Tim Underwood

How best to describe Tim Underwood? Let me say it up front: it ain’t easy.
Because Tim was incredibly complicated and a mystery in many ways, not deliberately
and not to deceive, but simply because he liked observing, listening, and talking about
everything else rather than himself.
Tall, whipcord thin, sof-spoken and thoughtful, he was laid-back in that Northern
California way (like Te Dude from Te Big Lebowski, his approach to life always seemed
to be “Tim abides”). He was a voracious reader (and an expert on the works of Jack Vance
and J.R.R. Tolkien), kind to a fault, stubborn as hell when he chose, slow to anger, and
quick to laugh. He wasn’t the least bit religious yet was very spiritual and deeply interested
in Eastern philosophy; for a brief period he changed his name to “Yoga Nathan” and
taught New Age-inspired meditation and mindfulness. (Once when I raised an eyebrow
and asked him what that was all about he chuckled and replied, “Hey, man: it was the
One thing I can say about him with absolute certainty is that Tim was brilliant. Oh boy,
was he! No matter where he was or who he was with, I always had the impression that he
was the smartest person in the room—not that he ever acted like he was, but watching
Tim you could see him absorbing everything that was going on around him and know
that his wheels were always turning. He would have project meetings at Skywalker Ranch,
attend holistic healing workshops at Esalen in Big Sur, talk about “radical self-expression”
with Larry Harvey, the cofounder of Burning Man (and was present at the frst ceremony
on Baker Beach in San Francisco in 1986), lunch with Playboy’s cartoon editor Michelle
Urry in Chicago, argue about all manner of nonsense at Ellison Wonderland, and consult
with Tom Doherty (when he was the publisher of Ace Books) about how to construct fair
contracts for creatives.
If Tim drank beer (he didn’t) he would have been a logical candidate for Dos Equis’
“most interesting man in the world” advertising campaign.
Born January 12, 1948, Tim Edward Underwood grew up in Sault Ste. Marie,
Michigan with his parents John and Wilma, his sister Marjorie, and his older brother
Gregory (who, tragically, was killed while camping when a drunk fired a gun into his tent
while he was sleeping). He studied for a time at Michigan State University before moving
to California to become, among other things, an art and book dealer. Tim was active in
Bay area fandom and regularly helped out at Charles Brown’s Locus collating and mailing
parties; he easily formed friendships wherever he went—which ofen turned into
professional opportunities. A chance meeting with Pennsylvania bookseller Chuck Miller

[1952-2015] at a convention led to a publishing partnership in 1975.
When “science fction” and “fantasy” emerged as distinct genres during the pulp era
independent publishers quickly emerged as well to produce inexpensive hardcover
editions of novels and collections in modest editions of anywhere from 500 to 2000 copies.
By the 1970s, Arkham House, Donald M. Grant, Publisher Inc., and Mirage Press
dominated the SF&F small press feld: Underwood/Miller upset the order of things when
they appeared at the World Science Fiction in 1976 and released the frst hardcover
edition of Jack Vance’s Te Dying Earth illustrated by George Barr. Te other three
publishers had been pursuing Vance, ofen described as one of the greatest science fction
writers of the 20th Century, for many years to secure rights to the collection without
success; they grumbled and couldn’t understand how “those new guys” were able to
persuade the author when they couldn’t.
Te answer was simple: Jack Vance liked Tim.
Tey both shared a “Bay Area Bohemian” outlook and became friends; subsequently,
Underwood/Miller turned into Vance’s primary hardcover publisher, printing both classic
and new works. Other writers liked Tim, too, were impressed by the high-quality of U/M’s
books, and began approaching him with projects. As Chuck handled fulfllment and
promotion, Tim signed deals with Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, Robert
Silverberg, Stephen King, Peter Straub, and many others. But beyond the quality of their
books’ contents they also raised the bar for their competitors by featuring acid-free paper,
various binding materials (including leather, marbled endpapers, and hand-made wraps),
a variety of title and typographic solutions, special signature/limitation pages, slipcases
and clamshell boxes: everything we’ve come to expect from a genre (and non-genre)
deluxe edition today all originated with Tim Underwood’s vision and imagination.
Tim’s and Chuck’s reputations grew rapidly and they cochaired the World Fantasy
Convention in 1980 (a sign of approval from the feld’s movers and shakers), producing its
frst-ever hardcover souvenir book. Underwood/Miller branched out, secured professional
distribution, and created additional imprints: Brandywyne Books in association with
Waldenbooks, Hammersmith Books, and Tird Millennium/Underwood–Miller Books.
Despite their success, they eventually felt the strain of different goals and a long-distance
business relationship and the two went their separate ways in 1994; that same year they
were presented with the World Fantasy Award for Professional Achievement.
Tim immediately formed Underwood Books (along with a subsidiarity, Black Bart
Books) and began publishing fction, pop culture, self-help, and art titles; he produced
books about Led Zeppelin, R.E.M., and Bob Dylan, multiple volumes collecting the letters
of Philip K. Dick, and what I believe were the frst mass-market explorations of ADD and

