|1. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I discovered comic books during the late 50s when I would spend a couple of hours in after-school care. The sitters had older boys, so there were piles of western and war comics, as well as the popular duck books and Archie titles. I then started getting my own comics with the entrance of the silver age of superheroes, remembering fondly the Showcase and Brave and the Bold titles of excitement from DC, plus those strange Superman and Batman alien/Bizarro/big prop adventures. I was a late bloomer to Marvel Comics, as it wasn't until 1963 that I discovered them at a local corner drugstore -- becoming a big time Marvel fan. Between spending my pop-bottle money on baseball cards and comic books, the druggist gave me a job checking in his magazines twice-a-week and earning $2.00 worth of free comics -- 12-16 issues in those days. A good gig!
I sold my first collection of comics shortly after Marvel split all their titles; it just started taking up too much space. But in the course of a couple of years, I got them all back; especially because I discovered Nicola-Books' backroom with old comics for a quarter. Next I sold off part of my collection to go to college. I majored in Theatre Arts with a minor in Journalism at the University of Minnesota. I started indexing with George Olshevsky and his big computer printouts, lots of the stuff that was used in future Marvel handbooks. I joined the world of comic book apas - CAPA-Alpha and NY-apa, to name a few. I spent some time in New York City during this time, visiting Warren Publications and Marvel Comics about comics work, and ended up with a job with Jim Steranko in 1974 working on his Supergraphics projects including FOOM, ComixScene/Mediascene, History of Comics Vol. 4 (long story), Byron Preiss Book projects and doing a lot of stat and zip-work. I left his Reading, PA studio to finish college and work, of all things, an International Mime Festival. Then I got a day job at Comic City (1974-78), one of the first comic book stores, started freelancing as an entertainment writer, and doing mime/street theatre. I took summers off from the comic store to work the dinner theatre/summer stock/outdoor Shakespeare circuits. I won some playwriting awards and grants and was one of the original members of The Playwrights Lab, founded by four grad students I met at the University of Minnesota.
I took over the producing of local comic conventions in 1977, teaming up with Dave Mruz (founder of Minnesota Comics Fandom) and continued doing shows thru 1983. We had an amateur art show; a couple of our winners went onto great things: Chas Troug (Coyote) and Steve Fastner (Fastner/Larson). Fastner went to high school with Rich Larson and he did most of our in-house art for the comic book store and the shows.
I was hardcore into collecting art at this point and had a gallery in the Comic City annex in 1978. But I got married and sold off another batch of the collection for a down payment on a house. I left theatre for a suit job with The Minneapolis Star. The paper folded into the morning Tribune and I took a buyout, returning to Comic City (1982-84) as co-owner. Then I left for another suit job in public affairs.
I ended up divorced (have two wonderful kids, Noel and Breanna) and had to sell some more of the collection, including my Prince Valiant and a nice C.C. Beck Captain Marvel painting, for the attorney fees. I took a job as co-editor of a community newspaper, and eventually returned to comic books, now with the College of Comic Book Knowledge, in 1993. Broke it into two businesses, going off with Chris Budel (who I hired as a clerk back in the 70s) to form the Nostalgia Zone (www.nostalgiazone.com) -- best place for old comic books!
I retired from the business in 1997 to help care for my daughter, Breanna, who suffered a severe brain injury, which I do to this day. I make my living off of eBay and various writing/promotion projects, producing an occasional stage show. Married again in 2007 to the lovely Risa and we share a studio where she paints up a storm (www.createdbyrisa.blogspot.com)
2. What is your favorite piece in your gallery and why?
Oh, so many, so many. Some are highlighted on the front of my CAF gallery page. People will chastise me if I don't say the Dave Stevens -- I did a favor for fellow fan Jeff Gelb and he twisted Dave's arm to do this drawing, after I hounded Dave for how many San Diego shows.
But, of course, there's the first Adam Hughes drawn at a 1995 Detroit show for shekels. You had to stand there in line while Adam drew in those days... sometimes for hours! Overshadowed only by his Wonder Girl/Wonder Tot he did at a local Minnesota show.
