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Bhob Stewart, 1937-2014

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An important person has died. He wasn’t a politician or a famous movie star, the kind of person most people consider important. Bhob Stewart was an eccentric fellow whose talents and intelligence contributed creatively to American culture in many ways over the course of his life.

Without the burdens of a giant ego or lust for wealth, most of his professional occupations occurred behind the scenes, in one way or another.  I believe he was content with that.  He never complained to me that he was frustrated in reaching any lofty goal.

When Bhob arrived in New York City in his early 20’s from small town adolescence in the middle of the country, he tried everything, even acting. Many of his experiences in living are recalled in his longtime blog Potrzebie, in which his research and accompanying graphics about a vast variety of subjects were masterfully assembled. Check out the current and earlier entries before it’s taken down.

Early on, figuring he might get a byline sometime, for something, he put the ‘H’ in his first name, realizing there were probably thousands of other Bob Stewarts right there in Manhattan.

Even as a personal friend for over 50 years, it’s difficult for me to list my pal’s achievements in order of their preeminence because everything in his worldview was related and important to him.

I never knew anyone more fascinated by the concept of synchronicity than Bhob. Nothing was without relevance, without some cosmic connection to something else, and he could expound at length to convince others.

Bhob was creative, both as an artist and a writer, but he mostly wrote reviews, biographical and historical articles, and other nonfiction that seldom attracted much attention beyond the limited subjects of his erudite commentary.

It’s hard to evaluate how much the casually delivered opinions and insights of an individual can affect the judgments and consensus of a wider population, but Bhob was one of those unique people who come along every generation or so who examines everything, comments on much of what he sees and hears, and challenges a good deal of it.  He was never smug or condescending to anyone, always asking questions, expecting answers, relishing every interaction that came along.

Here’s a brief outline of Mr. Stewart’s professional life, in no factual sequential order at all. His first substantial job (he was actually paid a salary) was at TV Guide.  Among other duties he was tasked to describe all the movies upcoming on TV each week in just a few words, providing a capsule review intended to let a prospective viewer decide whether they might or might not want to watch the movie. Bhob, according to my questioning years later, didn’t seem to appreciate how influential his subtle hints in these brief reviews could be.

Very early in his career, he wrote for and edited Castle of Frankenstein, one of the first magazines devoted to horror movies.

In collaboration with his friend John Benson, he interviewed Bernard Krigstein, which was one of the first published interviews with a comics artist that proposed graphic art was a legitimate art form, worthy of attention.

He was in a short play, The General Returns From One Place to Another by Frank O’Hara, that premiered on a double with “The Eighth Ditch” by Leroi Jones, both plays starring Taylor Mead. He was in a comedy workshop with Vaughn Meader. He contributed a continuing cartoon for The Realist and contributed to underground comics. He made a short film, The Year the Universe Lost the Pennant, which was in the Filmmakers Co-op Catalogue and was championed by Jonas Mekas in the Village Voice. He wrote a paperback about the Fonda family. He curated one of the early comics exhibition in a major North American museum — the Corcoran, in 1969. He also worked for Woody Gelman at Topps, most notably on Wacky Packages.

Bhob taught art courses at a college in Boston, and stayed in touch with several of his students, some of whom went on to successful careers as illustrators.

At DC comics, for several years, he was an assistant to Joe Orlando, in the licensing department, which involved many diverse products and all manner of production jobs.  Once, out of the blue, knowing I could handle it, he sent me a small production job for a set of trading cards that paid very well.  I enjoyed his anecdotes of dealing with various DC and Mad artists involving special artwork for occasionally odd licensed items.

For decades, before, during, after and between other jobs, Bhob wrote book reviews for Publishers Weekly, sometimes providing two or three reviews a week for two or three different editors at that publication. He reviewed all kinds of books, on every subject imaginable, and it wasn’t by accident that so many editors had confidence in his perceptions. Bhob had so many interests, and such clarity of thought that he could distill the general theme of any book, and express a positive or negative opinion of its relevance in a few well chosen words.  Now, that’s influence.

Occasionally I’d mention a book I’d just read to him, and he invariably had an opinion about it.  Bhob read everything!

