Tuesday, June 9, 2020

56 Summers Ago: Marvel Tales Annual # 1

Note: The following post was originally published on June 24th, 2014. It is not, however, "exactly as it appeared," since its been updated with revisions GALORE, and more fascinating content than you can possibly imagine!! (there's more than a little hyperbole in that statement, but if you read all the copy in the scans below you'll get the joke).       

Marvel Tales has had a long and somewhat convoluted history. It began in 1939 as Marvel Comics, Martin Goodman's first venture into a four-color enterprise, becoming Marvel Mystery Comics with the second issue, featuring the original Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, the Angel, Vision and other characters up to # 92, June 1949. With the next issue yet another title change was initiated, this time to Marvel Tales, when all superhero and ongoing features were dropped and content was overhauled to reflect horror and later fantasy/suspense themes. That format was retained until the comic was cancelled in 1957.

 Fred Kida cover art to Marvel Tales # 159, August 1957. The final issue of its first iteration. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database. 

After a hiatus of six years the decision was made, either by Editor Stan Lee or (more likely) Publisher Martin Goodman to revive Marvel Tales, utilizing the same logo design and returning the title to its superhero roots. Just three years earlier Fantastic Four # 1 proved a resounding success, and costumed characters began replacing the monsters in their anthology titles (Journey into Mystery, Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense and Strange Tales. Its pretty obvious that Goodman believed the word "Tales" as part of a title led to greater sales!). By 1964 the new heroes were an essential part of Marvel's line, with only the western and teen-romance strips remaining. The Marvel Tales Annual was an easy way to introduce their top features to a growing audience. 

Marvel Tales Annual # 1 was the company's first compilation of super-hero reprints. 
Jack Kirby pencils; Sol Brodsky inks, Sam Rosen letters and Stan Goldberg colors. Spider-Man figure by Steve Ditko, a stat taken from Amazing-Spider-Man Annual # 1, page 14; panel 2 (which was currently on-sale). It's quite possible that Kirby originally rendered the drawing and it was replaced by the more familiar Ditko version. 

Marvel Tales Annual # 1 graced newsstands in early June, 1964. The title was a compilation of stories which were published just a few years earlier, but many fans had missed them the first time around and could only hope to purchase the originals in a used book store or second hand shop. In those long-ago days there was no Ebay or specialty outlets and the first official Convention, a small affair which took place in New York City, was still a few weeks away.  

A most unusual adventure series begins. Stan Lee co-plot and dialogue; Artie Simek letters, Stan Goldberg colors. 

One can only imagine the impression that a young person felt on a warm spring or summer day when they opened up Marvel Tales Annual # 1, particularly if this was the first time they encountered these characters. After admiring a cover filled with heroic and colorful figures they open the comic and observe the image of an isolated teenager standing on a street corner; his peers mocking him with derisive glee. 

Peter Parker gains extraordinary powers but is overwhelmed by tragedy and guilt. Each story concludes with an editorial note by Stan Lee that was not in the original story, commenting on the passage of time and any changes that may have occurred. Marvel Tales Annual # 1 was on-sale the same month as Amazing Spider-Man # 16 and (as stated earlier) the first Spider-Man Annual. In the space of just two years the oddly-garbed hero made a strong impression on its audience and became a top-selling title for Martin Goodman's comic book line. 

Lee and Kirby introduce the Hulk, clearly influenced by Boris Karloff's rendition of the Frankenstein Monster as seen in the 1931 Universal movie and its sequels. The Hulk's skin-tone in his first appearance was gray, chosen by Stan Lee, as colorist Stan Goldberg explained in Alter Ego # 18 (October 2002): 
"I certainly didn't plan to make him red, and we kicked around the idea of making him green, but Stan wanted to try gray. I fought him on that. I told him why it wouldn't work, and it didn't work, because we couldn't keep the color consistent throughout the book." 
The Hulk's green skin, coupled with his purple pants, became an identifiable  quasi-costume for most of the character's 50-plus year existence. Lee penned a new caption that ignored the behind-the-scenes minutiae; preferring instead to explain the alteration as part of the Hulk's fictional story. Paul Reinman inks, Artie Simek lettering and the aforementioned Stan G. on colors. 

