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Reflections

'About the same time I was interested in dinosaurs, I was also reading comic books'

February 18, 1990| G. Jeanette Avent | Times staff writer

Kensington resident George Olshevsky, 43, has degrees in mathematics and computer science. But his lifelong loves have been comics and dinosaurs. Born in Germany and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Olshevsky moved to California because he likes being able to ride his motorcycle year - round. His next project is producing a series of dinosaur books for a firm that builds life-size dinosaurs for museum shows. Olshevsky was interviewed by Times staff writer G. Jeanette Avent and photographed by Teresa Tamura.

I have no idea why I'm interested in dinosaurs, except they are fascinating animals, and they fit in with my sense of collecting things, such as all the comic books in a set, all the stamps in a country.

At first, though, dinosaurs were sort of a peripheral thing, something I was interested in marginally. For a very long time, I just didn't have the time to pursue it.

I majored in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. I got a master's degree in computer science from the University of Toronto and worked as a computer programmer there.

But comic books pulled me away. About the same time I was interested in dinosaurs, I was also reading comic books. Dinosaurs happen to be featured quite frequently in comic books because they're so awesome.

Usually in comic books, they make them six times as big as they ever were, and show them knocking down houses and large multistory buildings and eating tanks.

When I was at MIT, people would bring in these new comics which had sprung up. Marvel Comics was publishing Spiderman and the Fantastic Four, and they were much better than any of the other comics being published at the time.

Marvel Comics all dealt with the same universe. What happened in one comic, say the Fantastic Four, could easily affect what happens in Spider Man. Finally, I decided I had to amass the whole set.

Gradually, I was able to build up a complete collection of Marvel comics from the very first issue of the Fantastic Four in November, 1961.

From that point on, I bought every single issue off the stands for a period of 20 years. I recently sold the first issue of the Fantastic Four for $400. A mint copy is worth about $2,500 these days.

Being a computer programmer, one of the things I did was put together a list of the comic books I still needed for my collection.

At that point, there were about 300 to 400 books I had to pick up. My final list was 666 pages long, and it listed all the Marvel Comics from Fantastic Four No. 1 through comics dated April, 1975. I had the issue number, the date, the subject of the cover, the cover artist, who wrote the story, who drew the story, who inked the story, who lettered the story, who colored the story, and who all the characters were.

It occurred to me this would be a good thing to publish for Marvel fans and do it the ultimate way: put a photograph of each cover next to its listing.

I had become friends with a comic collector in Toronto and we published the indexes from 1975 to 1979.

Marvel produced more comics than we could ever index after a while. So what we did was index Spiderman, Conan the Barbarian, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and Thor. There were still more to be indexed, but things happened.

During the early 1980s, Marvel called me up and asked me if I was interested in producing a set like that for Marvel, which Marvel would sell and distribute.

I thought this was a great idea. But, after I had finished in 1987, I was totally burned out. At that point, since I had decided not to have anything more to do with comic books, I put my entire collection up for sale.

When I finished working for Marvel, I decided, since I had worked so long in comic books, maybe I could do something with dinosaurs. So I created a dinosaur newsletter.

When I was at the University of Toronto, the other thing I indexed were dinosaurs because I wanted to keep track of all the dinosaurs and how they were classified.

As it turns out, collecting information on dinosaurs is a lot harder than collecting comic books. Dinosaur papers are published by scientists working around the world, and sometimes they're published in the most obscure, outrageous journals.

When I finished working on the Marvel indexes, I designed a newsletter on dinosaurs called Archosaurian Articulations and I published the first issue. After that, I was avalanched with dinosaur work.

I also want to do some dinosaur books of my own. I have a lot of ideas about dinosaur evolution and anatomy that I would like to publish to have them out there so people can see them, debate them, and correct them if necessary. And, of course, I have the newsletter.

I'm just trying to go slow so I won't burn out.

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