The Big Kahuna
Remembering Golden Apple's Bill Liebowitz

  Originally presented in Joe's 'Big Picture' column in Comics & Games Retailer
magazine, November 2004.

It's the Industry Directory issue of C&GR, a time to reflect on the nearly done year. What I find myself reflecting on, though, is my good fortune and happy heart for having been among the thousands of friends of Bill Liebowitz who passed away October 27.

I first met Bill at the San Diego Comic Retailer Expo in 1987, more than a year before the opening of my shop. I was there researching the business of comics while recording interviews for a proposed syndicated radio show about comics and pop culture. When it became evident the radio show wouldn't fly it became more clear comics retailing was my future. Bill was already a veteran among comics retailers and the Expo was my introduction to the way the King of Retailers could hold court.

In between low-tech show-and-tell sessions from publishers (in '87, Marvel's late great Carol Kalish still needed to advocate for shop operators to actually get cash registers!), retailers would gather around Bill to learn. I remember peering over his shoulder as attentive group absorbed his promotions' scrapbook. A hefty binder filled with flyers, ads and photos, Bill would have a story for every event. While most retailers run just a few promotions each year, if even that, the crowded schedule at Golden Apple often features multiple events each week. About the promotions' binder he said it's good to have a record of what you've done so you can see more clearly where you want to go.

Over the course of the next several years, I was a quiet part of many meetings in which Bill not only took part, but also took center stage. In the mid-'90s, Bill paid the ultimate compliment when he agreed to have me succeed him as the spokesperson for the Direct Line Group, a retailer lobbying and trade group. I accepted the post but Bill still remained the driving force of the DLG. My apprenticeship under his direction helped to solidify many of my positions on industry issues. Bill was steadfast in believing the progress of Golden Apple could not wait for the rest of the industry to catch up to him. Bill partnered successfully with numerous publishers and hundreds of creators over the years working aggressively to stay ahead of the curve. He often remarked that products in the current distributor catalogues featured items popular six months earlier at Golden Apple. Always ahead of trends, Bill kept looking for what's next.

A couple of times per month, Bill and I would have long phone conversations. I didn't do a lot of the talking, but every conversation with Bill was insightful and entertaining. I was supremely touched when he would seek my advice on various topics. As in all good friendships, there was reciprocal admiration and always a lot of laughing. We'd also invariably dish like fan-boys about rock n roll. Bill loved doo-wop, the music he grew up hearing on the streets around his boyhood Brooklyn home. He not only knew the music, he also got to know some of his favorite music makers, including Phil Spector.

Bill loved the comics' biz, but he really only got into it because he was a passionate family man. The origin story of Golden Apple is really the story of Bill wanting to share his love of comics with his two sons, Damon and Ryan. On Bill's recommendation, my convention business partner Mike Friedrich and I hired Bill and Sharon's son Ryan as the general manager of WonderCon for a couple of years. Working with Ryan allowed me to see that the apple didn't fall far from the Liebowitz family tree. Over the last two decades, Bill and his wonderful wife Sharon became very special friends to me, to my wife Libby and to our three daughters. We laughed a lot when were together.

A true giant in the comic book business, Bill did as much to bring comics into the Hollywood mainstream as any movie adapting comic books to the big screen. His constant presence in the media promoting comics, through our market's various ups and downs, always shed a positive light on our industry.

A quick story: After the success of Free Comic Book Day, I got a lot of congratulatory phone calls, e-mails and nice compliments at conventions. Bill cut to the chase and said with a smile 'Are you crazy? I didn't go to Hebrew school for six years to learn how to give things away!'

It's hard imagining the comic book business without the presence of Golden Apple's Big Kahuna. Truly one of a kind, Bill's energy and experience, his drive and determination, and especially his good-natured personality will forever be missed, but will always be fondly remembered.

(Joe Field runs Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff, 2980 Treat Blvd, Concord CA 94518. E-mail is

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