Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Bill Morrison is a tremendously talented artist and writer.
A child prodigy in art and drawing, he could draw better at age three than I can at age thirty-six. His competency across a broad range of specialties and his career trajectory are jaw-droppingly impressive as he continues upping the ante by challenging himself with new and different projects.
He lives in a lovely stately historic home in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, which backs up to the vast and beautiful Lake St. Clair.
Bill lives with his wife Kayre (pronounced ‘Care’), two dogs Gidget and Ripley, two cats Ziggy and Freddie, and a world-class collection of comics, collectibles, and artwork. His home studio is a delightful wonderland of creativity, pop culture inspirations, and gobs upon gobs of wickedly good Bill Morrison original art.
Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
I’m here chatting with Bill. He was both brave enough to let me into his home and kind enough to answer my 10,000 rambling questions.
As a lifelong fan of The Simpsons and Bill’s work, I’ve owned several of his comics, watched several of his shows, and for years had the amazing full cast of The Simpsons poster on my wall that Mr. Morrison did.
Meeting him was an honor and I can tell you that he is a thoroughly cool dude.
The Simpsons kitchen sink poster art by Bill Morrison
Published by Hero Collector, it’s a treasure trove of trivia masked as intentional continuity errors that are artfully designed to test your mental abilities of recognition and recall.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Bill Morrison!
Bill on The Beatles
Nerd Search: All You Nerd is Love: A Yellow Submarine Puzzle Book by Bill Morrison
“I’m a huge Beatles fan. My involvement with creating The Beatles books goes back to 1998 when Dark Horse Comics asked me to do a graphic novel for the 30th anniversary of Yellow Submarine. The deal unfortunately fell through midway. However, in 2018, I ended up doing a 112-page graphic novel adaptation of The Beatles Yellow Submarine for Titan Comics.”
“Titan Comics is based in London. They published our Simpsons stuff for Bongo in the UK. Initially, the licensing agent for The Beatles merchandise was interested in having me link up with Titan for the graphic novel. Then they came to me with a second project because they needed a pre-approved artist and put me in touch with Hero Collector, which is owned by Eaglemoss.”
“Hero said they have a series of books called Nerd Search where each scene has purposely incorrect information & items that the reader has to find, clues to solve, and at the end you get all the answers and rate yourself. I had a great time doing the book and I’m looking forward to seeing what the fan reaction is.”
“I’ve been a lifelong Beatles fan. Favorite song is Hey Bulldog. Favorite album is Rubber Soul. And I listen to The Beatles Channel on SiriusXM all the time.”
“I saw ‘A Hard Days Night’ (1964) at the drive-in when I was five, sitting in the back of the station wagon. Back then everyone was playing Beatles records.”
“The first album I had was Alvin and the Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits, then I got into the Saturday morning cartoon (1965-67), and saw Yellow Submarine (68) the first time it aired on TV in 1970.”
Beatles Yellow Submarine graphic novel by Bill Morrison
“I remember in high school there was a Broadway show called Beatlemania (1977-79) which was really popular and created a resurgence of interest in The Beatles. By that time, I was doing artwork and t-shirts.”
“At high school, my friend Steve Colwell and I started a small t-shirt business selling shirts of rock stars. We passed an order sheet around to everyone at school and they would place orders for our shirts.”
“My sister actually got to see The Beatles live in 1966 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. My dad drove them and sat in the parking lot. The Beatles only played for a half hour, but they had several other opening bands, which was common at the time. Dad was smoking a cigarette outside the car when the big garage door on the side of the stadium rolled up. A big black limo pulls out as he hears the kids leaving. Suddenly the crowd spots the limo, and this horde of Beatles-crazed fans starts running towards him. My dad is between The Beatles and the kids. He says he had to jump onto a lamp post to avoid being trampled!”
The Early Years (or who is Bill Morrison and why am I in his house?)
Bill Morrison as Batman (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“I’m an artist, writer, collector. I like working at my home studio where I use mostly traditional tools of the trade, some digital. I sketch with a blue pencil, use graphite and ink for comics, acrylic for painting, brush painting or airbrush, depending on the texture I’m trying to achieve. As for writing, I frequently jot down random notes in a book, otherwise I type in Microsoft Word.”
“My passion, thankfully, is my career and I don’t really have any other hobbies or interests beyond it. I love collecting toys, comics, art, but that all pretty much relates to my job. My wife and I like Art Deco, NY World’s Fair memorabilia, books (especially books on comics, comic collecting, illustrating, graphic novels).”
“My most marketable ability as a commercial artist is I can pick up other artist’s styles very quickly, which is very helpful in animation. I need a few practice sketches to find the rhythm, then I have it.”
Bill Morrison with Casper doll (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“I was born January 15, 1959, and grew up in Lincoln Park, Michigan, about ten minutes south of Detroit. My dad is from the Hocking Hills, Ohio area and my mom is from Wyandotte, Michigan. Her father was Judge Arthur Decker, who as a young man, was a prize fighter nicknamed Kid Decker. My parents have always been very supportive of my artistic ambitions.”
“I have four living siblings: Alice, Donna, Sue, and Janice. My brother Don just passed away recently. Two of my sisters live here in Michigan, and two live elsewhere. My wife Kayre is also from Lincoln Park. Yes, we started dating in high school, and we recently moved back to Michigan to be closer to our families. This fulfills the mission of my youngest sister Alice, who lives in Novi, and has been trying to re-gather all of us for years.”
“Growing up, my older sister Sue was artistic, and she taught me how to draw at age three. She sat me down at the kitchen table and taught me how to draw a stickman. She drew a figure and told me to copy it. Then she left, came back in ten minutes, and says I had “vastly improved” on the drawing. She got real excited, thought I was a natural talent. She was always keyed into what I was into. Early on I would emulate her character drawings of Snoopy, the Wolfman, etc, whatever my mania was at the time”
Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“In 1977, I graduated Lincoln Park High School and immediately enrolled in Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. I started off wanting to be a comic book artist but learned I’d have to go to NYC to establish myself. I love New York now, but back then the idea of living there sort of terrified me. I had a teacher Gary Ciccarelli for airbrush class. He was really into the whole West Coast airbrush scene, which was highly glamorized, stylized, lot of palm trees and neon. And he turned us onto stuff I hadn’t been exposed to.”
“I graduated CCS in 1981 and got a job at Artech, Inc. in Livonia doing technical drawings for the automotive industry. I would be in a big room with 15 artists. The guys in the other room would look at a blueprint and sketch it out in 3D, then they would send it to us and we would refine and perfect it. We did mostly engine stuff, mechanics manuals & parts catalogs, cut-away paintings of diesel fuel pumps, etc.”
