A BRIEF AUTOBIOGRAPHY
© copyright by Bill Schelly
My parents met and married in Walla Walla, Washington. I was the second of three boys, born on November 2, 1951. My father worked in the local Northern Pacific Railway office. For him to obtain promotions, he had to accept a transfer to San Francisco (in 1954) and then Pittsburgh (in 1957). That’s where I grew up, began reading comic books in 1960, and discovered comic fandom in 1964.
The moment I saw my first fanzine (Batmania, around August 1964), I became as fascinated by fandom as I was with comic books themselves. I had harbored fantasies of starting some sort of neighborhood newspaper for years; fandom gave me an outlet to write, draw and publish. With my friend Richard Shields, I launched Super-Heroes Anonymous #1 in February of 1965, the first of a series of crude magazines that I published over the next couple of years. When Richard Shields left the picture, I had no other friends in fandom until I got a letter from Marshall Lanz, who also lived in Pittsburgh and was also into comics and fandom. We were soon best friends, and we had a blast. (He was also a fanzine publisher.)
It wasn’t until early 1967 when I was finally able, at 15 years old, to produce a worthwhile fan magazine. It was called Sense of Wonder, and it lasted until 1972. The first two issues were published in Pittsburgh; the rest in Lewiston, Idaho, where my family moved on my 16th birthday. From there, I went to the University of Idaho, where I majored in Art and minored in English. (I got a teaching degree, but never taught.) The last two issues of Sense of Wonder presented the first attempt to chronicle the whole career of Will Eisner.
At the time I thought I wanted to be a comic book artist. However, when I went to New York in July 1973, and submitted my portfolio to DC comics, I was rejected. In hindsight, I wasn’t cut out to be a comic book (or any other kind of) artist, though I’ve continued to dabble in it. It turned out that I had more ability as a writer. (All this is recounted in my book Sense of Wonder: A Life in Comic Fandom.)
When I graduated from college, I became disenchanted with comic books and stopped collecting in 1974. I moved to Seattle and became immersed in its social scene and finding work in “the big city.” It wasn’t until 1980 that I began writing my first book. My interest in cinema had been brewing since my teenage years. I ended up writing a biography of silent film comedian Harry Langdon, which was published by Scarecrow Press in 1982. After that, I worked on other books, but found research difficult in those pre-Internet days, and nothing panned out.
My interest in comics revived when I began frequenting a comic book store located in the same building where I worked. At Zanadu Comics, I discovered the Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book series, which impressed me a great deal. I discovered that comics had progressed and there were many that interested me. I began collecting again, and was even (briefly) part-owner of a comic book store in Seattle’s University District (Super Comics and Collectibles).
In 1991, I joined comics “apa” (amateur press alliance) CAPA-alpha, which marked the beginning of my re-involvement in comic fandom. One of the members of the apa was Jeff Gelb, someone I had collaborated with back in the mid-1960s on amateur comic strips. I got in touch with Jeff, who encouraged me to attend the San Diego Comicon where we met in person for the first time. Our friendship has just gotten stronger as the years have gone by.
For CAPA-alpha, I began writing articles about fandom in the 1960s. That inspired me to find out where fans like Ronn Foss, Biljo White, Grass Green, G. B. Love and others were, and to interview them about those halcyon days. Eventually, after a great deal of research (most of it before I had gotten on the Internet), I wrote an entire book on the subject, which I titled The Golden Age of Comic Fandom. When no other publisher saw much sales potential in it, I decided to publish it myself. In 1995, I set up my own company called Hamster Press, made arrangements with Diamond Comics and Capital City Comics to distribute the book, and was off to the races. I was thrilled that it was nominated for a Will Eisner Comics Industry Award, the first of two of my Hamster Press books to receive that honor.
In 1997, I organized a reunion of old-time comics fans during the Chicago Comicon, which drew 33 people including Jerry Bails, Howard Keltner, Maggie Thompson, Grass Green and Jay Lynch. It mainly consisted of a high-spirited banquet lunch, where many photos were taken. Russ Maheras helped a great deal with this. It’s a memory that I will always cherish. (Jerry, Howard, Grass and others in attendance have since passed on.)
In all, there were nine Hamster Press books, published from 1995 to 2004, They were all well received, and sold well enough to at least cover all the costs (a considerable feat in itself), if not be profitable. I also wrote and edited three other books of fandom history for other publishers. TwoMorrows Publishing put out my Sense of Wonder memoir, and Volume 2 of Alter Ego: The Best of the Legendary Fanzine. McFarland published Founders of Comic Fandom. Fan history has been the basis of my ongoing Comic Fandom Archive columns for Alter Ego magazine, which started when A/E was launched in 1999, and is still going strong. Roy Thomas is editor and I am associate editor (along with Jim Amash). Alter Ego won a Will Eisner Comics Industry Award in 2007 for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Publication.
Probably the highest point of my fannish endeavors was the Fandom Reunion at Comic-Con International: San Diego in 2011. With the help of Jackie Estrada, it was sponsored by the con itself, as part of its “50th anniversary of fandom” theme. About 140 fans attended, including George R. R. Martin (whose first writing appeared in comics fanzines), and Michael Uslan, executive producer of the Batman movies, who was also in fandom as a teenager. As a guest of the convention, I appeared on three panels, and received an Inkpot award for “fandom services.”
Alongside my interest in fan history, my fascination with the history of comic books in general grew. My first biography of a comics professional was Words of Wonder: The Life and Times of Otto Binder, in 2003. The following year, I began work on a biography of Joe Kubert, which became three books in all, establishing a productive and enjoyable relationship with Fantagraphics Books. Harvey Kurtzman, The Man Who Created Mad is my biggest and most ambitious biography to date. It seems that biographies are my métier, although I also enjoyed writing American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1950s for TwoMorrows. It was an honor when it was nominated for a Harvey Kurtzman Award in 2014. I also wrote a dozen or so introductions for DC’s Archives series, which was a lot of fun.
I earned my living for many years working for the U. S. Small Business Administration. I was a surety bond underwriter, helping small construction firms get access to government contracts. I was hired in 1989 and retired at the end of 2011. Most of my job involved financial analysis of small businesses, which (I believe) has helped me understand and write about the business side of the comics industry. But mostly, the job earned me a pension which allows me to now fulfill my longtime desire to be a fulltime writer.