Kirby's cinematic eye is evident in this three panel shot, as The Hulk fades into the night with his teenage companion Rick Jones in pursuit. The bottom blurb promotes the Hulk's revival as a co-feature in Tales to Astonish which debuted the following month.

Henry Pym's first actual appearance was in Tales to Astonish # 27, January 1962. That story, however, is not included in the Annual, specifically because it was originally a standard fantasy tale that followed the pattern of countless monster comics Goodman was publishing at the time, concerning a scientist who develops a serum reducing him to ant-size, inspired by the 1957 movie The Incredible Shrinking Man. The splash page to Astonish # 35, seen above, references that tale. The decision to turn Pym into a costumed hero was made eight months later, based on sales figures and the growing awareness that superheroes were selling. Stan Lee plot; Larry Lieber script; Jack Kirby pencils; Dick Ayers inks; Joe Letterese lettering; Stan Goldberg colors.  

In his diminutive size Ant-Man creatively utilizes household items to get around. There was an inventive charm in many of the early stories which was never fully realized, perhaps because Kirby was soon pulled away to work on new titles.   

              The final Ant-Man panel segues into the introduction of Giant-Man.

Although Ant-Man's metamorphosis into Giant-Man occurred only eight months earlier, a two-page recap was deemed appropriate to keep new readers up to date. Lee and Kirby story/art, Don Heck inks, Sam Rosen letters and Stan Goldberg colors.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was Marvel's solo war title in 1964, but it followed the frenetic pacing and braggadocio of the superhero line; no surprise with Jack Kirby at the helm. Despite the blurb, the story was not "exactly as it appeared in Sgt. Fury # 1," since only six pages were included. It would take seventeen years before Marvel finally published a complete reprinting of the first issue, closing the circle by appearing in the last issue of Sgt. Fury, which ended its eighteen-year run with # 167, December 1981. Lee and Kirby story/art, Dick Ayers inks, Artie Simek lettering, Stan G. colors.    

The priceless image of Dum Dum Dugan calmly covering his ears while parachuting to the ground as a plane is blown to smithereens defines the often comical aspects of the war series. 

 Stan Lee was aware of a growing fan base from the many fanzines and letters he received in Marvel's early years. A credit box on the splash page listing the writer, artist, inker and letterer appeared in practically every Marvel comic and Lee often chatted up staffers, including colorist Stan Goldberg, secretary Flo Steinberg, production head Sol Brodsky and even publisher Martin Goodman in the letters pages. The two pages of photos presented most of Marvel's then current "bullpen," although the majority worked at home as freelancers. I wonder if Lee made a Freudian slip or deliberately wrote: "First, Let's polish off the Big Brass.."  

Once again, Lee decided to retain the original coloring of Iron-Man's armor. Don Heck introduces Iron-Man to the world (although Jack Kirby designed the initial costume), a character the talented artist would be closely associated with in its early years. Plot by Stan Lee; script by Larry Lieber, lettering by Artie Simek, coloring by Stan Goldberg. 

Tony Stark begins his career as the man of steel (or is that phrase already taken?) 

The four page sequence that introduced Iron-Man's sleek new costume, designed by Steve Ditko, is also reprinted. While it's noted that the armor continued to be modified, the basic design has remained consistent for decades, a testament to Ditko's inventiveness. Stan Lee script/co-plot, Dick Ayers inks, Sam Rosen letters, Stan Goldberg colors. 

An impressive introduction to Thor by co-creator-artist Jack Kirby, with distinctive inking by Joe Sinnott. Although Kirby only worked on a few of the early stories, replaced by Joe Sinnott and Don Heck for a spell, when he returned full-time to Thor it soon became an epic of adventure and fantasy. Stan Lee plot, Larry Lieber script, Artie Simek letters and Stan Goldberg colors. If you look closely you'll notice that an error in the original publication date has the issue number reversed: Thor actually debuted in Journey into Mystery # 83! (I don't call this Marvel Mysteries and Comics Minutiae for nothing!)

