A Picture’s Worth #85: “The Silver Age Of Free Art For Funky Letters: A Mystery In Space Minor Miracle”
(c) 2012 Mike Pascale. All pictures and characters (c) and ™ their respective owners.
[Sorry it's late this week folks! Mike and I were both out of town!]
I’ve been on a weird buying spree lately, thanks to my buddies at Back To The Past Comics and Pop Culture Warehouse back in Michigan. They not only have the greatest comic store I’ve ever visited, but once a month or so they have online and in-store auctions for all kinds of delightful nostalgic junk I don’t need but can’t seem to do without. (See their entertaining site here.)
Though I traded 90 percent of my comics collection away when I moved west, I seem to have been buying a lot of it back through these silly-but-fun auctions. Each one has loads of Silver and later age treasures (and trash) in good to very-fine condition, and I can find great reads for a buck or two each.
Going thru a recent box o’ winnings, I came across a reading copy of DC’s MYSTERY IN SPACE #74 from 1962.
(At least I think it’s from 1962; I’m writing this on a plane and left the comic at home so I’m going from memory.) [I check for ya...March 1962. Your memory isn't as bad as you think! - Craig] I read it from cover to cover. While I’ve noticed some interesting differences between the DC and Marvel comics of the era, I’ll address them in another post. Concerning this particular issue, ONE thing stood out above all else. It wasn’t the gorgeous Carmine Infantino/Murphy Anderson art. And it wasn’t in either the long Adam Strange nor the brief Star Rovers tale; it was the letters page!
This is a great Silver Age cover (by Infantino and Anderson, I believe). But it’s not the most memorable thing about the issue.
Take a look at the scan provided. Notice the last letter on the page. One reader penned a cute, silly little poem about the main character. How long do you think it took him–15 minutes? A half hour? Now read the editor’s response (guessing it’s Julie Schwartz, but only a guess). He rewarded said poem-penning with a *page of origninal artwork!!*
For less than 30 minutes of work, this guy received a Silver Age MYSTERY IN SPACE page, probably also by Infantino and Anderson. Granted, it’s tough to assign an accurate value today without seeing the page–it might have been all talking heads and dialog or long shots full of landscapes. But I doubt it! There’s probably at least a nice head shot or flying panel of Adam Strange. Today it could fetch anywhere from several hundred to a couple grand–and all for one measely poem!
A bygone era in more ways than one. Not just the letters themselves, but the perks from too-generous editors! (See the letter at bottom left and the reply.)
That kind of thing stopped decades ago. And as an artist, I have to say rightly so; that art should have gone back to Carmine or Murphy. (Although at the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t care. Money has a way of making people care about stuff to which they once never gave a second thought.) But as a fan and collector, all I can say is, day-um! If it were that easy, I’d spend an entire week writing pithy poetry in exchange for art! Can you imagine getting a original page by Frank Cho for a poem? A nice Adam Hughes for a haiku? A Liam Sharp for a limmerick? A Ray Dillon for a rhyme?
Sigh. Neither can I.
When someone finally invents that time machine we’ve been waiting for, I’ll have one more use added to my list. I’ll need at least a few weeks in various years, but it will be SO worth it. (Back then, there were no art sites, auctions, cons or even dealers. Appealing directly tothe editor was most likely your best chance of acquiring originals.)
For now, all I can do is track down Mr. Tom Earl Brown of Salada, Texas and see if he still has that page. I can’t find him on Facebook or ComicArtFans.com yet. If any of you out there know this wonderful writer of pretty prose, tell him I’ll trade him the old art for my copy of the comic book with his letter. Ooh! He can see his name in print! Hell, I’ll even throw in a hundred bucks for his time and shipping.
Seems a fair trade, right?
P.S.: If YOU would like a page of original art for yourself, or a pinup of your favorite Silver Age (or any age) character, just ask Craig HERE. Best of all, no poetry required!