Bhob and I shared a common interest, the admiration of a genuine genius we knew and worked with as assistants, both as writers and artists, named Wally Wood. His book, Against The Grain, was many years in various stages of production, held for years by a particular publisher who somehow never got it into print. Finally released back to Bhob, he placed it with another particular publisher, who insisted it would contain no nudity or improper content. Finally in print, it garnered wide acceptance. Years later, the book, long out of print, revised and updated, is soon to be released by the original particular publisher, which will probably contain too much nudity and improper content. But that’s the publishing world. Everybody has their own perspective.

Bhob coined a few phrases, now commonly accepted, like “Underground Comix”, which he first uttered at a comic convention panel in the early ’60s. But it’s not incidental facts like this that put him in his proper place as the brilliant thinker he was. It’s the totality of his work, which I believe he thought was mostly play.

When the Internet and digital revolution came along, unlike many older people who resist anything new, Bhob dove right in, exhilarated by the expanding universe of knowledge it presented.

In addition to creating his own blog, and later joining Facebook, when he discovered Wikipedia, and realized he could contribute material himself, it was the beginning of another fixation that resulted in dozens, probably hundreds of entries. Bhob wrote, providing graphics as well, about many subjects of interest to him. Look up any syndicated cartoonist of the 20th century on Wikipedia.  Chances are better than 50/50 that he wrote the biographies you’ll find, along with providing rare examples of their features. As with most of his work over the course of his life, he wasn’t paid or even given credit for these articles.

I believe this curious character’s mission in life was to offer knowledge to others, without any consideration of reward.  It isn’t anything he expressed to me. It’s my own deduction, as an observer of his lifestyle over decades

Martin Jukovsky, a lifetime friend since childhood, remembers Bhob as a generous man with an amazing, restless mind. I don’t think there could be a better description than that.

I’ve forgotten a lot of his extensive professional accomplishments, but I’ll always treasure my memories of the hours of fascinating conversations we shared over the years. I’ve lost a dear friend, and I’ll miss him.


28 Responses to Bhob Stewart, 1937-2014

  1. R. Maheras says:

    He was a terrific person to whom I am eternally grateful. Fortunately, I was able to thank him before he left us — all too soon.

  2. Paul Tumey says:

    Nicely done. Thank you for this.

  3. McDermott says:

    I had the pleasure of talking to Bhob 3 or4 times a week for 35 years. I lost a dear friend.
    Jim

  4. Matt says:

    This is a very nice overview of Bhob Stewart’s very significant contributions. He will be sorely missed. However, just to address a factual error in the piece: Famous Monsters of Filmland (which was first published in 1958) preceded both Journal of Frankenstein (1959) and Castle of Frankenstein (1962-1975).

  5. Wyatt Doyle says:

    Thanks for this. Looking forward to spending some time on Potrzebie.

    I think your timeline is off when you say, “…he wrote for and edited Castle of Frankenstein, one of the first magazines devoted to horror movies, well before Jim Warren’s more commercially designed Famous Monsters Of Filmland.” Famous Monsters began publishing in 1958, Castle of Frankenstein in 1962 (with Bhob joining in 1963). It also seems inaccurate to refer to FM as “Jim Warren’s” when, as fans and critics alike will generally agree, it was editor Forrest J Ackerman whose contributions and influence defined the mag.

  6. Tom Conroy says:

    A couple years ago Bhob talked me into writing about how I started my photo agency (Movie Still Archives). He also wanted me to write about some of my hitching stories from the early 1960’s and used some of my artwork.. He printed them on his Potrzebie blog. I felt honored that he like my writing. I met Bhob in the early 1960’s in New York when I was trying to fulfill my dream of being a “boy cartoonist”. A good mind never dies.

  7. I was honored to have had Bhob as my professor, newspaper editor and friend for the three
    years (’79-’82) I attended New England School of Art and Design in Boston. He was eye-opening,
    inspirational and put me through my paces. Not to say how I drove him batty. My artistic work ethic
    has always resonated with his words and conscience of quality. His voice comes out of me, as I
    now teach at NESAD. An underdog and unsung hero.

    KEEP HIS BLOG ALIVE FOR POSTERITY. MUST IT BE TAKEN DOWN?

  8. Dan Steffan says:

    Bhob Stewart was one of the nicest, most encouraging people it has ever been my pleasure to know. We became acquainted in the 1970s through science fiction fandom and fanzines. When I worked in the HEAVY METAL art department at the end of that decade, I always made a point of reading his monthly film column in manuscript before sending it out to be typeset. He was amazingly articulate and informed.

