From Alter Ego magazine (#119 & 120)
© copyright 2012 by Bill Schelly
Comic Fandom Archive
Spotlight on BILL SCHELLY
Alter Ego’s associate editor is questioned by Gary Brown on his fannish past, the origins of Hamster Press, and his more recent books
The conclusion to A/E’s coverage of the 50th Anniversary of Fandom Celebration and related festivities in San Diego at the 2011 Comic-Con International: San Diego.
(This July 2011 panel was transcribed by Brian K. Morris.)
GARY BROWN: We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of comics fandom, and I’d like to introduce you to an author who is a fan historian extraordinaire, and all-around good guy, Mr. Bill Schelly. [audience applauds]
BILL SCHELLY: Hi, everybody.
GARY BROWN: Bill, let’s do some vital statistics first. Where were you born, when, and –?
SCHELLY: I’m actually a Washington State native. I was born in 1951 in Walla Walla, Washington, but I grew up in Pittsburgh. The people that knew me in fandom in the Sixties would probably think of me from there. But then in 1967 I moved to Lewiston Idaho, so the last five years of my fan publishing was from there. I got into fandom in 1964 so I’m not listed in The Who’s Who of Comic Fandom. I missed the deadline by about three months. [audience chuckles]
BROWN: Well, you ended up in Seattle where you live now.
SCHELLY: Right. I moved here in 1974 after graduating from college.
BROWN: What do you do now, besides writing books about fandom?
SCHELLY: I work for the U. S. Small Business Administration. [Note: Bill retired at the end of 2011.]
BROWN: What was your first comic book?
SCHELLY: I don’t think I can remember my first comic book because I had to have gotten comics before I was eight. I know I had to. But the first one I remember was that first Superman Annual in 1960. I distinctly remember reading it on a train trip where I could focus on it fully without distractions, and … I got so sucked into it. I remember there was a panel in one of the stories where it was something about Superman’s “mighty mind,” when he’s really concentrating on remembering something, and I remember thinking, “Wow, what would it be like to have a mighty mind? What does that mean? I just got into it fully. Then, later, I realized that most of the stories in that annual were written by Otto Binder and I ended up, not just coincidentally, writing a biography of Otto. So in a way, Otto Binder was the one who really pulled me into comics.
BROWN: Who was your favorite character and writers and artists at first?
SCHELLY: Comics themselves, just as a medium of story and pictures together, appealed to my imagination…. At first I was really into Superman and those related comics. Without knowing the names of the artists, there were some I liked better than others. I really liked Wayne Boring’s Superman and also Curt Swan’s, less so the others. My Dad would bring them home to me and then I was buying them on my own. I also liked Batman when I was nine and ten years old. The first Marvel comic book that I bought—I may have read a few that friends had—was Amazing Spider-Man #7 with Spidey fighting the Vulture, which came out in September 1963. Then I became a Marvel fan, and of course Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were my favorite artists after that. I was mostly into the superhero stuff through the 1960s. When I was in college, I started branching out and appreciating Sgt. Rock and EC comics.
BROWN: At some point, you got your first fanzine. What was it and how did it change your life? [chuckles]
SCHELLY: Well, obviously it did have a huge effect. [audience chuckles] There was a plug in an issue of Justice League of America, I think #30,that was responsible for about 400 people getting into comics fandom. I was one of them. I wrote to G. B. Love in Florida and got a flyer advertising the Rocket’s Blast-Comicollector. He was also selling something called Fighting Hero Comics with a character called The Eye. And I remember showing them to a buddy, asking, “What is this? Are there comic books that don’t come to Pittsburgh?” He was obviously smarter than me… He said, “You idiot, these are amateur publications that people are doing. They’re not like Marvel or DC. You have to send away for them.” And I went, “Ah, that’s cool,” and I ordered a few of those things right away. When I saw RB-CC and some others, I was instantly drawn into fandom, just the same way as other people were. It wasn’t the fact that you could order back issues that got me, though. The minute I saw a fanzine, it was like I was seized with the urge to publish. I don’t know where it came from … but the first thing I wanted to do was publish one. I hadn’t read more than a half dozen of them before I was planning to do one.
