Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Spectre and the Almost Man, Part 1


(This project has been long in development. I would like to thank the following kind individuals for their contributions, patience and help. I couldn't have done this without them:

Jim Amash, Ger Apeldoorn, Amy Baily, Eugene Baily, Stephen Baily, Shaun Clancy, Beau Collier, Craig Delich, Michael Feldman, Bob Fujitani, Ron Goulart, George Hagenauer, Dave Hartwell, Roger Hill, Allan Holtz, Carmine Infantino, Bruce Mason, Harry Mendryk, Frank Motler, Will Murray, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Martin O'Hearn, Howard Post, Lynn Potter, Miriam Baily Risko, Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr., Dr. Michael Vassallo, and Hames Ware.
-- Ken Quattro)

     His work appeared in some of the most important comic books in the history of the medium.
     His comic studio was the breeding ground of legends.
     He drew some of the most memorable covers of the 1950s.
     He was an artist, a writer, an editor and a publisher.
     And chances are you know little or nothing about Bernard Baily.

      Dr. Harold G. Campbell stood at the podium surveying the audience. Before him sat 228 graduating seniors of New York City high schools who had been chosen as the June, 1933 recipients of the Cooperation-in-Government award. The award was given semi-annually to those that had performed an outstanding piece of public service and was considered to be the highest honor bestowed upon a student.
     “Of the nearly 4,000 who have received the awards,” Dr. Campbell proclaimed, “not one has failed to make good.” 1
     Not one has failed to make good. Practically a guarantee of success.
     “I congratulate you as super-graduates on the fact that each of you in your school has stood out as a person upon whom that school can put its stamp of approval.” 2
     As the noble words of the Ephebic Oath were administered and recited by the eager young students seated about him, Bernard Bailynson had to be feeling good about his prospects. He was, after all, one of the “super-graduates”, one of only a handful representing James Monroe High School in The Bronx. Not bad for a child of immigrant parents. Not bad at all.

      As family legend has it, Gershon Beilinsohn used to cut the hair of “Crazy Moyshe the Painter” back in their native Vitebsk, Russia. Moyshe eventually left Russia and changed his name to Marc Chagall when he reached Paris, while Gershon became Harry Bailynson when his name was Anglecized as he passed through Ellis Island in 1910. Rumors were that Gershon was a deserter on the run from the czar's army, but that tale, too, remains unsubstantiated.
      Harry had sailed to the U. S. aboard the T.S.S. Rotterdam--pride of the Holland America Line. Unlike the well-heeled First and Second cabin passengers that enjoyed their luxurious accommodations and the ocean breezes as they strolled the promenade deck, it's likely Harry spent his voyage crammed into steerage with some 2,000 other immigrants.

T.S.S. Rotterdam

      Harry settled in the teeming ethnic melting pot of The Bronx. In time, he resumed his vocation as a barber. If the story is true, Harry once again had a brush with history when he cut the hair of Leon Trotsky during the revolutionary leader's brief stay in The Bronx. Harry also met a girl from his hometown of Vitesbsk (a common occurrence in the tightly-knit Eastern European Jewish enclaves in New York City) and married her. While her given name was Zelda, she went by the more American sounding, Jenny.
     Back in Russia, Jenny was a dressmaker, a gifted one who had her own business while still a young woman. But now in America, the Old World paternalism of her husband wouldn't allow her to work outside the home, even when times were tough. She had four children to raise; Bernard was the oldest.

     Bernard was born April 5,1916, and accounts of his early years have mostly faded from memory. What is known is that by the time he reached James Monroe High School, Bernie began making his mark.

