A towering figure in the history of American comic books is gone. Bruce
Hamilton, publisher of Gladstone Publishing, comics historian, and fan activist,
passed away at 3:00 AM on Saturday, June 18, 2005.
Known around the world
for the licensed line of Disney comics he lovingly published, Hamilton was a
central figure in documenting and advancing the detailed history of the medium.
Through his involvement in fandom to the limited edition Disney lithographs and
fine, bone china figurines his companies produced, he remained committed to
gaining a wider, more serious acceptance for comic characters in mainstream
Possessed of an imposing stature, a radio announcer's voice, and
a fiery drive, Hamilton was a primal force in getting the comics industry
organized, first as a dealer in Golden Age comics, then in other diverse
collectibles such as original art, movie posters, and cartoon cels. He was among
the first to suggest that classic material be repackaged into deluxe formats.
Together with Russ Cochran, he was largely responsible for promoting Carl Barks
into the superstar he became in the 1980s and onward. Barks' work was already
known, thanks to the efforts of Malcolm Willits and others, but Hamilton and
Cochran significantly made his work better-known.
He began a 20-year
relationship with The Walt Disney Company in 1980 when he and Cochran acquired a
license to produce The Fine art of Walt Disney's Donald Duck, a
collection of all of the Carl Barks Disney-based oil paintings to that date. The
book sold out quickly and won an award for excellence in production values from
the American Bookbinders Association. The success of that project enabled
Hamilton to acquire the Disney license to produce limited edition lithographs
based upon newly-produced Barks oil paintings. After Western Publishing dropped
the license to produce the Disney comics in the mid-1980s, he was granted the
license and the now-legendary Gladstone Publishing company was
"This is a bitter loss for the entire industry, and a very
personal one for me," said Steve Geppi, President and Chief Executive Officer of
Diamond Comic Distributors. "I've said publicly before that I considered Bruce
to be a mentor, as well as a friend and business associate. The knowledge we
have lost in his passing is incalculable. My thoughts, prayers and deepest
sympathies go out to his wife, Helen, his daughter, Summer Hinton, his
son-in-law, Richard Hinton, and his three grandsons."
recognized very early the potential that our industry had and still has," said
John K. Snyder, Jr., President of Diamond International Galleries. "His
foresight helped preserve the history of Disney comics for future readers, and
he also helped expand the frontiers by growing past the printed page and
expanding into figures, lithographs and different areas. He made comic
characters more accessible, and in doing so left a legacy of enjoyment behind
While his Disney licenses dated from the early 1980s, his
enthusiasm and vision for comics was honed well before that time. In 1971, a few
months after the first edition of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide
was published, Hamilton appeared unannounced at the Cleveland, Tennessee
doorstep of Robert Overstreet. He understood the potential importance of the
then-new book to the market and recognized the influence it could have in the
"Bruce was there in the beginning to help me develop the
proper approach to pricing this complex market. For years Bruce and I would
discuss the philosophy of market economics and how the guide should reflect a
pricing policy that would be fair to dealer and collector alike," Overstreet,
Publisher for Gemstone Publishing's line of price guides, said. "Whenever the
market got in trouble, Bruce was there to lead discussions with other top people
in the market to help me figure out the best position the guide should take to
steer the market in the right direction. He attended and participated in all my
meetings held in Tennessee during the formative years of the guide's
Of Hamilton's long list of other accomplishments, one
lesser-known is the instrumental role he played in spear-heading the development
of independent grading certification of comics. He actively encouraged
Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) to enter the comics market, which lead to
the formation of Comics Guaranty, LLC (CGC). A year before the first comic was
certified, he told participants in the meetings that they would remember they
were there for a momentous time in the market's history.
While many are
aware of his distinct influence in the comics arena, fewer may realize that he
was a force in record collecting as well. Together with partner and musicologist
Jerry Osborne, Hamilton produced over a dozen record price guides between 1976
"Appropriately, Bruce and I first met at a comic convention in
Scottsdale, Arizona, 1969. Our mutual love for the works of Carl Barks, coupled
with our radio history and love of music, cemented our friendship. He is the
only person I ever knew who can say they saw both Elvis and Buddy Holly
on the same show (January 6, 1955, Lubbock, Texas)," Osborne said. "As a mighty
close friend for exactly half of Bruce's 72 years, there are a million memories
and stories that could be told. But we'll save those for another time. For now,
I'm reminded of a line Bruce would jokingly quote when he was so agitated he
wanted to scream in frustration - one originally written by Barks for Donald
Duck: 'Now I'm more determined than ever to force cheer onto the world.' Mission
accomplished, my old friend!"
With success in records and other
businesses, though, it remains comics for which he'll be best
"I met Bruce Hamilton at a comics convention in the early
1970s, and our mutual interests in the works of Carl Barks and in collecting
original comic art led to us becoming good friends," said Russ Cochran, now
publisher for Gemstone Publishing's Missouri office. "We formed a partnership
known as Another Rainbow Publishing and Gladstone Publishing in 1980 to explore
the possibilities of publishing the works of Carl Barks, including his oil
paintings and his comic book stories. Bruce was an unforgettable character, full
of idiosyncrasies which often made him difficult to deal with, but his natural
intelligence and life-long love of learning made people respect him. He and I
enjoyed many cross-country motor trips together where he would talk and I would
listen. He was a rare and strange duck, and I will miss him."
relinquishing the Disney comics license, Hamilton worked behind the scenes to
support Gemstone Publishing's acquisition of the license. John Clark, who served
as Gladstone's final Editor-in-Chief and now serves in the same capacity for
Gemstone's Disney line, knew Hamilton for 35 years.
"I first met Bruce
circa 1970 when he was a DJ for radio station KBUZ in Scottsdale, Arizona. He
had just moved to Arizona and my friend, artist Don Newton, got in touch with
him through an ad Bruce had run in The Rocket's Blast - Comic Collector
fanzine. That ad contained for sale a handful of original Grandma comic
strip art and some obscure, non-super hero Golden Age comics," Clark said.
"Little did Don or I realize at that time that Bruce would go on to be one of
the truly driving forces in early comics fandom and that his lifetime of
accomplishments would have considerable impact on collecting. Bruce's legacy in
fandom will truly live on through the ages."
A private funeral was held
Monday, June 20.
Following our special e-mail announcement of Hamilton's
passing, several readers wrote in to offer condolences. They read as
Thank you for the memorial announcement. I never had the
pleasure of knowing Bruce personally, but certainly respected his vision and
purchased his product. His accomplishments will be remembered and treasured for
years and years to come.
-- Bill Janocha
I was very
saddened to learn of the passing of Bruce Hamilton. I only had a few dealings
with him (when buying Barks items), but always found him to be a very nice
person with whom to deal. He will certainly be missed, in more ways than
-- Patrick Premo
Sorry to hear that he passed. I only met him once and had a short chat with
him. But I knew of Bruce's importance to the comic world and his impact.
Hope he is hanging out with Barks right now
-- Al Stoltz
Very impressive, they say; you can judge a man's life by how many friends
he has, and what they say about him after he's gone.
"Excellence is easy, when it's a way of life"
-- Victor Alsobrook
I remember Bruce from the old Another Rainbow days. He and Russ grew that
business with the Barks reprints and beautiful Barks Duck paintings book and
Mickey Mouse book they did way back. I will remember him fondly. What a great
note you sent regarding him. Thanks for that. I will give a prayer to his
friends and family.
He will truly be missed.
-- Stephen Kalenich