BROWN: I know mine was Batmania and the minute you saw it, one of the things was, “I’m not alone! There are others like me out there.”
SCHELLY: Same here. There were a couple of neighborhood kids had comics, but I had just one buddy who was into them like I was. When you think about it, there was no support whatsoever for anybody who was into comics back then. If you were into it as a teenager, you didn’t have anybody saying, “Oh, that’s cool.” If you admitted it at all, you had people wondering why, or just outright making fun of you. So when I saw the fanzines and realized that other people were into comics … It was great finding out that there were people who also saw that comics had other qualities and weren’t just children’s material. Of course, with The Comics Code, the comics were generally geared toward a younger audience for a while there. But then along came Marvel, and things started changing.
BROWN: What were your favorite fanzines that you got at the beginning?
SCHELLY: Batmania was one of my favorites, mainly because of Biljo White. That guy never drew a wrong line in his life. He just knew how to create an illustration that was simple and beautiful. Maybe he wouldn’t have made a good comic book artist, but I still think he was a great artist for what he did. I also like The Yancy Street Journal. Rocket’s Blast ComiCollector, we all got into because then it was like page after page of ads for old comics. I couldn’t afford them, but it was fun and educational to look at the ads. When I first saw Alter Ego, I was blown away. Alter Ego #7 was the first issue I saw, with the article by Roy Thomas about the Marvel Family, “One Man’s Family.” That article inspired me to buy my first old comic book, Captain Marvel Adventures #91. And again, it was like Otto Binder again saying, “Hey, Bill.” I also got the Texas Trio’s Star-Studded Comics and loved the amateur comic strips a lot. I had some art ability and I started creating my own characters and strips. Anyway, those were the main fanzines I liked the best.
BROWN: So here’s Bill Schelly, cranking on the ditto and the mimeo, or whatever you had.
SCHELLY: Yeah, yeah.
BROWN: Talk about some of your fanzines. What was the first?
SCHELLY: [chuckles] Well, you know I was thirteen in 1964… and at thirteen, what do you have to say? I didn’t have anything to say … but that didn’t stop me. [audience chuckles] My first fanzine was called Super-Heroes Anonymous. Why that title came to me, I have no idea. When I realized how dumb that was, I changed it with #3 to Incognito, which was my take on Alter Ego. Those early ones were very crude – what people called crud-zines. A couple of years later I did something called Fantasy Forum, and that was a little better. Then I did something that a lot of people seem to remember called The Irving Forbush Gazette, a fanzine about Marvel comics. Forbush was a crazy fanzine because Marshall Lanz, who was the co-editor, was absolutely out of his mind and he was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. Marshall lived across town. We found each other through the fanzines and became pals. We had so much fun … and we did Forbush together. Then in 1967, I did Sense of Wonder which is the fanzine that was published through the end of my period in fandom up to 1972. It was my first attempt to seriously apply myself to having the best possible contents. It started out like the early ditto issues of Star-Studded, all amateur comics … and gradually became more of an article fanzine. The last two issues of Sense of Wonder in 1971 and 1972 published the first major articles on Will Eisner and his career that ever appeared anywhere. It ended with #12 in 1972.
BROWN: Who were some of your correspondents through the mail?
SCHELLY: I exchange long, long letters with a popular fan writer named Dave Bibby. I also corresponded with a guy named Steve Johnson who had a fanzine called Sanctum which became a very good fanzine in later years. In the early 1970s, Louis Morra and I exchanged a lot of letters. Those were the ones who I exchanged long letters with. There may have been some that I’ve forgotten.
BROWN: At some point, you kind of strayed from fandom like many of us have done at a certain age or for certain reasons. What pulled you away and what pulled you back in?