“In 1982, I married Karen “Kayre” DeLosier, the love of my life, and we lived in Plymouth, Michigan for a bit near Plymouth Road and Haggerty, before moving to the West Coast. Moved to Beverly Hills briefly, then Sepulveda (which became North Hills), then Simi Valley.”
L.A. in the ‘80s: a town awash in neon and perms and mohawks, oh my!
Bill Morrison with Roger Rabbit (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
Bill was employed as a professional illustrator at B.D. Fox and Friends Advertising from 1982-86, which is where he first met legendary cartoonist, Matt Groening, who was just an unknown scribbler at the time. After that, Bill was at Willardson & Associates. During this time, he also worked on iconic movie posters like the famous Little Mermaid (1989), The Land Before Time (1988), Oliver and Company (1988), all sorts of Disney movies, of which he said his favorite poster is The Prince and The Pauper (1990).
“My first job in Hollywood was doing movie posters at B.D. Fox and Matt (Groening) was a freelance writer there. B.D. Fox was a boutique ad agency for the entertainment industry. A co-worker, Mili Smythe was an art director there and she was friends with Matt, they’re both from Portland, and she introduced us. Mili told me about Matt’s comic strip, Life in Hell.”
“Occasionally she would ask us for input on things like childhood songs to give to Matt, who would then put the song references in the comic strip. At work, Matt would pitch tag lines for posters, but we didn’t really become good friends until The Simpsons.”
The Prince and the Pauper (1990) poster art by Bill Morrison
“I designed the posters for horror movies House (85), Blood Diner (87), and I was the in-house illustrator doing rough sketches and comps for films like The Return of the Living Dead (1985). Art directors would come to see me with ideas they needed me to draw up. For the Return of the Living Dead poster, I don’t know who did the final painting but I remember being surprised that Bill Stout didn’t do it. He was a well-known poster artist, and he designed the zombies for the film”
“In 1986, I was invited to work at an illustration studio owned by David Willardson, the California airbrush artist, called Willardson & Associates. We did all sorts of advertising for all different products, mostly photo realistic work but glorified, Nestles Quick, Maxell Tape, etc, and one of the jobs was for Disney. It was a re-release of Cinderella, they wanted a one-sheet poster. I did a teaser they liked, then another one, and another one, then anytime Disney released an animated film into theaters. I did Little Mermaid, Oliver and Co, Rescuers Down Under, Roller Coaster Rabbit, Prince and the Pauper (a Mickey Mouse featurette), Peter Pan, Jungle Book, Bambi, Lady and Tramp, Fox and Hound, etc.”
“I did The Land Before Time movie poster for Amblin Entertainment. I only did the characters, not the background. This was in the pre-photoshop days and I’m at the studio and I get this big painting delivered. They said we need you to re-draw the dinosaur characters and paste them over the existing ones. I did it on one-ply Strathmore paper, which was tricky to paint on because it’s so thin. Then cut out the outline perfectly with an x-acto knife then painted the edges with a brush. It’s very hard to match outline colors perfectly. Then I took spray mount and permanently sprayed them onto this guy’s painting, which seemed kind of unethical but I had to do it.”
The Simpsons & Matt Groening
First signing with Matt: from L to R are Matt Groening, Steve Vance, Bill Morrison (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
Bill joined The Simpsons crew in 1990 and played a seminal role in the global expansion of the franchise. He was doing illustrations for 20th Century Fox and creating all sorts of art for merchandise, sketches, t-shirts, posters, etc, while simultaneously art-directing other merchandise artists at Klasky Csupo Animation Studio.
“In 1987, The Simpsons made their global debut on the Tracey Ullman Show. It was one of the animated bumpers they did. Then it morphed into the December 1989 Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire holiday special episode, then the show officially premiered February 1990. It was an immediate blockbuster hit.”
Simpsons Yellow Album art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“I knew Matt (Groening) from our time working together at the ad agency a few years prior. He brought me into The Simpsons creative family, and I started doing character drawings for merchandise. I created the merch style guide, which is for companies who license the brand. If a licensee takes out a license, they get a style guide of images they can use. Some licensees pay extra for custom artwork. I also did almost all of the video game packaging in the early days, along with calendars, books, and more.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with the characters beyond what they looked like until we did the comic books. Sometimes the stories in Simpsons Comics necessitated creating new characters. For Radioactive Man we got to create a broader cast of characters because they didn’t exist on the show. Radioactive Man’s origins are similar to the Hulk. Fallout Boy’s origins are similar to Spider Man. It’s mostly parody and satire. At one time there was talk of doing a Radioactive Man cartoon show but the idea was shelved when Futurama came out. I would love to see the idea get revived and think it could be a big hit.”
Simpsons Comics & Stories # 1 art by Bill Morrison
“In April 1991, Simpsons Illustrated launched and the series ran for ten issues. It had a comic section, and at the end of the second year, Groening and Editor Steve Vance wanted a gimmicky annual issue, so we decided let’s do a comic book. We named it Simpsons Comics and Stories and it came out in February 1993.”
“It was such a big hit that it gave Matt the confidence to start Bongo Comics, so we did. Starting a comic was a dream come true. We started it in November 1993. I served as Art Director, Steve Vance was the editor and his wife Cindy was colorist and letterer. After the first year the Vances left, and I became the Creative Director (Editor and Art Director.) I was directly involved in some way with every issue (writing, penciling, inking, supervising, art direction, etc). My favorite character to draw is probably Radioactive Man.”
“Matt and I are still good friends to this day.”
The Simpsons episode: A Serious Flanders (November 2021) poster art by Bill Morrison
“In terms of The Simpsons tv show, my favorite episodes are Radioactive Man, Black Widower (great art direction), and many of the episodes from the Conan O’Brien era (1991-93). Also, I love the recent two-part episode “A Serious Flanders” for which I created an advertising poster.”
Bill also did the cover artwork for The Simpsons DVD’s.
And Bill won several Eisner Awards for Simpsons Comics (2000), The Amazing Colossal Homer (1994), and Radioactive Man.
Roswell Little Green Man, Futurama, and more!
Roswell Little Green Man art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“In 1996, I produced my own comic series for Bongo called Roswell, Little Green Man. Although Roswell loosely takes place in the late 1940’s, it was my love of 50’s sci-fi films that inspired it. The first story deals with giant ants, harkening back to Them! (1954 sci-fi movie). The series was nominated in four different categories for the highly coveted Eisner Award. We ended it because we started a little show called Futurama and I didn’t have time to work on the show, along with my Bongo duties, and also my own comic.”
“I was the Art Director on Futurama from 1998-2003. I assisted in the creation of the cast of characters with Matt Groening. Matt was the creator of the show and Futurama was done by The Curiosity Company, Matt’s own production company.”