And, of course, there were the gorgeous art books. Tim was always a huge illustration
fan and had produced volumes devoted to Hannes Bok, Bernie Wrightson, Virgil Finlay,
and Don Maitz while part of U/M so it was only natural that he would continue with his
new imprint—and that’s where our paths intersected.
I had met Tim at that previously-mentioned 1976 World Con in Kansas City—I still
have my copy of Te Dying Earth—and over the years we slowly built a friendship. While
working at Hallmark I had been a freelance designer and illustrator for various publishers
in the late 1980s and early ’90s; there were a million freelancers much more talented than I
was but for some reason Tim liked what I was doing and asked me to design some covers
for him, which I was delighted to do. Each project led to another and another until we
were talking on the phone one night and I was lamenting how I had been pitching the idea
of a “fantastic art annual” for ten years and couldn’t get a publisher interested. Without
skipping a beat Tim said, “I’ll do it.”
And Spectrum: Te Best in Contemporary Art began.
It may have been my and Cathy’s idea, we may have put it together and done the heavy
lifing up front, but it was Tim’s belief, optimism, and drive that made it a success.
Spectrum not only became Underwood Books’ fagship title for twenty years (until we
retired and licensed it to John Fleskes), but also became an international symbol of quality,
diversity, and respect for our feld. Other major art books followed by John Jude Palencar,
Jon Foster, Robert E. McGinnis, Jeffrey Jones, Gahan Wilson, Dave Stevens, Donato
Giancola, Frank Frazetta, and many others. Some were successful, others not, but they
were all beautiful either way. We pitched any number of projects to Tim and he turned
down a whole bunch of them (including a few that would have probably been extremely
proftable) because he never did anything just for the money: he only published books by
creators he personally believed in.
But Tim was more than just a publisher of art books, he was also a benefactor, a patron,
a promoter, and, above all a compassionate friend of those he worked with. He expanded
Wrightson’s audience well beyond comics long before every store had a graphic novel
section; the trilogy of Frazetta books put the artist back in the spotlight afer nearly being
forgotten by the mass-market for over a decade (while Frank’s wife, Ellie, used the
royalties to build the Frazetta Museum in Pennsylvania); he supported Virgil Finlay’s
daughter, Lail, with advances for projects that he most likely knew would never be done;
he came to Jeffrey Catherine Jones’ rescue when she was arrested for DWI and paid her
bail (and turned a blind eye when Jeff sold an art book to another publisher even though
she was under contract to—and had received an advance from—Tim for a third

collection); and he provided fnancial support to Dave Stevens near the end of his life as
he battled leukemia. As John Jude Palencar wrote me upon learning of Tim’s passing, “His
generosity, kindness and support of so many artists was beyond compare. Not only did he
publish my art book but you could sense a greater mission and his thoughtfulness to the
community of artists worldwide. Te Spectrum annuals will forever be part of his
wonderful and enduring legacy. Many artists owe him thanks for furthering their careers.”
Tim Underwood was a mensch.
He had his share of frustrations and disappointments, to be sure: that’s the nature of
publishing. Tere were people who pocketed advances then disappeared without
delivering anything, licensors who had inexplicable melt-downs and canceled projects that
were in the works (and, you guessed it, kept the advances), and he was forced to contend
with a handful of spurious lawsuits from unscrupulous opportunists (all of which he won
or settled to his satisfaction) even while he was dealing with his health problems. Tim, like
virtually every small publisher, was never wealthy and took serious fnancial hits when
Borders, B. Dalton’s, Brentano’s, and Waldenbooks—all major clients—went bankrupt
owing him a lot of money; several years later the same thing happened again when his
distributor, Publishers Group West, went bankrupt and was acquired by the Perseus Book
Group, paying him only a small fraction of what was due.
But through it all, the good times and the bad, Tim remained upbeat, found a way to
pay the bills, and always looked to the future. “Tim abides.”
Afer we retired he seriously cut back his activities, too, happily spending his days
gardening, tending his fruit trees, reading to his young daughter Grace, and studying (and
drawing) mandalas. Tim eventually sold his property in Nevada City (which we jokingly
called Camp Underwood), sold his letters, art, and the fle copies of his books, married
Grace’s mother, Rebecca Bowler, and moved back to a Bay area apartment to be closer to
them. We’d talk on the phone about projects he might still want to do—he had a Tolkien
reference in mind as well as a defnitive Virgil Finlay collection and possibly a fnal
volume of Spectrum under our editorship—but it soon became obvious that time wasn’t
going to allow it. He had been privately and bravely combatting melanoma for well over a
decade and had undergone multiple surgeries and treatments through the years;
regardless, Tim was a perpetual optimist and, as he did with virtually everything he
focused on during his lifetime, became an expert about the disease and possible solutions.
But in recent months his cancer became more aggressive and on October 11, 2023, Tim
lost his fght.
He is survived by his children from his frst wife (Deborah Pollman), Mollie
Underwood (Jae) and Dylan Underwood, his sister Marjorie Underwood Godersky, wife

Rebecca Bowler, and daughter Grace Underwood Bowler.
Harlan Ellison once said, “Te hardest thing about getting older is having to bury your
pals.” He was, of course, right.
But Tim was much more than Cathy’s and my friend: he was our brother, through thick
and thin, always there to listen, always there to help, and he’ll never be forgotten.
Wherever he is we take comfort in knowing that “Tim abides.” With any luck, we can
all hope that we do, too.

—Arnie Fenner