Bill Schelly

Bill Schelly

Bill Schelly (born November 2, 1951, Walla Walla, Washington, United States) is an author primarily known as a historian of cinema, comic books, and comic book fandom. He is also an accomplished portrait and comic book artist. He is perhaps best known for writing "Harry Langdon" (1982), the biography of Harry Langdon the great comedian of silent cinema, and "The Golden Age of Comic Fandom" (1995), nominated for a Will Eisner Comics Industry Award. He has carved out a niche, as the foremost historian of comic book fandom. His association with Roy Thomas, prominent comic book writer and historian, led to the revival of the seminal comic book fanzine, "Alter Ego". Schelly has served as Associate Editor since the revival (1998). Tom Robbins, author of "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues", wrote in 2001, “Bill Schelly has an obsessive yet intelligent passion for things many might consider marginal if not bizarre—always the mark of an interesting mind.”

Early life and involvement in comic book fandom

Bill Schelly has been a comic book enthusiast since 1960. He came of age at precisely the time when the social group known as comic book fandom was in its nascence, and his participation in that group proved to be the most important formative influence of his creative life.

Comic book fandom is a group of people who enthusiastically read, discuss, sell, trade and research the history of comic books. While there had been amateur publications by comic book fans as early as the late 1940’s, and notably in the 1950’s as a response to the excellence of EC comic books, and later "Mad" magazine, the publication of "Alter Ego" by Jerry Bails (with Roy Thomas) in March 1961 proved to be the catalyst that led to a grassroots movement of comics aficionados in the thousands, which would eventually change the comics industry itself. Schelly later called that groundswell of activity in the 1960’s “the Golden Age of comic fandom.”

Schelly, who was living in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, heard about comic fandom in 1964 through a notice in a comic book, "Justice League of America". He received his first amateur publication about comics, a mimeographed fanzine called "Batmania", in the year 1964. Bill’s long-standing relationship with "Batmania" editor Biljo (“Biljo”) White, one of fandom’s older members, can be traced to this transaction. Other fanzines arrived at the Schelly household in 1964, notably "Rocket’s Blast-Comicollector", "Yancy Street Journal" and "Alter Ego". Bill was filled with a sense of wonder by his encounter with these unique, homegrown publications, and quickly decided to become a fanzine publisher himself at age 13. An aspiring artist and writer, he launched "Super-Heroes Anonymous" in February 1965, which was the first in a string of zines he edited and published through 1972.

It was for his popular fanzine "Sense of Wonder" that Schelly became known to the comics community. Begun while living in Pittsburgh, but mostly published after his family’s move to Lewiston, Idaho, in 1967, it began as a collection of amateur comic strips and stories. In 1970, while attending the University of Idaho, Schelly changed the format of "Sense of Wonder" to a “general fanzine” made up of articles and artwork about the history of comic books. By the end of its twelve-issue run, "Sense of Wonder" had presented the first attempt to chronicle the whole career of comics innovator Will Eisner, as well as work by Steve Ditko, Frank Frazetta and Stanley Pitt. It was discontinued after he graduated from college in 1973 (with a Bachelor of Science in Education).

Harry Langdon

Schelly made his first serious attempt to write at 15 with two imitation James Bond books, and then at 17 with the semi-autobiographical "Come With Me". Bill’s first book published in hard cover was "Harry Langdon", a biography of the brilliant comedian of silent films (Scarecrow Press in 1982). He played a part in a revival of interest in silent cinema in Seattle at the time, and lectured on the subject at the University of Washington. "The Journal of Popular Film & Television" said of "Harry Langdon", “William Schelly's remarkable first book ... should be relished by anyone who appreciates screen comedy and Langdon's unique approach to it.”

After the publication of Harry Langdon came a period of creative frustration. In 1984, Schelly revised "Come With Me" for the Young Adult market, but it failed to sell. Looking for direction, he worked on several aborted projects including a screenplay and a biography of Francis Ford Coppola.

Return to comic book fandom

Schelly had largely abandoned comic books upon graduation from college and moving to Seattle in 1974, where he has made his home ever since. The comic book event that brought him back into the hobby was the publication of "Crisis on Infinite Earths" (DC Comics) in 1985. Upon discovering the works of Frank Miller on "Daredevil", Marv Wolfman and George Pérez on the "New Teen Titans", and many other interesting comics that had emerged in the comic book direct market since 1983, Bill became interested in the field again. By 1986, which saw the publication of the seminal works "" and "Watchmen", Schelly and a partner had opened Super Comics & Collectibles, the first comics specialty store in Seattle’s University District.

