Kenneth Bald, 98—A Founding Father of Comic Art, Iconic Illustrator, Decorated WWII Veteran, and Guinness World Record Holder
Kenneth Bruce Bald, an early pioneer of comic art, iconic illustrator, decorated WWII combat veteran, and holder of two Guinness World Record titles, passed away peacefully on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, 2019, in Mt. Arlington, NJ, surrounded by his loved ones. He was 98 years old.
Born in New York City on August 1, 1920, Bald had a passion for art at a young age and was influenced by Foster’s Tarzan and Raymond’s Flash Gordon. Throughout his youth, he worked hard at honing his craft and, during his senior year of high school, his dedication paid off with a three-year scholarship to the Pratt Art Institute in Brooklyn, NY.
Upon graduating Pratt in 1941, Bald’s talent landed him a job at the Jack Binder Art Studio in Englewood, NJ. Quickly recognized for his flair for main characters and a smooth inking style, the young Bald moved into the key position of art director after only a month on the job. As art director, he mentored a bull-pen of other artists while turning out an amazing amount of comic-book covers and interior pages for the shop’s clients.
During this time, known as the Golden Age of Comics, one of the first comic-book covers that Bald illustrated while at Binder’s was for the superhero Captain Midnight. He also rendered meticulous work on other characters such as Captain Marvel, Bulletman, Doc Savage, Spy Smasher, The Shadow, and Mandrake the Magician. It was also during this period that Binder, Crowley (the shop’s editor), and Bald developed the mass production method of creating comics, which revolutionized the industry.
In December of 1942, Bald enlisted in the Marine Corps and served overseas from 1943 until January 1946. He encountered heavy action in New Britain, Peleliu, Guadalcanal, and Okinawa and ultimately rose to the rank of Captain in the 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He always praised the courage of his men, but also respected the bravery of the Japanese soldier. Using his artistic talents, he captured the brutality of war in drawings that he sent back home, many of which appeared in newspapers, magazines, and exhibitions. While in the service, Bald also married Kaye Dowd, a Hollywood starlet, on October 30, 1943, who would be his loving wife of 76 years.
Upon returning from war, Bald met Stan Lee after a job interview at Timely Comics, which would later become Marvel Comics. Lee immediately had Bald working on the first generation of Captain America, Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch. One of the first books the two legends would create together was a book entitled “Secrets Behind the Comics,” which was published in 1947. Recognizing Bald’s talent for illustrating the female form, Lee moved him into producing female superheroes. Rising up to the challenge, he created the female superheroes Namora and Sun Girl, and worked on others such as Blonde Phantom, Venus, and Millie the Model. Throughout his career, Stan Lee would often say that Ken is “the best comic artist in the business.”
Bald’s close friendship with Stan Lee would span a lifetime, over 70 years, and their wives, Kaye and Joan Lee, were best friends as well.
Also during this time, the American Comics Group approached Bald about illustrating covers for their lines of horror, adventure, and romance comics. He drew covers for titles such as Adventures into the Unknown, Forbidden Worlds, Out of the Night, Romantic Adventures, and Lovelorn. He then linked up with Johnstone & Cushing, an advertising agency that specialized in comic-type art and line drawings. By 1952, he was producing industrial comics at $150.00 a page, a huge salary jump from his Binder studio days.
In 1957, he started his first syndicated comic strip for King Features, Judd Saxon. Utilizing his “photo realistic” illustrating style (a term the media coined especially for Bald), his realistic character creations and lush scenes captured the 50’s time period in his iconic style—having many art critics pointing to this body of work as Bald’s best. He would move onto the Dr. Kildare strip (with Al Capp’s brother, Elliot Kaplan writing) and his compelling, innovative style on Kildare helped propel it high on the newspaper comics sales charts. His work on Kildare would span over 20 years and, in 1971, he would also take on the Dark Shadows strip—drawing both strips simultaneously for 1 year. Due to contractual obligations, Bald signed his Dark Shadows work as “K. Bruce,” using his middle name.
In the late 1970s, Bald transitioned again, into commercial art, this time illustrating TV storyboards at Diamond Studios. He moved into the position of Creative Director after being sought by Gem Studios, where he was often requested by many of the best NYC ad agencies and their clients to illustrate TV storyboards for products such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Miller Lite, General Electric, FedEx, Right Guard, and Guinness, as well as the introduction of the AFLAC duck.
Retiring at the age of 84, Bald continued his prolific career by taking on commissioned work from his fans and appearing at numerous comic conventions including the notable New York Comic Con. His artwork and paintings from his illustrious career can often be found at auction and on exhibit. Thanks to his longevity, he would also go on to capture two Guinness World Record titles, one for being the oldest comic artist, and the second for being the oldest comic artist to illustrate a published comic-book cover, which he did for Marvel Comics in 2015 at the age of 95.
Bald lived a life that was as big as the superheroes he brought to life. Fighting for the country he loved, creating a lifetime body of work, mentoring countless young artists, a loving marriage that lasted over 75 years, and an unwavering commitment to the truth and doing what’s right made him a hero to many, but none more than to his five children who will forever remember him as an amazingly understanding, protective, loving, and larger-than-life father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
Ken Bald was truly the embodiment of Captain America.
Kenneth is survived by his wife of 76 years, the actress Kaye Dowd Bald, their five children, Karen Kondisko, Kenneth Bald III, Chris Averkiou, Victoria Dollon, and Valerie Scott, and their eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A visitation will take place on April 5 from 4 – 7 p.m. with a memorial service to be held on April 6 from 1 – 3:30 at Bermingham Funeral Home in Wharton, N.J. A repast will follow at La Strada in Randolph, N.J. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Pratt Institute, 200 Willoughby Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205 or online at https://giving.pratt.edu/. The family would like to thank the staff and caregivers at Mount Arlington Assisted Living Facility for their kind care during Ken’s final years.
Pratt Institute, Brooklyn NY 11205