    In the 1990s, when he was working with Joe Orlando, he began sending me art jobs connected with the then new Animated Batman series and thanks to him I got to draw a coloring book, puzzles, style guide art and even a Happy Meal box. He was always a pleasure to work with and was one of the best telephone conversationalists I’ve ever met. Fortunately for me, it was a habit that continued for the next two decades. It’s a damned shame there are no phones in the afterlife.

    Oh, and the reason he added the “h” to his name was because when he got into sf fandom in the ’50s there was already a well known fan with the same name. He added the “h” because it was a fannish quirk that had been started by the other Bob Stewart — and his pals Terry Carr and Pete Graham — when they started referring to their favorite beverage as “bheer.”

    Someone really needs to get Ted White to write on this subject. He and Bhob began a lifelong friendship in 1953. He was a sweet and generous man who will be missed by many folks.

  9. Proud to have known Bhob in his Boston Days. Rest in Peace Sir.

  10. John Benson says:

    A nice eulogy. Some corrections…

    Bhob added the H to his name very early on because, when he was active in sf fandom, there was another Bob Stewart in fandom. To distinguish between each other, the other Bob Stewart called himself Boob Stewart, and Bhob added the fannish H (as seen in words like bheer and Ghod). For awhile he used it only in fandom. I’m certain this occurred well before he moved to New York. He was aware that it sounded like an affectation and put it into universal use over a period of time. It wasn’t because he “figured he might get a byline.”

    Your timeline is also off on Castle of Frankenstein, which was a direct imitation of Famous Monsters Of Filmland. The first issue of Famous Monsters was published in February 1958. By 1961 it was so popular that there had been several imitations. The first issue of Castle of Frankenstein was dated February 1962. Bhob was not editor until the fourth issue, dated May 1964.

  11. Geoffrey says:

    I too attended New England School of Art and Bhob Stewart was my teacher. Do you know if
    there will be a funeral and/or a memorial service for him this week? Will it be in Plymouth, MA?
    Geoffrey

  12. I hope you can publish something in depth about Bhob in the hardcopy TCJ, bill (and Gary). I’d certainly contribute if you needed quotes from folks. We palled around in the East Village 60s. I have memories of first meeting Bhob — my vey dear friend Marty Jukovsky introduced us — sitting around over coffee at the Automat at a table that included Marty and Bhob, Walter Bowart (editor of the East Village Other), and Calvin Thomas Beck, publisher of Castle of Frankenstein, along with his very strange mother. It was Bhob who introduced me to Paul Krassner. Although I haven’t seen him for decades, I miss him.

  13. R. Fiore says:

    Maybe the best writer on comic books so far. The short list would include him, John Benson and Michael Barrier.

  14. Clark Dimond says:

    Thank you for this piece, Bill. It seems to capture the essence of Bhob. We saw so many films together, he got me into Press Screenings and into the Comic Book Council Of 10. He was a stubborn editor — always challenging questionable assertions. I am sorry for the loss of our dear friend. May he rest in piece.

  15. Thommy Burns says:

    Bhob was an enthusiastic and frequent contributor to the EC Fan Addict Club on Facebook, which I and my brother admin. I looked forward to every new post or email from him, and I will miss him very much. I am humbled to say that Bhob edited an essay I wrote on the Wallace Wood “message stories” in Shock SuspenStories which he intended to include in the revised “Against The Grain” mentioned above. When Bhob contacted “EC’s Number One Fan” Larry Stark about all new Wally Wood story reviews he told him “Call Thommy and have him send you some stories!” I was in orbit! It’s too easy to have regrets, I know, but one of mine after reading the above is that I rarely corresponded with him about anything other than EC, and I am only now learning how very much more there was to him and his extraordinary life.

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  17. Michael says:

    Bhob’s article in the Journal on Wood, “There Are Good Guys and Bad Guys” still stays with me. It is a deeply affecting piece of writing. It was the first thing I’d ever read in the Journal and it is still one of the best.

  18. Bill Davis says:

    I knew Bhob when he taught Illustration at New England School of Art from about 1970 to about 1990. He was always interesting and influenced a generation of illustrators. If anybody knows anything about funeral and/or memorial arrangements?

