Thursday, June 5, 2014

The unknown art of Carl Hubbell

For many the name Carl Hubbell brings to mind the famous New York Giants pitcher of the 1930's and 1940's; for those of us who specialize in the study of comic books, Carl Hubbell's name may also be familiar. As a child of the 1960's, I knew his name primarily as an inker over Dick Ayers pencils on Sgt. Fury. It wasn't until many years later that I discovered Hubbell had been a writer, artist and inker dating back to the 1940's, working for outfits including MLJ (Archie, "Steel Sterling", "Scarlet Avenger" and "Sgt. Boyle' - whose name clearly lacked a hard-edged grit when compared to four-color compatriots Sgt. ROCK, Sgt. FURY, Capt. STORM or Capt. SAVAGE, to name a few); St. John, working for Norman Mauer and Joe Kubert on the humor title Whack; and a prolific run at Lev Gleason on Crime Does Not Pay and features "Sniffer and Iron Jaw" and "the Little Wise Guys" in Boy Comics and the original Daredevil. Hubbell also worked on syndicated strips, including Merrie Chase in 1949-1950. Not much has been written about Hubbell, although in searching for biographical info I turned up an excellent, informative piece by Allan Holtz on his Strippers Guide blog (scroll down to the January 1st entry):

I learned quite a bit about Hubbell on Holtz's blog, not only his accomplishments as an artist, but I discovered he was also a musician and occasional stage actor (there is a photo of Hubbell on stage from a newspaper clipping, although Roy Thomas thinks the person pictured looks a little too young to be Hubbell. Roy mentioned he had a picture or two of Hubbell in an issue of Alter Ego. Does anyone out there recall which issue?). Holtz's bio also gives the date of Hubbell's death as January 28, 1992. 

There is always much to learn about the unsung and often forgotten creators of the past, and this time out I'm going to take a look at Hubbell's brief turn at Marvel in 1965-66.

Hubbell's association with Marvel actually dates back to the 1950's when it was known as Atlas. From 1952-1954 Hubbell drew various genre stories for Stan Lee in Strange Tales, Suspense, Journey into Mystery, Journey into Unknown Worlds, Spellbound and Crazy, and did the feature "Bob Brant and his Troubleshooters", starring a team of teenagers similar to his concurrent "Little Wise Guys". the feature ran in three issues of Man Comics, #'s 26-28, before the title was cancelled.

A distinctive splash page from "Condemned!", Writer unknown, Carl Hubbell art (signed "C.H." in panel one near the con's left knee). Journey into Mystery # 5, February 1953.  

 Carl Hubbell cover art to the short lived Bob Brant and the Trouble-Shooters, labeled "America's Most Exciting Kids". Apparently they weren't exciting enough to continue publication! Man Comics # 26, May 1953. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.  

From 1957-1964 there are no known comic book credits for Hubbell. Did he go into advertising? Was he employed as a musician or stage actor? Whatever the case, Hubbell eventually turned up at Marvel, assisting production man Sol Brodsky. According to Roy Thomas Hubbell may not have been on staff but apparently was called into the office a few times a week to freelance, starting in late 1964 or early 1965. The earliest sign of possible Hubbell art I've discovered is in May, 1965 dated Marvel comics.     

MMMS House Ad from Journey into Mystery # 116, May 1965. Carl Hubbell Thor figure? 

Hubbell often made art corrections to interior stories, much like Kirby did before him and John Romita, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe and Bill Everett, did afterward, as can be seen in May, 1965 dated titles.  

In addition to the above house ad, Hubbell apparently contributed to corrections on the interior Thor story in Journey into Mystery # 116. To my eye it appears that the figure of the Executioner and, to a lesser degree the Enchantress, was altered throughout the issue. Jack Kirby, who was known to have forgotten details of characters costumes or appearance, may have drawn the Executioners face and costume incorrectly. The Daredevil cameo on page 13 was also likely touched up by Hubbell, perhaps because Kirby drew DD in the original yellow/red costume. The remainder of the page is by Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta.

I've always found Avengers #16 (May 1965) to be particularly interesting, art-wise. Jack Kirby is credited as providing layouts, with Dick Ayers doing the finished art, but some pages/panels are clearly Kirby pencils and Ayers inks. That, however, is a blog post for another day. Mixed in throughout are corrections that I believe are by Carl Hubbell, changing figures at the request of Stan Lee. The Captain America figure on page 5, panel 2, looks like it was redrawn. 

