Thirty years ago today, on October 18, 1988, Marvel Comics legend Mark Gruenwald wrote a letter by hand to 12 year old me. I recall the elation of receiving it (in part because it arrived in a fancy envelope with Spider-Man emblazoned upon it). At that time, I had begun to collect autographs, and I was writing to a number of celebrities attempting to secure some great souvenir or prize. Many of those efforts prompted no response, but Gruenwald certainly delivered, as you can see from the image above.
At that time, I knew Gruenwald from his work on Captain America and various Avengers titles. Back in those days, I loved comics (especially the Avengers books). I would scour the spinning racks at used bookstores and the stands at comic book stores for any issues I could find. I’ve spent the last fifteen minutes searching the Internet in vain for an image of the Avengers t-shirt I would proudly wear to elementary school in the mid-1980’s. So you can imagine that for me to receive a letter from someone from Marvel Comics was a true delight.
When he wrote to me, Mark Gruenwald had worked in the comics industry for a decade. In October of 1988, he was 35 years old, seven years younger than I am now. No matter his age, he knew how thrilled a young reader would be to correspond with a comic book creator. I know this because I recently purchased a copy of Marvel Age #71, the issue he mentioned in his letter. It features an article by Gruenwald in which he recounts that he “was a mere lad of ten when Stan Lee printed a letter of [his] in Fantastic Four #20.” Marvel published that issue of Fantastic Four in November of 1963 when Gruenwald was only two years younger than I was in 1988 when I wrote to him. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, his letter is far more accessible than it was in the 1980’s:
In the Marvel Age piece, Gruenwald recalls buying X-Men #1, Amazing Spider-Man #1, Hulk #1, and even Avengers #1 new off the stand. He almost certainly bought Avengers #4, the issue in which Captain America joins the team, upon its release. Gruenwald was a true partisan of Marvel Comics, noting in that same Marvel Age article that as a youth he “discovered that it was more fun to play Captain America than Superman — you had to pretend you could fly and had super-strength and x-ray vision, but as long as you had a garbage can lid and a reckless nature, you could actually do whatever Cap could — though not quite as well.” Years later, in 1995, he told Lena Williams of The New York Times that Marvel’s super heroes “can lick any three DC heroes with their hands tied behind their backs” and “crack funnier jokes while they’re doing it.”
Gruenwald died too young at age 43 on August 12, 1996. That hits rather close to home as I will turn 43 in just two months. In August of 1996, though, I was beginning my junior year at The University of Texas at Austin. Although I didn’t visit the comic book shops as frequently, I would occasionally steal away to the one in the Dobie Mall or others elsewhere in the city to recapture those feelings from the 1980’s. In April of this year, I visited Austin for the first time in more than a decade and found myself browsing the boxes of comics at Austin Books. I chanced across a number of titles from Marvel’s New Universe series which was in part, of course, created by Mark Gruenwald.
Requiescat in pace, Mr. Gruenwald.
Dear Jim –
Below is my autograph because you demanded it!
To answer your question – yes, I love my job and wouldn’t trade it for any other (expect maybe Tom DeFalco’s). As for how I got to be an editor, read Marvel Age #71 for the full (boring) story. Favorite Marvel comic I don’t edit? Thor (though I used to edit it) or Justice (usually).