Jerry Bails passed away on November 23, 2006, at the too-young age of 73. The father of comics fandom was at the forefront of, or a major contributor to, nearly every important development at the beginnings of our community. I wrote about him in last Wednesday's TOT [www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/back20061129.shtml], but that was before I caught up on what my fellow comics fans were talking about on the various lists of which I am a member.
The Grand Comic-Book Database [www.comics.org] and the Timely-Atlas-Comics [groups.yahoo.com/group/Timely-Atlas-Comics] were the first lists I checked and, mere days after Jerry's passing, we were discussing honoring him in some permanent fashion. The consensus seemed to be that a Jerry Bails Award or Jerry Bails Hall of Fame should be created to honor those who made significant contributions to that which Jerry loved: the history of American comic books and the creators who worked on them. Somewhere during the exchanges, I was asked to write about this concept in TOT. Though I'm not sure I'm the most qualified fan for the job, I wasn't about to say "no" to anything honoring Jerry.
Let's start with the basics:
Whatever form these Jerry Bails Awards take, they will have to be okayed by his wife Jean and his family. When we have a better idea of what that form will be, the final authorization must come from them.
The awards will need to have physical dimensions. Those who are honored should receive a plaque or something recognizing their accomplishments. There should be an awards ceremony at some comics convention. Neither will be possible without financial support, be it from comics fans, comics publishers, industry leaders, or "some comics convention." If I'm being vague here, it's intentional. My modest goal is to open the conversations and let the smarter, more organized among you take it from there.
Who and what is it that we should be honoring?
My opinion - and, like all of that opinions I'll be expressing today, it's not carved in stone - is that these awards should focus on those individuals, organizations, and projects which advance or have advanced our knowledge of comics history and its participants. Let me offer some examples.
The list of worthy individuals would be the longest. Besides Jerry, who should, of course, be the first recipient of the awards named for him, others who come immediately to mind are Roy Thomas, Don and Maggie Thompson, Hames Ware, Dr. Michael A. Vassallo, John Morrow...to name just six.
Organizations and projects tend to overlap. We could honor comics mags like Alter Ego and Comic Art. We could honor websites like the Grand Comic-Book Database or Greg Gatlin's Atlas Tales [www.atlastales.com]. We could honor comics reference works and histories like the Bails/Ware Who's Who in American Comic Books and The Steranko History of Comics, or the fine volumes from publishers Fantagraphics, TwoMorrows, and others. We could honor MOCCA, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in NYC, and (Steve) Geppi's Entertainment Museum in Baltimore. We could honor formative comic-book conventions like Phil Seuling's Fourth of July gatherings in New York or the inaugural San Diego shows run by Shel Dorf. For that matter, we could honor guys like Phil and Shel for their roles in launching those conventions.
Think about this for a few minutes and I guarantee you'll come up with dozens of other deserving recipients. We're starting very late in the game in honoring these contributions.
How many awards should be given out each year?
My suggestion would be seven: two to living recipients, three to deceased recipients, one to an organization/project/etcetera, and an international award for a non-American individual (living or deceased) or organization/project/etcetera. My own interest lies more in American comic books than others, but I think these awards should also recognize worthy recipients beyond our shores. I also think, given the lateness of the game mentioned above, it would be fitting to double the number of recipients for the inaugural year of these awards.
How would the recipients be chosen?
The Eisner Awards are a pretty good model here. Judges would be selected every year by the organization supervising the awards. The judges would put forth a list of nominees, which would be voted on by the comics community.
Who would supervise the awards?
That would depend on who steps forward to run and support the governing organization. I'm willing to do my fair share, but I'm not a "running" or "supporting" or probably even "organizing" kind of guy. Especially not at a time when, for the first time in too many years, my personal situations allow me to return to writing on a full-time basis and I've a son starting college in the fall and a daughter three years behind him. Feel free to check back with me when I get my Nigerian windfall.
What should the awards be called?
Obviously, the words "Jerry Bails" have to be there somewhere. Beyond that, I'd prefer "comics history" be used instead of "comics fandom" or anything else using the words "fan" or "fandom." I have always been proud to be a fan, but it's too easy for the scurrilous to employ such terms in a dismissive manner. These awards are too important for that.
Why are they important?
Because the history of comics is littered with talented people who never got proper credit or compensation for the characters and stories they created. Jerry had a passion for giving credit where it was due and, if these awards want to honor him in a meaningful way, we must all share that passion.
What should these awards look like?
Something simple-yet-stylish. A gold-or-silver-plated metal speech balloon with pointer on a wooden plaque. This would afford ample room for a recipient's name and the name/year of the award to be engraved within the balloon. Nothing says "comics" better than a word balloon.
Where do we go from here?
Now...we talk. We exchange ideas. We discuss the ideas which have already been put forth. We see who comes forward to help make this dream of honoring Jerry Bails a reality.
My own message board is at your disposal and it can be found by going to:
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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