Though his involvement in the store was short-lived, Bill’s fascination with the comics field had been thoroughly re-awakened by the experience. He enthusiastically immersed himself in the world of comic books and strips as never before, though he didn’t re-establish his contacts in fandom outside Seattle until 1991. Then Schelly re-joined comics apa (amateur press alliance) "CAPA-alpha", a conglomeration of short publications published each month by a roster of 40 participants, many of them from the early days of fandom. Most notably, Bill got back in contact with Jeff Gelb, a former collaborator during the 1960’s, and they have remained friends and sometime collaborators since then. In 1992, they met for the first time in person at Comicon: San Diego. Gelb played a major role in re-introducing Schelly to fandom in the 1990’s, in all its facets.

Researching the history of fandom & Hamster Press

Out of nostalgia and a desire to give recognition to those who had actively propagated and contributed to the Golden Age of comic fandom, Schelly began researching the history of that era, and making contact with as many of the original movers and shakers as possible. He conducted interviews and formed the Comic Fandom Archive, a collection of vintage fanzines, original art, old correspondence and other memorabilia. As part of his research, Schelly interviewed many of fandom's founders. As it turned out, his timing was fortuitous, because a number of them have since passed away: Don Thompson, Howard Keltner, Ronn Foss, Biljo White, Grass Green, Landon Chesney and G. B. Love among them. (He himself was the subject of interviews that appeared in "Comics Interview, Secret Identity, Scary Monsters" and "Comic Book Marketplace".)

Wanting to share the fruits of his research, Bill began producing a series of fanzine-format publications ("The History of the Amateur Comic Strip", the "Ronn Foss Retrospective", "The Alley Tally Party", and "Labors of Love") under the aegis of his own small publishing company named Hamster Press. Eventually, Schelly’s research culminated in a book-length manuscript called "The Golden Age of Comic Fandom". When no publisher came forward, he published it in trade paperback form himself in 1995 as a limited edition of 1000 copies, which were signed and numbered. This book was met with tremendous enthusiasm by members of early fandom and quickly sold out. A revised and slightly expanded edition was published in 1998, and another printing was done in 2003.

The success of "The Golden Age of Comic Fandom" led to a series of Hamster Press books on the history of comic book fandom written and/or compiled by Bill Schelly, which were distributed by Diamond Comics as well as sold directly from the publisher. Those books were "Fandom’s Finest Comics" Vol. 1 & 2, A"lter Ego: The Best of the Legendary Comics Fanzine" (with Roy Thomas), "Giant Labors of Love, Comic Fandom Reader," and "The Best of Star-Studded Comics".

Return of "Alter Ego" magazine

In 1997, with the help of Russ Maheras, Schelly organized a reunion of old-time comics fans during the Chicago comicon, which drew 33 people including Jerry Bails, Howard Keltner, Maggie Thompson and Jay Lynch. An account with numerous photographs appears in the revised edition of "The Golden Age of Comic Fandom".

As that convention drew to a close, Schelly met Roy Thomas, Grass Green and others for dinner. John Morrow and his wife Pam, seated at a table nearby, were introduced to Thomas by Schelly and asked to join them for dinner. Within minutes, John and Roy were discussing bringing back "Alter Ego" in TwoMorrows Publishing’s "Comic Book Artist" magazine. Schelly became Associate Editor of the endeavor, which proved so successful that it became its own magazine in 1999. Bill has contributed a series of Comic Fandom Archive articles to nearly every issue. "Alter Ego" has been published continuously by TwoMorrows since then, providing a massive amount of information, interviews and art about the comics and creators of comic books mainly from the 1938 to 1970 period. TwoMorrows also published Schelly's own memoir of his time in fandom of the 1960’s called "Sense of Wonder: A Life in Comic Fandom" (2001).

Comic book historian

More recently, Schelly edited the graphic novella "Xal-Kor The Human Cat", the last work of popular fan artist Richard "Grass" Green. He also published "The Eye Collection" (2002, Hamster Press), a trade paperback gathering all the new illustrated adventures of The Eye, Underworld Executioner, under a single cover. His collaborators on this project were Ron Frenz, Josef Rubinstein, Roy Thomas, Bill Black, Michael T. Gilbert, Jerry Ordway, Batton Lash and J. E. Smith, among others. But it was his biography "Words of Wonder: The Life and Times of Otto Binder" (2003) that proved pivotal.

The book on the life of Otto Binder, principal writer of The Marvel Family and many Superman comics of the 1950’s and 1960’s, garnered Schelly his best reviews thus far, and it began his historical research and writing on the history of comics in general. Subsequently, he has written a dozen introductions for DC Archives books ("Superman, Batman, Plastic Man, Justice League of America, Doom Patrol", et al) as well as the introduction for DC’s "Batman of the Forties". His ability to clearly explain the appeal and context of classic comics has opened up a new, expanded phase of his writing career. In 2007, Schelly completed a book-length biography of comic book legend Joe Kubert, which will be published by Fantagraphics Books in 2008. He has also re-written his book on comedian Harry Langdon for McFarland Publishing.


External links

* [ Bill Schelly's website]

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