Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bill Everett and Company: Who Else Drew Tales To Astonish # 87?

It's no secret that Bill Everett often had trouble meeting deadlines. One such example is the Sub-Mariner story in Tales to Astonish # 87, although the credits leave no clue since the splash page asserts: "Illustration: Wild Bill Everett." A close examination points to other artists clearly being involved. Comic book credits, particularly in earlier decades, can sometimes be deceiving due to the method of production. The story would first be penciled (following either a script, or at Marvel, a plot synopsis or verbal discussion), lettered and then sent off to the inker - or the presumed inker. The letterer would add whatever name editor Stan Lee provided, but sometimes there would be a last-minute substitute. The substitute would occasionally add his own name, or someone in production might make a correction, but there are numerous instances where the printed comic saw publication with erroneous credits. These mistakes were sometimes acknowledged in future letter columns; other times they were forgotten and have remained in print for decades. 

In looking over the Sub-Mariner story in Astonish # 87, January 1967; "Moment of Truth!," scripted by Stan Lee story, with Everett art/co-plot, lettering by Artie Simek and coloring by unknown (colorists were one of the last in the production line and didn't get credit at Marvel until the early 1970s) I realized the art looked odd; while Everett's hand is evident throughout the 12-page story, uncredited artists assisted in both the pencils and inks, which I will attempt to detail here.

The first alteration can be seen on page 2; panel 2, although this appears to be an  instance where Lee was not quite satisfied with Everett's rendition of Lady Dorma and had John Romita "beautify" her. This alteration often happened in Kirby-drawn books as well. The background figure of Krang and Dorma's hand are all rendered by Everett.

  Page 4; panels 3-4 have redrawn figures of Lord Vashti, possibly by Marie Severin, whose duties included art, coloring and production in this period. Although Everett was involved as inker over Gene Colan and Jerry Grandenetti (Tales To Astonish #'s 79, 85 and 86) this was the first time in over a decade he returned to draw his creation. Everett's Sub-Mariner was a feature in Marvel Comics # 1, October, 1939, publisher Martin Goodman's entry into comic books. Namor had a long and successful run in comics for a decade; Everett returned to the character for a brief revival in 1954-55. Several years later, in the pages of The Fantastic Four, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought the character back for a new era of fans. When it was decided to give the Sub-Mariner a new feature in Tales to Astonish, Lee, with Gene Colan developed new characters such as Lord Vashti, - perhaps Everett did not draw him to Lee's satisfaction.

From page 5 onward there are signs that Everett was getting into deadline trouble.

The inking on most of this page, particularly the backgrounds and figures, is the work of Frank Giacoia. His bold inking is evident in panel 5, especially on Krang and his guards. Everett may have inked the Sub-Mariner figures and perhaps Vashti in panel 2. If the deadline was looming and pages were coming in slowly, Lee probably decided to bring in others to complete the job. A lack of backgrounds and unfinished pages on Daredevil # 1 just two years earlier led to Steve Ditko and Sol Brodsky pitching in to finish the book. 

                                       Here's where it gets interesting. 

On page 6; panel 1, Everett apparently penciled and inked Sub-Mariner, which I suspect he did throughout the issue. This mixture of Everett pencils (or breakdowns)/inks point to a rush job.

  In this three panel sequence on page 6 the face of Krang is the only evidence of Everett art. My guess is that Lee decided to alter whatever costume Everett originally drew. Panels 1 and 2 are inked (and perhaps finished) by Frank Giacoia. The final panel may be the work of Marie Severin and Giacoia. 

The next five pages show little sign of Everett's input. While Sub-Mariner is drawn and (apparently) inked by Everett, everything else, including Krang and Vashti, are rendered by Marie Severin. Either Lee was dissatisfied with Everett's rendition, and didn't feel it had enough Kirby-styled theatrics, or, more likely, Everett only drew Namor, with Marie filling in details on the four page sequence. Whatever the circumstances Marie's figure work and poses are distinctive. 