James Monroe High School, The Bronx

     “I think he began drawing cartoons in high school, " wrote Bernard’s eldest son, Stephen Baily, "possibly for the student newspaper. I also have a vague memory of him telling me that he sold his first cartoon while he was still in high school. I don't know if he had any formal training”.
     Stephen's father never gave the full, biographical interview that comic fans and historians glean for details. Perhaps he considered that part of his life private, perhaps it recalled bad memories. In any case, it was his sons Stephen and Eugene that I turned to in hopes of filling in the blanks.
     Legendary comic creator Sheldon Moldoff, in an interview with Roy Thomas, remembered that Bernie, "...lived in the same apartment house I did in the Bronx. He was a few years older than me; he went to James Monroe High School, and he was also his school's newspaper cartoonist. He was a very good-looking guy, and I think he was class president." 3
     President of the school's General Organization (G.O.), Baily called for a student walk-out over the questionable use of student dues paid to the group’s fund. His actions led to a brief expulsion in his senior year, but he apparently stayed in the good graces of the school’s administration as they nominated him for the prestigious citizenship award.
     Moldoff continued, recounting his first meeting Bernie.
     "I was drawing in chalk on the sidewalk-Popeye and Betty Boop and other popular cartoons of the day-and he came by and looked at it and said, "Hey, do you want to learn how to draw cartoons?" I said, "Yes!" He said, "Come on, I'll show you how to draw." So we went across the street and sat on a bench in the park, and he showed me how to start with a circle, and how to make the body, and how to make a smile, and the proportions for cartoons. He said, "Keep practicing. I live on the fourth floor, and if you want to show me some of your work, I'll be glad to look at it." So we became friendly, and I'd periodically go up and show him my stuff, and he would help me and criticize me. 4
     Moldoff lost touch with Baily when the latter moved away. Bernie's son Stephen picks up here:(my father) told me that he was offered a scholarship to the Philadelphia Art Institute (or possibly it was a Boston art school) after high school but that he turned it down because he was already selling his artwork.”
     Eugene remembers a bit more, “I think my father went to City College, but my memory also suggests it might have been Columbia; it never went beyond the first year.”
     City College of New York was a natural choice for Depression era high school grads. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, coincidentally speaking before the January, 1934 graduating class at James Monroe, urged the students to enroll at City College instead of entering the strained job market. More importantly, tuition was relatively cheap: $2.50 per credit hour.

     While some questions remain about his education, there is little conjecture about the publication hosting Bernie’s first comic book work.
     For reasons unknown, John Henle Jr. wanted to be a publisher. He had inherited his family’s well-established shirt factory--a seemingly more secure venture than taking a flyer on the fledgling comic book industry. In any case, he set up shop in the front offices of his factory and hired a journeyman cartoonist, Samuel “Jerry” Iger, as his editor.
      Iger’s task was simple, but daunting. He had to put together a staff.
      In a perverse way, the economic realities of the time worked in his favor. This was the nadir of the Great Depression and virtually everyone was looking for a job, any job. Located firmly at the lowermost end of publishing, the emerging comic book industry became the train platform of career opportunity. Aging illustrators and cartoonists would pass through on their way down, as well as eager, young neophytes would on their way up.
      Moonlighting painter Louis Goodman Ferstadt and illustrator Serena (aka "Serene") Summerfield were a few of the veterans on staff other than Iger himself. Among the rest were Bob (actually, Kahn) Kane and Bill Eisner--two kids from DeWitt Clinton High--Dick Briefer, who had the honor of drawing the cover to the first issue, and Bernie Baily. Each of them was young, talented and ambitious; some with more ambition than talent.
     The first issue of the immodestly titled WOW, WHAT A MAGAZINE! was dated July, 1936.

Smoothie page by "Bernard"
WOW, WHAT A MAGAZINE! #1 (July, 1936)

     Baily’s contributions to this diverse mix of strips and text features were a Smoothie humor page (signed simply, “Bernard”) and the factoid-bearing Stars On Parade. This strip was drawn in the photo-realistic style of Bob Ripley or Stookie Allen, and featured movie-star trivia along with illustrations of Shirley Temple and Fred Astaire. It was also the prototype for other Baily features that would follow.

Stars on Parade page
WOW, WHAT A MAGAZINE! #1 (July, 1936)

     Henle’s publishing venture was short-lived as WOW ended with its fourth issue. Whatever personal gratification Bernie gained from being published, it is reasonable to assume that financially his experience was much like Eisner’s, who once told an interviewer: “I ended up being owed money I never collected.” 5
     Even Iger found himself on the street. “Iger was let go, of course. There's no need for an editor at a shirt-manufacturing business.” 6 Faced with a similar dilemma, Eisner approached Iger and proposed a business arrangement. Using Eisner’s modest investment (a very modest $15) to rent office space, they opened their own comic studio. Their intent was to supply original content for the growing comic market. And they didn’t have to go far to find artists to fill their shop. From out of the ashes of WOW! came much of the first incarnation of the Eisner & Iger Studio.
     At Eisner and Iger, Baily specialized in the Stars on Parade format he'd begun in WOW!. now titled Screen Snapshots, it debuted in "Busy" Arnold's FEATURE FUNNIES #2 (Nov. 1937).

Screen Snapshots page
FEATURE FUNNIES #16 (Jan. 1939)

     Under the shop-name of "Glenda Carol", Baily continued it as Movie Memos in Fox's WONDER COMICS #1 and #2 (May and June 1939, respectively) and early issues of its successor, WONDERWORLD COMICS.

