Mark Gruenwald’s Letter to Young Me


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:


961440-ma71In 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).


Mark Gruenwald

Arcade Fire in Raleigh (7-12-2018)

Arcade Fire’s lead singer, Win Butler, walked right past me as the band took the stage at Red Hat Amphitheater last Thursday, July 12, 2018. Above, you’ll see the photograph I hastily took from my aisle seat at the venue. A great show it was, although the band elected not to play “Intervention,” one of my favorite songs of their catalogue.

I can’t recall exactly how it was that I discovered Arcade Fire, but I suspect that I learned of them from one of the music blogs I read back in mid-to-late 2004. In those days, I would download many, many albums from the iTunes Store, and Funeral, Arcade Fire’s first full length album, was among them. Apparently, I soon became a partisan of the band, introducing several friends to their work, if this tweet and that tweet are accurate.

I’ve now seen Arcade Fire four times, and they are a bit of a joy to behold. The News & Observer‘s David Menconi reviewed the show, and in so doing, he captured its spirit. Calling the group a “sort of a millennial chorus come to life,” he opined:

[I]t was pretty much one emotional crescendo after another, all in a key of E (as in Epic).

Arcade Fire’s members are all quite serious, and yet they always look like they’re having a great time. Everybody played pretty much everything, changing instruments while moving front to back, back to front and even beyond the stage. More than once, you’d look up and realize that one of them had ventured out into the crowd and was playing away nearby.

The finale was, of course, “Wake Up,” and the evening ended as it began: with everybody in the place singing.

Over the years, the band has irked reviewers and fans with its sense of self-importance, but the emotive impact of their anthems ameliorates the effect of any haughtiness.

Take, for example, “Intervention,” an epic indie hymn from the band’s 2007 album, Neon Bible. It begins with a blaring pipe organ and features this devastating lyric: “Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.” Shortly before the release of Neon Bible, a bootleg MP3 of “Intervention” circulated online, prompting quite a reaction.

Here’s how Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times described it at the time:

Would it be perverse to claim that “Intervention” sounded even better when it was a shared secret, circulating as a low-quality MP3 taken from a BBC broadcast, complete with a breathless D.J. — “If that doesn’t get you, man, if that doesn’t get you somewhere special …” — talking over the last few notes? Maybe. But even now, after all the attention and the big-hall shows, the best Arcade Fire songs still sound mysterious.

I remember that exuberant deejay. I recall his utter glee. That bootleg MP3 thrived on my iPod until I bought Neon Bible on the day of its release. I can even recall the circumstances of its purchase. That day, March 5, 2007, I was attending a conference on the Georgia coast, and I felt compelled to trek to a Best Buy in nearby Savannah to buy it.

For some time thereafter, though, the song didn’t seem quite the same without the deejay’s commentary over its closing bars. In those days before streaming platforms, there was something special about discovering a song online before it was widely available. I wish I still had that version of “Intervention” – the one with a rhapsodic disc jockey heaping praise upon the song as we awaited its official release.

Remember, too, that in 2005 Arcade Fire backed David Bowie on “Life on Mars?” and “Five Years” as well as their own “Wake Up.” If you’ve not encountered that EP, you should halt all current activity until you’ve heard it.

Simply put, there is something grand about Arcade Fire, a band worthy of much of the hyperbole their music provokes. So, when they play nearby, I’ll bear witness.

You can find the set list for the Raleigh show here.