Underrated: The Bill Schelly Reader
This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet-pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: The Bill Schelly Reader.
I’ve never been shy about my interest in comic book history, and it was when I was searching for some new books to scratch the itch, I came across The Bill Schelly Reader, a book by Bill Schelly that collects some of his finest prose work on the early history of comics and fandom.
Borrowing the text from the back of the book, because that’ll give you a better synopsis than anything I’ll write:
Bill Schelly has been writing about comics and fandom since 1965. In over 50 years one can do a lot of writing, and The Bill Schelly Reader includes some of the author’s best work on subjects ranging from the golden age of comic fandom to James Bond.
Schelly takes us back to the very beginnings of comic fandom with such articles as:
- “Batmania”: a short history of the early 1960s fanzine (the first fanzine Bill Schelly ever read) credited for a resurgence of interest in Batman comics during a time of dwindling sales
- “The First Comicons”: a retrospective on the first conventions organized by comics fans, from the Alley Tally Party to larger events in major cities like New York and Chicago
- “It Started on Yancy Street”: an issue-by-issue look at the first fanzine devoted entirely to Marvel Comics, and why an unwelcome decision by Marvel led to its demise
In addition, book includes articles about the Silver Age Batman, Hawkman by Joe Kubert, the James Bond books by Ian Fleming, and an interview with the author. With dozens of vintage photos and images!
I’d never knowingly read one of Schelly’s essays before, though that’s mostly because I never got much of an opportunity to read Alter Ego where a lot of his essays were published. Over the course of The Bill Schelly Reader, Schelly dives into the early stages of comic fandom in the 1960’s, exploring the emergence of fanzines and the very first conventions. His essays are deep and incredibly interesting for those of us who want to learn more. A lot of the information that Schelly presents, while by no means the definitive history, paints enough of a picture so that you grasp what those days were like for fans. Remember this was long before any websites or even widely published magazine like Wizard, and so fanzines often had circulation numbers running at less than a thousand issues – and were put together by folks who also had other jobs (not unlike a lot of comics websites, but we don’t need to worry about publishing, printing and distribution of our content).
The essays run an average of ten pages or so each with a lot of additional images that add flavour to the text, and it’s amazing how much info Schelly crams into each one. There’s the odd moment where I found my interest waning, but for the most part the book held my attention from cover to cover (though I’d only read an essay or two a night).
If you’re at all curious about the early days of comic fandom, then I’d highly suggest you take a look at this book. Schelly’s literary work often goes out of print (well, as far as I know from my fifteen minutes of research, anyway), and then inevitably the prices spike. Grab this one if you’re at all interested.
Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.