SCHELLY: Well, at the end of my fanzine period, I was finishing college and that’s when I decided to see if I could break into pro comics as an artist. After graduation in 1973, I worked up some sample pages. DC had announced something called their “New Talent Program,” and I figured this was my big chance. I did a Batman page, a Martian Manhunter page and one other, so I had just three pages in my portfolio—plus some miscellaneous stuff—in my portfolio when I went to the New York Comicon that summer, the big summer con put on by Phil Seuling. My dad, who was a railroad executive, got me a free pass on the Burlington Northern, and it was a big adventure. I got there, and had a great time at the con. When it came time for the DC editors to look at portfolios, it seemed like there were 100 or more in line, though my memory might be playing tricks on me. But even if there were 30 or 40 people, it was a lot. My portfolio was examined by one of the more thoughtful, considerate men in comics. Vince Colletta was the guy who passed judgment on me [audience chuckles], with Julius Schwartz was standing in the background, kibitzing and making comments. I think I got about two minutes with Mr. Colletta…. and was rejected. “Go back and practice some more, kid.” It was really crushing. Julie threw in some negative comments on my work, too. Many years later, when I got to know Julie a little, I told him about the experience, and told him, “You kept me out of pro comics.” (Actually it was Colletta but Julie had a part in it.) He said, “Well, I was right, wasn’t I?” I had to think about it for a minute but had to say, “You know what? You were right.” [laughs] I would have been a lousy comic book artist. I didn’t have what it took. That’s not to say that if I’d had an opportunity to assistant another artist, or work under someone who could teach me some things, that I couldn’t have done some competent work. I did have some ability, but never really applied myself. But the rejection by DC was a turning point for me.
BROWN: So that’s when you left fandom?
SCHELLY: Yes…. I wasn’t going to be a comic book artist…. I was done with college. Now it was time to go out and earn a living. At what, I had no idea. I had a teaching degree but a bad student teaching experience turned me off to that, at least in the short term. It took me a lot of years before I felt like I was ready to think about comics again. I’d look at the stands in the 1970s and nothing looked good to me. That’s not really a comment on the quality of what was being published, because there are always good things coming out. But there was a lot of junk, too, and the times I glanced at a comic once in awhile, nothing seemed to appeal to me. Master of Kung-Fu looked kind of interesting, but I was preoccupied with other things. I was in my twenties, living in Seattle away from my parents for the first time, and I was really into rock music, going to concerts, and partying. Also I was (and still am) very into film. But that was sort of a bleak period for me too. Looking back, I think I was missing comics and fandom.
BROWN: Didn’t you write a book about the movies?
SCHELLY: Uh-huh, my first book. I wrote a biography of a silent film comedian who you’ve never heard of named Harry Langdon. And I’m the author of the only biography of Harry Langdon who was compared to Chaplin in his day.
BROWN: What brought on the Harry Langdon book? I mean were you a big fan?
SCHELLY: Well, I’m a movie fan, and what happened was … Before there were videotapes and DVDs, there were theaters that ran repertory programs of old movies. Other than latenight television, that’s how you saw old movies. Those repertory programs would show a new double feature each day. In 1980, a program came to Seattle called The Silent Clowns. It was all movies starring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon, who were the four classic silent comedians. A friend of mine was really taken with Buster Keaton at that time and, while like Keaton too, I was fascinated with Langdon who was extremely strange [chuckles] and very odd comedian, to say the least, but very talented. When I realized there wasn’t a book about Langdon, I started writing one. It was very difficult without the Internet. You know, his widow wouldn’t talk to me because she had her own book that was imminent. Her book never came out, and she’s long since passed away. Anyway, I wrote Harry Langdon which was published by Scarecrow Press in 1982. After that, I tried other writing projects but I just didn’t know what to do. I had ideas rejected by publishers and so I was kind of thrashing around.
BROWN: How did you get back into fandom?