Lee made it a point to note the "Thorr" typo in the last panel; acknowledging imperfections such as this often endeared Lee to the fans. What many might not be aware of is that a page of original art exists where the copy in the last panel is completely different. 

Apparently the idea to institute Thor as a continuing feature was decided at the last minute. Sales from other super hero features must have given Martin Goodman the intuition to make "Thor" the lead  feature in Journey into Mystery, and he was certainly proven to be correct.    

 The Annual concluded with a house ad promoting the heroes in their respective titles, reusing art from the cover. Marvel Tales returned in 1965 with a second Annual that continued the origin theme, reprinting the Avengers # 1; X-Men # 1 and Strange Tales # 115. (the more-recent Daredevil # 1 would be reprinted the following year in a one-shot title, Marvel Super-Heroes, which may be the subject of a future post). The issue was rounded out with another early Hulk story and a delightful Lee-Ditko fantasy thriller from Amazing Adult Fantasy

Cover to the 1965 Marvel Tales Annual # 2 utilizing panels from the interior stories. Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko pencils; Dick Ayers, Paul Reinman and Ditko inks, Sam Rosen lettering, Stan Goldberg coloring.   

Contents page to Marvel Tales # 3, July 1966. Art by the usual suspects: Kirby and Ditko; inks by Ditko and Ayers and lettering by Sam Rosen. 

Sales for the two Annuals must have been strong since eight months later Marvel Tales became an ongoing, bi-monthly publication, retaining its 25 cent format and reprinting Spider-Man, "the Human Torch", "Ant-Man" and "Thor". The company had recently added two similar titles following the same format: Marvel Collectors' Item Classics (reprinting Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Hulk and Doctor Strange) and Fantasy Masterpieces (headlining Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's 1940s Captain America stories backed by pre-hero monster stories). While the inside front cover for standard-format 12 cent comics was reserved for paid advertisements, these triple-length comics differed by utilizing a table of contents, previewing the stories with panels from the interiors and grey-tones added by Marie Severin. Lee also used the space to credit editorial and production staff and promote the stories in his usual bombastic manner.     .    

    After several years Marvel Tales switched to a standard format, dropping its co-features but retaining Spider-Man, continuing to sequentially reprint the characters earlier adventures for decades. 

 Marvel Tales Annual # 1 represents an era that is almost inconceivable today, when access to old stories and comics in the form of expensive hardcover editions or trade paperbacks is the standard. To many kids the presence of an over-sized comic book on the racks in the spring and summer months represented an adventure of near-mythic proportions. Sitting under a shady tree with a coke in hand, a youngster was transported on a seemingly endless journey. Those 72 pages exemplified a period where the combination of raw talent and rambunctious, seat-of-the-pants attitude was idiomatic of the creative juices that flowed abundantly in the early 1960's. For a kid with a quarter in his pocket a trip to the corner candy store could be the investment of a lifetime.          

Sunday, February 23, 2020

A Tribute to Nicola Cuti

I liked anthologies, writing a story where you never quite knew if the hero was going to come out successful or be devastated by his problems. I kind of liked knowing that you never knew if the hero or heroine was going to survive at the end. Excerpt taken from Nick Cuti's interview with Jon B. Cooke in Comic Book Artist # 12, March 2001.  
Nicola (Nick) Cuti was a versatile writer, editor and artist who contributed to the comic book field for decades. His first professional scripts appeared in Warren's black and white horror magazines (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella), where he also worked in an editorial capacity from 1969-1971. His next position was at Charlton Press, working as an assistant editor/writer. Nick soon received  recognition in fan circles when he created E-Man with artist Joe Staton, a satirical superhero inspired by Jack Cole's Plastic Man. This piece will focus primarily on his early work for those two companies. 

Cuti's creation Moonchild first appeared in a French magazine circa 1966; two years later the character surfaced in various small press and underground publications. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.  

