve seen him speak at several conventions and his candor and openness about anxiety and fear are very informative about the tone and narratives of his book. However, many people do not have the opportunity to attend conventions or know where to find interviews online. His essay in the trade of Wytches appeared in the first issue and explores a childhood memory that explains the origins of the book. Essays like these appear in comics with some regularity and it would be great to share them with audiences who read the trades.
Not to put Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction on a pedestal, but I think their dedication to comics AND social change really makes this possible. DeConnick’s Bitch Planet recently went to a 24/12 page split; 24 pages of comic book story, 12 pages of essays and letters. The back matter, Bitch Fest features an essay by a feminist writer and Bitches be like…, a section where people can discuss gender norms, sexuality, victims culture, and what it means to be a woman in modern society. Back matter like this has exposed me to many authors and activists I’ve never heard of and am eager to learn more about.
In Sex Criminals, Matt Fraction and Chip Zadarsky devote a lot of time to answering questions and responding to comments in a funny yet serious manner. Fans write in about how difficult relationships can be when someone has ADD, where they acquired their first dirty magazine, and a whole litany of other, interesting, ‘sex tips.’ With a licensed sex therapist as a guest responder in many issues, Sex Criminals is a great way get professional advice.
I cannot count the number of marriage proposals, baby announcements, homemade craft projects, tattoos, and other joyous events I’ve been privy to about people I’ve never met in the letters columns of comic books. Even though these people are strangers, I know them; they are my friends by proxy of reading the same book. Some creators do a great job at cultivating these communities; Jason Aaron in Thor titles often encourages readers to respond to a specific question or in Southern Bastards, he interacts with the readers by giving them old southern recipes and getting reactions in the next issue. Another Image book (I seem to be mentioning a lot of those here…) that does something interesting to build community is Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. They do an annual reader survey which must be returned via snail mail. Again, it is amazing to know someone out there has had the same experiences as you or reads a character differently then you.
Back matter and letters columns not only build a community among readers, it is a PR tool to keep readers on board with a title. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read about people complaining about a character (new Thor) and how that would stop reading the book. The letter’s columns let readers complain, love, relate and retaliate against characters and creators. Let’s admit it, as fans we love our favorite characters and when we have a preconceived notion of who the character SHOULD be, we can be irritated with who they aren’t. See other readers complain about characters or storylines help readers to know they are not alone in their discomfort and can encourage people to continue reading.
So please, consider printing the letters columns in trades for the sake of my readers who use the library.