Dick Ayers' inking also begins on page seven. Ayers usually worked at home and mailed his artwork in, but was asked to come into the office several times in 1966 to assist on deadlines. According to email correspondence in my files dated 7/21/2004, Ayers inked a few Daredevil stories (#'s 21 and 22, with Everett and Giacoia). On 6/10 and 7/8 he again helped out, although his record books had "no mention of what I was assigned." The January, 1967 dated issue of Tales To Astonish # 87 arrived on stands sometime in October, 1966, which would leave a 3-4 month period before the comic was published. This fits into the time frame when Ayers could have worked on this story. 

                Page 8; panel 2: Marie Severin/Dick Ayers art; Sub-Mariner by Everett.

                                          Page 9; panel 2. More Severin/Ayers art.

     Page 10: Everett Sub-Mariner (pencils/inks ?); Severin/Ayers Krang. Ayers background. 

The four page fight sequence on pages 7-10 predominantly spotlight Namor and Krang's brawl. Large panels are employed and backgrounds are minimal. The cheering Atlanteans on page 10 look like Dick Ayers' solo art, probably added at Lee's request while inking.

Page 11 is an interesting blend. Frank Giacoia's inking is evident in panel 1, although Everett drew Namor and Krang (or - at the very least - his face). 

 Giacoia (or possibly his friend and fellow inker Joe Giella, who often assisted Frank) provided background inks on page 11, but panel 2 looks like another artist inked Sub-Mariner. I'm not certain who, although it bears similarities to Dan Adkins style. Not impossible, but this was a month or two before his first credited Marvel job. 

The final frame on page 11 appears to be mostly Everett pencils and Giacoia or Giella inks. Namor, Krang and the guards all have Everett styled poses and faces. The inking on Sub-Mariner looks a little different though, similar to the "Adkins" style in the previous panel. 

The final page includes Everett drawing complete figures of Namor and Dorma (with another Romita face-lift in panel 2). Ayers likely inked the backgrounds, and either inked the last panel over Everett pencils/breakdowns, or drew it all himself. As for the next issue blurb: "The Greatest Threat of All!" may have referred to a missed deadline and late fee payments!    

Marie Severin showed up three issues later, redrawing this sequence from the Everett-drawn Sub-Mariner story in Tales to Astonish # 90, April 1967. (I should also note that John Tartaglione appears to have contributed some uncredited inking on this story).

Two years later Marie was assigned full art chores on Sub-Mariner (by that point in his own title) beginning with issue #12, teamed with writer Roy Thomas, and did impressive work on the character. I would be remiss not to mention Marie's excellent collaborations with Bill Everett on a run of covers in the early 1970's. You can read more about it on my earlier blog post:

While Bill Everett's return to his creation in late 1966 was welcome, the combination of deadline issues, stiff artwork in places and a lack of interest in the direction Stan Lee had taken his character led to a short-lived venture. In 1972 Everett was again reunited with Namor, this time for a more enjoyable run due to greater control and superb art, arguably some of the best in his long career. While deadline issues again surfaced, Everett's work shone brightly. His death in 1973 at the age of 56 was a tremendous loss to the industry and aficionados of comic art.   

Throughout his career Everett's artwork had a distinctive flair and was suited to all types of genres: superhero, adventure, horror, jungle, crime, romance, even animated features. In his final years Everett's art reached a plateau. His fluid ink line was as attractive as the sea he rendered with subtle beauty. An original, Everett made his mark in comic books and remains unparalleled.   

Exquisite Bill Everett art on his return to Sub-Mariner. "Who Am I?" Everett story/art (and probably colors); John Costanza letters, Sub-Mariner # 50, June 1972. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

An Unknown Ditko Marvel Cover?

The cover to Tales of Suspense # 45 has puzzled me for some time. This time out I'll share my step by step process of investigation, deduction and conclusions.

Tales of Suspense # 45, Sept 1963, lettering by Artie Simek, colors by Stan Goldberg, art by??