Cuti's first pro script appeared in Creepy # 28, August 1969, embellished by Tom Sutton, a quirky and distinctive artist who he often teamed with on numerous Warren and Charlton stories. 

This introduction to an interconnected story by Cuti includes representations of the creators as illustrated by Billy Graham. Vampirella illo by Frank Frazetta. Vampirella # 7, September 1970. 

Cuti co-wrote the story "Prelude to Armageddon" with one of comics' recognized superstars, artist Wally Wood. His apprenticeship in Wood's Valley Stream, Long Island studio in the late 1960s, working alongside pros such as Syd Shores and Jack Abel was, in Cuti's view, an educational and highly-rewarding experience. Gaspar Saladino lettering. Creepy # 41, September 1971.

In 1971 Nick Cuti was hired by Charlton editor George Wildman to be his assistant, taking on the bulk of production-related chores and providing a supporting role to head writer Joe Gill. With great rapidity Cuti became a valuable addition to the Charlton staff. Cuti spoke with fondness on the benefits of working for Charlton, a company that had very little in common with the monolithic presence of Marvel and DC, who, in the main, focused on ongoing characters and superhero fantasies. Cuti explained in his Comic Book Artist interview:
..I loved working there because there really weren't any restrictions, just categories. If I, the writer, felt like scripting a romance comic, I could script a romance comic, or if I felt like writing a war comic or a horror story, or whatever, I would just sit down and bang one out.

Cuti's first ongoing series for editor George Wildman was writing the adventures of Popeye, the beloved comic strip character created by E.C.Segar. The irascible sailor, whose exposure blossomed in animated cartoons, was recognized by both children and adults. Beginning with issue # 114, May 1972, Cuti's stories continued to be published long after he parted ways with Charlton (likely a backlog of inventory) until the books' demise in 1977. George Wildman cover. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.  
An early Charlton script by Cuti includes a rare inking job over Jack Abel pencils. "Lure of the Swamp," Haunted # 8, October 1972. 

Charlton had its own idiosyncratic style which becomes more charming as the years pass, perhaps due to the rigidity of modern day mainstream comics. Here Cuti scripts the equivalent of a Haiku; one-page illustrated by veteran Charles Nicholas, and, while the rest of the comic is in color, this page was rendered in black and white. The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves # 37, March 1973.

Cuti teams up with Pete Morisi (art and lettering) on "Wrong Turn," a chilling tale from Haunted # 13, July 1973. 

The Weirdlings was a bizarre humor strip created, written and drawn by Cuti that appeared in various Charlton ghost titles. Ghostly Tales # 107, October 1973.   

 In addition to Cuti's freelance writing, as assistant editor he had to deal with production and publishing issues, including paper strikes which greatly affected Charlton. From The Comic Reader # 102, December 1973.

"Death in a Darkroom" was a natural story idea for Cuti, since his father was a technician who developed pictures for magazines including Life, Time and Sports Illustrated. Nick also dabbled in photography, which helped inform his own storytelling and pictorial sensibilities. Steve Ditko art; Charlotte Jetter letters. Ghost Manor # 21, November 1974. 

Mr. Ober's Nightmare," Scary Tales # 8, November 1976. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 

Steve Ditko illustrated quite a few Cuti scripted thrillers, two examples of which are seen above. Cuti first encountered Ditko when he worked at Wally Wood's studio and did the honors of picking him up at the train station. He explained:
Steve was tall, thin, wore glasses, and had a receding hairline, and a friendly smile. He was dressed in a long, black coat and fedora hat. As we drove to the Studio, he quipped, “So this is Valley Stream, but, Nick, I don’t see a valley or a stream anywhere.”
Cuti had a sharp eye for new talent and gave future fan favorites such as John Byrne and Mike Zeck their first professional jobs. In a few short years Byrne was the artist on the successful X-Men series, while Zeck illustrated many popular series, including Captain America, Master of Kung Fu and The Punisher. "Hades University," Scary Tales # 9, January 1977. Art and letting by Zeck. 

