Positive Spirit and Determination: Debra Jane Shelly


Debra Jane Shelly
(April 23, 1974-January 25, 2014)

Everyone involved with The Joe Shuster Awards are in shock and deeply saddened to hear the news that Debra Jane Shelly passed peacefully in her sleep Saturday afternoon from an epileptic seizure.

Deb was the light and partner for our co-founder and Associate Director, Kevin Boyd.

The Joe Shuster Awards were very fortunate as well that she volunteered her time and considerable knowledge of the industry to the JSAs.  She was part of the Gene Day nominating committee this past year and did some copy writing for the website and program book. She was an ardent supporter of the awards and helped out whenever she was needed.

It’s not an understatement that the comic book community in Toronto and beyond are reeling from hearing the news Deb has left us. This piece typifies her reach, impact, spirit, and generosity to others.  Some she never even met face to face:


Jennifer Haines, owner of The Dragon, had known Debra since high school at St. Mildred’s in Oakville:

“Deb was one of the most amazing people I have ever known. In high school, we were both outcasts among our peers, and that formed a bond that would last for over 25 years. It always amazed me how well she maintained her positive spirit and determination to be herself through those tough times. In fact, I’m not sure Deb even realized how outcast she was in that place. I admire her for that too. She didn’t let anything make her jaded or less generous with those around her.

“When Deb and I reconnected years later, I re-discovered this joy and strength in her. She had a boundless ability to help those in need. The day before she passed away, she posted a reassuring comment on my Facebook wall in response to a difficulty I was having. It brought a smile to my face that stayed with me. From reading the comments of others in response to this tragedy, it’s clear that she shared this generosity of spirit with absolutely everyone she knew, even those she had never met.

“I remember one night we were out at a bar and were headed downstairs to the washroom, when this rather drunken woman stumbled down the stairs, twisting her ankle. Deb escorted her into the washroom and helped her clean up, and somehow ended up giving her advice in her family legal trouble. That was Deb. It was amazing to watch. I couldn’t believe how incredibly supportive she was of someone she had only just met. But, Deb was like that with everyone. Absolutely everyone.

“One fateful night, I invited Deb to join me and a few friends for drinks at Mill Street to celebrate my birthday. I remember that night so clearly because it was the night she met Kevin. Afterward, we headed to the Golden Griddle on Eglinton and ate pancakes at 4 in the morning. We knew we were witnessing something magical happening between Deb and Kev. It didn’t surprise us one bit when they quickly became a couple. They just made sense. We knew they were going to be together forever. It isn’t fair how short “forever” turned out to be.

“The greatest thing we could do for Deb is to carry on her legacy: be good to each other, better than we’ve ever been, with strangers, with friends, with family; be positive and bring a smile to everything we do; support those in need; remain strong as people, and idealistic, and ready to argue the merits (or lack thereof) of even the most obscure creators and characters at a moment’s notice.

“I will always remember Deb as one of the best specimens of humanity that has ever walked this earth. She has left the world a better place. While we mourn her and feel the loss of her presence, let us not forget those smiles, those character voices she’d do, those hugs, those snacks delivered at conventions, and that boundless energy and ability to be there for each and every one of us. I hope I can become even half the human being that she was. I sure am going to try. I love you Deb; you’ll always be with me.”

All the nominating committees and volunteers involved with The Joe Shuster Awards, past and present, wish to send our heartfelt condolences and strength to Kevin Boyd and to the Shelly family.

Donations are welcome in Deb’s honour to Epilepsy Toronto:


Updated: here is the text of Kevin’s eulogy, read at the service at the Manor Road United Church on Friday, January 31.

debMy name is Kevin Boyd, and for five too short years Deb was the light of my life.

Today you have heard and will continue to hear the same things about her in our talks: Deb was genuine, she was happy, she was 100% there for us. She loved children,and pets, and flowers, and art and books, which she absorbed with her supercomputer of a brain. She loved taking pictures of the people and things that she loved, and above all else she fiercely loved her wolf pack – those of us she had taken into her heart.

She and I met a little over five years ago at a birthday dinner for our mutual friend Jennifer Stewart (Haines). I’m a reserved person, naturally introverted and shy, I’d rather be at the back of the church taking this all in instead of here at the front. I don’t rush to meet new people. At one point she grew tired of talking to my friend Scott, turned her laser beams toward me and said, “Tell me about YOU!” — I was smitten.

Over the course of that night I knew I had to see her again. We all went for pancakes at 2 in the morning. Deb and I split a cab home, as our apartments turned out to be a short distance apart, and on the way she received the call that Cristie had gone to the hospital, and she went on her way to meet her nephew Noah later that day. That certainly made our anniversaries easy to remember!

