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Bill Schelly (born November 2, 1951, Walla Walla, Washington, United States) is an author primarily known as a historian of cinema, comic books, and comics fandom. He is also a portrait and comic book artist.
Bill Schelly has been a comic book enthusiast since 1960. He was living in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he heard about comics fandom in 1964. Upon seeing his first amateur publication about comics, a mimeographed fanzine called Batmania, Schelly decided to become a fanzine publisher himself. He launched Super-Heroes Anonymous in February 1965, the first in a string of magazines he edited and published until 1972.
It was for his fanzine Sense of Wonder that Schelly became known to the comics community. Begun while living in Pittsburgh, but mostly published after he moved 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 12-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.
Schelly’s first published book was Harry Langdon, a biography of the silent film comedian, published by Scarecrow Press in 1982. Bill 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 over a decade away from comics fandom, Schelly re-joined "comics apa" (amateur press alliance) CAPA-alpha, a conglomeration of generally brief publications distributed each month to a roster of 40 participants. In 1991, one of the members was Jeff Gelb, someone Schelly had known and collaborated with in the 1960s. Gelb helped re-introduce Schelly to fandom in the 1990s.
At that time, Schelly began researching the history of the classic era of comic book fandom. 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, with fortuitous timing since many have since died, Don Thompson, Jerry Bails, Howard Keltner, Ronn Foss, Biljo White, Grass Green, Landon Chesney and G. B. Love among them.
Schelly 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, his research culminated in a book-length manuscript called The Golden Age of Comic Fandom. When no publisher was interested, he published it in trade paperback form himself in 1995 as a limited edition of 1000 copies (signed and numbered). This book received a tremendous response from members of early fandom, quickly sold out, and was nominated for a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award. A revised and expanded edition was published in 1998, and another printing was done in 2003.
Schelly followed The Golden Age of Comic Fandom with a series of Hamster Press books on the history of comic book fandom which were distributed by Diamond Comics as well as sold directly from the publisher. Those books were Fandom’s Finest Comics Vol. 1 & 2, Alter 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. His most recent fandom-themed book, Founders of Comic Fandom, was published in 2010 by McFarland books.
In 1997, 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. Discussions at this comicon led to a decision to bring 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. He has contributed a series of Comic Fandom Archive articles to most issues. (Alter Ego reached its 100th issue in March 2011, and has received an Eisner Award along the way.) TwoMorrows also published Schelly's own memoir of his time in fandom of the 1960s called Sense of Wonder: A Life in Comic Fandom (2001).
Schelly wrote and published the biography Words of Wonder: The Life and Times of Otto Binder (2003), about the principal writer of The Marvel Family and many Superman comics of the 1950s and 1960s. This book was well received, and began the author’s historical research and writing on the history of comics in general. Subsequently, he has written a dozen introductions for DC Archives books as well as the introduction for DCs Batman of the Forties.
In 2004, Schelly visited Joe Kubert and The Kubert School in Dover, New Jersey, and wrote Man of Rock, a biography of Kubert. It was published in 2008, and was followed in 2011 by the publication of The Art of Joe Kubert, a coffee table book consisting of examples of Kubert’s best work from his 70-plus year career. Both were published by Fantagraphics Books. Schelly’s revised and expanded biography of Harry Langdon, Harry Langdon - His Life and Films, appeared in 2008, this time published by McFarland.
When Comic-Con International established 2011 as the 50th anniversary of comics fandom, and made it a theme of their annual event in San Diego that year, Schelly was the catalyst for a fandom reunion which ended up being sponsored by the convention. Reunion 2011 drew some 140-plus members of fandom’s past. He appeared on three panels: Founders of Comic Fandom, Fanzines of Fandom’s Golden Age, and Spotlight on Bill Schelly. He received an Inkpot Award at Comic-Con 2011 for his efforts on behalf of fandom over the years.
Schelly’s recent books are Weird Tales and Daring Adventures (2012), Alter Ego: The Best of the Classic Fanzine, Vol. 2 (2013) in collaboration with Roy Thomas, and the American Comic Book Chronicles: The 50’s (2013). His latest is Harvey Kurtzman, The Man Who Created Mad (2015), a biography of the originator of Mad (both the comic book and the magazine), Two-Fisted Tales, Frontline Combat, Trump, Humbug, and Help!, as well as Little Annie Fanny for Playboy. The publisher is Fantagraphics Books.