Comic Book Fans Pay Respects to Superhero

Times Staff Writer

He was the most unlikely of supermen: a former accountant and real estate agent with a love of comic books, whose incredible powers were mostly confined to yo-yo tricks.

But William Liebowitz, founder of the Golden Apple Comics store, was a hero nonetheless in Hollywood's alternate universe of comic book artists, collectors and pop-culture junkies. His death last month at age 63 was a loss, as one patron put it, of a "true pioneer of L.A. culture."

On Sunday evening, a number of fans returned to the Melrose Avenue storefront to pay tribute to Liebowitz and to recall his contributions as comic book mogul, patron of the arts, soft-porn aficionado and super-sized personality with all of the pow! of a Lichtenstein painting.

"He had a kid's enthusiasm about this stuff," said John Rubin, a singer with the Mighty Echoes, a vocal group that crooned Liebowitz's favorite tunes through the night. "That's what made him so much fun."

"This is one of the most important comic book stores in the world," said Bob Wayne, a vice president at DC Comics, who flew in from New York. DC publishes some of the best-known superhero comics.

And longtime patron Anthony Albright, 36, met his wife at the store. "She was an employee here," he said, "and we both had superhero tattoos on our arms."

Liebowitz, a native of New York, died of congestive heart failure on Oct. 27. His comic store -- with locations in Hollywood and Northridge -- was celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Liebowitz founded the store after growing disillusioned with a successful corporate career. By the early 1980s, he was a vice president at the powerful real estate company Trizec Corp., but he found the work stifling.

He started Golden Apple in 1979, and left Trizec a few years later. He took a job as entertainment director of the 1984 Olympics, and did a stint working for concert promoter Bill Graham. But the comics business was taking off, and eventually he was able to dedicate himself to the store full time.

Golden Apple became a shrine to some of his pop-culture passions -- comics, yo-yos, pinup girls and collectibles. Patrons came looking for the latest adventures of Plasticman, and stayed to test Liebowitz's knowledge of underdog music forms such as doo-wop and zydeco.

Comic book fans appreciated his wide-ranging inventory. The superhero genre was stocked deep, as were alternative comics, from classic R. Crumb works to more recent literary graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi and Art Spiegelman. And Liebowitz's unswerving championing of the yo-yo earned him the loyalty of ardent practitioners like Tony "Lunchbox" Elkins.

"If it wasn't for Bill and Golden Apple I am not sure where I would be in the yo-yoing work," Elkins wrote on a memorial website.

Elkins was one of nearly 200 fans and friends who had left their memories of Liebowitz on the Web by Sunday afternoon. Comics artists recalled how Liebowitz had generously displayed their work when they were virtually unknown. Employees noted that their boss could be "demanding and often abrasive," but they praised his loyalty and honesty. Liebowitz's old friend Art Fein recalled the New Year's Eve parties they threw in the '70s and '80s -- now-legendary affairs that featured performances by Los Lobos and the Blasters.

Fein also sketched scenes from a life worthy of its own underground comic: Liebowitz, 6 feet 5 and Jewish, wearing a theatrical cape once owned by R&B; crooner Isaac Hayes; Liebowitz making wisecracks at Michael Jackson as the pop singer browsed Golden Apple's collection of toys; Liebowitz leaving a Led Zeppelin concert because he was bored by the long guitar solos.

Liebowitz jokingly referred to himself as "The Big Kahuna," but friend Jerry McAffee noted solemnly how fitting the title was.

"A Kahuna, in Hawaiian lore, is a priest," he wrote. "A conduit of ideas, knowledge and energy. Bill was all this and more."

Indeed, the aisles of the Golden Apple were crowded Sunday with people who had been influenced by Liebowitz's passion.

Underground cartoonist Pinguino Kolb, 26, said Liebowitz always stocked her self-published comic books, about penguins who practice karate.

Children's television show developer Dan Evans, 36, said Liebowitz taught him to love yo-yos and loud Hawaiian shirts.

Pop star Jackson, an occasional shopper, did not attend but reportedly sent flowers.

Liebowitz's wife, Sharon, said Golden Apple will continue without its founder. "We're gonna try, but it'll be hard," she said. "He was bigger than life in every possible way."

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