It's no secret that I have been a comic book fan almost my entire life. Problem is, comic book fans are pretty widely scattered. While I knew people in West Rome who read comics (Gary Steele, Bobby Wear, Phil Patterson, John Ball, to name a few), few of my fellow comic book readers were as addicted to the medium as was I. Soon, though, I realized that many of those letters in the comic book letters columns had names and addresses attached, and I began writing to a few of those letter-writers whose opinions intrigued me. Even better, they wrote back.
By the time I was 13 years old, I had at least a dozen regular "pen pals" across the country with whom I exchanged letters regarding comics that we both enjoyed. These correspondents helped introduce me to the world of fanzines--amateur fan magazines published in small quantities for sale or trade to fellow fans. Many of those fanzines would send a free copy to anyone who wrote a letter that was published in the fanzine, so I began writing even more letters.
By 1968, it seemed like I was getting more mail at my parents' house than they were; rarely a day went by that I didn't have at least one or two letters in the mail. I even remember my amazement and excitement when, in 1969, I actually received a Sunday mail delivery from a correspondent who was so eager to get me a sample of his artwork that he paid huge sums to have some artwork and a letter delivered via whatever was 1969's precursor to Express Mail.
I would get very frustrated when I didn't get any mail at all, because the letters I wrote and received had become very important to me. One day, I became so aggravated that a letter I was awaiting had not arrived that I punched the door to my room--and imagine my chagrin when I discovered (the hard way) that the doors in our house were hollow! Lo and behold, I had punched a hole in the door! I tried to put a sticker over the hole to cover it up, by my sister Kimberly saw the hole before I covered it, and she poked a hole in the sticker to ensure that my parents saw the hole in the doorway. (My nephew and his wife now live in the house where I grew up; when they replaced the interior doors, they cut out that door panel with its hole and sticker fragments and gave it to me as a relic of my childhood).
Through the remainder of the 1960s and into the 1970s, I was a voluminous letter writer (or should I say "letter typist," since I always preferred to type letters rather than handwrite them). After Susan and I were married, we both continued to correspond with science fiction and comics fans, and remained involved in fanzines. As a result, we were pretty much on a first-name basis with the staff at the post office--not a surprise, considering how much of our disposable income was spent on postage!
Many of the fellow fans with whom I corresponded in my younger years have gone on to become professionals in the comics and/or SF field nowadays; it's surprising to realize that many of those correspondence friendships have outlasted a lot of my in-person friendships!
I write very few letters nowadays, though, preferring to use email. I still have a tendency of rambling on in my emails as if I were writing a regular letter, though; I never got the hang of short, pithy emails, I guess. Old habits die hard, though: I still rush to see what came in the mail each day (and thanks to my role as editor and publisher of a newsweekly in the comics field, I still get a lot of mail), and I spend too much time sorting through the 150-250 emails I get each day. Like regular mail, about half of those emails are junk or ads, but the others serve as a link between me and many of my correspondents!
I don't think that too many people today understand how important letters were in the pre-internet days; they served as my link to a much larger world made up of people who shared my interest, and helped me to feel a lot less isolated than would have otherwise been the case.