  On page 10, panel 3, the X-Men, and perhaps the Quicksilver figure, appear to be touched-up by Hubbell.

On page 17, panel 3 the figures of Giant-Man and Captain America are altered. 

Page 20, panel 2 has a clearly redrawn Giant-Man face. The characters figure. helmet and face were touched up often throughout the issue, likely because the helmet was a new addition, which debuted only two months earlier in Tales to Astonish # 65, and Kirby and/or Ayers either forgot to draw the new helmet or did it in a consistent manner. They had a lot of characters and costumes to keep track of, so give them some slack! 

There are a few other pages/panels that may have been touched up, including the Giant-Man figure on the splash page, and the Melter, who looks a little odd on pages 2-4, but I wanted to concentrate on the drawings I felt "certain" were tampered with. 

The MMMS ad featuring Cap in Avengers # 16 may also be the work of Mr. Hubbell.

It looks like Carl Hubbell's hand was involved in Sgt. Fury # 18, May 1965. Page 4, panels 2 and 3 feature Fury's nemesis, "Bull" McGiveney. I'm very familiar with the work of Chic Stone, who inked Ayers pencils in this issue, and that face in not inked by Stone. Hubbell may have completely redrawn McGiveney's face to make him look more ape-like.     

 Jack Kirby penciled the majority of Sgt. Fury # 18's final page (with the possible exception of the last panel), replacing Dick Ayers' original page. Stan Lee wanted a stronger emotional punch, and Kirby delivered - as seen in the middle tier three panel sequence. Fury's shock and devastation over the death of Pamela Hawley captures a moment of tragedy. Hubbell may have inked this page, although the last panel appears to have been retained from Ayers original, with inking by Chic Stone.

The following month's cover includes possible inks by Hubbell over Kirby pencils. I'm not entirely certain Hubbell is the inker, though; the broad brush strokes are similar to Kirby's own inking style, but that might just be due to Hubbell closely following Kirby's pencils. Sgt. Fury # 19, June, 1965.   

After looking this page over recently I noticed that the inking on page 4 was NOT that of Frank Giacoia, who inked the issue, and certainly not Wally Wood, who inked the Daredevil/Matt Murdock figures throughout the story. It occurred to me that since this page had a photo background it may have needed added production work and looking closely, I suspect the inking of the Kirby figures is none other than Carl Hubbell, who would have been a likely subject to ink the page since he assisted in the office. Fantastic Four # 39, June 1965.

 Here is an example of a complete panel being redrawn. My guess is that Jack Kirby drew Don Blake mistakenly striking the cane with his hand instead of tied behind his back, as the previous panel illustrated; either that or Stan Lee didn't think Jack's panel looked dramatic enough and had Hubbell redraw it . Journey into Mystery # 117, June 1965, page 13, panel 2.     

 Hawkeye is featured in the MMMS ad from Avengers # 17, June 1965. Hubbell art?

              MMMS House ad, Carl Hubbell Rawhide Kid? RK # 46, June 1965.  

Hubbell is the likely suspect for this MMMS house ad featuring J. Jonah Jameson, from Amazing Spider-Man # 26, July 1965. Along with Carl Hubbell, Marie Severin also drew several house ads and filler artwork in this period. While both have a similar cartoony style, Marie's art is more distinctive. 

The cover to Tales of Suspense # 67, July 1965, penciled by (who else?) Jack Kirby. The inking has several earmarks that make me suspect Hubbell was involved. The slashing lines on Iron-Man's armor and Cap's costume follows Kirby's line but has a sharper feel. Like the Sgt. Fury example above, Hubbell may have closely duplicated Kirby's pencils, although his inking is cruder than other candidates such as Sol Brodsky. 

Kid Colt Outlaw # 123, July 1965. Jack Kirby pencils. I'm "convinced" that Hubbell inked this Kid Colt cover. The use of "hay" on shadows, including the man running along the right side; the folds in people's clothes and sharp lines on the ground link this with Hubbell.  

A nice splash page from Sgt. Fury # 21, the first issue inked by Carl Hubbell. Dick Ayers pencils, August 1965.

