I used to be an English teacher. In fact the change in my work identify has been so recent that I had a very difficult time typing that very simple declaration. Having worked in education for fifteen years, I have made tons of friends in a variety of professional contexts. My circle of friends is mostly comprised of readerly types who can eloquently persuade me to pick up a book. One such friend posted a picture on her Instagram about Issue 2 of No Mercy by Alex De Campi, Carla Speed McNiel, and Jenn Manley Lee. She mentioned the creators, telling them that she couldn’t wait for the next installment.
That was all it took. I went to the comic book store and picked up issues 1 and 2. The women behind this book know what they are doing with the story: diverse group of teenagers in a foreign land leaving us with cliffhangers. They also know what they are doing with the backmatter, the extra stuff that single issue buyers get in the back of the comic.
In addition to the standard note to the reader and letters from readers, No Mercy runs an emoji recap contest.
I repeat: an emoji recap contest.
It is obvious that everyone can appreciate emoji recaps of comic books, but it seems odd to enjoy letters to the creators in the back of comic books given the easy access I have to various forums out there filled with readers discussing comics. Just because I can easily navigate to a forum does not mean that I can easily devote time to reading all the content. I love that the internet offers opportunities for all to be heard. However, when I don’t have time, I do enjoy reading a curated list of letters to the creators. Often the creators answer questions posed in the letters. I love this reminder that there is a community of people out there who love comic books enough to write and send letters.
This backmatter does not make it into trade paperbacks. The only way to get the content is to purchase single issues. Fantastic backmatter means I am more likely to purchase single issues. My favorite backmatter generally involves essays. Two books on my pull list provide both amazing letter sections and essay content: The Fade Out and Bitch Planet.
The Fade Out from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is perfect reading for a girl like me: a girl who likes watching Turner Classic Movies, a girl who named her son after a titan of hardboiled detective fiction, a girl who loves voiceovers in movies. I read the first four issues of this one in trade paperback, but starting pulling immediately thereafter. I discovered in Issue 5 the best letters and essays. The writers invite the readers to send in answers to questions such as “Who is your favorite actor from the 1940s. The responses from the readers have helped me create a list of movies from the 1940s to watch in the future. The backmatter essays are about actors from the 1940s. We’ve already established that I love Turner Classic Movies. These essays are sort of like when Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz provide background on the movie that is about to be shown on TCM.
Bitch Planet from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro also have essay content in addition to the letters. Since Bitch Planet is a “women-in-prison sci-fi exploitation riff,” the amazing essays are on feminism and feminist issues. The letters often feature readers expressing gratitude that a story of non-compliant women is being told. There are not many spaces where I get to see feminism have a space to breathe. Feminism is often discussed online, but when everyone gets to comment, it becomes a battle. This is not a battle space; it is a safe space.
I would be amiss to neglect the backmatter in from the new Archie series by Mark Waid.
The new Archie comic is amazing. It is charming and up-to-date. I honestly am surprised by how much I like it. It feels like a fresh story about teenagers. The backmatter called “An Introduction to Classic Archie” is written by Mark Waid. After each issue he present an old Archie story from the 1940s. The juxtaposition of 2015 Archie with early 1940s Archie is fun for readers who value all things vintage. I appreciate Waid’s commentary to help guide my reading of the classic story that follows. And the classic story brings treats in the form of hilarious fashion and slang.
Comic books with backmatter are a treat. A reader gets a serialized story, fantastic art, interesting essays, a reminder of community, and the occasional fun contest. If you are lucky, emoji are involved.