Comics educator Ellen Vartanoff passed away on March 17th following a long battle with cancer.
Vartanoff and her sister Irene (above – that’s Ellen on the left) were extremely active in early Marvel fandom and both would go on to have professional careers. Ellen’s included coloring for both Marvel and DC. Ellen went on to teach cartooning to aspiring artists in the Baltimore area for many years, and she was a member of many clubs and other fannish activities.
I met Ellen back during my Friends of Lulu days when she was a very enthusiastic participant. I would have to say that Ellen was enthusiastic about everything: I’ve never met a more upbeat or cheerful person, and we had many conversations over the years at SPX and the Baltimore Comic Con. She was one of a kind and I’ll miss her.
So will many others. You can find remembrances here from Martin Morse Wooster:
Her first fannish activity came in high school, when in the late 1960s she founded a science fiction club at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland. The Future Mad Scientists of America no longer exist, but I believe they lasted until the 1980s. At her memorial service, one Mad Scientist reminded us that actors may make millions today playing nerds on The Big Bang Theory, but in the 1960s it was a proud and lonely thing to be a fan, and the club was a “safe space” for teenagers who were smart, introverted, and interested in science fiction and comics.
Ellen was interested in many things, but at her core she was a comics fan. Her sister, Irene Vartanoff, and her brother-in-law, Scott Edelman, went from being letterhacks in the comics to professional careers as writers and editors. Ellen did have some work as a colorist for Marvel Comics and DC Comics. Her Marvel work includes being a colorist on issues of Captain Marvel written by Scott Edelman. I don’t know her extent of her DC work, because Marvel Comics are thoroughly indexed and DC Comics aren’t.
And more from Stu McIntire who has a lot of information on her fan activities, including a photo of her and Irene and many other future comics luminaries from the Comic Art Convention Luncheon in 1969.
A memorial was held for Ellen this weekend and here’s the slideshow that looped, courtesy of her brother-in-law Scott Edelman:
As everyone who ever met her knows, Ellen was a beautiful person, inside and out. I think it’s important to note that she was a prominent woman in fandom and comics long before it was easy to do – I don’t want to use the word pioneer because there were actually a lot more female fans throughout comics history than we usually think, but we shouldn’t forget her. She was a lifer for comics and the things she loved, with a passion I’ve seen few people express.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.