SCHELLY: Let’s see …. Somehow I heard about the Crisis on Infinite Earths comics and visited a comic book retail store for the first time. I started reading them again, things like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen…. also, I got some of the back issues I used to own. I slipped easily into regularly reading comics again and even collected in a small way. But I was doing it more or less as a solitary thing. In 1989, I got a job at the Small Business Administration, and about a year later, on Halloween, one of the men came dressed in a Batman costume. I said, “Hey, that’s cool, I’m kinda into comics.” His name was Glen Moss. He said, “Really? I’m in X-apa and this and that” and I told him I used to be in CAPA-alpha. He knew of K-a… He said, “If you’re interested, I can get you their roster.” I thought it would be a way to get in touch with some people I used to know, and that’s what happened. I got the list and there was a guy on it named Jeff Gelb, who had contributed to Super-Heroes Anonymous #2 when he was living in Rochester, New York. I got him on the phone, and said, “This is a voice from your past.” He was surprised to hear from me, to put it mildly… but he did remember me. So Jeff, being the friendly guy he is, helped me hook up with fandom again. It could have been you, Gary, since your name was also on that list and I remembered you, but for whatever reason I called Jeff.
BROWN: [chuckles] So you’re back at fandom and you start writing The Golden Age of Comics Fandom.
SCHELLY: Right, right.
BROWN: How did the idea come about? How did you decide to become a historian, so to speak?
SCHELLY: Well, I was enjoying CAPA-alpha, and a guy named Richard Pryor ran reprints of things from the fanzines of the 1960s, and suddenly all those memories came flooding back. I found there wasn’t a major source or a book about the history of fandom, so on a very modest scale I started doing some things that were run in CAPA-alpha. I managed to get in touch with Ronn Foss, Jerry Bails and Biljo White, and began doing some interviews by mail. This was before the Internet was big. It expanded more when I went to the 1992 comicon in San Diego, and met Jeff [Gelb] and Roy Thomas in person. Roy was very friendly and helpful. So, gradually, the thing built up until I realized there should be a book about the fan movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and I decided to do one. If you think about it, the Langdon book was kind of a historical thing, looking back at someone’s career in the 1920s and 1930s. I just naturally like writing about the history of things. I was feeling, “So many of the old-time fans have been completely forgotten.” In San Diego, it really hit me, because here’s this whole mammoth comicon, but comicons started with a handful of fans who loved comics and had an idea. They did so much to create comics fandom, and who’s giving them their due? There was no book because, I figured, there wasn’t any money in it. That’s what I thought it came down to…. but I had a pretty good job and wasn’t interested in it to make money. I was just interested in giving the fans from that formative period some recognition. And I was a bit of a frustrated writer, and it was fun to have a creative project to work on. You know, because there wasn’t money in doing that kind of book, I wasn’t competing with other people who said, “Get off my turf. I’m doing one.” (Sometimes that’s what happens now when I get an idea for a book. [chuckles] You know, you think, just for example, I think I’ll write a biography of Frank Frazetta. Well, I’d find there was someone who was already doing that book. Anyway, when I got in touch with the people, everyone was so pleased to hear from me. They realized I was really into it all (maybe because I was a small part of it) and were very cooperative. The thing just kind of caught fire. There was just one obstacle, nobody wanted to publish it! Kitchen Sink didn’t want to publish the book, Dark Horse didn’t want to publish it, so I started my own company called Hamster Press and self-published it. The first printing was actually financed by advance orders from the fans I was writing about, because I wasn’t confident enough to try to go through a distributor at that point. I was unapologetically a self-publisher. That led to my philosophy, which is if you want to make something happen, you can figure out a way to get there if it’s important to you.
BROWN: And there were two editions of that book, right?