Movie Memos page
WONDER COMICS #1 (May 1939)
signed "Glenda Carol"

     Breaking out of that mold, Bernie drew the Gilda Gay strip for Eisner and Iger's Phoenix Features Syndicate, circa 1938.

Gilda Gay strip
(circa 1938, as published July 21, 1943)

     Originally intended (and regionally distributed) as a newspaper daily strip, Gilda found it's way into JUMBO COMICS #1 (Sept. 1938). Following the life of a stylish career gal, Gilda Gay (based in name upon dancer Gilda Gray), the strip found new life in the mid-1940s when it was acquired along with other Phoenix Features material such as Eisner's Harry Karry and Stars on Parade, by strip re-marketer International Cartoon Company. It's unlikely none of the artists involved in these strips, including Bernie, saw any remuneration for this secondary publishing of their work.
     Another daily strip, Phyllis, was reportedly drawn by Baily for the same Keystone/Lincoln Features syndicate, circa 1938-39, that published some of Jack Kirby's early work. To this point, however, no example has been found.
     In any case, sometime in 1938 Bernie Baily left Eisner and Iger.
     It's tempting to draw comparisons between Eisner and Baily. To be begin with, they shared similar back-stories: a couple of Jewish kids from The Bronx using their artistic talent to better their circumstances. Moreover, neither was inclined to simply make ends meet.
     With a business savvy that at least equaled his drawing ability, Eisner was among the first of his generation to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by the burgeoning comic book industry. Years later, he would tell interviewer Marilyn Mercer that, "I got very rich before I was 22." 7
     Bernie witnessed that success and perhaps he looked at Eisner's path as a template for his own career. He also had the drive, the intelligence and the talent--how could he fail?
     But he wouldn't go far working within the confines of a comic shop. With that likely in mind, Bernie found work at Detective Comics (DC).

     Baily arrived at DC in early 1938, shortly after founder Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson went bankrupt and Nicholson Publishing Company's assets were bought by Harry Donenfeld. Under the editorship of Vin Sullivan, Bernie was assigned two regular features.
     Debuting in MORE FUN COMICS #32 (June 1938), The Buccaneer strip owed its existence to the popularity of such Errol Flynn film swashbucklers as "Captain Blood" and perhaps more directly, Eisner's Hawks of the Seas. Baily had the opportunity to see that strip in its earliest incarnation in WOW, WHAT A MAGAZINE! and then as it became the lead feature of the Eisner and Iger shop.

The Buccaneer page
MORE FUN COMICS #37 (Nov. 1938)

     In early issues, not surprisingly, lingering vestiges of the Eisner and Iger shop style show through in Baily's drawing.

The Buccaneer panel
MORE FUN COMICS #38 (Dec. 1938)

     But gradually, he sheds the shop look and his own style emerges; a simplistic, edgy form of Mannerism.

The Buccaneer page
MORE FUN COMICS #48 (Oct. 1939)

     The comic book industry of the time was a small world unto itself. There were still only a handful of publishers and invariably, career paths would intersect time and again.
     "I was at National bringing in some filler pages for Vin Sullivan," Shelly Moldoff recalled, "and in walks Bernard Baily! He looked at me, and he said, "Sheldon?" I said, "Yeah, Bernie, how are ya?" He said, "Well, you made it, huh?" I said, "Yeah, yeah, thanks to help from you and other people, I'm a cartoonist!" 8
     Bernie's other strip was Tex Thomson, which appeared in another comic cover-dated June, 1938: ACTION COMICS #1. The feature, which followed the exploits of a wealthy globetrotting Texan, was the creation of veteran comic writer, Ken Fitch.

Tex Thomson splash page
ACTION COMICS #1 (June 1938)

     The first adventure, full of thick, black shadows and close-ups, exhibited the probable influence of film (and perhaps Milton Caniff) upon Baily; the contemporary setting seemingly a more comfortable fit for the artist than a period adventure.

Ken Fitch portrait
from SYNDICATE FEATURES #3 (Nov. 15,1937),
promotional flyer for the Harry "A" Chesler Syndicate

     Fitch had a wide-ranging résumé--wandering from longshoreman, to insurance salesman, to printing press operator--but what mattered in this case, he had credits at DC (née National Allied Publications) going back to the company's first comic book, NEW FUN COMICS #1 (Feb. 1935). He was also a stalwart of the Harry "A" Chesler shop, authoring such features as Dan Hastings as well as editing four of Chesler's comics. 9

Tex Thomson splash page
ACTION COMICS #17 (Oct. 1939)
[image retrieved from the Who's Whose in the DC Universe site

     Bernie had one more contribution to the premiere issue of ACTION--a filler page titled, Stardust, that was yet another version of his Stars on Parade format.

