Today would’ve been our daughter, Laura Lustig’s 27th birthday.
You wouldn’t think there was any connection between Covid-19 and her death. After all Laura died Jan. 17, 2004—-nearly 16 years before our current pandemic.
But here’s the thing…
Laura was born with severe immune problems. Regular immunoglobulin transfusions helped. But Laura was also dependent on herd immunity. So it was critical that other children got vaccinations. Laura couldn’t be around anyone who was ill.
And then, one day, she got sick from a virus. A week later she was dead.
So, perhaps you can understand why Shelagh Lustig and I are always furious with anti-vaxxers. And we’ve begun to feel the same way about people who are determined to ignore CDC guidelines and want to treat this pandemic as if it’s just an inconvenience; rebel against shelter-at-home orders; not wear masks; etc.; etc.
I don’t mind that you’re risking your lives. But I do mind that you’re risking everyone else—particularly sweet souls like our Laura’s.
Jason Sacks is doing three podcasts about my late friend Bill Schelly who many of you knew from his award-winning comic book biographies and histories. The first of the three features Fantagraphics Publisher Gary Groth and me reminiscing about Bill’s truly astounding (and inspiring) comic book life.
Jason’s remaining two podcasts about Bill are tentatively scheduled for Oct. 15 and 22. They will both feature Eisner-winning writer Frank Young and Bill’s close friend Jeff Gelb. I’ll post links to those podcasts once they’re up.
I originally wrote and posted this on my Facebook page back on Sept. 14, 2019. It was to help friends and fans of Bill Schelly understand Bill’s seemingly “sudden” death. It turns out Bill had actually been fading for months, but most people (including Bill) either didn’t realize it or understand how serious his condition was.
I’m posting it here because I thought there should be a more permanent and easily found record of my friend’s final few months:
Sudden deaths are always the hardest. So news of Bill Schelly’s death came as a horrible shock to many friends and fans this morning.
I’ll admit that I’ve known about Bill’s passing since about 3 a.m., Thursday (Sept. 12.) I saw Bill at University Hospital here in Seattle about 12 hours earlier and it was obvious that his death was imminent. I apologize to our many mutual friends for not saying anything ’til now. A friend of Bill’s family requested that word not go out ’til tomorrow so that all members of his extended family and critical contacts could be informed first.
Alas, word started to leak out last night. And this morning it turned into a torrent of grief and shock on social media.
To many, Bill was the greatest historian and biographer that the comic book community has ever had. To those of us who knew him personally, he was also a kind, considerate and witty friend. So, it must be doubly troubling that Bill was not letting most people know that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
I first learned that Bill was having a problem on June 10. In an e-mail he begged off on going to a movie with me that day because:
“Unfortunately, I woke up yesterday with my back thrown totally out of whack. I know when this happens that it gradually heals itself, but it takes a week to two weeks for that to happen. During that time, I have no enthusiasm for doing anything more than I must. I can get to the store, or I can handle going up and down my stairs very slowly, but that’s about it.
Apologies for my body breaking down more and more in the recent years!! It’s painful in more ways than one.
I’ll let you know when I’m feeling better.”
But, as time went on, instead of healing, he was in more and more pain. After a few weeks, he was initially diagnosed as having a broken rib. Then—sometime later—as having four broken ribs!
Even so, Bill expected to get better. But as the months dragged on, his pain got worse. I started going over a couple of times a week to take out his garbage, go the post office for him, etc. Another friend, Nils Osmar would take him grocery shopping. Family member Renie Jones took him to doctor appointments and helped him in other critical ways. And there were others who apparently helped.
Throughout this Bill never gave into despair—at least when I was with him. I’m not saying he didn’t have moments of panic and depression privately. But, if he did, he didn’t let on. Yes, he was exhausted and frustrated. But that’s about as far as he’d go.
By mid August, his doctor had determined that Bill wasn’t healing because there was something wrong with the blood cells in his bones. Although he still didn’t have an official diagnosis of cancer, Bill knew there was a strong likelihood that bad news was coming. I told me that whatever happened he had no regrets. He’d accomplished everything that he’d set out to do and he was at peace.