I would also give kudos to a nice Wonder Girl piece by Reed Waller, showing a wheel-chair girl dreaming -- a surprise gift for my daughter. Terry Moore also sent my daughter his Wonder Woman gallery piece. Considering the Wonder Woman project was done with my daughter in mind, this was truly heartfelt.
Brian Bolland recreating Wonder Woman and Egg Fu, the Humpty Dumpty of comicdom. The mix of vintage Wonder Woman from the Ross Andru/Mike Esposito era -- hey, where are all those pages of art?). You can seldom do better than proudly display a Bolland.
But the ultimate FAVORITE is Russ Heath. I was always a war comics buff and quite a while back I asked Russ if he would revise this pin-up he did for a Rocketeer comic, only with Wonder Woman and the stubby-plane. He said "Send me reference (and enclose a check)." A month later, this tube shows up. I unrolled the piece and go, "My God, it's in color!" I call Russ and the first thing I say, "Russ, it's in color." He goes, "So?" I thought I was getting a black-and-white -- but this piece blew me away! Extremely large, detailed and... colorful! I grew up on the DC war comics of the '50s and always had a soft spot for Sgt. Rock, The Haunted Tank, an The War That Time Forgot. Thanks, Russ!
3. How long have you been collecting comic art and what prompted you to start?
I started collecting art when I attended a science fiction show in my native Twin Cities in 1969. Frank Kelly Freas was the guest, and I purchased a sepia-toned illustration of a woman’s head bursting thru the floor in a room full of people in pod like structures. You can see it in my CAF gallery in the "Message From Wonderthing" section... the photo of me with the Romita Spidey cover. I heard that you could write to comic artists and that they would send you art. I wrote to Marie Severin (amongst others) and hers was the first to arrive, a penciled and lettered page from Not Brand Echh that was lost in the mail, redone, and then the page she sent me showed up again after-the-fact. The early 70s were a wonderful time for a fan. I wrote letters to syndicated cartoonists and received a Prince Valiant, a Peanuts, Beetle Bailey, Kerry Drake, etc. Curt Swan did a drawing I still treasure. Robert Crumb sent me an underground comics page. Carl Barks would personally answer letters and include a little duck drawing. If a comic artist didn't have a page lying about, they would gladly do a quickie sketch. Slowly, these things started to show up in the marketplace. And a new collectible, with a price, was born. Comic Book pages were typically $10-15. Then the market exploded.
I put together quite a collection in the 70s, had nearly 1,000 pieces at the time, and managed to have it on display in the annex of Comic City during 1977-78 (See photos in "Message From WonderThing" section). Part of the idea was that we could rotate in a wall with work by local cartoonists and get added publicity for the store via art calendar listings. There was usually 100 pieces on display, plus 25-30 from the local talent. The gallery also had a display case that showed how a comic book page developed -- I showed a script, some Gil Kane layouts, a Barry Smith penciled page from his Marvel tryout, the lettered penciled page by Marie Severin, a complete comic book page, and a color guide. Joe Staton also did a nice page for me showing the process of drawing a page of comic art, too.
Around the late-70s, Dave Mruz and myself approached the Minnesota Historical Society about a cartoonist exhibit. Chet Kozlak, a DC golden-age artist, was working there at the time (doing dynoramas) and we thought it would be a great way to highlight lots of folks who came from Minnesota – C.C. Beck, Wally Wood, Wayne Boring, Ralph Heimdahl, Charles Schulz, Gene Hazelton amongst others (Hey, Carl Barks was here before he went to Disney, studying art and working for Fawcett and the Calgary Eye-Opener). Of course, Peanuts would be a major emphasis, and thought the daily newspapers would help sponsor such an event. But, “no!” – the cartoon stuff wasn't old enough, historical enough. Arrgh! Later we learned that the Society had also passed on receiving the Charles Schulz archives as well as the Ice Capades archives. We just thought a little popular culture might add some spice to the old pioneer exhibits and other stuff creating dust bunnies!