  19. Gary Groth says:

    Not to strike a discordant note, but Bill mischaracterizes one episode that I was integrally involved in :

    “His book, Against The Grain, was many years in various stages of production, held for years by a particular publisher who somehow never got it into print.”

    The implication here —that Fantagraphics (Fantagraphics is the ‘particular publisher’ in this instance) held the book for years without publishing it is not the whole truth. The book was a work-in-progress for many years, it was indeed delayed by us, but we started publishing it in 1997, and Bhob inexplicably pulled the plug on it shortly thereafter. Just for the historical record, here’s the story:

    The book was my idea: In 1985, I called Bhob and asked him if he’d like to edit a book of essays, analyses, and reminiscences of and about Wood. He enthusiastically agreed and submitted a manuscript composed of many individual pieces in 1986. I was keen to do it, but, as per usual, we didn’t have a pot to piss in, and we didn’t have the staff necessary to put together a complex 300-page book of integrated text and images. (I was expecting a much slimmer and more manageable volume; I was thrilled by what Bhob assembled, but ti was a hell of a lot more challenging undertaking.) We had published several monographs of artists by this time, but none as complex as this —and because it was Bhob, with his obsessive attention to detail, it was much more complicated than any similar book we’d done up to that time. Moreover, he continued to send us new manuscripts and more art for years. This required an in-house editorial coordinator who could work closely with Bhob and a designer who could devote a lot of uninterrupted time to a book that probably, because of how labor-intensive it was becoming, wouldn’t make a penny. The problem was, I didn’t have the staff who could devote that much time and labor to such a project at that time. But, I finally came up with what I thought was an ingenious and pragmatic way to accomplish the goal: By serializing half the book’s contents in The Comics Journal, I could amortize the editorial and design labor over a year’s worth of Journals in the course of producing the magazine. Half the book would be effectively done —with finished pages— and designing the remaining theretofore unpublished 150 pages would be manageable. I proposed this to Bhob and he agreed to it. In TCJ 197 (July 1997) we cover featured Wood, introduced the series (“One of the greatest cartoonists in the medium is remembered, analyzed, talked to and about, and appreciated in our serialization of Bhob Stewart;s book”), and ran three pieces: “Wally Wood at EC” by Bill Mason; “When In Doubt, Black it Out” by Ralph Reese, and an interview with Wood by Fershid Bharucha, an old pal of mine and Bhob’s. In the next issue, we ran “Trajectories” by Paul Kirchner. The plan was working and everything as going smoothly, or so I thought. Not only would we put together half the book over the course of the next year, but serializing part of it in the Journal, which was selling 8,000 copies an issue then, would help promote it. We had the next piece for the next issue laid out when Bhob sent me a terse letter informing me that he no longer wanted to serialize it in the magazine. That was it. There was no explanation. I have no idea (to this day) why he did that; we had agreed upon a strategy and had a plan in place that was working. Bhob worked in mysterious ways and this was one of them. I remember being pretty pissed off at the time: I finally figured Stu a way to make the book financially feasible and had the rug pulled out from under me.

    The book came out in somewhat compromised form six years later from Tomorrows.

    A few years ago, Bhob approached me about publishing a new version of it. Irony as not quite the word that first came to mind,. Obviously, re-publishing, re-editing, and re-designing an existing book that already reached much of its intended audience is not terribly enticing. But, I thought it should be done right —for Wood as well as for Bhob— so I agreed to do it. Our in house editor, Jason Miles, has been assembling it, with Bhob’s help, for six months now (copy editing, synching images to text, etc.) and it was (is) scheduled to come out in 2015.

  20. Thommy Burns says:

    Gary – great to see this book is on the schedule, the finished result will no doubt be astounding!
    Roger Hill wrote about the making of the first version in Horror From The Crypt Of Fear #13, and it’s enlightening to put these two accounts together for a fuller picture. Content was definitely compromised in the first version and it will be fantastic to see the revised edition do real justice to both Wood and Stewart!
    Over a series of emails and drafts sent back and forth Bhob’s enthusiasm for the project was catching – he wanted it to be right. Spa Fon!

  21. Thommy Burns says:

    This is on Bhob’s Facebook page:

    “A memorial celebration for Bhob Stewart will be held in New York City at the Columbia University Library. Two dates have been proposed:

    o Sunday, April 13

    o Sunday, April 27

    I’ll post more details next week.

