|In the annuals of Fandom, one name stands out among all the rest, Jerry Bails! Though I never personally met the man I did get to know him through letters and e-mails. He was a very humble man who seems not to think he had made such a great impact on his hobby. The following are excerpts form e-mails I received from his widow Jean Bails. I hope to have others participate and give Jerry the legacy he deserves.|
Jerry was 12 years older than I and in personality quite different. He was very focused generally whereas I was and still am a postmodern gal--the unusual being usual to me and highly adaptable to any changes no matter how bizarre. If I had not been like that, I doubt our relationship would have worked. Fandom was ALWAYS there in our lives in its many aspects and at times it was joyous, occasionally frustrating but mostly interesting for me. I was not nearly as involved in it as Jerry and I think that was probably also a good thing in making our relationship work. Monetarily fandom and collecting comics was pretty much self-sustaining so not a problem in that way.
Jerry reveals his involvement in comics fandom--well, sort of...
Soon after Jerry asked me to marry him--maybe later that day or the next--he was driving the car on a busy street. He suddenly became silent and then pulled over to the side of the road. He looked very nervous and his face had gone pale. He said, "there is something you should know about me before you make a final decision to marry me." I waited to hear what this horrible thing must be but he wasn't saying anything. The suspense was killing me and I began to imagine a host of horrible things like the possibility he was a serial chain-saw murderer wanted in 50 states. Finally I asked or more like demand of him, "OK, what?" He said that he was involved in and was a fan of comics. I laughed in relief and said, "is that it? So you read comics and collect them? That sounds delightful!"
He said, "Well actually I don't collect a lot of comics and I only read certain ones but it is deeper than just that." I asked him, "how deep?" And he said, "very deep--really very deep". I had no idea at all what he was talking about or why he was so serious about this. There was not any more explanation coming either. So I just said that it did not bother me or change my opinion of him that he was "deeply involved in comics" and he smiled and drove on.
The sneaky way Jerry planned to get me to like comics:
Jerry was the most honest, straight forward and personally moral person I have ever met. He actually lived according to the teachings of All Star comics and much of the Bible as well. He just did not have the talent, experience or maybe the genetics for telling lies or being devious. But there was one time when he was perhaps a little sneaky and that was with his plan to get me hooked on comics.
In the sixties and part of the 1970s we got the comics on the day they were distributed and yet in mint condition at a place that had a lunch counter. He would get at least 2 copies of the titles he liked and more if it were a first issue or a special crossover issue. The large pile of comics would come to the WHOPPING cost of $23.00 or so. They were still between 15 and 35 cents then, I think.
We'd have lunch there which was quite pleasant for me. Then we would also get a bag full of 20 or so candy bars before we left. (More on lunch counter comic places in yet another story.] Back at the apartment we would get all nice and cozy and take turns reading the comics together out loud with Jerry doing most of the reading. He read theatrically and made the comics quite a drama. I was following the pictures and dipping into the candy bag. When his voice got tired, I would read but not nearly as well or dramatically and he would eat some candy and often also massage my neck or back.
If we got tired from all the sensory overload, we'd take a nap. We read most of the Marvel and DC superhero titles and two westerns: Jonah Hex and (?) Batlash. It was pretty obvious to me that the lunch, the candy bars, neck massage and dramatic readings of the comics were all designed to get comics associated with my pleasure centers in the brain and elsewhere. Oh yeah, it worked but even without all the other goodies I was enjoying the comics anyway and looking forward to the next issues. But because the comics enjoyment plan was kind of sneaky and I was enjoying all the perks, I was not about to admit that to Jerry just yet. Those were good times. Later when we got custody of the kids, when I was working full time and involved in community activities there was neither the time nor the privacy for the joint comics reading activity like there had been. We read them to ourselves and even that subsided after some years.
Early memories of the mail order business:
A few months before we were married, Jerry already had a mail-order comics business and had moved it to an apartment near the university. He had rented another apartment in the same building to live in. The apartment building was in what you would call the slums today and has long since been torn down for an athletic field complex. But in the 60's slum was sheik and I think each furnished apartment was something like $35/mo. I don't know why two apartments were needed since there were only several shelves full of comics for sale--plus mailing supplies. Perhaps he wanted to keep it all separate from other parts of his life? So anyway, about 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. most days, I would help with packaging up the orders to be sent out and updating the current catalog with items sold. Probably most of the golden-age comics had been sold off by then because it seemed like many of the orders were for less than $10. Back the, so I heard, it was still possible to get comic "collections" at a fairly good price--but also probably 90% was in such bad condition that it had to be thrown out. I thought doing the orders was fun and often Jerry told interesting stories about a comics title and the artists and production people who worked on it. I was getting a little free pop culture education in exchange for free labor with a benefit package. Grin. Anyone remember getting comics sent from Brooklyn St. in Detroit, pre-zip code 02? I usually included a personal note of thanks for the order.
