Monday, April 6, 2009

Ray Bailey's Undersea Agent

Under da Sea wit' U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A.
In one of my Tom Corbett posts I promised (threatened?) to dig out my Ray Bailey Undersea Agent original. Here it is!

It's page 10 from the first issue of Tower Comics' second adventure magazine (the first being the superhero book T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, of course). The Comics Code stamp on the back is from 1965. The page is enormous, roughly 13x21 inches, on heavy Strathmore vellum-finish bristol.

I love this page, despite the unfortunate racial caricature of Dr. Fang. It's Bailey at his best: superb balance of black and white, lots of attention to detail, crisp inking, and the unbeatable Bailey Rocks. The ink is thick and intensely black, the way the old Pelikan yellow-label used to be. I was surprised that Bailey used a pen much more than I'd thought. Most of the outlining on heads, bodies, and hands (even the big closeup thumbs in panel 1) are flexible steel penwork. So is the lighter hair and beards; even some of the folds on the diving suit in panel 2 appear to be pen rather than brush.

At the top is a note Ray wrote to his editor Samm Schwartz, translating the Chinese characters. The partly-cut-off note near the second panel is the word "coral," probably intended for the colorist. The caption in the final panel is a pasteover. Using a light table I discovered the text it covers is the same, but the letterer had used a slightly larger lettering size than he used on the rest of the page. Hence the extra space between lettering and panel border at the bottom of the caption. By the way, if anyone knows who this letterer is, please let me know. His lettering has a "newspaper comic strip" rather than a "comic book" style, and he's easily recognizable by his unique exclamation marks.

The hero of this strip is one Davy Jones (now there's an original name!), who resembles Pat Ryan right down to his pipe smoking. At first he was a mortal man, but in the second issue he gained a lame super-power: the ability to attract or repel things, without even having to say "Volto!" The fellow who looks like Santa Claus is his boss Professor Weston, who built an undersea lab on the site of the ruins of Atlantis. Believe it or not, "Undersea" is actually an acronym. You thought T.H.U.N.D.E.R. (The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves) was bad? How about "United Nations Department of Experiment and Research Systems Established at Atlantis"?

Undersea Agent was a 64-page comic with several characters. Bailey drew most of the Davy Jones stories, though in my opinion the first was his best. The book only lasted six issues.
When I bought the second issue back in 1966, something about Bailey's work looked "wrong" to this high-school art fan. It wasn't until last year that I learned Bailey had been inked by, of all people, Sheldon Moldoff! It's the only time I know that Bailey was inked by someone else. Moldoff did a pretty good job. Bailey must have been a very tight penciler for Shelly to come so close to his look. I wonder how this teamup came about, and why Moldoff never seems to have done any other work for Tower. At right is a sample page taken from the Who's Who website, where it's credited to Bailey alone. However Moldoff's Who's Who listing does list his Undersea Agent credit.

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