“We did four seasons, 140 episodes. It was on Tuesday nights when it first premiered, and Matt didn’t like that. He told Fox execs to put it on Sunday nights 8:30 p.m. right after The Simpsons. They wouldn’t do it. Finally, they put it on Sunday’s but at 7:00 p.m., which was too early. Futurama is a workplace adult comedy, it’s about adults, romances, and it was inappropriate to put on then. Plus, at that time slot, if sports games ran longer than anticipated, which they frequently do, they had to cut portions of the episodes or not even air the episodes.”
Futurama art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“I loved Futurama, especially Leela, and I helped design many of the weirder characters before Matt pitched the show. Matt would always do a final cut and tweak it. We’d be at his studio, he would give me a paragraph on a character, I would do drawings, then show him, it sparked him visually, then he would do a drawing, I would refine it, etc, it was a collaboration. I always felt my biggest contribution to the show was sometimes showing Matt what he didn’t want because it would help him decide which way to go with a character. It’s very difficult to create unique and original characters. Having some input from friends is valuable, the visceral reaction is valuable.”
“In 2000, I did a six-issue mini-series for Bongo called Heroes Anonymous. My editorial assistant at the time was Scott Gimple and I invited him to work on it with me. It’s about a support group for superheroes. We had it in development at the SyFy Channel for a while. Scott had moved on to Disney where he was working on a show called Fillmore, which was a safety patrol played as a 70’s cop show. He had an agent at this point who wanted him to go out and pitch ideas for shows that he owned. Since we co-created Heroes Anonymous he called me and we started pitching it to networks and the SyFy channel took an option. Scott and I worked together on the story for the pilot and Scott wrote the script. I was going to be on board as a producer. The network would give us notes on the script, and at first they were good notes. But eventually the notes got silly and were making the script worse. Finally, it got to the point that their suggested improvement notes were too embarrassing to seriously consider. We chose not to renew the option when it came up. Scott did okay though, he’s now the showrunner on The Walking Dead.”
“After that, I was lucky enough to be able to do my first book, which was a career retrospective on Dan DeCarlo, one of my favorite comic book artists. Dan is best known for drawing Archie comics and creating Josie and the Pussycats and co-creating Sabrina the Teen-age Witch. The book is called Innocence and Seduction: The Art of Dan DeCarlo. I knew Dan personally. We were friends until he passed away in 2001. I was also a fan and there were no good books on Dan’s art. I wanted to create something that didn’t exist yet.”
The Art of Dan DeCarlo book by Bill Morrison
“A few years later, I collaborated with Jane Wiedlin, co-founder of The Go-Go’s. In 2010, we did a comic book called Lady Robotika which was published by Image. The concept is based on Jane as a cyborg space hero.”
“In 2015, I wrote and illustrated Dead Vengeance for Dark Horse Comics. It’s a tribute to the gritty 1940’s pulp era and takes place in Detroit.”
Dead Vengeance by Bill Morrison
“Near my end at Bongo, Matt was working on a new show (what later became the show Disenchantment) and I was talking to the businesspeople telling them I’m looking for something creatively challenging. They said Matt wants to do a new company, comic, show, etc, but he’s not quite there yet. But we do want to develop a comic reader app for mobile phones and iPads, so I did that.”
“I designed comic reader apps. Here I am, devoted to printed comics, and I had to develop and promote comics on electronic devices. Had to learn the guided view mechanics of reading a comic online, panel to panel scrolling, etc. To do this I had to download digital comics and study them. I started taking them on trips with me and realized that you can still have your physical collection at home but also embrace digital comics as a convenience. I started promoting the app, called The Simpsons Store, then the Futuramaland comic reader.”
The National Cartoonists Society
Bill Morrison (National Cartoonists Society)
Founded in 1946, the prestigious National Cartoonists Society is the world’s main professional organization for people working in cartoons and comics. To be admitted membership, published cartoonists must send in samples of their work. Once vetted, they can become Artist members. Bill joined NCS in the mid-90’s and served as President from 2015-2019.
“I was a casual member for years. Then served on the board for Jeff Keane (Family Circus), then continued as VP on the board of Tom Richmond (Mad Magazine cartoonist). Then I became president.”
National Cartoonists Society 27 Club
“It was a lot of work but very rewarding. It’s mind boggling to think I’m part of that lineage, a fraternity of my heroes. It’s very difficult to get people to join clubs nowadays as regular dues-paying members. I’m glad that I was able to help come up with some good ideas to move NCS forward.”
“Sergio Aragonés, Steve McGarry, and I were discussing effective strategies for reaching out to cartoonists and making it easy for them to join NCS. We came up with The 27 Club, where they don’t pay the $180 annual fee, and any cartoonist under 27 years old can join for only $27/yr. Jason Chatfield, who served as my VP and is now the president, continues taking it on. I love the NCS. We have the Reuben Awards every year for the Outstanding Cartoonist of the year. And last year we had our first annual online convention, which was great and well-received.”
MAD Magazine has been around since the Atomic Fifties, 1952 to be exact. This legacy institution had the foresight to hire Bill Morrison as Executive Editor in 2017.
“When DC Comics moved from New York City to Burbank, California, the MAD guys didn’t want to go. Finally, the publisher at DC worked out something with Warner Bros where the MAD Magazine offices could stay in NYC, but it was agreed that once they found someone to take over MAD, it would move to Burbank.”
“Then they hired me, and I had to hire a full staff, except for one guy who did decide to move from NY. I had done some freelance jobs for MAD in the past and now here I was overseeing all creative aspects of the magazine. We had good people, especially the art director, Suzy Hutchinson. I’d look at everything, make notes, some minor changes, etc. I loved working there.”
Bill Morrison with Alfred E. Neuman (art by Tom Richmond)
“We were given a really tough assignment, which was to take a magazine read by mostly white males (ages 11-16 and 45-60), most of whom subscribed and they wanted us to expand the readership to women, other ethnicities, and other age-ranges, while not losing our current subscribers. We succeeded in getting subscription numbers up, had expansion ideas that were ambitious but doable, talked about the possibility of live comedy shows at the Hollywood American Legion Post 43, simulcasting, taking it on tour, new merchandise, etc.”
“We were getting great positive feedback. I’m connected with hardcore (and therefore critical) MAD fans who told us we had struck a great balance. But corporate decisions beyond my control caused MAD to go to a reprint format.”
Bill’s Influences & Collections
Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“I’m real big on Batman art and toys, non-superhero stuff like horror (especially Universal Monsters) and sci-fi, teen humor (any era but mostly 50’s 60’s). I typically go for eras and artists over genres. My favorite eras are 50’s-60’s.”
“Some favorite artists are Dick Sprang, Bob Oksner, Sergio Aragones, Dan DeCarlo. Growing up, some favorites were Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Jim Steranko.”