    There is also talk of separate memorial celebrations in Boston and at the San Diego Comic Con. More on these later.

    If you would like to be on the email list for the memorial in New York, kindly send me your address (in a private message, please, not in the comments section on this post).”

  22. Bill Pearson says:

    I’m too flippant sometimes. Gary Groth’s account of his on and off publishing history with Bhob’s Wood book is interesting, explaining why ‘somehow’ it never saw print until another publisher took it on.
    Sorry, Gary, for the negative implication that word conveyed.

  23. Bob Conway says:

    I’m very sorry to learn of the passing of Bhob. We had several things in common besides a love for Wally Wood. In the early 1980s I created the short lived Woody Awards. Bhob wrote the fortunes for Bazooka Joe comics and wrote a wonderful essay just last year for the Bazooka Joe book I contributed to.

  24. James Van Hise says:

    The Castle of Frankenstein/Calvin Beck reference reminds me that for years Beck claimed that Jim Warren stole the idea for Famous Monsters from him. Beck claimed that he took the idea for Journal of Frankenstein to a distributor who rejected it and then not long after began distributing Famous Monsters. There is no independent verification of this, plus in the 1950s Beck was known as a notorious liar. When Science Fiction Times (a monthly and sometimes twice monthly newsletter not unlike LOCUS magazine, but which was published from the 1940s to around 1970) began publishing negative reviews of Castle of Frankenstein, Beck wrote in to complain and I believe recounted the FM claim in one of his letters because he was accused of being an FM imitator. The editor of SF Times reminded Beck that he once tried to write for SF Times by submitting several spurious news items, a criticism Beck dismissed as immaterial. I believe that there’s a magazine out there where Bhob Stewart wrote a long essay about Calvin Beck after Beck’s death in which he gave a balanced appraisal of Beck as someone who was both talented and his own worst enemy. That essay may even be on line. Forry Ackerman did respect what Castle of Frankenstein was doing and once told me that in the 1960s he wanted to make FM a more serious film mag but Jim Warren didn’t believe there was a market for that approach. When Castle of Frankenstein came along with its more serious treatment of monster movies, Forry pointed to that and Warren replied, “Yes, but there’s only room in the marketplace for one magazine like that.” I think Forry lost interest in FM at that point as a lot of fans feel that after #50 that FM was just repeating itself and was not very good any more, though Forry stuck with it for many years. Clearly the people at Castle of Frankenstein had enthusiasm for what they were doing.

  25. Minerva Scelza says:

    I have only now just learned that my mother Jacqui, new Bhob around 1965 or so in the west village when he was at TV Guide. I am looking for any clues about my mother as she has been the biggest mystery of my life. Please let me know if you ever knew or heard of Jacqui Scelza in the village and/ or upper west side in 1965.
    Thank you.
    Minerva

  26. Steve Stiles says:

    Bhob was an important person in my life as a teenager/young man. I met him through the Lupoffs and when we were working on XERO in the early 1960s, which he art directed. He encouraged me in my projects, urging me to submit material to The Realist. The last time I saw him was in Los Vegas, when we both worked as blog journalists for ChannelSpace –that was over 14 years ago, alas– and I was shocked to learn that he had been hit hard by emphysema; despite that, Bhob continued to be productive.

    Nobody mentioned that Bhob could put his foot behind his head while standing on his other leg. (Sorry, Bhob!)

    Bill; excellent write-up.

  27. Jim Marshall says:

    I just found out, at this late date, about this depressing news. Bhob was my Illustration teacher at New England School of Art in the early 70s. He always encouraged me to go into comic book illustration, which I stupidly never did. I was too busy chasing the dollar, when it was the perfect time of my life to chase my dream. Alas. He was a very patient and knowledgeable teacher, and a great guy. Over the years, in my various readings in science-fiction, comics and horror, his name kept popping up. I never realized when I knew him how influential he was in various areas of fandom. I’m saddened by his passing.

  28. robert morgan says:

    There were no “capsule reviews” in TV Guide until the very late 60’s-early 1970’s, only plot descriptions which seem to have been taken from pressbooks. If he was responsible for the snotty, “smug and condescending” reviews (often with wildly inaccurate plot descriptions) of the 70’s era, THAT wouldn’t surprise me, as that style is very similar to the “reviews” he and Joe Dante provided for Castle of Frankenstein’s movie guide.

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