  "The Thing in the Subway," Joe Staton art and lettering, Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves # 43, December 1973.

 Mike Mauser, seen in the last panel, was a private eye parody who was visually patterned on Dustin Hoffman's Ratzo Rizzo. He debuted as a supporting player in E-Man and graduated to a back-up feature in Vengeance Squad. Cuti loved detective stories and film noir, which made Mauser a character he was especially fond of. If you peruse the scraps of paper littering the table you'll see a nod to Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer and J.J. Gittes. Staton often added jokey bits of business for observant fans to seek out in his stories. "The Inner Sun," E-Man # 8, May 1975; Joe Staton art and lettering; Wendy Fiore colors.

Artist Joe Staton collaborated frequently with Cuti; the duo worked harmoniously on an array of mystery/horror/romance stories at Charlton. When management requested a new superhero title, Cuti naturally went to Staton for the visual presentation. Together they devised E-Man, an offbeat, lighthearted superhero comic that had an initial ten-issue run and was often revived by the creators.   

Cuti left his editorial position and became a staff writer for Charlton until 1975 when he was let go. He continued to work in the industry, including writing for Western Publishing and in DC editorial. Cuti acknowledged that his most satisfying assignments were at Warren, where he freelanced until they went out of business in 1981. Cuti branched out to other media, including writing novels, working in animation and creating his own independent films. Despite these other activities Cuti never strayed too far from comics, and was accessible to fans through convention appearances, his website and Facebook.

Nicola Cuti rarely attained the attention or notoriety of his peers, particularly those who toiled in the high-profile, fan oriented world of superheroes. There may be a tinge of irony in the fact that if not for his creation of E-Man he may have been further marginalized. Cuti expressed little interest in larger-than-life personas, as he elaborated in his Comic Book Artist interview:
It's not that I have anything against superheroes, but they're just a genre as far as I'm concerned, and a good genre. But they've taken over, and that's the only objection I've had with them. When I was a kid I read Batman and Superman, just like everyone else, but not exclusively. They were just one of the things. I also read Lone Ranger and Captain Video and a whole bunch of other stuff. They were just one part of the whole thing. 

Nick Cuti was a craftsman who found pleasure in telling stories in the comic book format; all types, which could be appreciated on many levels and by a variety of age groups. At Warren and Charlton he was given the freedom to let his imagination run wild, which often led to superior results. When outlets such as Charlton faded away, those creators who thrived in that environment were cast aside. Mainstream comics became fodder to an increasingly niche fan base, and the kid on the street with loose change in his pockets was abandoned.           
      Nicola Cuti passed away at the age of 75 on February 21, 2020.   

                   An inscription from Nick Cuti to yours truly. E-Man # 24, June 1985.  

On a personal note, Nick Cuti was one of the first professionals I spoke with at length in the offices of DC comics around 1985. We chatted about creators I held in particular esteem, including Wally Wood and Steve Ditko, and he impressed me as a gentleman of great enthusiasm for his profession. From one Nick to another: you will be greatly missed.   

(If you would like to read more on Nick Cuti and/or Charlton please see my featured post located on the upper right hand corner of this page).  



Saturday, November 23, 2019

Why I Like Steve Ditko

Note: The following is a blog post that was originally presented on July, 28th, 2011.  Some of the content has been updated but the general tone has been retained and I've left some of the topical comments as is. (More on Ditko, indeed!) 

