On History: Alley Awards

By | Tuesday, July 05, 2016 Leave a Comment
In light of this year's Harvey nominee announcement this morning, I thought I could talk about the first awards created specifically for comics: the Alley Awards.

The original idea for a comic award came from writer/editor/historian Roy Thomas. (Although he had held none of those title before that point.) Thomas has suggested the idea in a 1961 letter to Jerry Bails as a kind of feature for their then-only-months-old fanzine Alter-Ego. They were originally going to be called the "Alter-Ego Award" but, realizing that no comics award had ever been done before, they decided on the "Alley Award" after the character Alley Oop. Thomas' rationale was that "surely a caveman had to be the earliest superhero chronologically."

Voting was solicited through Alter-Ego and sent directly to Bails who counted the ballots himself initially. By the third year, however, he was receiving so many ballots that he invited several other fans to his house to help. The so-called "Alley Tally" wound up being the first recorded gathering of fans (including Ronn Foss, Don Glut, Don and Maggie Thompson, Mike Vosburg, and Grass Green) and is generally considered a precursor to the first comic book convention.

The first Alley Awards were announced in Alter-Ego #4 and the cover featured a drawing by Foss of the statuette he created. He'd originally carved the sculpture out of wood, made a cast of that, and then produced a series of the finals out of plaster, which he then painted gold or silver.

Beginning in 1965, an actual awards ceremony was held at Academy Con, switching to Phil Seuling's Comic Art Convention when that began in 1968. As both shows were based out of New York City, a number of comic book professionals were able to attend over the years, including Stan Lee, Burne Hogarth, Otto Binder, Hal Foster, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Mort Weisinger, James Warren, Roy Thomas (by then having moved to New York and becoming a professional), Gil Kane, Bill Everett, Carmine Infantino, and Julius Schwartz.

By this point, an interconnected comics fandom had become relatively well-established, and Bails' original intentions of getting everything rolling had been very successful. There were several venues open to comic fans, and interest in Alter-Ego and the Alleys dwindled as fans sought other, more narrowly focused options. Both the magazine and awards ended in 1969, with a final awards ceremony for the '69 Alleys conducted the following year.
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