Father of Comic Book Fandom dies
Dr. Jerry G. Bails (above, left), founder of the fanzine Alter-Ego, died last night of a heart attack. He was 73 years old. Bails is considered the “Father of Comic Book Fandom” due to his creation of Alter-Ego in 1961. It was the first fanzine to examine the history of the medium and put other fans in touch with each other, long before the Age of the Internet.
Bails was born on June 26, 1933 in Kansas City, Missouri. At the age of seven, he discovered comic books, and soon became a fan of the Justice Society of America from All-Star Comics. After high school, while the popularity of super-hero comics had stalled, he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of Kansas City, and then a Masters in Math. Despite new genres taking the lead in comics, Bails maintained a correspondence with All-Star publisher Gardner Fox about the JSA. The 1950s revival of The Flash in Showcase caught his attention at the age of 24, inspiring a new flurry of letters to Fox. The JSA was revived as the Justice League of America in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #23 at the end of 1959 while Bails was completing his doctorate in Natural Science. The Justice League of America #1 followed, inspiring Bails to find a way to support the new trend. At the same time, Bails had taken a job as Assistant Professor of Natural Science at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. There he came into contact with Southeast Missouri State College Engish and history major Roy Thomas, also a fan of the JSA and JLA, and the two began discussing the creation of a JSA newsletter. A lecture in New York led to Bails visiting the DC Comics offices and getting full support from editor Julius Schwartz, who had begun publishing reader addresses in letter columns. By the end of March 1961, Alter-Ego #1 was mailed out to fans. Thomas eventually took over, and later resurrected the fanzine in 1999 as a professional magazine released by TwoMorrows Publishing, Alter Ego. Bails also published The Collector’s Guide to the First Heroic Age of Comics and other Golden Age comic guides with Howard Keltner.
Photo above is of (left to right) Jerry Bails, Howard Keltner, Roy Thomas and Bob Schelly at the 1997 Fandom Reunion in Chicago. Photo by Dann Thomas, from BobSchelly.com.