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October 28, 2004

Bill Liebowitz 1941-2004

Prominent comics industry retailer Bill Liebowitz, owner of the two-store Golden Apple chain, died Tuesday evening from complications due to flu. Golden Apple, founded by Liebowitz in 1979, is one of the most important retail establishments in comics' business history for its significant role in maintaining the strong, savvy and diverse Los Angeles area market as well as for its inventory and store event strategies.

Golden Apple may be the most prominent example of an unabashedly "pop-culture" comic book store, where comics publications are sold amid other products and media that emphasize many of the featured characters and favored genres. This model may have developed out of the early comic book shops' desire to carry everything that came out in contrast to the limited selections available on newsstands, although building stores across different product lines had a much greater degree of difficulty. Although Golden Apple became known as a store where stars shopped, its greater importance was as a shop for industry professionals, animators and cartoonists who grew up or worked in the Los Angeles area. A friendly, engaging man, Liebowitz' support was crucial to various alternative and arts publishers and their creators -- Golden Apple could host signings by the Hernandez Brothers one month and Stan Lee the next. That Liebowitz thrived when others failed despite a open-arms approach to retailing that left him open to every industry hiccup was testament to the former accountant's skill as a businessman.

Liebowitz deserves credit for popularizing creator tours and store events. This claimed for comics retail some of the insular celebrity fervor that drives comic book conventions. More importantly, once outside of the convention hall events and tours helped comics develop real-world media legitimacy. A range of creators from the Image founders to Neil Gaiman benefited from this kind of focused attention.

There are news stories at most major comics-related sites and message boards, including the business site and Los Angeles-based writer Mark Evanier remembers Liebowitz, while writer Peter David eulogizes on his on-line journal. As of early Thursday, this Newsarama thread contained testimony from industry professionals Matt Hawkins, Rob Liefeld, Charles Brownstein, Billy Tucci, Jimmy Palmiotti, Steve Niles and Chris Gossett. Heidi MacDonald posted her memories with the anouncement and a tribute from fellow retailer Jim Hanley. There are pictures of Leibowitz at various events on a commercial photo archive. The best material yet available may be a biography and a magazine profile kept on the Golden Apple site. Liebowitz is survived by wife and close business partner Sharon, and two sons. A memorial is planned.
posted 8:46 am PST | Permalink

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