One of my earliest forays as a blogger finds me spotlighting Steve Ditko's contributions to comics. I believe it's entirely justified, and even incumbent upon me, for such an oversight would be comparable to chronicling the history of the New York Yankees and ignoring the achievements of Babe Ruth or Mariano Rivera. I encountered Ditko's art at a very young age and was captivated by it virtually from the start. Why did his particular style resonate with me on such a visceral level? While searching through my memories one image surfaced with vivid clarity: an Amazing Spider-Man panel where a gang of criminals are fleeing. Ditko's composition was brilliant in its simplicity, showing the miscreants from the waist down, clearly startled by the Spider-Signal illuminating the pavement. I observed how their trousers swayed rhythmically, with a sense of bone and sinew underneath (that's how MY clothes moved when I walked!). Even a six or seven year old recognized that the artist drawing these pictures had done his homework, providing an underpinning of authenticity alongside the fantastic elements.
Amazing Spider-Man # 19, Dec 1964
Ditko's work is distinguished by an understanding of what makes a comic book work. Following the lead of artists he admired (Will Eisner, Jerry Robinson, Mort Meskin) Ditko was able to delineate figures, forms, settings and people with a knowledge of the real world. Ditko studied how clothing flowed against a body in motion and innately grasped the complexity of hands and muscle structure. Like master cartoonist Alex Toth, Ditko was able to make the complex simple by knowing what to include and what to excise. 

                                   Amazing Spider-Man # 15, August 1964. 

Ditko brought a sense of realism to his characters by not turning them into superhuman powerhouses (not that there's anything wrong with that - but more on Jack Kirby in future posts). Another early recollection is the cover to Amazing Spider-Man # 15, the elements of which Ditko orchestrated with masterful precision. Every piece of information adds to the excitement: Spider-Man in the foreground, struggling to free himself as his pursuer approaches. The park setting is established by trees and rocks, capped off by a city landscape in the background. Unlike DC characters, who often faced absurd or gimmick-laden situations, Ditko's heroes were vulnerable and their predicaments transpired (as in this example) on the borderline of possibility. The curiosity of prospective buyers was probably aroused considerably in trying to guess HOW Spider-Man would escape. I know I was completely captivated by it.    

Rarely did a hero get a beating like this in comic books! Spider-Man's rouges gallery, including the Scorpion, were a distinct threat - more like the maniacal Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death (1947) than Superman's Lex Luthor. Ditko made this clear by Spider-Man's crumpled posture and with little touches such as his torn costume. It also made a strong point; that doing the right thing had consequences. Amazing Spider-Man # 20, January 1965, Dialogue/co-plot? by Stan Lee; lettering by Artie Simek; coloring likely by Stan Goldberg.      

Ditko imbued his pen and ink creations with a palpable sense of fragility. They could get bruised and battered (although, due to Comics Code restrictions they could not bleed, certainly not in 1965) and had to use their intelligence to outwit opponents. Ditko plotted out stories with a level of thought and deliberation that was rarely reflected by his peers. Revisiting his work invites new observations and further analysis in much the same way one studies the oeuvre of Alfred Hitchcock or Miles Davis.

The above page encapsulates Ditko's ability to relay information and distinguish each character with distinctive personalities, often refining them over time. Two examples that would be appropriate here include Aunt May, originally drawn as a heavyset woman and Jonah Jameson, whose mustache was trimmed to the extent that it gave him a Hitlerian appearance. Amazing Spider-Man # 17, October 1964.

Another aspect of Ditko's art that immediately appealed to me was his whimsical nature, accentuated by an almost silent movie clarity through facial expressions and body language, most notably the use of hands as a tool to depict emotions. Some of these techniques were no doubt mastered by studying the industry's greatest storytellers (including newspaper strips such as Chester Gould's Dick Tracy and Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annnie, which were likely a strong influence on Ditko's artistic formation.) With the dexterity of a trapeze artist Ditko balanced fantasy elements essential to superhero comics alongside more down-to-earth situations. Whether it was Peter Parker frantically attempting to avoid a blind date, or, at the other end of the spectrum, plagued by doubts and fears that seemed insurmountable to a teenager, Ditko undoubtedly raised the bar in his chosen field.      

Ditko is an original. Unique, offbeat, compelling. Now in his 80s, he continues to draw comics. There are those who chose to denigrate the man on a personal level, criticizing his choices or seeking to invade his personal space. I've read too many articles, blogs and essays filled with distortions, inaccuracies and outright lies about the man which have nothing to do with constructive discussions about his work. I intend to pursue a more positive direction here.

