Across The Pond: Epistolomania

Epistolomania wasn’t my plan when I got into 2000 AD. At first, as I’ve mentioned, it was a nice way to put off starting work at North Melbourne Job Centre, where I ministered to spoiled students, crazed unemployables, gloomy migrants, ex-prisoners and the occasional Swedish backpacker. If there had been more wandering Scandinavians, I might not be writing this column. As it was sitting at a footpath table, drinking stonkeringly strong coffee and chain smoking was a great way to delay the dread moment I walked into the office.

It was email that did it. Are there any figures for how much extra correspondence the ease of email has produced? I wrote my first letter to 2000 AD in an internet cafe in Shinjuku while I was on a lunch break. It was a short effort, saying that I was happy to have finally arranged a subscription (not as easy as it sounds. Like a lot of English businesses I’ve run into, 2000 AD really made you work to give them money. Now it’s just a few clicks away). I also said I was tired of the preachiness of Slaine, not on religious grounds but because it was boring. A fairly unexceptional letter. But they printed it.

There, I think, is my dark secret. Since then I have had 39 letters published in 2000 AD and 23 letters in the Judge Dredd Megazine. I’ve also had two letters printed in the Spectator and two in the Melbourne Age. God only knows how many I’ve written but I usually write a letter or each prog and Megazine. The people who complain about seeing my name in their comics too often should console themselves with the thought that every time my name isn’t there, it means the editor has dashed my hopes yet again.

The afore-mentioned tribe, who occasionally write in to say that enough Floyd is enough have advanced a few reasons why I get printed so often.

One: I’m related to the editor. Untrue, although I get the impression that I’m old enough to be Tharg’s father. I am related to a Melbourne Age reporter, but that doesn’t help me. When she used me as a source for a Dr Who piece, my sister didn’t acknowledge me because she didn’t want to seem nepotistic. I’m sure Tharg and Alan Barnes would be equally professional. Probably.

Two: I own shares in the company. Also not true. If I had enough shares to have that sort of clout, I’d use it for more than mere letters and you’d be seeing a lot more Carver Hale and Canon Fodder. Ooh and I’d bring back the dance music reviews. You have been warned.

Three: I have some sort of malign influence over the editors involving illicit photos or a laser satellite in geostationary orbit over their office. Actually I made up the bit about the satellite. I’ve wanted one of those ever since I saw ‘Diamonds Are Forever’. See above; if I had that kind of power, I’d put a wall of laser beams around Gordon Rennie’s pub until he finished “Witch World” (I seem to be the only person on earth, not excepting Mr. Rennie, who wants to see the end of this. Who were those odd looking aliens? What was the dark secret of the bloke who looked a bit like Sean Connery? Must see if there are any of those satellites on eBay).

The simple truth is that I write a lot of letters. Being an opinionated type, I’ve always got something to say about the comic. I do my best to make them good but they’re all written pretty quickly. I’m a busy man.

The funny thing is that I don’t think I’d be writing them to another comic. In the 70’s I dutifully read all the letters to the Marvel comics I read, along with the cornball answers, awarding “no prizes” and calling everyone “true believer”. The law of averages dictates that they must have gotten some letters saying “your comic is ridiculous and I want my money back” but I don’t remember them printing any. Every publication’s letters page tends to take a tone. Marvel’s was frothy and unrelentingly positive. If I thought about writing to them, I usually thought I wasn’t American enough to get printed.

From my first copy of 2000 AD, I noticed that the letters were quite un-cheerleaderish and the replies likewise. I remember clearly one bloke who wrote in complaining about 2000 AD trying to make money from Judge Dredd at about the time the movie came out. He said something about having a duty to constantly criticize things he liked and Tharg replied “what a joy your friends’ lives must be”. Marvel would never print a letter like that, nor be that snippy in reply. My other favourite, from the early days of email was a letter that came with a disclaimer for Barnsley Regional Library Services. Tharg said “that’s okay Barnsley Regional Library Services, we liked it just fine”. I have my occasional gripe with the answers to letters (misconstruing criticism as prudishness comes to mind) but overall it feels like a page where any view would stand a chance.

I think a lot of the compulsion comes from the random reinforcement phenomenon that works so well with slot machines and rats. You know, if you print every letter the rat writes to 2000 AD he gets sick of getting Dredd badges, postcards and so on, whereas if you only print some of them, he writes two for every comic he gets, even if he already has the audio dramas and doesn’t play Heroclix. Something like that.

Thanks to the letter writing, I’ve met another 2000 AD fan (who asked me for advice on Japanese in-laws), been invited to get on the official message board (which is so addictive I’ve given it up for Lent) and gotten to write this column. My wife is more impressed with the letters to the Spectator because it has more words and less pictures and all the letters begin with “Sir”. However, since I don’t hunt foxes, there are only so many letters I can get in there. I’m hooked on the 2000 AD page.

I see myself as being like the yappy kid in tutorials who annoys the shy kids into speaking up. Thus I perform a useful role, inspiring other fans to let Tharg know what they think, lest they see my name one more bloody time. It’s either that or see myself as deeply odd. I’d write more on this topic, but I got two comics in the post yesterday and I’ve got to write a letter. Or two”¦

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