It Rhymes with Lust (1950) cover art by Matt Baker
“Another favorite artist is Matt Baker, but his art is so expensive. He did the great cover for It Rhymes with Lust (1950) which many people consider to be the first-ever graphic novel.”
“Fine art, I like Salvador Dali, John Singer Sargent, M.C. Escher, Alphonse Mucha…though some might consider him more of an illustrator. Comedically, I’ve been influenced by Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, and more recently by Melissa McCarthy and Tina Fey.”
“To this day, I’m constantly discovering new influences. I also like the painter Norm Saunders, illustrator Wally Wood, Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, etc, too many to list!”
Mars Attacks art (card 32) by Norman Saunders (1962)
Bill Morrison holding a giant eyeball bowling ball (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“I’ve been doing stuff for the fine art print market. And I’m doing some animation development projects and helping producers visualize their concepts.”
Bill at the drawing board, Bongo Comics (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“At Comic Con (SDCC) one year, maybe ‘94-95, right after a speculator boom, when the industry took a turn downturn and was downsizing and consolidating, some publishers were shutting down, things at the time were looking down not up. The great Will Eisner walked by the Bongo Comics booth and I asked him his thoughts about the doom and gloom end-of-the-industry rumors. He said ‘I’ve seen this happen five or six times since the 1930’s. Comics is a language and a medium that people love. It might change shape, but graphic storytelling is an artform and is always going to exist’ and I thought that was tremendously uplifting and insightful and I try to always keep that in mind.”
“My advice to aspiring creatives is to always be open to opportunities you didn’t necessarily anticipate. For example, I never thought I’d be a writer, art director, editor. But I said yes, I was open to it and ended up discovering that I love those roles. Talented young people tend to focus on one single thing only and might invariably miss out on other areas of rich potential. Sometimes you just gotta say yes and then figure it out. If you don’t like it, you can always stop doing it and do something else until you find the things you’re great at and love doing.”
Atomic Battery Studios (Bill’s official Facebook page)
George Hagenauer is a funny guy. He is the man of a million, brilliant, chattering tangents, weaving in and out of multiple stories simultaneously like a Benzedrine-crazed Grand Theft Auto driver, yet he never loses the threads. His stories and thoughts are engrossing, they envelop your curiosity.
George is also a walking encyclopedia of comic books, comic art, illustrations, books, pulps, and obscure knowledge.
He owns about 2,500 pieces of original comic art and illustrations. He currently has 1,500 pieces online at Comic Art Fans. In addition to this, he owns the art for two complete 1915 animated cartoons, which he has started restoring, and he owns 5,000+ books and probably tens of thousands of comic books.
We frequently hang out at my favorite drinking establishment in Michigan, The Corner Brewery in Ypsi, where you can find me holding court at least once a month. George, wearing a Hulk t-shirt & bike helmet, will bike up to The Corner on his dad’s old 1936 bicycle from his house a few blocks away and we’ll drink dark beer and talk comics and books for hours.
George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Right now, we’re at George’s house in his basement. I’m sitting in a comfortable old rocking chair. George has famous Chicago author (who was born in Detroit) Nelson Algren’s stained-glass lamp hanging over his favorite reading chair. Beyond that are bookcases overflowing with brainfood, mounds of treasures, stacks of rare papers, long boxes of comics, framed original art, heavy-duty locked fireproof filing cabinets, etc, everywhere.
George notices me admiring a piece of art at the foot of his stairs.
“Dick Sprang, the Batman artist, an old friend, did that. He was a great guy and quite talented. Recently, I did a statistical analysis of my art collection and came to the conclusion that I have 10 different collections of artwork. The core of my personal favorites are: Chicago history, the history of mystery, paper giveaway premiums, pre-code comic book covers, pulp art, etc.”
George Hagenauer holding original art for Phillip K. Dick’s ‘Gannymeade Takeover’ (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“My wife Mary Ellen and I moved to Ypsilanti in 2017 to be closer to our daughter Megan and our granddaughters. Freelance work helps supplement my Social Security. I’ll be doing a ‘History of Mystery’ exhibit this October at the Kenosha Public Museum in Kenosha, Wisconsin and to prepare for it, I’ve been reading a mystery novel every other night.”
“Current interests for me are wide-ranging, depending on mood. For instance, right now I’m really into French crime novels of the early 20th century. Also, silent films and 1930’s cinema. In terms of comics, I’m digging on some European stuff like Corto Maltese (1967, Hugo Pratt), Modesty Blaise, and Garth (the British comic strip from Frank Bellamy). I’m from Chicago and Chicago fandom in the 50’s and 60’s wasn’t superhero, it was heavily skewed toward EC, horror, crime, sci-fi, which is also what I like.”
BIOGRAPHY: The Guy Behind The Guy, Behind The Guy
George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Born in 1950, George grew up on the South Side of Chicago. George lived in Roseland (South Side Chicago), then as an adult, Ravenswood (North Side Chicago).
From 1968-1972, he attended Northwestern University, graduating with a degree in journalism and political science. While at Northwestern, he set up an Ivan Illich Learning Exchange, one of the first in the USA. This was a program geared toward school reform, deschooling, and non-institutionalized independent learning. It came about because George’s friend knew Ilitch personally. He was considered the bridge between South American leftwing radicalism and the USA school reform movement.
That was followed by 10 years starting and running a city-wide adult literacy program in Chicago and then 25 years with 4-C, a nonprofit program which provides support for early childhood education programs in many counties near Madison, Wisconsin.
Daredevil Battles Hitler #1 (1941) image courtesy of HA.com archives
George has always been a comic fan and collector and in 1976 he was part of the team that started the Chicago Comicon until it was bought by Wizard World.
In 1990, he moved from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin, where he lived before moving to Ypsi. During this time, he wrote over 200 columns on original art for the Comic Buyer’s Guide.
“Also in the early-to-mid 90’s, I wrote some non-sport trading cards, including the infamous Eclipse True Crime cards, the set of Serial Killers and Gangsters. I collaborated with Max Allan Collins on it. Max is a MWA Grand Master mystery writer. He did ‘The Road to Perdition’, which later became a movie starring Tom Hanks that they filmed in Chicago and Grand Haven, Michigan. I did research for Max’s historical novels and he asked me if I could help with the trading cards, I said sure. So, I did the Gangster cards and the ladies did the Serial Killer cards. We also co-wrote a book on ‘The History of Mystery’ and a book on ‘Men’s Adventure Magazines’. Both were nominated for best mystery non-fiction with the Men’s Adventure book winning!”
George Hagenauer holding original Kelly Freas drawing ‘Dukes of Desire’ from 1967 (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“I’m a member of the Comic and Fantasy Art Collectors Amateur Press Association (the CFA-APA), which while having the amusing title of “amateur”, actually over 40% of the current membership are professionally published nationwide.”
