Bill Schelly, a prolific writer about comics history, has died at 67.
In writing my book about the business and culture of comics retail, I found that just about all roads lead to Bill Schelly. He had written some of the definitive accounts of early comics fandom and biographies of leading writers and artists.
And, I was delighted to learn that he was a great person, eager to help me with fact-checking and offer advice. Based on the tributes I’m seeing today, he was like this with many people.
Here, in an interview reprinted on his website, is his answer when asked to name his first comic book:
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.
The best way to remember Bill is to read his books. Here are a few:
This is Bill’s memoir about being a gay comics fan in the 1960s, finding his home in the burgeoning fan community, and coming into his own as a writer.
James Warren, founder of Warren Publishing, was the subject of many tall tales. Bill Schelly was well-suited to sort the facts from the fiction.
“I was surprised to discover some of his personal contradictions,” Schelly said about Kurtzman in this story in The Atlantic about the book. “He was a writer-artist with both a towering confidence and a deep insecurity about his work. He was, in my estimation, a creative genius, and could have been an egomaniac, but he was genuinely modest about his work and his influence on other cartoonists.”
This was the first Schelly book I read. It is clear that he admires the people who built comics fandom, but there is no gushing here. This is the work of a talented reporter.
Bill made one contribution to this website. Last year, when I wrote about the challenge of identifying the country’s first comic shop and reached out to experts, he argued that there was no real answer because of there was no clear definition of “comic shop.” He was right.