Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr., 1946-2023

Vadeboncoeur circa 1971.

Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr., a popular historian and passionate collector, passed away last Friday, July 7, from complications of liver cancer. Gone at 76, he leaves a legacy that helped shape comics research and fandom.

Born October 24, 1946, Vadeboncoeur dedicated his life and formidable curiosity to the preservation, documentation and promotion of comic art and American illustration history. Through his diligence, many overlooked artists and works found the spotlight, adding to our understanding and appreciation of the field.

Among his many influential contributions to the industry, Vadeboncoeur was known for his work on Promethean Enterprises from 1969 to 1974. Under his careful stewardship, along with the early comics retailer Bud Plant and the artist Al Davoren, the fan publication showcased and dissected comic book art and culture. In 1971, he was involved in a folio-size production of Doug Wildey drawings and lithographs under the title The Movie Cowboy, as well as Al Williamson: His Work and Inanity Four, a lampooning fanzine. These projects reflected his versatility and cemented his status as a connoisseurial historian and archivist of the artform.

The original Promethean Enterprises team reunites in this undated shot. L-R: Bud Plant, Al Davoren, and Vadeboncoeur. Photo courtesy of Bud Plant.

Vadeboncoeur also worked with Bob Napier and Jan Strnad to produce one of the earliest and most sophisticated review zines, George, from 1971 to 1972 (which sported a logo designed by Kenneth Smith). His frequent contributions to the APA-5 (Amateur Press Association) fanzine collective appeared as the series Contretemps and I'll Take A Fifth Of Anything, and he served for a time as the organization’s central collator. He continued to bring his unique perspective and creative flair to such projects as the 1973 Berkeley Con Program Book, Eclipse Comics reprint titles including Seduction of the Innocent! (1985-86), True Love (1986) and Weird Romance (1988), and his self-published The Alex Toth Index (1987). His skill set was further showcased through his layout and design contributions to Bud Plant's early catalogs, a crucial part of the comic book ecosystem, beginning in 1971.

Cover to the 13th and final issue of The Vadeboncoeur Collection of ImageS (2014), featuring the art of Alphonse Mucha.

Vadeboncoeur's work culminated in the publication of The Vadeboncoeur Collection of ImageS, a series of 13 compilations of rare illustrations from old books and magazines. From 2001 to 2014, he displayed the distinct drawings of artists such as Heinrich Kley, John Bauer, Rolf Armstrong, Enoch Bolles, Frank Schoonover, Arthur Rackham, Gustaf Tenggren and numerous others. Through Vadeboncoeur's curation, these artists were presented in a revitalized manner. His JVJ Publishing also released five issues of Black & White ImageS—each edition collecting hundreds of classic pen-and-ink illustrations beautifully reproduced on coated stock—and Everett Raymond Kinstler: The Artist’s Journey Through Popular Culture 1942-1962 (2005), the definitive, heavily-illustrated biography of that cartoonist and pulp illustrator who became a portrait artist of several U.S. Presidents, his work displayed in the National Portrait Gallery. Throughout this period, Vadeboncoeur continued to offer a historical perspective on comic art, co-authoring The Wallace Wood Checklist with Bhob Stewart (TwoMorrows, 2003) while consulting on or contributing to a myriad of reprint projects from Fantagraphics, IDW, Sunday Press Books and others.

Vadeboncoeur in his garage, collating a special portfolio of the works of Louis Chalon to tie in with The Vadeboncoeur Collection of ImageS #13 (2014). Photo courtesy of Bud Plant.

A friend of many years, Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth, said, “Jim was one of those rare figures in the history of comics, an amateur in the best and most noble sense of the word, a scholar with discriminating taste, a selfless researcher before the internet existed, an historian who helped create a foundation of knowledge upon which subsequent historians built. He was also a generous soul, generous in the professional sense of aiding others’ scholarly work, and generous as a friend.”

His longtime friend and colleague, Bud Plant, wrote, “We were good, very good friends going all the way back to 1966 when I was just a teenager. Jim had an incredibly impact on our hobby, fueled by his passion all these years for discovering new illustrators, rooting out credits for artists on comics (particularly Atlas but spread out over the entire Golden Age). He shared what he learned through his website biographies of artists and through his magazine ImageS.”

Vadeboncoeur's ceaseless efforts to shine a light on the illustrators and comics artists of an earlier era made an impact on the world of comics history that should not be forgotten.