Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ted P. Skimmer and Me

A number of the chapters of my "Secret History of All-American Comics" that has been running in ALTER EGO and BACK ISSUE magazines (available at http://www.twomorrows.com/) have been presented as interviews of Ted Skimmer, "a longtime employee of AA Comics." Ted's career there began in the mid-1940s and lasted well into the 1990s; he worked in both the editorial and production departments and did freelance work as a colorist and a letterer.

The use of Ted prompted one reader to write to AE editor Roy Thomas to ask for an article about the career at DC Comics of the real Ted P. Skimmer. Indeed, if you were to peruse some of the books DC published in the 70s and 80s, you would find that Ted was a fan from Pittstown, Oklahoma, who had a number of letters published. He then worked in the editorial department, writing the responses in the letters pages of some of the books, and even scripted an El Diablo story in JONAH HEX #48.

Despite all this evidence, Ted does not exist. In fact, everything he wrote was actually written by yours truly.

Ted's original appearances in the letter columns were done to fill space. Believe it or not, some of the letters that appeared in the comic books were written by staff members. If there was not enough mail to fill the page, those of us responsible for putting the columns together would ask our fellow fans-turned-staffers to write a letter. (This was going on long before my compatriots and I arrived at DC. Readers from my generation will remember numerous letters in the Mort Weisinger-edited Superman books that asked questions like, "Has Superman ever turned into a dragon?" The response was always something like, "Do you have x-ray vision? Have you been peeking into our editorial offices? That's exactly what happens in next month's issue!") Though our letters weren't usually blatant plugs for upcoming issues like those that Weisinger used, we often made comments that sparked an editorial response that could fill the page.

At one point, I was doing the lettercols for Julie Schwartz's books, along with the Daily Planet and Answer Man pages, and one or two of the other editors asked if I would handle the columns for their books as well. We decided that, rather than have it seem like I was the only person in the company who was reading the mail, Ted P. Skimmer would come to New York and take a job as an editorial assistant.
I came up with a "secret origin" for Ted, claiming that he and I were friends from college. When someone wrote in and asked where Pittstown, Oklahoma was because he could not find it on a map, I had an answer for that as well. There is actually a Pittsburg in the Sooner State and so, when Ted and I met, he told me he hailed from there. I thought he meant Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and started talking about how my brother lived north of there. When Ted explained he meant a small town in Oklahoma, I told him that he was not allowed to confuse people ever again and from then on I would call it Pittstown.
Occasionally, I would make jokes about the relationship between myself and Ted, eventually having him move from the Editorial department into the Production department "Bob calls me his right-hand man, which is pretty funny because I'm left-handed," Ted once commented in print. Indeed, whenever I saw Ted (in the mirror), he was left-handed.

Why Ted got credit for writing the El Diablo story is something I do not recall, but I'm sure we had a good reason at the time. It may just have been that he mentioned writing his first script in some letter column and we figured it was about time it was actually published.

The secret of Ted had remained pretty much undiscovered for almost three decades. The Grand Comics Database (http://www.comics.org/) lists him as the writer of the El Diablo story, along with a credit for a number of letters pages. But just the other day, someone reading my blog about the Secret History made a connection between the two Teds and wrote to me to find out the story.

By the way, the Ted shown in the photos in ALTER EGO and BACK ISSUE is actually my father. If nothing else, it made it easy to come up with a photo showing "Ted" and me together. In the final chapter of the series, in BI #36, there is a photo of Samantha Skimmer, Ted's granddaughter. As you might have guessed, it's actually my daughter Sammi, who is, of course, "Ted's" granddaughter.

5 comments:

  1. Very cool and something I didn't even suspect.

    I recognized Ted's name but never gave it much thought.

    The idea that the letters in letter columns were sometimes faked is also a new thing I only recently learned (from Steve Englehart's blog).

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  2. Very interesting! Was Tamsyn O'Flynn a real person? I always thought T.M. Maple was, but perhaps I'm wrong there as well! And I think I recall a Kent Phenis, which I imagine could easily be a made-up name.

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  3. Tamsyn was a real person (and that is her name). T.M. Maple was a fan named Jim Burke. Kent A. Phenis was, as far as I know, his real name.

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  4. "T.M. Maple" was Canadian and originally signed as "The Mad Maple." As more and more of his letters were printed, he started abbreviating figuring folks knew who he was by then.

    Another favorite letter hack of mine was James T. McCoy of Valley Station, Kentucky who turned out to have had some debilitating disease. After his death, his mother (I believe) wrote to say that the accolades his letters got were the best medicine he'd had.

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