This biography is a work in progress and will be updated frequently.
Ken Krueger was born in Buffalo, New York on October 7th, 1926.
At age twelve, Ken attended the first World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) which was held from July 2nd to July 4th, 1939, in New York City. (Also attending was Forry Ackerman who would later become Comic-Con’s first science-fiction guest, at the March 21, 1970 San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Minicon. Another noted attendee at that first Worldcon was eighteen-year-old aspiring author Ray Bradbury, who would become Science Fiction Guest of Honor at San Diego’s first full Comic-Con in August, 1970).
Ken was drafted in 1945 and eventually stationed near Providence, Rhode Island. That same year, also in Providence, Donald M. Grant and Thomas G. Hadley had formed science-fiction small-press publisher Grant-Hadley Enterprises. Ken joined their company in 1946 after which the name was changed to The Buffalo Book Company. Ken brought to the company his mailing list from his book-selling business. (In later years, Ken would go on to run SHROUD Publishers and Dawn Press, and would publish some of the first professional work by science-fiction author Greg Bear and comics artists and writers John Pound, Scott Shaw!, Dave Stevens, and Jim Valentino.)
Around 1969, Ken moved from Buffalo, New York to San Diego, California. There he opened a bookstore in San Diego’s Ocean Beach community in partnership with longtime science-fiction fan and illustrated children’s-book collector John Hull. (John had helped Chairman Dennis Smith to put on the 1966 Westercon science-fiction convention in San Diego.) Shortly thereafter, a group of young science-fiction and comics fans and aspiring professionals calling themselves “The Woodchucks” began to gather at the O.B. store where they were nurtured by Ken’s welcoming ways, readily-shared life wisdom, and steadfast encouragement. That group included Greg Bear, Dave Clark, Roger Freedman, John Pound, and Scott Shaw!, all of whom give great credit to Ken for the success they’ve found in their professional lives.
By odd coincidence, Shel Dorf had arrived in San Diego about the same time as Ken. Shel had helped to put on the Detroit Triple Fan Fair conventions and wanted to do something similar in his new hometown. Shel soon made contact with teenage comic fans and dealers Richard Alf, Barry Alfonso, Bob Sourk, Dan Stewart, and Mike Towry. With Shel’s guidance, this little group began to plan and work at creating San Diego’s first Comic-Con. Though a little unsure at first, an early November, 1969 visit with Jack Kirby, arranged by Shel, convinced them that anything was possible.
Within a matter of months, a chance encounter between Bob Sourk and Scott Shaw! led to the Woodchucks joining forces with Shel’s group. Ken volunteered his Ocean Beach store as a meeting place. This was a huge boost to the Comic-Con group’s morale and greatly increased the prospects for a successful first convention.
Busy with his book store and happy doing his own thing at the time, Ken didn’t seek responsibility and position for himself. But when the need was there, he could be counted on to step in and do what was necessary. So, when, after the initial Minicon, Chairman Bob Sourk resigned for personal reasons and then Co-Chairman Richard Alf felt himself too inexperienced to assume the chairmanship, Ken agreed to step up and become Chairman. Thus, Comic-Con gained the benefit of his thirty years of convention experience. When convention day rolled around and the inevitable problems with people, things, and situations cropped up, unflappable Ken could be counted on to fill in the cracks, smooth over the bumps, and keep things rolling along.
Aside from owning dozens of bookstores throughout his life, Ken had an active career in comic book distribution and retail. He started out working for the Schanes brothers’ Pacific Comics in San Diego. In the mid-1980s he was managing the Pacific Comics distribution warehouse in Sparta, Illinois. In the course of his career in distribution, he also ran Capital City Distribution’s warehouse in Los Angeles, worked for Bud Plant, and for Diamond Distributors.
During his time at Capital City, Ken and his wife, Patty, opened up a comic book store in Azusa, California called the West Coast Comics Exchange. He avoided the whole conflict of interest issue of him running a distribution warehouse and owning a store by saying it was Patty’s store. Everyone knew whose funnybooks she was selling, though, and nobody minded much.
Their son Timothy (“Gus”) was in high school at the time, and would ride his bicycle the 2½ miles to the shop every day after school to help his mother out (even though he just spent most of the time reading the comics). Gus always loved when people came in trying to sell comics and Ken would say to them “We’ve got too many comics! We don’t need any more.” In truth, the “Exchange” part of the name was only there because it had a nice ring to it, and that was that. At the time he opened the store he estimated he had accumulated over a million comics and books. Gus could believe it as he had to move those boxes more than enough times.
After Ken retired from Capital City Distribution, he opened a bookstore that was probably named Ken Krueger Books (though he never did put up a sign). It was right next door to Patty’s comic shop. They eventually sold the comic shop, but he kept the bookstore open for a little while longer. Gus thinks his dad just liked being in there, tinkering with his books. And, of course, he had to pay to store that stuff somewhere, anyway. Finally, Ken closed the store shortly before his move back to New York.
Ken was also the first official licensee of Star Trek merchandise. When he went to Paramount to write them a check for licensing they couldn’t believe he had any interest in what they considered to be a dead property. He went on to print posters and postcards using what little photo sources they had on hand.
In 1988, Ken underwent his first quadruple heart bypass surgery, with a second such surgery performed in 1996.
Ken and his wife, Patty, moved back to western New York (Lockport, to be exact) in October, 2002 with their dogs, Weenie and Sarah. (He loved his dogs. If a dog entered the house, no matter whose it was, it became his in no time flat.)
Patty passed away on December 31, 2006, a few weeks after Weenie.
All of Ken’s friends and admirers can take comfort in the knowledge that Ken was able to enjoy two very special events during the last year of his life. In July, 2009, the Comic-Con International committee generously flew Ken and his daughter-caregiver, Kathy Austin, to San Diego to be a special guest for the 40th Comic-Con celebration. There, Ken appeared as a star member of the “Secret Origins of Comic-Con” panel during the first day of the convention. Then the night of that same day, there was a special dinner honoring Ken at one of his favorite restaurants from his old San Diego days, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto in San Diego’s Little Italy. The dinner was a wonderful experience for all who were there, and was organized by a great friend of Ken’s, comics creator and publisher Jim Valentino. (See a gallery of Jim’s photos of this event at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=32490&id=1312309500&l=c8b8d60a5d.)
Ken passed away on November 21, 2009, a few weeks after Sarah (which he was, thankfully, unaware of as Sarah was staying with one of his daughters from his first marriage while Ken was in the hospital and nobody thought it was wise to tell him she was gone). As had Shel Dorf, who passed away on the 3rd of that same month, Ken had been on dialysis for an extended period of time. Then in late October, Ken had broken his hip in a fall, and while recuperating he contracted pneumonia and then finally succumbed to a heart attack.
Ken Krueger will be sorely missed by family and friends, of which there are many more than most people could ever hope to have in one lifetime.