SCHELLY: Right. What happened was—this happens with everything that I’ve ever done, after it comes out—a bunch of information you wanted but didn’t have suddenly starts coming in. People asked, “But Bill, why didn’t you include stuff about this?” A few people complained to me, “You left me out.” And I realized, “I did leave out a some people who should have been in there.” The first printing was sold out. There were only 1,000 copies printed, maybe a few over that. (It was a signed and numbered edition.) I thought, “Okay, there’s a reason to re-issue it with additional information and added chapters,” and that’s what I did. The revised edition, with a new cover by Michael Gilbert, came out in 1998. That one was sold through Diamond Distributing and some other distributors. Then, when that printing sold out, I did a third printing in 2003. So there’s probably about …. I’d say there’s about 3,000 copies out there somewhere, counting all three editions … plus 200 to 300 left in the Hamster warehouse. [chuckles] For me, personally, writing about the history of fandom has been a wonderful thing in my life. I got to re-discover my own roots and meet so many of the fans I admired from that period. And I got to write about the subject that I loved best so it’s been perfect. It’s been a real blessing.
BROWN: Was the Hamster Press experience a good one for you? Would you recommend somebody going into self-publishing if they had no other alternative?
SCHELLY: It was most definitely a good experience for me. It allowed me to get The Golden Age of Comic Fandom and other fandom history books in print when no established publishers were interested. Would I recommend it? [chuckles] These days, I’d tell people that self-publishing in the print arena, as I did, has gotten much more difficult. For one thing, the cost of paper has gone up. The second thing is, when I began 20 years ago, I got a special, very low discount from Diamond Distributing. Then too, people tell me it’s more difficult to get your product into the Diamond catalog if you are a new, small publisher. For me, the 1990s was a unique moment in time when I could do it, and only because I was fine with just breaking even. If you have an idea, go for it, but these days I would suggest either “print on demand”—where books are only printed when an order comes in—or digital publishing. Also, it’s much easier to get published digitally than in a hardcopy book. You can start at square one with something on line, and if you generate enough interest, then consider a print edition if you feel that’s important. A lot of young people, and not-so-young people, are perfectly happy with digital-only publishing. That avenue wasn’t available to me when I started. If you want to write, or draw, or whatever, I encourage you to pursue it and consider all avenues. Like I said before, “make something happen” because no one will do it for you.
BROWN: If I’m not mistaken, the next two projects were The Best of Alter Ego and The Best of Star-Studded.
SCHELLY: Well, no, they came in this order. First was Fandom Finest Comics which reprinted a lot of the best amateur strips from the professionally printed fanzines like Star-Studded Comics and Fantasy Illustrated. Then came Alter Ego: The Best of the Legendary Comics Fanzine co-edited with Roy. We are working on a sequel to that one right now. There was a second volume of Fandom’s Finest Comics, and later the Comic Fandom Reader and the Best of Star-Studded Comics. Um…. I might be forgetting something.
BROWN: You also published some comic books, didn’t you?
SCHELLY: Yes! I did publish two black and white comic books. One was The Eye #1 with my own take on Biljo White’s fandom character, and Heroes versus Hitler which brought a whole bunch of those heroes together. Roy had a hand in that one, as he did in several of my books. I got to have my pencils inked by Dick Giordano on Heroes versus Hitler which was a real thrill. He sure made me look good! (I also wrote an homage to the Finger-Moldoff “Robin Dies at Dawn” for Image around the same time, and that was the extent of my “pro” comics work.) Let’s see… I wrote a fannish memoir called Sense of Wonder: A Life in Comic Fandom which was published by TwoMorrows. I think there are about 10 books in all about fandom. And, um…. where were we? [chuckles]
BROWN: Well, then came the biography of Otto Binder, certainly one of the legendary writers.
SCHELLY: Oh, yeah. I started working on the Binder biography around the time we hit year 2000. It was like the fandom books, a real labor of love.
BROWN: Was it difficult to research? I mean, to do a biography of somebody who’s already dead and maybe not a lot of paper trail?
