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for Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Who's Who

Jerry Bails.

June 26,1933 - November 23, 2006.

I was writing yesterday's column when I received the sad news that Jerry Bails had suffered a heart attack in his sleep and died. That was last Thursday, Thanksgiving, and it was probably good that all I was doing was editing already-written reviews for the column. I don't think I could have finished an all-new column.

Later that evening and into the wee hours of Friday morning, I was getting ready for Mid-Ohio-Con and it suddenly hit me that I wouldn't be going there if it weren't for Jerry Bails. I wouldn't be communicating with fans in person, or via postal mail, or online if it weren't for Jerry.

He was at the forefront of just about every important event in the early days of comics fandom. It's not exaggeration to call him the father of comics fandom and, by extension, to proclaim that he also had a profound effect on the comics industry.

I consider all the activities, magazines, and ventures Jerry started or of which he was a participant. Was not Alter Ego something of a stepping stone for the long and brilliant career of editor and writer Roy Thomas, who, in turn, brought so many others into the field? Didn't Jerry's On the Drawing Board begat The Comics Reader, which was something of a stepping stone for a young Paul Levitz, also a fine editor, writer, and currently President and Publisher of DC Comics?

How about CAPA-Alpha, the first comics apa, which has been running for four decades and which recently reached its 500th issue? The ever-changing roster of that organization includes most of our finest comics historians and literally dozens of comic pros, myself included. He was involved in the earliest comics ad-zines, leading to Alan Light's The Buyer's Guide to Comics Fandom, a publication better known as Comics Buyer's Guide...and who do we know who writes for that?

There's the Alley Awards, the first recognition of excellence in the American comics field. There's The Who's Who of American Comic Books, the first of Jerry's unending efforts to identify the men and women who made the comics, to give credit in a industry where credit was so often denied and so greatly due. I bought the first (of four) volumes in 1973 and, even since, it has been within close range of, originally, my typewriter, and, today, my keyboard. Few weeks go by without my using it, even though Jerry eventually put the data, updated, of course, online.

Jerry was changing my life even before I met him in person. I don't think I would have ever considered a career in comics without having been part of comics fandom as a teenager. When I did meet him, he was every bit as generous, kind, and just plain smart as I could have hoped.

That first time I met Jerry was at a Detroit Triple Fan Fair. He had a dealer's table. I bought an issue of Fantastic, a weekly comic from England, and also an issue of Gift Comics from the 1940s.

Fantastic predated The Mighty World of Marvel, a weekly prepared in the Marvel offices in New York for publication in Great Britain. It reprinted early stories of Fantastic Four and other heroes, though I can't recall if it would reprint an entire story or divide it into chapters as we did in MWOM.

Gift Comics was 300-plus pages of coverless copies of Whiz Comics, Captain Marvel, and other Fawcett Comics titles bound together behind a festive holiday-theme cover. It originally sold for fifty cents at a time when the standard-format comic books still cost but a dime.

Jerry and I chatted about these alternate formats for a spell. He encouraged my fascination with and interest in them. I thought the weekly had a possibilities for American publishers and was even more ebullient about that big fat issue of Gift Comics. Ironically, I would end up working on Marvel's weeklies less than a year later and, in recent years, see a great many of my 1970s Marvel stories reprinted in MARVEL ESSENTIAL volumes even thicker than that issue of Gift Comics.

My correspondence with Jerry was always sporadic, but he was always ready to answer my questions and share his vast knowledge of comics and comics creators. In the past year or so, it has been my great joy to have been a member of some of the same online groups as Jerry and exchange e-mails. In those groups, I learned he was as brilliant and generous and progressive and thoughtful about the issues of the world outside comics as he was about the issues of comic books he loved. I was learning from him right to the end of his life and I suspect I'll continue to learn from him to the end of mine.

Jerry Bails.

The father of comics fandom.

June 26,1933 - November 23, 2006.

God bless you, Jerry...and thank you.

Tony Isabella

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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