Sometime shortly after Aug. 20, Bill learned that he had multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow.) It could be treated, but couldn’t be cured. With luck, he’d live another two to five years. With even more luck, longer.
By Sept 6, though, he was in the hospital getting chemo. By Sept. 8, he had a major complication: a blood clot in his lungs. By Sept. 11, the blood clot had broken apart and was no longer contained. During the night, he passed away.
Maybe this is TMI. But I know people have questions about Bill’s “sudden death.” And it WAS sudden in some ways. But like a train that you think you’ve got plenty of time to avoid, it was something that started off slow (broken rib) and far off (June) but then it comes round the bend at full steam hits you when you get your foot stuck in the tracks.
Comic Book Historian Bill Schelly’s “Sudden” Death—a TimelineI will miss you, Bill. No more movies together. No more long, funny and insightful conversations. No more brilliant books!
I’ll be doing signings each day at the giant Prism Comics booth #2144 (in Hall C.) Last Kiss merchandise will be on sale at the booth during the entire con. But I’ll only be in the booth for an hour or two a day. So, if you want to chat, here’s my schedule at Prism:
Thursday, July 18: 4 – 6 pm, (plus probably 6-7 p.m.) Friday, July 19: 1 – 2 pm, 6-7 pm Saturday, July 20: 12 – 2 pm Sunday, July 21: 1 – 3 pm
You can also find Last Kiss products at the south end of the hall at the World Famous Comics booth—#5560. I won’t be at the WFC booth much, but many of my newest and best Last Kiss fridge magnets will be for sale there.
Although I concentrate on Last Kiss these days, I spent decades writing Disney comics—mostly Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories. For Disney, I started out doing one-page gags, then graduated to two-page stories and then finally stories that ranged from 10 to 28 pages.
The one-pager pictured here is one of my first and is from 1988: “Seafood Blues.”
The art is by my pal—the great William Van Horn. Bill—who was already established as a Disney artist and writer—provided me with invaluable advice and help on this script. We teamed up on many stories over the years and remain close friends.
I was at the San Diego Comic-Con years ago and I spotted my friend John Petty and went over to say “Howdy.” It turned out John was with Larry Lieber—Stan Lee’s brother as well being a long-time Marvel artist. So, I’m talking to them and I said that I’d be interested in interviewing Larry sometime. And Stan spots us and walks over to chat.
I’m still a little dumbfounded by this. (Imagine a time when Stan Lee could walk the convention floor—without a security detail—and not be mobbed by fans!) It was one of those weird and wonderful things that used to happen at the con. (Weird and wonderful things still happen there, but not quite as often. And sadly bumping into Stan won’t be one of them.)
Stan was every bit as charming and friendly as he you’d hope. So, after a couple of minutes I get up the nerve to mention that I do a funny romance series called Last Kiss. And then I add that I’d recently discovered the tongue-in-cheek romance comic strip The Virtue of Vera Valiant that Stan and artist Frank Springer did in the 1970s. Obviously inspired by the TV show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, it was over-the-top soap opera. Although it varied in quality, at it’s best it was pretty darn funny.
It seemed perfect for Last Kiss fans and I wanted to introduce them to this mostly forgotten series. So I asked if I could reprint a few panels in my next issue of Last Kiss. Stan said, sure. So, I was thrilled. (I was gonna publish (sorta!) Stan Lee!!!
Not knowing how to contact Stan (or Larry)—and being too shy to ask for their contact info— I said that I’d send John Petty copies. (My thinking was that John seemed to know both of Stan and Larry that he could pass copies onto them.) Before I could explain, Stan chips in with something along the lines of “What am I chicken soup? I want a copy too.”
Unfortunately, I never published a fifth issue of Last Kiss. So, this blog post showing of Vera Valiant will have to do for now. Stan, I assume you have heavenly access to the Internet. And that the connection is very, very fast!