“In addition to being a comic & pulp reader, I’ve been a heavy reader of books in general my whole life. Books are tools. I buy books because they’re useful for building knowledge.”
“As for my heritage, my Mom was 3rd generation American of Swedish descent. My Dad was 4th generation American of German, Austrian, Irish, Bohemian and Scotch descent.”
George Hagenauer III: The Early Years
“I’ve been collecting books and comics since I was 10. I was into adult sci-fi before I was reading Superboy!”
“In the mid-1950’s, my parents didn’t want me reading super-hero comic books, so my dad would bring me Boys Adventure Series books featuring Tom Swift inventing the motorcycle and things like that. Books he read as a kid. They were available in used bookstores for a quarter as opposed to the new versions which were a dollar or more. That got me into a host of used bookstores at a very young age.”
“My first actual experience with comics was my dad reading me at age 4 or 5 ‘Uncle Scrooge McDuck’ by the great Carl Barks for Dell Comics. It was written for kids but had many subtle adult undercurrents. You could find them at dime stores or glorious Skid Row book stores for a nickel each.”
“Uncle Scrooge is this amazing satire on American Capitalism, published under the Disney imprint by Dell Comics via Whitman Publishing out of Racine, Wisconsin. Barks worked in manual labor jobs before being a cartoonist, so his work often features characters with great, real-world perspectives.”
“Dell Comics oddly tend to be ignored by most collectors. I collect them heavily. In the 1940’s-50’s they were extremely subversive. Dell was doing stories like Donald Duck selling furnaces for Uncle Scrooge to Cambodians, Little Lulu early proto-feminist comics (Now Girls Allowed) and even Tarzan’s promoting positive race relations (Brothers of the Spear).”
Mad Magazine’s Free Fall Ferris circa 1956 (image courtesy of online archives)
“Then, I discovered Mad Magazine. Free Fall Ferris by Wally Wood, one of the cartoons therein, was brilliant. So, as a youngster, I was periodically exposed to Uncle Scrooge and Mad Magazine, which is an odd combination and probably explains a lot about who I am. Tales Calculated to Make you Mad”.
Chicago’s 3 Skid Rows in the 1960’s
Skid Row Chicago (photo courtesy of George Hagenauer’s archives)
“One thing that frequently brings back a lot of memories is remembering seeing books on North Clark Street when I was a kid. At age 10, my dad would give me a $1.00 and send me to Skid Row for books. ‘Here’s a dollar, go to Skid Row,’ he’d say.”
“Books were 15 cents to 20 cents on Skid Row. Early wacky Roy Rockwood steampunk stuff from 1905 and Carl H. Claudy, got me into sci-fi. Then, I started going to the library, reading Heinlein, Asimov, Dick, etc. Back then librarians were worried about what you were reading. Now, they’re just worried if you’re reading or not! On Skid Row, I was finding used copies of John Campbell’s Astounding sci-fi magazine for pennies.”
“Chicago had three Skid Rows at that time: North, South and West. The North Skid Row area was loaded with bookstores all run by incredibly eccentric human beings.”
“You’d be stepping over rummies in doorways to go buy your comics. Pimps, hookers, drug dealers, junkies and a 10-year old George Hagenauer. $3.00 would buy me 60 comics on Skid Row! You just couldn’t beat the prices, it was worth dodging the shady characters and obsessively watching your back. I was buying early Marvel Comics off the stand for cover prices. Some of those comics in high grade are worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars more nowadays. Unfortunately, mine all went when they hit $10 because they paid for my first quarter in college in the late 60’s!”
Chicago Skid Row: Acme Books and ABC (photo courtesy of George Hagenauer’s archives)
“South Skid Row was along South State Street and had the YMCA Hotel where Chicago’s monthly comic convention was held starting in the late 1960’s. I always wanted a Gustave Dore’ 1883 folio edition of ‘The Raven’. When I was 9 years old, I saw they had a stack of 10 in this used bookstore in the Loop on the south side of the river. At the time they were $8 each! Way more money than I could afford. Today, I think they are still way more money than I can afford. West Skid Row ran along West Madison Street. Today it is the site of Oprah Winfrey’s studio – back then it was where mass murderer Richard Speck was caught in 1966.”
“I spent most of my time on North Skid Row. It ran along Clark Street had four used book stores run by possibly the most eccentric group of book dealers ever known. This was part of the old “Hobo Bohemia” neighborhood where hobos slept after jumping off in the Downtown Chicago Trainyards. The neighborhood ran from Clark Street to Bughouse Square. Across from a residential hotel (i.e. partial brothel) inhabited by a host of seedy characters, you had Acme Books (414 N. Clark Street). with ABC Magazines next door. On the same block you also had Gallery Books.”
“My favorite store was ABC Books and Magazine Service. ABC sold a lot of racing forms as well as almost any other magazine published since the 1800’s. The building dated back to right after the Chicago Fire and was heated by a potbelly stove. Whatever was unsaleable went into the stove for heat! If you went after books on the top shelf (10 feet up) you had to brush off the soot.”
“Acme Books had a Superman #1 in their window for $100. And Green Lantern #1 and Batman #1. Acme was run by Noel Roy, a man who looked like popular Marvel supervillain, the Red Skull. After his wife died he was assisted by Sam La Chappelle, a redhead girl with a bouffant hairdo who attracted and maintained the attention of a lot of predominately young male collectors.”
Acme Books (Skid Row, Chicago) featuring Sam La Chapelle (left) and Noel Roy (right). “They sold comics, books and had a heavy-duty safe full of rare books. Those comics up front, which were considered ‘secondary’ at the time, would be worth a lot today!”-Hagenauer (photo courtesy of George Hagenauer’s archives)
“Gallery Books was the most legitimate looking of the three, with first editions by Hemingway and the rest lining the walls. When Weird Tales left Chicago for NYC, Tony the owner of Gallery Books, bought their files and had multiple mint copies of every issue for sale. Tony had an apartment in the back of the store. Most of the bookdealers sold pornography either under the table or more openly. In the case of Tony, he traded porn to various pickers for 1st edition Hemingway’s and real treasures.”
“In the early 1960’s, I’m at Gallery buying nickel comics and while I didn’t know it at the time, the boxes were atop a low flat file filled with original Brundage pastels. Margaret Brundage was a cover artist for Weird Tales (1931-39). She and her husband met at the Dill Pickle Club, a radical Bohemian club created in a stable during Prohibition just off Bughouse Square. Bughouse Square was a free speech center. Anyone could pull up a soapbox or stand on a park bench and speak or rant about any issue. The Dill Pickle brought that atmosphere inside with Hobos hanging out with major Chicago writers.”