A couple of weeks later, after some chatting through facebook and email, we agreed to meet for dinner and it was a magical night — a massive snowstorm was in the process of shutting the city down, but we had no idea – we had dinner and chatted for hours. As we left the restaurant we walked into an empty Eaton Centre and the subway was virtually deserted. We felt like the only two people in the world. When we got to St. Clair station, without hesitation, Deb said “I’m in!” She hugged me for the first time. I was taken aback, I’ve never met someone that direct emotionally, I think maybe I retreated a little. Deb did not.

Over the following months we met on and off for movies and or dinner, and early on she explained that she had epilepsy and what might happen if she had a seizure. When she returned from a family trip to Florida, she introduced me to her family and I must have passed another test, as meeting her nephews Caleb and Noah for the first time, and of course Jake, the family dog, who she loved dearly, she seemed even more proud of the concept of ‘us’.

One night we were talking — and I’m a low talker at times, sometimes I mumble. I apologize if that’s the case today, but at one point in our conversation I think I said “thank you”. Deb grabbed my shoulders and said “You love me! That’s AWESOME!” I was floored, and speechless – where did that come from? I didn’t remember saying that? It mattered so much to her, and she grabbed me in that bearlike hug of hers and squeezed me tight and told me she loved me too. How could I contradict her?

I also got a chance to spend more time with the Shelly family, and you can see where Deb got it. I’ve never in my life encountered such a strong and loving group, and she had the most amazing support structure. My family – I think we know that we love each other, but we never say it, I have only brothers, so as brothers are, we were tough on each other. But Deb and her family, she knew she was loved. And you could see from spending time with her parents where she developed aspects of what made Deb essentially Deb. During any family crisis or illness, she would strive to be the strong and funny older sister: a pillar of strength, because they deserved it. She would do her best to remove the negative, but what she did was, like a true empath, take it inside and later in private let it all out – like emptying a vacuum. Conquering Cristie’s cancer was the most important thing to her, nothing else mattered and you can only imagine how happy she was that she did. Her victory was also Deb’s.

I have always been a comic book reader and collector, and she and I connected over that, she had told me of her teenage years collecting in Oakville, and about the jerks at the shop she frequented, who would tease her, and that led to her leaving comics behind. I introduced her to my world of shows and the people here at events like Fan Expo. She would volunteer to help me, and along the way she met many amazing people who she pulled into her ‘wolf pack’. She would say she loved being a nerd, a term I’ve never cared for, but Deb embodied the positive aspects of the word, and reclaimed it on her terms. She devoured my books over the years, and at shows, online and in other places she focused on being an expert in all things nerdy, and she succeeded. She could talk to anyone about anything. As she would say, fiercely, no one can tell you it’s wrong to like what you like.

The five years we were together were a tornado. For the first few years Deb struggled with the medication she took for her epilepsy. It would exhaust her, like she had weights on her shoulders. She would sleep 18 hours a day. You had to be like water on rock in some ways with Deb, but eventually she went to see a specialist at Toronto Western and he introduced some different medications. Deb blossomed on the last one and it was amazing to see Deb emerge from under the weight of her medication and become this shining force. It also coincided with some pretty amazing things, like the opening of the store and going to work at the Mount Sinai Foundation. Even when the store made me miserable and a giant ball of stress, Deb was there, always helping, but always reminding me how important it was to relax, to step back, to be with her and with family. If you look at the wonderful pictures gathered at the visitation you can watch Deb grow younger and happier. She had reclaimed her life.

Deb always loved Facebook. She joined the Comics Cube group a few years ago, and that group has splintered off into a handful of smaller, private groups. She loved them all, especially her fellow moderators like Duy Tano and Ben and Kim Smith. She connected with so many people around the world. They could tell how awesome she was through her posts, her comments, what she could add to a conversation, or how she could make you feel better when you said you were down. Deb had the innate ability to find the best cat photo to make a person laugh and brighten their day.

Last week was an amazing week for Deb. She watched some documentaries, she met her newest niece Sidney, who she had two visits with – at one we watched her favourite movie of the year, Pacific Rim with brother Greg and she was so happy to have an afternoon with a baby, brother and ‘giant robots fighting monsters!’ She had a chance to visit with Anne Marie and her daughters, and enjoyed catching up with them. She had multiple visits with Karrie, Caleb, Liam and had a magical afternoon with Ana. We went to a movie premiere for a terrible movie and saw many friends there. We had this amazing Saturday morning, chilling over coffee and she was raving about how great the last few days had been, telling me about Ana and Sidney. I spoke with my friend Peter and Deb added to the conversation in the background. She was wearing her I love DC Super Heroes t-shirt, which always made me smile. I got ready to go down to the store, and Deb was there with a bear hug and an ‘I love you!’ and we talked about Ladies Night, her favourite event at the store, and how her friends would be there. I got down to the car and found the door was open and the battery had run out. I went back up to get the booster and Deb was right there again, with a big hug and warm I love you.

