This is a new feature called "A Letter on a Lonesome Day," which will spotlight the notable letter writers of the letter columns that were prominent parts of comic book history from the 1950s through the late 1990s.
We begin with Jim Burke, best known by his pseudonym, T.M. Maple, otherwise known as The Mad Maple.
This column was inspired, appropriately enough, by a letter to me (well, an electronic mail) from reader Gregory H., who wanted to know what the deal was with T.M. Maple. Gregory wrote, "I don't often take note of the names of people who write in to comic books, but one was brought to my attention. Whilst reading the letter page of 'Mazing Man #5, I was introduced to the name of someone with whom, it seems, I should have been familiar. One particular letter started "This is a brand-new book, right? Okay, let's start timing now - how long until T. M. Maple hits this lettercol?"
Sure enough, the following issue printed a letter from the infamous T. M. Maple. My question is: Who is this guy? How did he get the level of recognition where fellow readers look forward to his missives being printed? Letter pages are not often reprinted. So is this a tidbit of comic fandom that will be lost to history?"
Great question, Gregory. Yes, obviously, the letter page has been gone for so long that its importance is mostly lost to history, so that's why it is nice that you gave me the chance to spotlight some of the letter writers of the past.
I actually spotlighted T.M. Maple in a Comic Book Legends Revealed from many, many moons ago (like about a dozen years ago) and here is how I summed up the great Mad Maple...
T.M. Maple, for fans who do not recall him, was one of the greatest letter writers in comic book letter column history, with well over 3,000 letters written.
He originally signed his letters "The Mad Maple," but when Jim Shooter became Editor-In-Chief of Marvel, he instituted a policy in which Marvel would not publish letters from letter writers using pseudonyms (which isn't a half bad policy, really). Editor Tom DeFalco got around this by abbreviating The Mad Maple as T.M. Maple.
Burke liked this abbreviation, and used it for the rest of his letter-writing journey.
Sadly, Burke died in 1994 of a heart attack.
Burke was Canadian and so the Joe Shuster Awards actually dedicated an award in Maple's honor. He began writing letters in 1977 and continued until his death in 1994.
Maple's letters were notable for how gentle and thoughtful they were. So many of them could be enjoyed without even really knowing the context of the comic book that he was specifically referencing.
On the next page, I'll spotlight a few interesting ones (by "interesting," I, of course, mean the most interesting of the handful I was able to find in a goodly amount of time spent flipping through old comic books). Before that, though, I'll print the letters that Gregory referenced in his e-mail.
From 'Mazing Man #5...
And then, the following issue, sure enough, there was a Maple letter...