Stardust page, signed by "The Star-Gazer"
ACTION COMICS #1 (June 1938)

     As apparent evidence that he was quickly learning the tricks of the comic book trade, Baily re-used the image of Fred Astaire from WOW, WHAT A MAGAZINE! #1. Why re-draw what you can cut-and-paste? Perhaps Baily felt some remorse at the double-dip, since he signed the page anonymously as "The Star-Gazer".
      Ironically, though, it wasn't Baily's work on Tex Thomson (or his other strips) that would have the most lasting effect on his career. It was the success of another feature from that first issue of ACTION.
     As the sales figures came in, it was apparent that the cover feature was a winner--a character and concept that had been knocking around for years. Although its creators were already fixtures in DC’s comics, it was only when a young assistant editor at the McClure Syndicate, Sheldon Mayer, suggested that his boss Max Gaines take another look at this frequently rejected strip that it finally saw publication. Unable to use the strip himself, Gaines took it to his clients at DC.
     Gaines had a discussion, "...with Mr. Liebowitz and Mr. Sullivan, the editor of the comic magazines for the Detective Comics group, and impressed upon him the fact that this would be a good idea and by all means to use it in Action Comics." 10
     However, even they had to be surprised at the immediate success of Superman.

Superman panel
ACTION COMICS #1 (June 1938), pg. 1
by Joe Shuster

     Jerry Siegel had distilled most of the attributes people wanted in their heroes and poured them into the alter ego of Clark Kent. He was strong as could be, kind-hearted and just. Aware of his awesome power, Superman always pulled his punches. The same couldn't be said of The Batman.
     Following less than a year on the red-booted heels of Superman, The Batman was the inspired creation of writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane.
     (Kane was someone Bernie knew well from their days at Eisner and Iger. A marginal talent, his ego and hubris alienated many, including Baily. “…I know he didn’t like Bob Kane,” wrote Stephen Baily, “because he said so, often.”)
     Unlike the Kryptonian who came by his powers by landing on the right planet, The Batman had to earn his cape. Driven to avenge the death of his parents during a hold-up, Bruce Wayne resolutely forged himself into a crime-fighting machine. Whereas Superman adhered to the boundary of law, The Batman was a shadowy vigilante who meted out his own brutal interpretation of justice.
     Finger had created a hero who, like many of the pulp heroes before him, viscerally satisfied the popular desire for unforgiving punishment of evil. Siegel's immaculate creation was above common vindictiveness. A curious decision on the writer's part, as Jerry knew from personal experience that life doesn't always allow such nobility.
     On June 2, 1932, Michael Siegel, Jerry's father and the owner of a Cleveland clothing store, was robbed by three men. While it’s not clear if any of the men possessed a weapon, during the robbery, the elder Siegel collapsed and died. Although the coroner's report stated his death was due to heart failure, Jerry felt that the thieves had killed him. 11
     Perhaps he was thinking of his father, or perhaps he just had The Batman on his mind, but in any case, when it came time for Jerry to create another hero, this one would be above all Earthly laws.
      And Bernie Baily would be the artist.



1 "228 City Students Are Honored By Civic Cooperation League" New York Times 25 June, 1933.

2 Ibid.

3 Roy Thomas, "A Moon...A Bat...A Hawk", ALTER EGO vol. 3 #4 Spring 2000).

4 Ibid.

5 Tom Heintjes, THE SPIRIT: THE ORIGIN YEARS #1-4 (Kitchen Sink Press, 1992).

6 Ibid.

7 Marilyn Mercer, "The Only Real Middle-Class Crimefighter", NEW YORK, (Sunday supplement, New York Herald Tribune) pg. 8, (Jan. 9, 1966).

8 Thomas, op. cit.

9 SYNDICATE FEATURES #3, pg. 1, (Nov. 15,1937).

10 DETECTIVE COMICS, INC. v BRUNS PUBLICATIONS transcripts, pg. 133 (April 6, 1939)

11 Noblemania website [The causes of Michael Siegel's death are listed on the coroner's report as "acute dilatation of heart" and "chronic myocarditis". In short, he had heart disease.]

Additional sources for general information included the archives of the NEW YORK TIMES and Ancestry.com.