SCHELLY: It might not have worked out, but it did beautifully because I stumbled on a wealth of great material. I was very lucky. I think I was the first person to find out that Otto had written a sort of autobiography in 1947. It was in his papers at a Texas college. [It was in the Cushing Memorial Library at Texas A&M University, to be specific. – Roy] The curator was kind enough to make me a copy and I found it was helpful, although it wasn’t a true autobiography with lots of personal details… It was more of a humorous book, the kind Steve Allen used to write, with his views about various things, such as working in comics, but lots of other things, too. Also, I ran into different people with a lot of stuff. I got to hear Otto’s voice on tape recording of a panel at the 1965 comicon, and when some fans visited his home. I located some of his relatives and they talked to me, and then somebody who happens to be in this audience wrote a wonderful introduction for me, Richard Lupoff, who’s right over here with his lovely wife Pat. That introduction, I think, really helped the book because Dick is a very successful author and was a friend of Otto. It was the only hardcover book published by Hamster Press. And I didn’t print enough. I underestimated that one. I printed somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 copies, and they sold out very fast. It was quite an experience writing his story, kind of … an emotional roller coaster, because his life had tragic elements, and he was such a wonderful man…. I wish his life had turned out better than it did.
BROWN: The next, come to my personal favorite, Man of Rock, the Joe Kubert biography. [audience applause]
SCHELLY: Thank you. Man of Rock, yes – the book Joe didn’t want me to write. The idea was suggested to me by Bud Plant… and eventually I contacted Joe at the Kubert School in Dover [New Jersey]. Because he’d given me a cover blurb for my fannish memoir [Sense of Wonder] I had sent him a complimentary copy of the Binder biography. He told me he read it and really thought it was well done. But when I said, “I’d like to write a book about you,” he said “No!” When I asked him why, he just said it would be too embarrassing and that there was nothing that interesting about his life. I disagreed with that, of course….But he still said “no.” Finally, I said, “But Joe, you have to know that someone, some day, is going to write a book about your career… and, if you liked my Binder bio so much, why wouldn’t you want it to be me?” There was a pause, then he said, “I think I want you working for me, Bill, because you don’t take no for an answer.” [laughs] I told him he didn’t have to do anything but let me interview him, and he finally agreed. So then I asked, this was a little later, if I could come out and interview him at the school in person. He said okay and that’s what happened. I ended up working on it, for, what… about two years. When it was done, I wasn’t sure if it was good enough. I had no idea people would like it as much as they did. That sounds immodest…. but, I mean, it got the best reviews of anything I’ve written so far.
BROWN: And more importantly, Joe’s opinion of the book was …?
SCHELLY: He never read it. [audience chuckles] I sent it to him as a finished manuscript but he said he couldn’t bear to read it because it was too embarrassing. But his wife Muriel read it, and she marked about a half dozen factual changes, and that was it. So as far as I know, Joe never read the book. I believe him, he’s a straight shooter. He would have told me. But that’s okay, you know? He knows what happened in his life. The book was for other people. He said his sister Roz loved it.
BROWN: Getting back into comic fandom, you wrote The Founders of Comic Fandom.
SCHELLY: Right…. How are we doing on time, by the way? [someone speaks, indistinct] Okay, good. Fandom’s Founders was the book that I figured would really be the last one because you can only write so much and then you kind of get a little burned out. I’m fascinated with fandom, and I always will be, but I’ve kind of done my thing after eight or nine books. And I can continue with it in Alter Ego. What happened was, an editor at McFarland, who re-issued my Harry Langdon biography, asked me if I had any more ideas for books. I just said, “Well, maybe a book on the founders of comics fandom.” That editor asked me to send them a proposal. I thought, “I have most of the research…. It should be fairly easy.” Wrong! That was really a tough book to write because I ask I really got into it, I realized I need a lot more information. I didn’t know enough to write biographies of all these people. So I had to interview almost everybody, even if I’d interviewed them before or knew them fairly well. But the cool thing was I really got to really talk to people that I hadn’t talked to yet. In other words, when I’d done my fandom books and things, there were a lot of people that I, for whatever reason or other—I didn’t have their phone number then or their e-mail address—hadn’t been in touch with. By doing that book, I got to talk to a bunch of different people and new people and so actually, it was a lot of fun and it was interesting, but it was very hard work which surprised me. I knew the readers would want to find out what happened to these people. Not just what they did in fandom, but also, “whatever happened to so-and-so?” So it was a big job because there were about eighty fans profiled in there.
