5. Child Readers and Comics Letter Pages
Many comics included letter pages to which young readers could send their suggestions and critiques. The industry encouraged its young readers to think of comics as theirs and to engage with them in a participatory way. For example, the titles of readers’ forums were often framed as questions inviting reader responses: ‘This is Your Page; Speak Up!’ or ‘What’s on Your Mind?’ or ‘What Do You think?’ One particularly creative formulation was the letters page in Guns Against Gangsters, which seemed to invite reader criticism with its title ‘Fire at Will!’
Young readers also sometimes publicized their own fan clubs in the letters pages of their favourite comics. Linda Lorentz of Chicago, for example, wrote the editors of the horror comic Forbidden Worlds not only to express her approval of the series but to mention her new club: “I have read FW for a long time. So have all my friends, and we think your stories are swell. In fact, we have formed a club called ‘Forbidden’ and we read your comics all the time.”
In these reader forums, young people could also express their opinions and make suggestions for future issues. A particulary striking example of this practice comes from M. Mahaffey, writing in the "Coffin Corner" forum of Horrific comics, who offers a surprising take on the animal stories so common to ‘official’ children’s culture: “I enjoy your stories very much, so I don’t think you’ll mind if I make a request. Why not feature more animals with intelligence, animals with the capacity to think and reason, like Claws of Horror in your last book?... Such stories give our overblown human vanity a jolt and it certainly needs it in this day of man’s inhumanity to man.”
The notorious and long-running series Crime Does Not Pay included a ‘Crime Quiz’ inviting readers to test their knowledge of famous crimes and of criminal argot. This series also regularly featured a ‘Whodunnit Mystery,’ which invited readers to guess the killer.
Granted, the pages ostensibly dedicated to readers were often used by publishers to congratulate themselves on their fine product, or to counter growing criticism from the public about their content. Crime Does Not Pay was particularly conspicuous in this strategy, publishing many glowing letters sent by delighted mothers who praised the comic for highlighting the wages of sin and so discouraging juvenile delinquency. Mrs. M. L. Sullivan of Aliceville, Ala. wrote: “I distribute all your magazines, especially ‘Crime and Punishment,’ among my boys each month, as I know it teaches them a lesson that I could never put across in either words or actions.” Of course children who could demonstrate the moral mandate of CDNP were also rewarded by seeing their letters in print, in one case at least in Boy Comics, as a full-page reprint.