Weird Tales (1934) featuring Conan. Art by Margaret Brundage. (Image courtesy of Hagenauer’s archives)
“Margaret’s husband was a Wobbly (IWW union) organizer and the first cover image ever of ‘Conan the Barbarian’ is a portrait of her husband, the Wobbly organizer! He was active in the Sixties Counterculture, the Hobo College Movement and the Anarchist Press in Rogers Park. She played a key role in developing the South Side Community Arts Center in Chicago African American Bronzeville neighborhood. The center is still there serving the community.”
“Out of all the characters though, there’s one guy who particularly stands out. On a scale of 10 for eccentric bookdealers, Bill Ostfeld of William Ostfeld Rare Books, sometimes located on North Clark Street skid row (depending on if he was keeping up on his rent) would be a 12 . He was notorious. The photo of him here is from an article in Genesis where he claims to have given Hugh Hefner the idea for Playboy and that Hefner owed him for an umbrella he borrowed!”
Wiiliam Ostfeld, notorious Chicago book dealer. (photo courtesy of George Hagenauer’s archives via Genesis)
“At one point he had a Superman # 1 from 1939 hanging in the front window of his shop for only a cool $25.00. Bill liked to play the game of ‘how much can I get out of the store before its padlocked?’ Bill could be a difficult guy. He even threw a book at my head once. Once comics became collectible, he was known to sell the same collection to multiple mail order dealers in other states often right before he changed locations. Ozzie dealt porn openly.”
“Beyond Skid Row, I always loved going to the Harding Museum as a kid. It was this cool Gothic stone castle on Lake Avenue in Hyde Park, a glorious medieval fantasy mansion full of suits of armor and weird trinkets. Unfortunately, the place closed in 1982 and everything was ultimately transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago.”
Detroit Triple Fan Fair (1964-77)
image courtesy of DTFF archives
Detroit has an enduring legacy of great shows. For example, September 4th-7th, 1959 the 17th World Science Fiction Convention was held at the Fort Shelby Hotel in Downtown Detroit. The toastmaster was Isaac Asimov with the assistance of Robert Bloch!
But what really put Detroit on the convention map was Detroit Triple Fan Fair.
Started in 1964, the Detroit Triple Fan Fair was the first regularly held comic book convention in the United States.
Jerry Bails, the Father of Comic Book Fandom, moved to Detroit in 1960 to teach at Wayne State University. Jerry lived on Brooklyn Street at the intersection of Plum Street. Plum Street was Detroit’s psychedelic Haight-Ashbury-esque neighborhood in the Sixties.
Jerry Bails and wife in Detroit (photo courtesy of Inter-Fan)
Jerry Bails also got a young George Hagenauer into collecting original art. In the pre-internet days, nobody knew the full extent of what existed. Jerry decided to create a database of all the comics in existence with credits, when possible, for artists and writers. In 1967 he did this through his fanzine and offered prizes for the most data entries on comics not in the Bails collection. George entered the contest and won a piece of free art. The Bails database ultimately morphed into the Grand Comic Database currently maintained by MSU.
In 1964, the Detroit Triple Fan Fair (DTFF) Convention was started by Robert “Bob” Brosch (of Allen Park) and Dave Szurek (of Detroit’s Cass Corridor; a monster magazine enthusiast). The DTFF featured 3 fandom realms: comic books, science-fiction and film.
In 1965, Jerry Bails took over DTFF with the help of native Detroiter, Sheldon ‘Shel’ Dorf who came onboard and helped expand it. He had studied briefly at SAIC (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and moved back to town. The Fair swelled to massive attendance.
In 1970, Shel moved to San Diego and immediately started the San Diego Comic Con. Still running to this day, the SDCC attracts 160,000 attendees.
The Detroit Triple Fan Fair lasted until 1977.
Genesis of the Chicago ComiCon
“In 1972, Nancy Warner, this Chicago antiques dealer, started a show called the Nostalgia Con. After a couple years, she grew weary of it and in 1975 sold the show to Joe Sarno. In 1970, Joe had bought one of Ostfeld’s closed bookstores, then he opened his own shop in 1973, the Nostalgia Shop on Lawrence Avenue.”
Joe Sarno’s Nostalgia Shop in Chicago (image courtesy of Sarno Fanpage)
“Joe Sarno was the nexus point for everything relating to comics in the city of Chicago. He had started a comic club in his basement on the North Side (Pulaski and Lawrence Avenues) and had 30-50 people there. A guy named Dave Denwood later let them use the community room at Northwest Federal Savings & Loan Bank on West Irving Park Road, so they moved the get-togethers there and they grew tremendously. Joe was a dual-fandom guy, he loved sci-fi and comic books. Everybody liked him, no one ever had a problem with him.”
Stan Lee (left) and Joe Sarno (right) at the first Chicago Comicon (image courtesy of Sarno Fanpage)
“So, Joe took over the con from Nancy. Joe then called Ross Kight, Larry Charet, Mike Gold, myself and some others. From 1972-2002, Larry Charet ran Larry’s Comics (1219 W. Devon Ave, Chicago). Anyways, Ross later bailed, the rest of us hung on and we held the first Chicago Comicon on August 6th-8th, 1976 at the Playboy Towers Hotel. Admission was only $2.50! We had about 2,000 attendees and Stan Lee and Jeanette Kahn as guests. The Chicago Comicon ended up becoming the second largest convention in the USA, behind the San Diego Comic Con.”
“In 1997, Wizard World came in. They bought the Chicago Comicon, rebranded it toward their magazine and turned it more into a media con.”
Hagenauer: Collector Stories
George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
In addition to his basement of treasures, George has a packed off-site storage unit (essentially an adjunct library) tucked behind a green steel roller shutter door, full to the brim of comics, books, ephemera, etc, all stored on shelves he put together of scrap wood and discarded pallets.
“My rule of thumb is only very rarely have more than one copy of anything. The few extra ones I have, must go. Also, anything that I lose interest in has to go. This is especially true as I age, given there is no one in the family who wants most of this stuff. The new house is a lot smaller, so the storage locker is designed as a reference library for the books I use in historical research but no longer have space for in the house.”
George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“One of the sad things I have had to do is help several widows of friends of mine figure out how to dispose of their late husbands’ collections. If you want to maximize value, that is not an easy thing to do as often it means dividing the collection up and selling it in different venues. Most auction houses do well with some material but not great with others. A lot of dealers I know buy material at auction for resale. So, figuring out what the best strategy is to dispose of a collection, can be an interesting puzzle.”
“Helping my friends’ widows caused me to think about an exit strategy. I mean, one friend’s rather large and complex collection took something like 12 years for the family to sell. So, right now, I’m working on an exit strategy, which is why I’m restoring the cartoons and doing the museum exhibit among other things.”
