Bill Schelly Talks with the Founders of Comic Fandom Vol.2 Foreword
© copyright 2018 by Bill Schelly
As stated in the first volume of Bill Schelly Talks with the Founders of Comic Fandom, the oral history of fandom is vital because only those “who were there” know the behind-the-scenes stories, the trials and tribulations, the humorous anecdotes, and the arcane information that didn’t appear in any fanzine published back in the day. Fortunately, I began doing my fanzine research in 1991, when most of the original movers and shakers were still around. Of the eleven people interviewed in these pages, five are no longer with us in 2018.
First and foremost, Roy Thomas is still going strong. His interest in comic books—at least, comic books of the golden, silver and bronze ages—remains unabated, as does his enthusiasm for publishing Alter Ego magazine. It recently reached the 20th anniversary of its return in 1998, as a flip feature in Comic Book Artist magazine. As its editor, Roy’s role in preserving and appreciating the first 50 years of comic book in America would be his primary legacy, if not for his stellar work as one of comics’ finest and most prolific writers. This brand new interview with Roy focuses on his early life and his activities in early fandom, ending with his first meeting with Stan Lee.
My early research efforts resulted in a real gem: an interview with Don and Maggie Thompson at the 1992 San Diego Comicon. It wasn’t easy prying them away from the Krause’s Comics Buyer’s Guide booth. Those two not only had duties to their publisher, as editors of that publication, but they were constantly inundated by friends and acquaintances. I’m sure you’ll agree it was worth the effort. The four of us (including my buddy Jeff Gelb) sat at table in the mezzanine restaurant of the San Diego Convention Center and recorded a conversation about their fanzine Comic Art, and other matters pertaining to their activities in comic fandom.
This time, there are two interviews with comics dealers, both of whom were going strong in the early 1960s, and both now gone: Bill Thailing and Claude Held. Don and Maggie Thompson lived in Cleveland, where Bill Thailing was based, and built a substantial amount of their collection through Thailing and his connections. As for Claude Held, he was the exemplar of a gentleman dealer whose business ethics were beyond approach, and who carried not only old comic books, but vintage newspaper strips and much more.
The fanzine publishing efforts of Roy Thomas, Don Thompson and Maggie Thompson relied a great deal on the creative skills of fans who could write, since they couldn’t (and didn’t want to) produce everything in their pages. One of the best known writers in the first half of the 1960s was Glen Johnson, whose pieces on the Justice Society and other Golden Age heroes were among the best to appear in the fanzines. He also took on the editor-and-publisher mantle of The Comic Reader, one of the most popular zines of the day, and for about two years kept its mix of comics news and information at the fingertips of anxious fans.
I also interviewed writer Richard Kyle, the person who originated the terms “graphic story” and “graphic novel.” His visionary column “Graphic Story Review” in Bill Spicer’s Fantasy Illustrated was so influential that Spicer changed the name of the publication to Graphic Story Magazine with its eighth issue. As a teenager in the 1960s, I was in awe of Kyle’s intelligent views on the comics form, so it was a particular delight to meet him at the 2011 Comic Fandom Reunion in San Diego, and then interview him at some length. I found him to be as erudite and engaging a talker as he was a writer. The same held true of Steve Perrin, who wrote articles, stories and comic stories for many top fanzines, and published the excellent Mask and Cape #4 in 1964.
Then there’s Bud Plant, who wore lots of different hats at different times: comics dealer, comic shop owner, mail order bookseller, comics distributor and fanzine publisher. One day, I was thinking about how much he had done, and how many fans he had touched through one or more of his enterprises, and realized that he had never been interviewed. Bud agreed to talk with me, and the result is, I think, quite fascinating.
The last interview is a little different. Rather than be interviewed on the phone, fanzine editors Marty Arbunich and Bill DuBay agreed to tape their answers to a list of my questions when they got together for Thanksgiving in 1994. This relaxed setting produced excellent results. Since two of my favorite fanzines from my early days in fandom were Yancy Street Journal and Voice of Comicdom, I was particularly pleased with this fun, freewheeling conversation between two good friends.