The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Billy Blue Demon’s visionary reflects on history, DIBS nomination

Quentin Blais
USE THIS CAPTION Dibs poses for a photo with a fan during a game against Georgetown at Wintrust Arena on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. DePaul lost the game 77-76.

Sitting in the office of his Elk Grove home, Joe Wozniak surveys his collection of oil paintings, panning from Chicago Cubs legends Ron Santo and Ryan Sandberg to his dusty yet treasured album full of his black-and-white cartoons, all of which contain his original character, Billy Blue Demon.

“If you do anything for 43 years, you get good at it,” Wozniak said.

His now-hobby was once a defining visual representation of The DePaulia’s weekly newspaper, inspiring a mascot movement that has culminated in the nomination of DePaul’s DIBS to join Benny the Bull and Tommy Hawk in the Mascot Hall of Fame.

Dibs poses in the stands during a game against Georgetown at Wintrust Arena on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. Dibs has been the mascot of DePaul University since 1999. (Quentin Blais)

Wozniak, 67, attended the now-closed Holy Cross High School in River Grove, Illinois, where his passion for drawing inspired the creation of Chris Crusader, a soon-to-be unofficial school mascot. He shows a clay figure of his creation that was given to him by Brother Harold Ruplinger, the original visionary for the mascot that inspired Wozniak’s creation.

“He was so happy I put (Chris Crusader) on the map,” Wozniak said. “I took his vision, so I gotta give him credit for the idea.”

Graduating in 1974, Wozniak went on to DePaul and immediately presented his idea for a mascot to The DePaulia. He took the prototype for Chris Crusader, made it more angular with horns and a tail, and wrote a “D” on his chest. The newspaper and university immediately embraced it, and Wozniak began drawing a weekly comic strip about whatever was going on at DePaul. No matter the subject, Billy Blue Demon was always somewhere in the strip.

“The beauty of a character is the consistency,” Wozniak said. “It’s like an old friend that’s always there.”

Wozniak believes his comic strip presented something valuable to journalism: humor.

“Stuff that makes you laugh, there’s still a place for,” he said. “I think we need it more than ever. You know, we need some lightheartedness. The world is too intense. Everybody hates everybody’s guts.”

The oldest of seven in a single-parent home, Wozniak moved into a “seedy” apartment for college on Belmont and Kimball that only got hot water on Saturdays. For four years, he would take the Blue Line to the Lewis Center, attend his classes, do his homework, then work nights moving boxes into UPS trucks. On Fridays, his homework load would be smaller, so he would take the Blue Line back to his apartment and draw his weekly strip before work.

A marketing major, Wozniak graduated in 1978 and worked in advertising for a decade. He married his high school sweetheart, who also attended DePaul, and has been married 43 years. They have three children: one has two master’s degrees, another is a doctor and the youngest just graduated from Iowa University’s law school.

“Not bad for a guy that started in a place with no hot water,” Wozniak said.

As Billy became a popular weekly presence in the student newspaper, DePaul made its own Billy Blue Demon logo for its athletic program in 1975. Though DePaul has revamped the Billy logo for throwback merchandise in recent years, DIBS replaced Billy as the official mascot in 1999.

Dibs waves a DePaul flag at the start of a mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. He makes an appearance at every DePaul basketball game to connect with attendees. (Quentin Blais)

“It kind of just organically grew,” Wozniak said. “It wasn’t some kind of big marketing plan that someone devised.”

Now, as DIBS has been nominated for the highest honor a mascot can receive, DePaul’s community is reflecting on the friendly face of their athletic program.

“I have known DIBS since he first came on the scene in 1999,” women’s basketball head coach Doug Bruno told The DePaulia. “As a former men’s basketball player and long-time coach of the women’s basketball program, I’ve seen the evolution of the mascot program and what it means to our DePaul community. Since 1999, I’ve witnessed DIBS inspire joy and enthusiasm within our DePaul community and beyond.”

Tim Cole, an associate professor at DePaul’s College of Communication, said DIBS brings a certain joy to students because the mascot provides fun moments they may not experience in day-to-day life. 

“When you think about people’s needs … (they want) identity, inclusion and positive interaction,” Cole said. “DIBS can provide that in a safe, very playful, novel way.”

Cole often hears his students express nervousness about talking to other people. So, he says, interactions with a character like DIBS can help reduce their anxiety.  

“You know it’s going to be a pleasant conversation. You’re not going to get rejected (and) it’s not going to be awkward,” Cole said. “They’ll have a sense of belonging.”

DePaul alum and creator of the Billy Blue Demon character Joe Wozniak poses with one of his strips and his largest oil painting, featuring his original characters Billy and Chris Crusader, as well as Mickey Mouse. (Provided)

Wozniak finally reveals his largest and most sentimental oil painting. Sitting around a dinner table in front of a deep red background are Billy Blue Demon, Chris Crusader and Mickey Mouse.

“It shows the evolution,” Wozniak said. “It shows Chris Crusader and Billy, and I just always liked Disney. He was from Chicago, he went bankrupt twice before he discovered the mouse … and there’s something for everybody; there’s a magic quality.”

Though he doesn’t take credit for the final product we see today, Wozniak’s voice broke when discussing DIBS’ nomination.

“If he does (get inducted), I’ll feel proud,” Wozniak said. “In my heart — and I’m just an old dude now — I would feel like I contributed something to DePaul.”

Editor’s Note: Eli Smith also contributed to this story

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