BROWN: Were there any surprises you found out about the people?
SCHELLY: I found out that John Fantucchio, the artist who did so many great covers for the Rocket’s Blast-Comicollector and other fanzines, worked at the CIA as his day job back then. One thing that did become clear working on Founders of Comic Fandom was fandom really got a lot of people started in their careers because many of them because professional writers and artists. Many of them used writing on the job where they went to, or they used their fanzine skills to go into publishing. You could see some continuity. Of course a lot of them were like me where they made a living doing something they had to do just to make ends meet or maybe for a more secure livelihood. I never made any money off anything when I was in fandom. I never was a dealer or anything like that because I don’t have that touch. Some people, you know, they have the touch to make money. Have you noticed that? It seems like they just know how, whatever they get into, to make a profit. Then others of us just don’t have that touch. That was the kind of person I was. But see, there’s a silver lining because by doing that, fandom was something that was always special, it was never tainted by commercial considerations, it was never … I never did the books for money and so it’s something I can always love that I don’t have to say became like work. Even when I had to work really hard on a book like the Founders book, it was work I was enjoying. So I’m glad now – I’m glad I didn’t get accepted by DC now. Because breaking into pro comics didn’t work out so well for some of my fanzine contemporaries, in the long run. So I’m grateful to Julie Schwartz, [laughs] for Vince Colletta or The Mob or whoever rejected me, back in 1973.
BROWN: So how did you get all these people to send in the geekiest photos for Founders of Comic Fandom?
SCHELLY: The geekiest photos? [chuckles] Well…. I wanted to have pictures of what people looked like back then. I already had quite a few photos, ones I’d gotten for my earlier books, but there were a lot I needed. I was able to get some of the folks to dig up old photos. A couple, like Robert Jennings, who published Comic World, didn’t want their photos in there. It was tough especially with some who had passed away, but I did manage to get a vintage photo of almost everybody. I got one from you, [indicates Gary] Gary’s in the book, of course, and his buddy Alan Hutchinson who’s also here today. And then for the cover, it was like well, what do you put on the cover? Do you put a patchwork of all these faces? You can’t put … if you’re publicizing a book, you don’t want to have an image that you can’t even see when you reduce it and it looks like oatmeal. You’ve got to come up with an image that could be reduced and still be this — you can tell what it is. And I got the idea of doing just coming up with a fake desk from that era and putting an old typewriter, and an old Coke bottle, and some fanzines, and some public domain comics, and some different things, and I thought, “Well, maybe this is a good idea. Let me see what they think of it. They’ll tell me what’s wrong with it, and maybe I can re-do it better.” So I took a picture of it and sent it in, and they accepted it “as is” without a peep. That’s how that happened.
BROWN: Finally, let’s talk about the new book.
SCHELLY: Well, yeah. Have we got time? I want to have some Q&A…. So just briefly about the new book… When Man of Rock came out, it got a very good reception but some people said, “There really wasn’t enough artwork in there” and “I wish it would have been in color.” I mentioned the idea to the publisher and he thought a Kubert art book was a great idea. So I spent several months gathering together art from my own collection, and from other sources. I wanted to use the best examples of Joe’s work from every stage in his career, and also some examples of original art. We also decided there should be some complete stories, so we have five or six complete Kubert stories in there from about 1945 to 1955. Most of them are horror stories from St. John and others. The book designer, Tony Ong, was very amenable to me working with him to lay it out. I was able to make sure from the standpoint of someone who was a Kubert fan that the right images were bigger and others could be smaller. Don’t clean up the original art, and so on. So the book was made from the point of view of a comics fan, and I’m very happy with it.
BROWN: Should we take some questions?
SCHELLY: That’s a good idea. You pick the people, Gary.
