Monday, November 27, 2006

Dr Jerry Bails, RIP

One thing I don't get into much around here is the fan aspect to comic book publishing. I liked comics but only attended one comic convention (around 1971 in New York), and only knew of a couple other kids my age who were into them as well. I only wrote one letter to the editor (pointing out a mistake in a Thor issue), which went unpublished. I pretty much was out of comic collecting by 1977, and the only comics I bought from about 1979-1998 or so were Spirit reprints, Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns and the final issue of The Flash.

But Dr Jerry Bails' passing does deserve mention, because he was the young man who pushed for the return of the Justice Society of America with letters to Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox in the 1950s, and thus may have been a partial inspiration for DC's Silver Age heroes. And considering that it was sales of the (renamed) Justice League of America which inspired Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to create the Fantastic Four, it's not hard to see that this man had a huge impact on Silver Age comics.

Here's a terrific interview with him from a couple years back, hitting on a theme I've returned to on occasion here:

A culture passes on its values through stories, and I credit comics with shaping many of my values. I noticed when I wrote a book on the impact of technology on the environment, I made lots of references to the morals in famous children's stories, and classical stories. My view of the moral world was shaped by comics, radio drama, movies, storybook time at the library, as well as the traditional Sunday school. All these sources conveyed values by telling stories. It's part of humanity's oldest tradition. Comics were just the best visual method for the mid-20th century.

The lighter moments when we are reading for fun are not trivial. They are part and parcel of the mortar that strengthens our character by providing both stress relief and reaffirmation of cultural values. I don't personally get into the study of this function of pastime reading, but I'm aware of it.

Frankly, I think readers tend to be more empathetic and less aggressive than people who prefer aggressive sports for the cathartic effect. Unfortunately the mass media today sell more advertising and admissions by playing up caustic, vituperative and downright antisocial values. I can't believe that's good for any of us, but especially kids. Stories, even crime stories, can and should have a redeeming value. I guess that's why horror for its own sake never interested me. I prefer heroic behavior in my stories, even if the hero is a slow learner.

I especially liked his tale of hunting down the All Star issues back in those pre-comic store, pre-Ebay days. I didn't buy a whole lot of back issues by mail back then because they were expensive and so my experience was pretty much the same; slowly finding back issues by checking around here and there--used bookstores, somebody's older brother, etc. I had one great score around 1970 when an antiques show came to town with a big batch of 5 cent comics including a nearly complete run of the Legion issues of Adventure.

Batman was probably the easiest to locate, as everybody had bought issues back during the TV show craze, and I quickly assembled a fairly long run (although I did have to break down and buy one "filler" issue). Which resulted in my fascination with the character that continues to this day.

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