Ditko's final panel to the Dr. Strange story in Strange Tales # 134, July 1965, is an excellent example of the artist's skill at composition. The reader's eye is directed to the solitary figure of the hero walking the dark, lonely streets of Manhattan. Much like his own distinctive characters, Ditko has always followed his own path.  

More on Ditko soon...

(I hope my efforts over the years investigating the world of comics and the creators who have made it endlessly fascinating continue to be worthy of attention and I thank so many of you who have offered comments and criticism.)  

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Bill Schelly: In Tribute

It will take a long time for me to get used to speaking about Bill Schelly in the past tense. His passion for comics took him on a journey throughout his life, from teenage publisher to author of countless books, chronicling both his experiences and shining a light on many important - and some often neglected - creative juggernauts. And it all began when a wide-eyed eight year old began reading a Superman Annual. 

When Schelly learned Richard Shields, a fellow classmate, also collected comics, a friendship began, which led to his discovery of fanzines, amateur publications that, for the price of a stamp and a few coins could be purchased through the mail. This opened a whole new world for him: as recounted in his book Sense of Wonder A Life in Comic Fandom (2001, revised in 2018).

"What's This?" I asked Richard, pointing to the sheet with the Eye character. "Some kind of comic book?" "Yeah." "Where do you buy it? I've never seen this character on the racks." I wondered if there were regional comic book companies that didn't distribute their wares in Pittsburgh. "Idiot!"  He said, laughing. "It's not like a regular comic book. You have to send away for it. It's probably printed like Rocket's Blast-Comiccollector." We looked through the copy of RB-CC which was duplicated by the same printing method our school teachers used for pop quizzes  and worksheets.  I didn't know the name of the process, but the print was purple.  We were captivated by page after page of advertisements for old comic books, some dating back to the 1940s. Shields let out a long whistle. "Look at this! Someone wants fifteen bucks for Captain America # 1!" "That's nuts!" I replied, shaking my head. "Who would pay that much?" "I don't know, but a lot of the other old stuff is only three or four bucks. I think I'll get some of 'em, if I can figure out which ones are the best." "That's too much for me, but here's a copy of Spider-Man # 1 for a buck-fifty. I think I'll send for that." Although the ads for much-sought-after back issues were fascinating, I was equally interested in the fanzines that promised information about comics of the past. Just the idea that you could buy a bunch of different magazines about comics fascinated me. What a momentous, mind-boggling development this was! My joy know no bounds!      
This soon led to the 12 year old Schelly crafting his own fanzine, in tandem with Shields, whose father had access to an early Xerox machine. The boys first effort was Super Heroes Anonymous. 

  Super Heroes Anonymous # 1, published in January 1965, was Schelly's crude but ambitious debut effort, which included a character he created: The Immortal Corpse. The cover was marred by a technical glitch; early Xerox machines were unable to reproduce solid blacks.

After the second edition Schelly devised a more impressive title, Incognito, which ran for two more issues (# 4 and Incognito Extra # 1). In this period he became friends with fellow fan/collector Marshall Lanz and produced two issues of a new fanzine, Fantasy Forum.  

Schelly's next endeavor was a concerted effort to up his game. He achieved that goal with the publication of Sense of Wonder # 1 (May 1967), which had better quality printing and a more impressive presentation. He and other talented fans wrote prose stories, comic strips and articles. Contributors included Ron Foss, Dick Trageser, Alan Hanley, D. Bruce Berry, Larry Herndon and John Fantuccio.  

 Steve Ditko's cover art to Sense of Wonder # 6, 1968. In his editorial Bill wrote: "Steve Ditko's Mr. A frontal piece is no doubt our finest cover; hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Thanks for taking time out from your various projects, Steve." When Ditko saw the published cover he wrote Schelly, sternly criticizing him for using color on a drawing he expected to be reproduced in black and white. Schelly felt Ditko had a valid point, and his words stung all the more deeply because a few years earlier he used, without Ditko's permission, a drawing of Dr. Strange in Super Heroes Anonymous # 2.          