George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“I’m a reader. I also collect artwork. Everyone is a temporary custodian of their possessions. You really don’t truly “own” anything, you’re just a temporary steward until you die. Art is another way to connect to the stories, authors and books that you enjoy as you can see the art daily on your walls. I display artwork at libraries and museums. I’m curating the upcoming ‘The History of Mystery’ exhibit at Kenosha Public Museum using mystery and detective related art to tell the story of the development of the mystery genre in America in all its different media. I want to turn it into a low-cost touring exhibit. To do that I need a sponsor to cover the costs of the framing material.”
“In 1968, I went to college, got rid of stuff, then immediately re-accumulated 1969-72. When you get into collecting, when you’re active and knowledgeable, you start running across lots and collections.”
Detective Comics #2 (1937) image courtesy of HA.com archives
“One tragic example is Richard Martin Fletcher. He was a comic artist from 1936-64. He died and his family wanted to sell his house and studio, which was inside of a shed on the property. They told the workers to tear down the studio and trash whatever was inside. They found $1 million worth of comics congealed in barrels of water where the roof had leaked. So, yes, he had amassed a fortune but it cruelly, ironically, paradoxically, was utterly ruined in the end.”
“It’s pretty fun amassing too, though. One particularly memorable haul I had was when I used my relatively inexpensive clarinet and saxophone as collateral for a stack of Golden Age comics. This was at Kings Three Antiques in South Evanston, Illinois, which was a rathole antique store that had uncharacteristically incredible finds like hand-carved Polynesian deflowering tools in the main display case, pieces of Samurai Armor, and amazing early Japanese carvings.”
Military Comics #9 (1942) image courtesy of HA.com archives
“As a collector, you also come to enjoy the various shops and their owners. For instance, all the used book dealers in Cleveland would close mid-day and play poker and drink. The game floated between their stores. It would be at hosted by John Zubal at Zubal Books one day, then by Mark Stueve at Old Erie Street Books the next. Zubals is still there but Erie is no more. Old Erie Street Books (2128 E. 9th St, Cleveland) 1976-2018 R.I.P.”
“Another great place was Renaissance Books in Milwaukee. They used to have a 5-story warehouse, built in the 1880’s, it was a quarter of a block of unpriced books 5-stories tall. The books were unpriced, they’d price them at the counter. Incredible selection of stuff. Renaissance is still around, but only inside the Milwaukee Airport and Southridge Mall. The main store closed in 2011.”
Hagenauer on the Art & Business of Collecting
George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“I have always tended to collect more to read than to have an amazingly nice condition copy of something. Also, working my whole life in community-based non-profits, I have never had a lot of money to spend. So, if I can accumulate all this stuff, anyone who puts the time in and learns a lot about the areas that interest them can do it as well.”
“And because of the internet, this is probably the best time to collect books and other material related to them. Though frankly you often will do better buying at shows. I once did an article for the Comic Buyer’s Guide on one visit to a big comic con. I didn’t have to pay admission because I was doing a panel discussion so there was minimal overhead. I had saved up about $200 and bought a lot of material at the con. With a few exceptions (about 20-25 dime novels circa 1900 I got for a dollar each) all of it could be found online for about the same price. But buying online in most cases meant shipping costs. When I compared the buys at the show to buying online, the show was 40% cheaper. I also like the social aspects of shows talking to dealers and other collectors.”
George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“Still it helps to consider all costs when looking at buying something. When looking at realized prices at auction it also helps to take into account seller, grading and buyer’s fees. That $100 item at a major auction house may have netted $65 to the seller, $80 on eBay etc. If you decide you want to later auction it, you need to take that into account. I saw a highly successful businessman, the type of who makes money daily in big deals, very savvy in that world, buy a high-end piece of comic art and lose $8,000 on it due to first selling it too quickly at auction and not taking into account the various rules that can help you or hurt you at auction. In any area there is a lot of knowledge that needs to be developed, you can’t just hop in at the high-end and expect to make a killing.”
“Dealers will sometimes take into account the costs involved in selling online when pricing for shows, resulting in cheaper prices at shows”
“A key aspect of the internet is that is has made a large amount of material not scarce. I like to collect Yellow Kid buttons, which are pinbacks from the 1890’s of the first successful comic strip character in the USA. It used to be you would see one or two a year at $15-25 each. If I had the cash, I would pick one up. Now any week you can find a dozen or more on eBay going for under $30. If I had the cash or the inclination, I could double the number of buttons I now own. To the average person these are scarce. To those of us who collect them they are now oddly common. When I wear the buttons to shows, most people have no idea who the Yellow Kid is.”
George Hagenauer displaying his Yellow Kid buttons (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“In some areas, prices have dropped even lower with the rise of the internet. Dime novels are usually 100+ years old and quite scarce. They usually go for a lot less than pulps or comics. I periodically pick up issues at shows or online for $5 or less. No one knows the characters, the text is small, and now if you want to just read them, digital copies are online for free or on discs with hundreds of issues on one disc for less than $10.”
Yellow Kid Button (image courtesy of online archives)
“In contrast, there are plentiful copies of first appearances of popular comic book characters that have appeared in the last 25 years that are going for far more money than a really scarce surviving dime novel. People know the comic book character but don’t know the dime novels. Scarcity often takes a back seat to demand.”
“As digitization and copies proliferate online, prices shift around on older books, often with dust jacket-less copies dropping in value. That makes it a really neat time to start collecting as a wide range of books become far more affordable. I have a friend and his wife who are into mysteries. Retired and with limited space they only buy paperback versions but look for the earliest editions possible. He tends towards hardboiled, she towards more conventional mysteries. They are having a great time collecting and reading on tight budget. Whatever area of paper that interests you, there is probably a way to start collecting it today.”
George Hagenauer’s copy of The Challenger, a rare 1946 comic book about backing socialist coups in Greece (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“The other interesting aspect of this is often the cheapest prices are at specialty shows. The dealers have less overhead than a store, but the key thing is the amount of material available. I bought a lot of mystery books, all early vintage paperbacks from the 1940’s & 1950’s, at last year’s Windy City Pulpcon for $1 each. They were solid reading copies. Some specific books I needed and didn’t get there, I bought online or at DreamHaven Books. Online was usually the most expensive option due to shipping, though some titles still came in at only $2-3 a book with free shipping.”