I always collected comic art. But at one point, in the early 90s, it started to get pricey. Thru the Nostalgia Zone, did manage to purchase the golden age art collection of Chet Kozlak, who had little of his own superhero art for DC comics in the 40s, but lots from people like Joe Kubert, Irwin Hasen, Jack Burnley, E.E. Hibbard, Mart Nodel -- stuff DC sent him to use as guides when he penciled similar characters for editor Shelly Mayer. There were some 80 pieces, which I first saw in the early 70s when Chet displayed the stuff at local comic shows. It's all out there in various collections, now.
I couldn't afford to buy art in the mid-90s. So I decided to switch to the sketchbook format. Part of it was inspired by other themed collectors (Rich Prachter who collected Superman, and Jeff Gelb who collected Captain Marvel). My daughter's accident inspired me for the “Wonder Woman/Wonder Girl” theme – felt the collection was something that could use in the future, if need be, for her cares. She has a cookbook for sale, do an eBay search for "Bree's Angels."
I then got a little carried away, having fun approaching artists about a sketch (I was attending maybe 20 shows a year in the 90s with the Nostalgia Zone). I used to carry around this massive portfolio with the originals and artists (and other fans) loved looking at each drawing, salivating over the line-work and concepts. Some got so ornate that artist's would stop doing them for me at shows -- I would have to arrange for pick-up at a future show!
I eventually got a bunch up for display on the internet with the help of Steven Gettis (his own theme is at http://digitalmedusa.com/sgettis/word/). We failed to back it up and it went into limbo until CAF happened and now, 700+ images later... wow, here I still am!
4. How do you display/store your collection at home?
I still have the Marie Severin and Freas pieces above my computer desk. I remarried a couple of years ago and my new spouse isn’t gung-ho for comic art, but I do have a couple of Wonder Women on display in our living room (Joe Jusko and John Van Fleet). I have an office/studio I share with my wife and have a couple of dozen framed pieces on display in my half of the space. But the majority I keep in portfolios. And every fall I do a display of 100-or-so Wonder Woman pieces at the Midwest Comic Book Convention (www.mncba.com).
5. What are your top five most wanted original pages or commissions?
(1) I always wanted a Krazy Kat Sunday. Once had a chance to trade a Peanuts for one, but the guy discovered that his mom had thrown it out! I've had all the old masters -- McKay, Hogarth, Raymond, McManus, and Young. Old comic strips have always fascinated me, and I'm taken at how the prices for them have stabilized. A lot of great art and most aren't really that hard-to-find.
(2) I always admired political cartoons and am amazed that they aren't more popular in cartooning circles. I was fortunate to once own a Thomas Nast. I always wanted a Dr. Seuss. I still have my Mike Peters and Jeff MacNelly, but always wanted a Pat Oliphant. I have a Jules Feiffer illustration in his Great Comic Book Heroes, but always desired one of his Village Voice commentaries.
(3) Always missed out the few times a Bill Elder "Woman Wonder" page from Mad showed up in the marketplace. Her knocked-kneed, beanie cap with spinner is a hoot. I approached Bill at a San Diego show, but he was on the decline and not drawing anymore. Imagine I could get Russ Heath to do a Little Annie Fanny as Wonder Woman, kinda Elderish.
(4) I've been unable to twist the arms of either Al Williamson or Berni Wrightson to do a specialty sketch of Wonder Woman for my collection.
(5) He will never part with it, but Steranko's painting for Leigh Brackett's "The Hounds of Skaith." I remember Jim's countless visits to the first floor hovel I shared with now famous letterer Ken Bruzenak during my Supergraphics days as he asked for comments while painting this paperback cover. The colors are beautiful, the design exceptional. It was at that point that I realized I would never be an artist and should stick to writing.
View Joel Thingvall GALLERY OF WONDER WOMAN ART's Gallery