A sign of things to come, Schelly wrote a six page overview of Alfred Hitchcock's career in Sense of Wonder # 6. Ditko and Hitchcock in the same issue. Quite a combination!  

SOW # 6 also included biographical info on the 17 year old Schelly.* It reveals a self-deprecating sense of humor ("Bill is 'known' for his advertising of fanzines that never come out") and quite a bit of wisdom. One of his ambitions was achieved with impressive results: writing books.  

* (An historical aside for those born in the past few decades. Technology in the early 1960s was limited. Making multiple copies of an original typed manuscript often meant using a spirit duplicating machine, a device that had a drum and ink which one put paper through. Schools and churches employed this device, and while the first few dozen  copies were usually clear, repeated use led to blurry, smudged and often unreadable results. For some kids producing fanzines on a limited budget it was their only option).        

As noted in his bio piece, Schelly was a huge Batman fan/collector, as evidenced by the above letter that appeared in Batman # 222, June 1970.  
                         Robert Sanborn's cover to Sense of Wonder # 11, Spring 1972

Larry Herndon's long-running fanzine Star-Studded Comics was scheduled to publish Ditko's Mr. A strip, but as recounted in Sense of Wonder, A Life in Comic Fandom, Herndon was going to discontinue his fanzine and asked Schelly if he had an interest in publishing it, noting that Ditko wanted to see it in print as soon as possible. Schelly was enthused and asked if Herndon had the original art. He replied: "No, and he won't send it either. He said he's had a problem with some fanzine editors keeping his originals, so he said to tell him when and where to send the original art when you're submitting the remainder of the issue to the printer, and he'll send it to him directly. " Schelly added: "I have Larry Herndon to thank for giving me the opportunity to debut the six-page Mr. A strip titled "The Defenders." Sense of Wonder # 11, Spring 1972. 

Schelly's review of the EC hardcover reprint Horror Comics of  the 1950s also appeared in Sense of Wonder # 11 

Fan artist Don Newton, who soon graduated to professional comic illustrator, crafted the cover to Sense of Wonder # 12, Summer/Fall 1972. 

  This impressive profile of Jack Kirby, photographed by Vincent Davis, accompanied Bob Cosgrove's essay: Jack Kirby, Modern Mythologist, in Sense of Wonder # 12. 

 Will Eisner, another master in the field of comic art, was featured in Sense of Wonder # 12. "Eisner and Co. by John T. Ryan, corrected and added information on Eisner's career following Raymond Miller's earlier essay on the artist. 

Sense of Wonder # 12 was to be Schelly's last issue. After a failed attempt to get a job as a professional artist in comics Schelly dropped out of fandom and comic collecting for a period of time. In 1982 his first book was published, a biography of silent film comedian Harry Langdon. He briefly became part-owner of a comic book specialty store, and rejoined CAPA-alpha (a publication which included contributions from each member which were then collated and mailed out to participants) in 1991. Schelly's first exploration of fanzines occurred in The Golden Age of Comic Fandom (1995) followed by an array of related books, most notable being his personal experiences in Sense of Wonder A Life in Comic Fandom. Schelly then turned his attention to crafting a superb series of scholarly tomes covering an eclectic assortment of creative personnel, from the revered (Joe Kubert, Harvey Kurtzman) to the more obscure (Otto Binder, James Warren, John Stanley). Bill Schelly's attention went beyond artists, and included writers, editors and publishers, whose contributions to comics are all too often glossed over. His body of work will stand the test of time and be a valuable resource for future historians. 

Bill's memoir first appeared in 2001 and was greatly revised and expanded in 2018. Cover art by Schelly and Dick Giordano.  

On a personal note I was proud to have corresponded with Bill these past few years, discussing his many extraordinary books. I was honored when he asked if I could transcribe the Point of View discussions on Marvel and DC from the 1963 fanzine Hero which I had scanned and posted on my blog for publication in his Alter Ego column. He was a complete pleasure to work with and a true gentleman. Bill Schelly was an important part of comic book fandom, a true historian and a class act. Rest in Peace, Bill.