Bill Schelly passed away last week from multiple myeloma. Schelly discovered comics fandom in 1964 and shortly after launched his own fanzines, where he wrote and drew. The most notable was Sense of Wonder. Schelly went on to be one of the great writers about comics. He was also one of the chroniclers of fandom in a series of books including The Golden Age of Comic Fandom and in his column for Alter Ego.
I interviewed Schelly in 2018 and we spent much of the conversation discussing his book Sense of Wonder. Schelly originally published the book in 2001 discussing his youth in comics fandom, but in 2018 published Sense of Wonder, My Life in Comic Fandom–The Whole Story. The new edition of the book was significantly longer, covering decades more than the original edition had, but more than that, Schelly wrote about being gay, about living in the closet and coming out, about the queerness of fandom back in the day. He wrote about his family and the death of son at a very young age. It was, in many respects, his best book.
Schelly authored many books about comics including biographies of Joe Kubert (Man of Rock), Otto Binder (Words of Wonder), Harvey Kurtzman, John Stanley and most recently James Warren. He also edited two books collecting Kubert’s artwork, Weird Horrors & Daring Adventures, and The Art of Joe Kubert, both of which were published by Fantagraphics
Schelly received an Inkpot Award at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con. In 2007, Alter Ego, where he was associate editor, won an Eisner for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Publication. And in 2016, Schelly’s biography Harvey Kurtzman, The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America, won an Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Book.
In our correspondence we spoke about doing another interview, but unfortunately we never did. I had his name on a list I keep of people I wanted to talk with this year. Besides the Warren biography, Schelly had two other books out this year, The Bill Schelly Reader, which collected a lot of writing, and the novel Come With Me.
Rereading the interview today I was struck by my final question and his answer.
Sense of Wonder ends on a triumphant note with you winning an Eisner award for your Harvey Kurtzman biography and you reconnecting with your first love. Real life is of course messy, but I hope the happy ending has continued.
It has. I’m busier than ever as a writer, and my relationship with Mario Vitale, my great love from the time we were teenagers, is stronger than ever. Of course, I’m older, but I’m healthy and hope to have many more good, creative years. My readership seems to be expanding, so everything is blue sky ahead.
It is a little crushing to read that now, but at the end of his life Schelly was happier. Perhaps happier than he’d ever been. More successful. Respected. It’s sad that he couldn’t enjoy that.
I own a number of Schelly’s books, and I don’t own very many books about comics. He was both an insightful writer but also a thoughtful critic with a deep knowledge of not just the comics but the people. But it’s also not hard to think about Schelly’s life in fandom. A place where he found to belong.
In the context of the current moment of attacks on so many queer creators, women, people of color and others, Schelly’s life and work show how welcoming a community fandom has been and can be. A reminder of what is possible when one sees art and the world with a sense of wonder.