BURKE, Jim (1956-1994)

The only known photo of Jim Burke (left), taken with friend Russ Maheras at the 1988 Chicago Comic-Con. Burke was at the show promoting his comic, Captain Optimism.
The only known photo of Jim Burke (left) aka TM Maple, taken with friend Russ Maheras at the 1988 Chicago Comic-Con.

Jim Burke (1956-1994)

Burke is best known as a fan who wrote more than 3,000 letters to comic book letter columns between 1977 and 1994 under the pseudonym T.M. Maple. A Toronto based comic-fan, he was a regular shopper at the Queen Street Dragon Lady and Silver Snail locations.

Burke’s letters were quite popular among readers as well as editors, and he wrote prolifically to a diverse number of comic publishing companies and titles. To an entire generation of readers, editors and pros – mention the word letter column, and they’ll automatically think of the prolific T.M. Maple. Burke originally signed his letters as “The Mad Maple,” but Marvel Comics editor Tom DeFalco abbreviated it to “T.M. Maple” to make it sound like a real name (thus circumventing a new policy at the company to stop printing letters submitted under pseudonyms). Burke took a liking to the new name and began using it exclusively (including variations like “Theodore Maddox Maplehurst”) until 1988, when in Scott McCloud’s Zot! #21 he revealed his real name to the world.

Burke published a Batman fanzine in the late 1980s (‘Batmania’), which featured drawings by a young comics artist who he had met at Dragon Lady named Stuart Immonen (Immonen was assistant manager in 1989, working with manager and future Hall of Fame inductee Dave Darrigo). Future Dragon Lady manager Joe Kilmartin recalls meeting Burke at the Bloor Street Kinko’s that Kilmartin worked at, and it was there that Burke would photocopy the pages of his fanzines. When asked to describe Burke, Joe recalled — he had a sardonic wit, but was really very harried, not very talkative. “He was surprised I knew his stuff, and sold me a copy of the fanzine on the spot. It was 5 bucks for a digest sized fanzine, with tiny print. The pages were dense with words, and Stuart’s Batman drawings — which were quite large — were reproduced at postage stamp size in the ‘zine”. It was about 60 8.5×11 pages – folded in half – the type was either 6 point or 8 point. It was a thick volume. Dense with information on a subject he clearly loved and obsessed over.”

With artist/publisher Allen Freeman, Burke co-created the superhero Captain Optimist, which he sold at local shops and at comic book conventions.

Some say Burke was the inspiration for the Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons, and while there are many similarities, creator Matt Groening has denied the connection.

Jim Burke had a fatal heart attack in 1994. After his passing, DC Comics, the company he was most fond of, ran a tribute to T.M.Maple.


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