Back in the early 2000’s I was shopping at Oxford Comics in Atlanta, GA and stumbled across a copy of a book titled The Golden Age of Comic Book Fandom. Oxford had a great selection of non-fiction books about comics, but this one stood out. I finished reading The Comic Book Book and All In Color For a Dime, which collected articles and essays from the early days of comic book fandom, and was eager to learn more about the era those articles and essays were written in. Here was a history of those early days, so it seemed like the thing to buy. I devoured the book in a day or so and was fascinated by the stories of my cultural ancestors. See, I am one of those people that believes in knowing where you came from. I considered myself a “serious” comic book fan with an interest in the history of the medium and that history extended to the fans that actually started this whole fandom thing.
The book was written by a man named Bill Schelly. On a subsequent trip to Oxford I picked up another book by Bill called The Comic Fandom Reader, which contained samplings of stories and articles from comic book fanzines of the 1960’s. It was another fantastic read and even though the bits of business printed in The Comic Fandom Reader weren’t all written by Bill, his name stuck in my mind. This is why sometime in 2001 I was excited to see a solicitation for a book written by Bill called Sense of Wonder: A Life in Comic Book Fandom. I ordered it and when it arrived eagerly read the whole book in a day.
It was (and is) a fantastic book. Bill talked about his family and growing up in the sixties and becoming a comic book fan. Through his writing I felt connected to Bill, especially since we had something in common; we both started seriously collecting comics because of Superman. The book also detailed how he became involved in the comic book fandom of the 1960’s and the fanzines he produced. I had recently started this website called Views From The Longbox, where I wrote essays similar to those I read in The Comic Book Book, so I felt like I was a kind of descendant of Bill and the other men and women that channeled their love of comics into articles, essays, and comic strips that they then made copies of and sent to like minded people.
Flash forward to 2016. By this point I have nearly a decade of podcasting under my belt and one of the shows I was part of was called Radio K.A.L. Live, which was part of The Superman Homepage. Steve Younis, the webmaster of The Homepage, messaged me that we were going to be doing another interview, this time with a man named Bill Schelly. I think my reaction was, “REALLY? We’re going to interview Bill Schelly?” I was so excited. Here was my chance to talk to a man that I respected. A man that, as I previously alluded to, felt was one of my fore bearers in discussing comic books.
The interview went great and I connected with Bill on Facebook and two years later interviewed him on Views From The Longbox about a new edition of Sense of Wonder. He had recently updated and expanded the book and was making the rounds of comic book websites and podcasts to promote it and I was lucky enough to be one of them. He sent me a preview copy and right before the interview I read it. The first edition ended with Bill in his early twenties. This edition expanded on the previous chapters and then went forward through Bill’s life. I learned about the comic shop he briefly co-owned, his life as a gay man in the late seventies and early eighties, the birth of his children, and more.
The interview (more of a conversation really) went very well. We had a good rapport in the first interview for Radio K.A.L. Live and at the end Bill said it was nice to have a new friend in comics fandom. I was hoping one day to meet the man face to face and shake hands with him.
Sadly, I’ll never get that chance.
I am glad I was able to interview him on two occasions and tell him how much his books meant to me. History is important. I am part of a community that discusses comic books and other pop culture nonsense through audio and video and occasionally in print. We don’t agree about everything, but we’re all connected and through this community I have made friends literally all over the world. Bill Schelly was part of the dawn of that community. He was there when you communicated through snail mail, over the phone, and at conventions. He created his fanzines before the advent of desktop publishing and when making copies was a laborious and often messy process. He was part of a group that built the foundations of what we take part in today and he continued to write books about the giants of the comic book world.
It’s up to us to continue that legacy.
Rest in peace, Bill. Thanks for calling me your friend.
If you are interested in reading the books I mentioned above as well as Bill’s other works, click on this link. There isn’t a bad book in the bunch.