Trying to find meaning in what happened after is going to be our challenge. Deb was like that car battery, she was full of life and energy, but epilepsy was the door we didn’t know was open, and that battery ran out. But magical things happened that afternoon, and continue to happen. So many of you have told me that on Saturday afternoon, unbidden, Deb was in your thoughts. I think that she sent out a wave of energy, like an exploding star,to all of us in her wolf pack to let us know that she loved us and to take strength from that.

I miss her terribly, but I feel her presence in the room and I’m trying to follow her examples. I hope that everyone here can do the same. Always do what Deb did and make sure the people you love know how you feel about them when you say goodbye.

In comic books, the heroes pass and return regularly. It’s a storytelling device that reminds us why this was a great character, and when they are taken off the table for a while it is to remind us why we like them, why they mean something to us. Debra Jane Shelly was the superhero in our lives, and so I keep expecting her to find her way back to us. Her absence reminds us why we loved her so much and by doing so she is bringing us closer to those we have in our lives, reminding us about what’s important – she always knew that. She’s still out there righting wrongs and kicking evil’s butt.


Debra Jane Shelly

ImageThe Joe Shuster Awards lost a true friend & advocate this week when Debra Jane Shelly passed.

Deb was the light & partner of our Co-Founder & Associate Director, Kevin Boyd.

We will post more personal reflections on Deb at a later time.  We wanted to post this notice from her family.

Everyone involved with the JSA’s wish to send our heartfelt condolences & strength to Kevin Boyd and to The Shelly family during this time.

Debra Jane Shelly (April 23, 1974-January 25, 2014)

Our precious Debra passed peacefully in her sleep on Saturday afternoon from an epileptic seizure. Debbie will be forever remembered as a genuine and kind soul with unparalleled wit and a spectacular smile. DJ was the adored daughter of Scott and Susan Shelly of Oakville, ON.  Debra was the loving partner of Kevin A. Boyd. She was the world’s most cherished older sister to Karrie Shelly Singer (Dave), Cristie Shelly Schultz (Mark) and Greg Shelly (Laura Waters). Debbie was a doting aunt to Caleb, Noah, Liam, Ana, Sidney, Kaitlyn, Michael and Lauren. We will miss her dearly.

Please join us for a celebration of Deb’s beautiful life.  A visitation will be held on Thursday, January 30 at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery Visitation Centre (375 Mt Pleasant Rd, Toronto) from 6-9pm. The funeral service will be held on Friday, January 31 at Manor Road United Church (240 Manor Rd. E, Toronto) at 11am.  All are welcome. We look forward to sharing stories, laughter and love for our sweet Debra at the reception to be held immediately following the funeral service at the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery Visitation Centre.

Debbie was a ray of light in all of our lives- please feel free to come dressed in your most cheerful colours in tribute to our sunny girl. In lieu of flowers, donations are appreciated to Epilepsy Toronto in Debbie’s honour at:

Director’s Remarks

tyroneThe Joe Shuster Awards recognizing Canadian Comic Book Creators is going into its 10th Anniversary.

It may well be its last.

Year to year the awards struggle to get by. This is generally by relying on the kind donations from creators in the industry. We auction the pieces for key funding.

We are quite thankful to all the volunteers who contribute to our committees and awards ceremony year after year. Also to sponsors that have stepped up for the cause. Without their involvement there would be no JSA Awards, period.

No one is making money on this folks.

We are a true non-profit organization and have operated as such from its inception.

As Kevin Boyd, our Associate Director, pointed out in the post here, we need funding.

The number one comment I hear from people is that “The JSA’s, don’t you get grants for that?” The answer is that the grants are out there but we need the help of volunteers that can interpret that world and assist us in completing effective proposals to secure them.

Hoping that the word can spread within the community and that any grant writers out there can give us some help.

In the meantime, if you’d like to help us out you can donate any amount via PayPal or Interac.

Much thanks to all.

New Executive Director’s Opening Remarks

tyroneI’m very honoured to be selected as the Executive Director for The Joe Shuster Awards.

To me the position is all about collaboration with like minded individuals to promote and celebrate great Canadian talent working in the comic book industry. I’m very proud to contribute to the ongoing celebration of these great creative talents, as well as looking back at our Canadian heritage when comic books were in their infancy.