Hubbell also inked Dick Ayers on the interior story in Two-Gun Kid # 77, September 1965. A year before the Lee-Kirby Black Panther appeared, a costumed criminal called "The Panther" fought against the Two-Gun Kid.   

Carl Hubbell adds a nice sense of detail to a Sol Brodsky written and drawn genre story in Rawhide Kid # 48, October 1965. Hubbell's inks have a Chris Rule/Marie Severin-esque appearance.

Carl Hubbell was assigned the inking over Larry Lieber's Rawhide Kid from issues #'s 49-53. Above is the splash page to RK # 49, December 1965.

This is an example where the printed credits don't tell the entire story. The splash page has Jack Kirby listed on layouts and George Tuska on finished art. It's clear, though, that Wally Wood inked the first four pages, followed perhaps, by Tuska inking on pages 5-7. Pages 8-10 look like the work of Carl Hubbell;the figure of Cap on page 8, panel 5 may be all Hubbell. Note also the chunky ink line on Cap's legs on page 10; panel 1. It's likely that Tuska was originally scheduled to ink the story himself (credits were lettered before the comic was inked) but became too busy to complete the job. Tales of Suspense # 72, December 1965.

Carl Hubbell inked three issues of Sgt. Fury; Issue #'s 21, 23 and 26. This was the latter and final inked issue, with Dum Dum Dugan taking center stage, cover-dated January, 1966. 

As a freelancer Carl Hubbell was required to redraw Steve Ditko's figure of the Looter on page 13; panel 5 of Amazing Spider-Man #36, May 1966. I always had a feeling something was odd about the Spidey figure; the posture looked right but the inking was not at all like Ditko's, particularly the inking on the legs. At at convention some years ago I spoke to Roy Thomas about Ditko, who explained that it was Carl Hubbell who altered the drawing, as detailed in Alter Ego #50, July 2005:

"..the silhouette (in layouts) of the villainous Looter looked virtually identical to Spidey's, since both wore form-fitting costumes. Accordingly, when Stan scripted the final panel on pg. 13, he had to decide: did Steve mean that to be Spidey on the ledge, hunting for the fled Looter - or was it the Looter himself, hiding thereon? With no clarifying note from Steve, Stan wrote the figure as Spider-Man, and Artie Simek lettered it. When the story came back, however, Steve had inked the figure as the Looter - apparently the character he'd intended it to be."

"At this point, of course, either the balloons or the figure had to be totally changed. Thus, Roy recalls lingering at the Marvel offices well after 5:00 pm, one nigh-Christmas day in 1965 and chatting about Charlie Biro with veteran artist Carl Hubbell (then inking Rawhide Kid) while the latter painstakingly transformed Looter into Wall-Crawler in that panel."       

By early 1966 Hubbell would be gone from Marvel, with John Romita ostensibly taking over his duties. Hubbell moved on to pencil and ink stories for editor Carl Burgos, creator of the original Human Torch, for the short-lived MF Enterprises. Burgos revived the name Captain Marvel (who was in no way related to the famous Fawcett hero) for a four issue run. In this period Hubbell also worked for Charlton on various genre stories, but his comic book credits end by 1969. Nothing seems to be know about his 22 years spent outside of comics; apparently he was never interviewed, which is unfortunate since he was a part of comics early days and surely had interesting stories to tell. In email correspondence Roy Thomas kindly shared his thoughts on Hubbell for this post:

"I recall our walking together past some small church in Manhattan, though I don't recall where it was.  We were just having a pleasant conversation, possibly at least mostly about his previous work, since I was aware of it in general, including his "Sniffer and Iron Jaw" feature and some of his work for Kubert and Maurer at St. John.  But I recall nothing else, alas.  Work kinda dried up for him at Marvel as the Westerns failed, I guess... not sure why he was never tried on other stuff.  If he'd come back in a few years later, I'm sure I'd have tried him out on some horror work, as penciler or inker...but I don't believe our paths ever crossed again.  Too bad.  I just remember him as a gentle, soft-spoken guy.."

Carl Hubbell is just one of many half-forgotten figures who produced professional work and sold thousands of comic books for several decades. While his output for Marvel may be a small part of his oeuvre, it's nevertheless fascinating to study his involvement in the companies fledgling period of growth in the 1960s.   

Special thanks to the generosity of Roy Thomas.