Friday, August 12, 2022

Baltimore's Ron Barlow obituary - EC fan and publisher (updated)

Photo: Ron Barlow & Bernie Wrightson c. 1974

by Joel Pollack

R.I.P. Ron Barlow (1949-2022).

Ron commissioned and published Bernie Wrightson's Badtime Stories, the first deluxe comic fanzine devoted to a single artist.

Ron worked as an editor at Woody Gelman's Nostalgia Press, where he edited hardcover reprints of classic comic strips including the finest Alex Raymond Flash Gordon strips. It was at Nostalgia Press that Ron edited EC: Horror Comics of the 1950s.

Ron and his partner, Bruce Hershenson, published the earliest full-color EC reprints, under the East Coast Comix imprint.

In 1972 , Ron and Bruce staged the first and only EC Comics convention, attended by most of the EC staff. For that convention, they published EC Lives, a collection of articles about EC Comics written by EC creators.

Ron was active in Star Trek fandom, and owned and operated the Federation Trading Post in Manhattan c. 1973.

Joel's contacted other friends of Barlow's on Facebook for their reminiscences. Here's Bruce Hershenson's:

RIP Ron Barlow January 1, 1949 - August 9, 2022

When I was 15 I spent four days over the 1968 July 4th weekend buying and selling comic books. Not so strange nowadays, but beyond bizarre back then. I left my home with 6 boxes of comic books and $20, and after 4 frantic days of wheeling and dealing I went home with 20 boxes of comics and $100, and I knew I had found my life's calling!
I also met two 18 year olds who would have a massive impact on my life. One was a Californian named Barry Bauman (a story for another day), and the other was from Baltimore, named Ron Barlow, and both were very good looking guys with very long hair (well before that was mainstream) and for the life of me I could not see what either of them saw in me, but their friendships sure helped this pathetically nerdy and shy 15 year old immeasurably!
Flash forward to the end of 1971. I was in college and hating it, and spending most of my time buying and selling comics, completely supporting myself doing so. It was at this point Ron Barlow re-entered my life in a big way. He had gone to work for Woody Gelman, the visionary who first saw a market for deluxe hardcover reprints of classic comic books.
One of those books was devoted to EC Comics, and through editing it, Ron caught the eye of Bill Gaines, and they became great friends, despite being decades apart in age. Ron had grown up with Berni Wrightson and Jeff Jones, and he had the idea of a new publication that would be a tribute to EC Comics, but with all new stories by modern artists, and instead of a lowly comic book, a "graphic novel," printed on the finest paper.
Ron was able to persuade Berni to draw one entire book called "Badtime Stories", and he gave him an astronomical page rate, AND returned the art, something never done in those days! I came into the picture in early 1972, because Ron and I were both living in Great Neck, New York, and thanks to my successful mail-order business in comics, I had put together some savings from it, even though I was now only 18.
Ron had run out of money, and he proposed that I put up the printing bill, and that I handle the distribution of the book, and that once we each got our investment back, we would split whatever profits that were made 50/50.
I agreed, because I felt then that Berni was the young artist who most could have been an EC artist had he been 20 years older, and I thought his work on Badtime Stories was especially wonderful. So that's how I became the 18 year old "publisher" of Badtime Stories, and what started my longtime partnership with Ron Barlow.
It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but I got us all the money back on Badtime Stories, and Ron told me he admired my business acumen and wanted us to together organize a convention solely for fans of EC Comics, a "theme" convention no one had done before.
I had zero knowledge about running a convention (although I had attended many), but it sounded like "fun", so I agreed. I was now 19, and Ron was 23, and somehow we were able to rent the giant McAlpin Hotel in New York City for four days (with no money!).
What made the convention a major success (except we made no money, but that was not important to us) was that Bill Gaines was able to convince just about every EC artist and writer to attend, and there has never been another convention like it. Ron next suggested we approach Bill with the "crazy" idea of reprinting the original EC comics as full-color comic books (the very first time fans ever did that for ANY comic book company), and to our amazement Bill agreed!
That led to my dropping out of college, and Ron and I co-publishing 12 issues of full-color reprints of EC comics over the next two years, under our "East Coast Comix" label (we were given the catchy name by longtime Ron friend, Joel Pollack!). Sadly, there just weren't enough comic book collectors back them to fully support the project, and we folded it after 12 glorious issues! 
After that I was partners with Ron in a vintage clothing business in Baltimore. He discovered the Internet in the late 1980s and wanted us to move our business online, but it sounded "sketchy" to me, and I talked him out of it, to my eternal regret, because WE might have become early Internet moguls, bringing collectibles to the Net, as eBay did years later!
Ron had also discovered vintage movie posters, and he wanted to do a mail order business of those as well as the vintage clothing. But as so often happened with Ron, he grew tired of the posters, and offered to trade me his half of that poster business for my half of his vintage clothing store and I reluctantly agreed.
But I took that tiny poster business and it evolved into my current business,, with $107 million in total sales, so in a way I owe that success to Ron Barlow as well!
In the late 1980s Ron moved to Santa Fe and started selling antiquities, with a very successful gallery there. He later moved back to Baltimore (where he started out) and pursued a career as a painter, something I wish he had more vigorously pursued far earlier.
Ron was the most gifted, talented, and "ahead of his time" person I have ever met! I have just barely scratched the surface of the many business ideas he had over the years. He launched a free "adzine" for comic book collectors, years before The Buyer's Guide copied his idea. He owned a store entirely devoted to Star Trek memorabilia, in the days when it was a cult favorite, but long before it became a beloved franchise.
Ron was incredible at "spotting talent" and upcoming "trends". It was he who told me in 1976 about the forthcoming Star Wars movie, and he told me it was sure to be a giant hit, and that he had been able to buy the rights to some merchandising, with the little money he had, and he had a real "score" from that.
There was so much more to Ron's incredible life! If only he had been able to stay focused longer on each individual project, he likely would be a household name today, but that was just not his way. Once a project took fruit, his mind was on to his next idea!
So rest in peace my old friend. You surely have earned some time off. But knowing Ron, I bet he is at St. Peter's shoulder, giving him endless ideas on how Heaven could be run better!


1 comment:

Robert Beerbohm said...

Ron was a comics direct market pioneer running his gigs ahead of the comics fandom waves which took a while to catch up. A true visionary I illuminate more in Comic Book Store Wars.