I’m also very lucky I get to work with Kevin Boyd and the rest of the committee members. Kevin continues to put countless hours and thought into the JSA’s evolution, and I’m glad that he will continue on with us as the Associate Director. He’s weathered the rough seas better than anyone could, and has seen the awards continue to grow year after year. It was his vision and urging that lead me to work with him, James Waley and Dave Darrigo to get the JSA’s off the ground nearly a decade ago.

The number one thing I hope all current and future committee members bring to the table will be a focus on the sustainability of the Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards Association. We need to work on our funding initiatives, period. The awards infrastructure is in place and is a well-oiled machine, but I feel that year to year it’s always been a little too close to the edge with a little reserve for the following year. I’m hoping with all our collective contacts and the community’s continued support that we make inroads in creating something sustainable beyond our time with the JSA’s.

It’s a very exciting time and I look forward to working with all committee members and the community in general as we lead to a very successful 2013 awards program.

Tyrone Biljan
Executive Director
Joe Shuster Awards

Remembering Jerry by Tyrone Biljan

Tyrone Biljan is one of the four founding members of the Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards Association and is also the man who does the design work for the awards ceremony presentations, as well as the poster, logo, presentation guides and award plaques.

In 2004, Tyrone was instrumental in contacting and establishing a relationship between Jerry Robinson and the Awards Association and he was directly responsibly for Jerry Robinson’s presence at the 2005 and 2007 Joe Shuster Awards ceremonies and the Paradise Toronto Comicons.


It‘s April 2005 and I’m worried for two friends in their 80s after a horrendous effort to help them get to the airport in time for a flight to New York from Toronto. I also see the lengthy line up to go through security ahead. They make it through okay, but past security I won’t know how they are until they land in New York.

A couple hours later I get a phone call:


“Hey Jerry.”

“Listen. There’s a problem.”

“What is it?”

“We’re still in Toronto.”

“Oh no! You’re kidding.”

Long pause.

“I’m calling from home. We’re fine.”

I sigh and he laughs. I think I could hear his wife Gro laughing in the background.

In a nutshell: I got “punked” by Jerry Robinson.

I’m sure that I am not the only one!

I had the great pleasure through my association with the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards to meet and become friends with Jerry Robinson and his wife Gro.

Jerry Robinson was the creator of The Joker and the co-creator of Robin the Boy Wonder from Batman’s universe. He also created the iconic Batman logo that made its debut on the Spring Issue of Batman No. 1. Not only was he a prolific comic book artist but also photographer, writer and as Denny O’Neil says in his Forward to Jerry’s recent book, “Jerry Robinson – Ambassador of Comics” – Jerry was a Good Samaritan. Jerry helped, along with Neal Adams, to get Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster their recognition and increased compensation for Superman.

Part of my role with the JSA’s was to discuss with Jerry what we wanted to do with the awards and the significance of naming them after one of Superman’s creators. He instantly embraced the concept and threw in his support to become our inaugural award ceremony keynote speaker.

In conversations later, he would speak to me with pride his association with the awards and that he helped to launch them. Truly, Jerry’s support gave us a lot of credibility within the industry.

I have a lot of great memories from that small room where we held our first awards ceremonies during the Paradise Toronto Comicon in April 2005.

Jerry had also said that it was his involvement with The JSA’s that inspired him to create the Bill Finger Awards for Excellence in Comic Book Writing that are presented annually at the Eisner Awards during the San Diego Comicon.

Gro and Jerry Robinson with Dragon Lady manager Joe Kilmartin.

After the 2005 JSA ceremony, I had dinner with the Robinsons and Joe Shuster’s sister, Jean Shuster-Peavy. At the end I mentioned to him, with all that he has done for creators all over the world, he will get the recognition and credit for creating The Joker and his part in developing Robin. With a twinkle in his eye and a smile he would say, “Well, as long as good people like you know, that’s all that matters.”

Most likely, that was his standard response. I shook my head and said “But you will.”

We were lucky to get Jerry up to Toronto in 2007 for the JSA awards once again as keynote speaker. It was another truly memorable event for Jerry but also for all involved with the awards that he was present.

Since then the awards have grown and evolved as they do over the years. I would see him, Gro and his son Jens, most often at the San Diego Comic Con. He would ask how the awards were doing. His concern was for our continued success and check in on what was going on in our lives. The Calgary ceremony this year didn’t work out but he was willing. The Montreal awards were on his horizon.

In the end, we still have the art from Jerry. For a person who fought hard for the creative rights of artists around the world. It’s time his accomplishments and creative contributions for two of the most memorable icons in pop culture be recognized by the industry as well.

Thanks Jerry.