“What kills areas of collecting is lack of new blood, an inability to attract younger members/collectors, which is why many collectibles flatline over time. For the new collector or the uninitiated, it is often hard to figure out value. A lot of people steer clear of collecting comic art because of perceived high prices. What gets covered and promoted in the press are the top dollar prices for the high end or high-grade collectible material. Comic art is a good example. You’ll hear about the Steve Ditko Dr. Strange page that went for $66,000. If you are into Dr. Strange or Spider-Man, you don’t hear about the fact you can pick up published pages from more recent issues for $75 or get drawings done by some current artists for far less than that. As a result, new collectors feel they cannot even start. And yes, if you want some specific artists and characters, you can’t start unless you are rich. But if you want a nice piece for your wall they are out there for sale or trade. This weekend, for example, I got two original published cartoons by a major Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for $20 each, which is about equivalent to the cost of a current graphic novel, for each one. And that was at a major online auction house who has had record prices on comic art. ”
Black Cat Mystery #50 (1954) image courtesy of HA.com archives
“I have a portrait from The Life of Pancho Villa by the great illustrator Wallace Smith from 1918-ish, I bought it online, it’s a fascinating piece. The artist is relatively unknown, an associate of the Brundage’s at the Dill Pickle Club and it’s an historic piece. Interests like this in more off-trail areas, you can find stuff cheaper, undervalued or misidentified. Your collection is an extension of who you are, it becomes a part of your identity.”
“And that is true about almost any area of book of paper collecting. The shows, the online auctions or sales platforms like www.ABEbooks.com are out there to browse. There are tons of neat material to find and be interested in. You just need to spend a little time hunting for it and that is part of the fun. That and for me the social aspects getting to know other collectors, is the best part.”
George Hagenauer holding original art Life of Pancho Villa from 1918 by Wallace Smith (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“In Ypsilanti, there is a group of comic book fans that are meeting in a microbrewery once a month to socialize about comics, network and do a little trading. Ann Arbor has a group forming. I am surprised more of that is not happening in other areas like mysteries, militaria, romance novels, children’s books etc. Being social is not just posting online, being social is getting together with others with similar interests. That is why I love shows like the Detroit Festival of Books and the Windy City Pulp & Paper Convention. Lots of interactions and lots of learning from other people.”
“And the learning, the intellectual activity is what I really enjoy. Collect what you really truly find interesting and find other people who are interested in the same stuff. Link up with like-minded people. Don’t buy purely for investment. Buy for enjoyment for yourself and others. The ultimate goal of all collecting is that so other people can enjoy your collection.”
One fun aside: BILL HELMER IS FAT FREDDY
Bill Helmer (photo courtesy of Adam Gorightly)
“Decades ago I made contact with a guy named Bill Helmer in my neighborhood in South Evanston, Illinois who wanted to sell or trade a pile of Golden Age comics.”
“Bill had moved to Chicago in 1969. He was a key editor at Playboy Magazine at the time. This was back when Hef lived at the original Playboy Mansion in Chicago. I periodically helped Playboy with graphics research for years.”
Bill Helmer’s card (image courtesy of Adam Gorightly)
“Helmer had a pile of EC Comics and other obscure Golden Age Comics at his house, a Thompson sub-machine gun and a Japanese helmet with a skull on a shelf. His knowledge of Prohibition-era history is unparalleled. Among other things Helmer founded the ‘John Dillinger Died for Your Sins Society’. He has been the major influence on most research done on the Capone and Depression era bandit gangs. So, I bought some comics and got to know him.”
“During and after college Bill shared an apartment with Gilbert Shelton who did the Furry Freak Brothers, whom he knew from Texas, when Gilbert was doing Wonder Warthog, in 1966 at the University of Texas in Austin.”
Fat Freddy (based on Bill Helmer) from the Fabulous Furry Freak Bros.
“Bill, Gilbert and this other guy moved to NYC, these 3 guys were roommates and they became the inspiration for the Furry Freak Bros. In the comic, Bill became Fat Freddy. Gilbert painted amazingly good cover recreations of EC Comics on the ceiling of this apartment. Bill had photos of the ceilings with the Jack Davis style rotting corpses and Graham Ingels’ ghouls. It was pretty wild.”
Obadiah Oldbuck (printed in Germany, circa 1837, the world’s first comic book)
“Some of the oldest comic books are from Germany and Switzerland.
One of the oldest comic books, I believe, is Obadiah Oldbuck, printed in Germany in 1837 and later reprinted in America.”
George Hagenauer’s This Magazine is Haunted #13 (1953)
“A cool comic you should take a look at is ‘This Magazine is Haunted’ (1951-53) from Fawcett Comics in NYC. Great supernatural comic from Sheldon ‘Shelly’ Moldoff. I have some original artwork and comics from Shelly. The original Fawcett archives were divided up between 3 dealers. I knew all 3 of them. The warehouse was sold off in the 1980’s. Moldoff designed the original concept but lots of artists worked on the comic. I own a small painting of the host, Doctor Death, done by Shelly years later.”
George Hagenauer’s painting of Doctor Death (from ‘This Magazine is Haunted’) done by Sheldon ‘Shelly’ Moldoff
George on Living in Ypsilanti
George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“Ypsi is such a cool city! The social aspects here are incredible, the people you talk to are amazing.”
“Washtenaw Community College is an amazing resource especially for seniors like me, who can attend classes free if they are not filled. I took a photoshop class so I could work on graphics. This knowledge is helping me do restoration work on two animated films from 1915. It’s amazing to see figures move on the screen after being lost for over 100 years.”
“Ypsilanti is one of the most intellectually stimulating communities I’ve ever been in. I love all the fun, random conversations. You run into people and start talking and it becomes something magical and interesting.”
George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“Plus, many cool spots are here like The Corner Brewery, Hedger Breed’s White Raven Books, Cross Street Books, Sidetracks, Dolores Mexican Restaurant, Cultivate Taphouse, etc. It’s an incredible concentration of cool shops and places. One of the last bastions for viable antique stores.”
“Also, fun fact, Perry Preschool in Ypsi is historical in terms of early childhood education. They did a historic study here from 1962-67, which showed how important early education is for human growth and development.”
“My barber, Alex Fuller, has a literacy program inside his barbershop! That’s investing in your community. And there are barbers across the city especially in the black community who are doing the same thing. I don’t worry about waiting when I go to the barber because there are so many neat books to read.”
“Ypsi, there’s some incredibly good stuff happening here.”
The Ypsilanti Comic Roundtable
George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“The Ypsi Comic Roundtable is a group of people including myself, Ryan Place, James Arnoldi and about 12 others who meet the first Thursday of every month from 6:30pm-10pm at the Ypsilanti Alehouse and…you’re invited to join us!”
“James Arnoldi started it in November 2018 and it’s an interesting example of what people should be doing more of.”
“The YCR is just people interested in comics, getting together in-person to talk comics and trade/sell comics over beer. This would be a good model for book collecting groups as well. Start small, very focused, with discussion groups. Much like tidepools by the ocean, it’s where life starts.”
*If you’re interested in buying/selling anything, especially comic and illustration art, comic books, pulp art, rare movies from the silent era and 1930’s, etc. or for information about the Ypsi Comic Roundtable*