This cover is often cited as pencils by Jack Kirby and inks by Don Heck, and the error is understandable because it's partially correct (stay with me, they'll be a quiz at the end..)

When examining this cover something bugged me. Iron Man looked like a Kirby/Heck drawing, but the figures and poses of Jack Frost, Happy and Pepper didn't. 

                                                     Close-up of Kirby/Heck's Iron Man.

The Iron Man pose also looked awfully familiar, so I decided to go through Tales of Suspense #'s 39-44 which included all of Iron Man's stories up to that date, and I soon found what I was looking for.

        The splash page to Tales of Suspense # 43, July 1963. Jack Kirby pencils; Don Heck inks.

The figure of Iron Man used on the cover of Tales of Suspense # 45 was a stat taken from the splash page of Tales of Suspense # 43, published two months earlier! The illustration is exactly the same, with only a little "ice" added to his armor. This meant that it replaced a different Iron Man drawing that was apparently rejected by either editor/art director Stan Lee or publisher Martin Goodman for reasons lost to time. Kirby had penciled every Tales of Suspense/Iron Man cover before this one, and Don Heck, Iron Man's primary artist on interior stories,was rarely given cover assignments (some exceptions include Tales to Astonish # 49, Kid Colt, Outlaw # 113 and Two-Gun Kid # 66, all cover-dated November 1963). Jack Kirby was Marvel's primary cover artist in this period; the  exceptions being Stan Goldberg and Al Hartley on the teen humor/"girl" titles (Millie the Model, Patsy Walker, Modeling with Millie, Patsy and Hedy and Kathy) and Steve Ditko handling the Spider-Man cover art.  

Once I discovered the Kirby/Heck image was a stat I took a closer look at the other figures on the cover.

                                            An isolated image of the new cover art.

The first thing that struck me was Jack Frost. The villain lacked the solidity that Jack Kirby brought to his characters. The pose does have a Steve Ditko flavor, particularly Frost's fingers and gesture on his right hand. Happy and Pepper also had poses that looked Ditko-esque. Could this be a Ditko cover, inked by Don Heck? (there is no doubt in my mind that the inks are by Heck whose sharp line is evident) Was a Ditko Iron Man image replaced by a Kirby drawing? As of this writing no unaltered stats of the original cover have been discovered, but one never knows what will turn up...

I took a look at the interior Heck artwork to see if I could decipher any differences. 

                      The splash page to Tales of Suspense # 45, with sensational art by Don Heck.

Jack Frost doesn't look significantly different from the cover image, although that's not surprising since covers were often produced after the interior story was drawn, and Ditko would have based his figure on Don Heck's.   

"Iron Man Battles the Melter!", Tales of Suspense # 47, November 1963. Steve Ditko and Don Heck art. 

Two issues later Steve Ditko took over the art on Iron Man for a three issue run while Don Heck filled in on Thor in Journey into Mystery. According to Heck, Ditko only provided breakdowns, not full pencils, and Heck did the finished art. Heck's strong hand is clearly evident throughout the story, although the layout, figures and poses point to Ditko's involvement.     

Ditko drew Jack Frost some sixteen years later when he was an adversary of the Incredible Hulk, including a flashback to his first appearance. (thanks to Jon Holt for the reminder!). The Incredible Hulk # 249, July 1980. 

 So, who drew the cover? My gut instinct tells me that Ditko penciled the cover, but there is no conclusive proof. As often happened in the nascent period of Marvel's super-hero line, a hectic pace led to anyone stopping in the office lending a hand. Stan Lee may have needed a cover quickly; perhaps Steve Ditko showed up in the office and penciled it for him. When inked by Heck, Lee may have been disappointed in Iron Man's pose, and, with deadlines breathing down his neck, used a stat in lieu of new artwork. As an indexer for the GCD I added question marks to the artist id:

As my friend and fellow art identifier Michael J. Vassallo often states, there's no shame in adding a question mark when you're not 100% certain of an artist's contribution. 

We may never know the genesis of this cover, but it remains one of the many comic art mysteries that continually intrigue me.