The times we were living in (a pause for a historical note):
Even before the second apartment on Brooklyn was rented for the comics, on my 21st birthday Jerry gave me a necklace of a chain with a little heart (it is a wonder it did not have an All Star character instead) and asked me to marry him. I said "sure." He was appalled that given the engagement, I would continue with my plans to do humanitarian volunteering in Mexico (Patzquaro, Michocan). Mostly I was teaching adult literacy in Spanish there and at the end of the service, I joined Jerry in Mexico City where we did a little touring by train and then flew home. During the summer while I was away, Jerry had moved his meager possessions and what was left of the comics and fan projects to the outlying area of Detroit on Morang Road. I don't remember the address which may have been Morang or may have been Lakeview (it was on the corner of both) but I do remember the letter/number code for the phone number: JBSOB11. Grin. This was a year before the '67 Detroit Riot but things were heating up already in Detroit from a variety of factors. We thought it would be safer in the new apartment but on the very first night there, the battery was stolen out of Jerry's Corvair. Sigh. When the Riot did hit, we were in Columbia, MO for a two month workshop on the tab of the University. And of course we visited Billy Jo White near by and hit a convention in either Kansas City or St. Louis (or both). When we got back to Detroit the riot was winding down but we wanted a closer look and stayed the night with friends near the Wayne "campus." What we saw before the curfew--lock in time--was not so much the rioting and burning but the tanks in the street and military outfitted men with big guns. That site, much more than the riot struck a kind of terror in us that gave a small appreciation of the horror people must face during a foreign occupation of their home/community/country. It is a feeling of fear and outrage that cannot be forgotten. Back again on Morang Rd., Jerry's children Brenda and Steve had come for an end of summer visit--one that would last for about 7 years actually. We had to start legal custody proceedings, find a school and an affordable house near the school pronto. The kids were in grades 2 and 4. Children were not allowed at the apartment building. Ugh!
Early vacations with a side-trip to New York City.
In 1968. The second year we were married, the summer-long workshop on the tab of some grant to the University continued. This time it was in Kennybunkport, ME. We stayed at a dorm again and someone had taken the kids--either Sondra or perhaps it was then we hired a live-in kid down the street as a babysitter. Also, I don't quite remember if we went AWOL from the workshop or if it had ended already when we went to New York City. I soon learned we were there for the convention, which was a real wild time. We actually got a room in the convention hotel and it must have cost us a billion dollars or so. Jerry, magnanimous at times, offered our room to anyone there who did not have a place to sleep for the night. Someone tried to break into the room a couple of times at night but they picked the wrong place--even if they succeeded in unlocking or kicking down the door, that would have been the end of it because there were bodies stretched out in every available space of the floor, bed, chairs and probably the bath tub also. Happily we were not dealers there and had not brought any comics so we were free to move about. I remember seeing and even partying with Neal Adams, Mick Friedich, Denny O'Neil and Roy Thomas.
Challenge me if my memory is wrong because there were more than one convention we went to in NYC. Down at the dealer's tables, just before closing, someone created an uproar by pulling a knife on one of the well known dealers. I bet everyone who was there remembers that event. At some point, probably just after arriving in NYC, we went up to the DC office. I told Jerry, "what, are you crazy? They will never let you in." Not only did they let him/us in but we got to talk with Julie Schwartz, the production staff and Mort Weisinger himself--who actually invited us to his home in Yonkers for dinner! Everyone greeted Jerry quite warmly and I was totally blown away by it all because Jerry had never let on to me that he had that measure of notoriety. No, we did not go to Yonkers for dinner; we went to the convention. I think my head was still spinning all the way back to Detroit.
Our house was always open to visits from fans with a few exceptions.
Many fans came to visit us at home during their travels or planned visits. They were always welcomed and usually they did not stay very long. There were a number of fans who were aspiring pros and they brought their portfolios for Jerry to see. They were highly encouraged and sometimes gently coached on some areas that would improve their work for the comics media. In some cases Jerry even loaned them seed money (interest free) for making the trip to NYC, wrote letters of recommendation and gave advice on who to approach there and how. Others were people who just loved comics and wanted to talk about them and they usually got encouragement about starting their own fanzines or conventions or data research projects. Often he turned over his own publications to fans who wrote or who showed up at the house. This was all fun but when the discussion got to esoteric and involved in detail my eyes would glaze over and I would leave them to chat while I went off to do other things.
I may have seemed a pretty poor hostess at times because I learned from trial and error never to offer any beverage or food while comics, fanzines or art was being handled. Jerry did not want spills or smudges that would result and so usually I left it up to him to offer refreshment when he was ready--either before or often after materials were being handled. I can't list all the people who visited because even if I remembered the names, I would likely slaughter the spelling of their names (unintentionally). The only time I was really irritated with a fan visit was when I was 8 months pregnant in a very hot summer and Jerry had brought the guy to work on a project. He stayed for 2-3 weeks until I said "ENOUGH!". I got tired of being ignored all day long and having to wait upon them when it seemed like someoneone should be waiting upon me in the final month of misery. Otherwise I would not have minded as much. Ray Bottoroff Jr. of the GCD, a good friend of the family, has said that it has been noted in fandom that many of the piloting/pioneering fans and a good number of pros have come from the Detroit area and were directly influenced in their path from contacts with Jerry. There were two exceptions to the home being open to fans one was by telephone calls and the other by people who came to buy comics. Jerry hated the phone and often unplugged it. I guess he had some bad experiences with phone calls and he felt they were an obnoxious intrusion into his home and privacy. When he did get calls, he often told people to send him a letter and then hung up. In the final decades of his life, the phone was usually unplugged.
Below are various pictures of Jerry, Jean and their family.
Next pics related to Jerry's hobby. Including some early convention shoots and folks like Denny O'Neil.
Pictures from the 1997 Reunion of Fandom contributors at WizardWorld-Chicago.
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Various Jerry Photos