UNIDENTIFIED QUESTIONER #1: I heard that Fredric Wertham wrote a book about fanzines. Do you know about that?
SCHELLY: Yes… Later in life, Wertham apparently needed a project and he found out about comics fanzines. I think it was because people wanted to interview him, so they were sending him copies of their fanzines. He got interested in them and eventually decided to write a short book about them. When it was announced, people were going, “Oh no! Now Wertham’s going to attack fanzines and fandom!” But oddly enough, it turned out that Dr. Wertham liked fanzines! He corresponded briefly with a number of fans, and I was one of them. His book was titled The World of Fanzines and my fanzine, Sense of Wonder, is mentioned in it, along with some others. It was a very friendly book, something about how they were a valid and healthy form of communication. I don’t think the book has any value as a research tool or for the thoughts that are expressed in it, but it’s an interesting snapshot of Frederic Wertham’s brain at that stage in his life.
UNIDENTIFIED QUESTIONER #2: I was curious about how you researched The Golden Age of Comic Fandom. Was it just through various contacts, or … your own archives, or did you go to libraries, or what?
SCHELLY: There was nothing in libraries, and I didn’t have any fanzines except a few of my own at that point. But…. through CAPA-alpha, I began asking for contact info for a lot of the old fans, and I also began collecting fanzines. A fan named Richard Pryor had an address for Ronn Foss, who was a top fan artist in the early 1960s. Ronn was living in a cabin without running water in the Ozark hills, and was very welcoming and friendly. Our correspondence really became a close friendship, and he was an enormous help. He had some addresses, and put me onto other trails, and we did a by-mail interview. And I just kept beating the bushes, and then I started making phone calls. So between personal telephone interviews and what I found in the pages of all the fanzines I was able to find—and I ended up with almost 2,000—I was well on my way.
UNIDENTIFIED QUESTIONER #3: If you were born in 1951 and interested in becoming a comic book professional, the Kubert School came along a little too late for you.
SCHELLY: Yes. Joe’s school started in the fall of 1976, about three years after my rejection by DC.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE QUESTIONER #3: Did you had any sense when you were observing that you wished it had been there for you instead of the interview with Vinnie Colletta?
SCHELLY: [chuckles] If the Kubert School had been open in time for me, and I could afford to go, then I might very well have wanted to go there. But my parents could barely afford to help me with college at the University of Idaho, where tuition was just $400 a semester. The Kubert School is a private school and was, even at the beginning, much more expensive than that. And, since I didn’t get drafted, I didn’t have the G. I. Bill. I should add that I really came to realize, when I visited the school and had Joe explain the curriculum to me, and also talked to people who went there…. the school’s classes were very demanding. You basically had to draw for eight hours a day, every day. That’s appropriate because if you want to work as a comics artist, that’s what you have to do. It “separates the men from the boys” so to speak. And I was just a boy, just an amateur. I didn’t have the stuff for that. I didn’t want to do something that hard, frankly. You have to be the kind of person who won’t be happy doing anything else, basically, to work in comics professionally, and that wasn’t me. How about another question?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE QUESTIONER #4: Can you talk briefly about the Pittsburgh days and knowing Jim Shooter?
SCHELLY: Jim Shooter? Well, yeah, Shooter invited me over to his house and I met his mom. His dad was a laid-off steelworker, I believe. I could hear him coughing in another room, maybe because his lungs were damaged from working in front of the ovens or whatever a steelworker did. Jim was super-nice. He came to the first mini-con in Pittsburgh in 1967, and was even talking about publishing his own fanzine. But he was supporting his family at fifteen and sixteen, and really didn’t have time for that. Also, I think I read somewhere that his editor at DC, Mort Weisinger, flat-out told him not to be involved with fandom. But before that happened, he did some covers and other artwork for my fanzines and for a few other people. Then a time came when Jim didn’t return my phone calls. It was over and I just had to accept that. So that’s what happened. One more quick question? No, we’re out of time. Thanks for coming.
BROWN: Okay, good? Thank you very much.