Saturday, September 5, 2015

Bill Everett at Skywald

Sol Brodsky was a long time artist, inker and production man at Marvel comics. Writer/Editor Stan Lee relied on his right hand man to make sure the trains ran on time but the entrepreneurial Brodsky also worked on outside projects including the Big Boy Restaurant promotional comics and editing the initial issues of Cracked magazine. When he was offered an opportunity to co-publish/edit a line of comic books and magazines with Hershel Waldman, who had published/packaged comics in the past, he left his production job with Lee's blessing. The new venture, entitled Skywald Publishing Corp. (for Sol BrodSKY and Israel WALDman) awaited.

Through his contacts in the comics industry Brodsky knew many freelancers he could offer additional work. Some came directly from Marvel, including writer Gary Friedrich; artists Dick Ayers, Don Heck, Syd Shores, John Tartaglione, Frank Giacoia, Tom Palmer and letterers Sam Rosen and Jean Izzo. One important member of that entourage was Bill Everett.


Everett's "Angry Young Man" as he appeared in Marvel Mystery Comics # 11 (september 1940). Everett story, art and lettering. From a stat as published in Alter Ego # 3, Winter 2000.   


Everett was one of the pioneers in the nascent comic book industry. Like many in that period, Everett wrote, drew and often lettered his stories. His earliest work surfaced in 1938 for companies including Centaur, Novelty, Eastern Color and Timely, where his most famous creation Namor, The Sub-Mariner appeared. The Sub-Mariner was a unique character who lived under the sea and was none too friendly with the surface world. He soon fought Timely’s first superhero, the android Human Torch (created by Carl Burgos) in exciting stories that set the stage for Marvel's 1960s hero crossovers. 

The Sub-Mariner was an extremely popular character, particularly during the World War II years (where he joined forces with humanity to take on a deadlier foe – The Nazis) and, along with Captain America and the Torch, was part of Timely’s triumvirate of heroes, appearing on numerous covers and features. 

When the super heroes lost their appeal after the war Namor was put out to pasture, revived in 1955 for another try (due in large part to the possibility of a television deal).  Everett returned to draw, letter and often write the new stories, his artwork showing continued growth. Sales sunk to the bottom of the ocean though, and when the TV negotiations fell through the Sub-Mariner was retired, returning six years later when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revamped the character in the early 1960s Marvel era.  



Along with talents like Joe Maneely and Russ Heath, Everett drew many of Atlas' horror covers during the 1950s. This example takes its inspiration from the classic Phantom of the Opera. Uncanny Tales # 7, April 1953.

Everett's versatility allowed him to excel in practically every genre. In the 1950s he produced stories and covers for Stan Lee’s war, western, horror, jungle, adventure, crime, romance, humor and even funny animal line. Everett’s art was distinctive, influenced by comic strip great Roy Crane but with a style that transcended mere mimicry. 

The comic book business floundered in the mid to late 1950s, a byproduct of bad press and the growing popularity of television. When work dried up Everett moved to a new field (his last comics stories appearing in 1960), finding employment at Norcross Greeting Cards and later becoming an Art Director for another firm. Sometime in 1963 he again connected with Stan Lee, where the two developed Daredevil (the first issue dated April 1964). Unable to meet deadlines due to his full-time job, Lee was forced to enlist Sol Brodsky and Steve Ditko to complete the inking/backgrounds. Everett returned to his managerial job, realizing he didn't have the time to freelance for comics.



Back at Marvel Everett's first job was penciller/inker over Jack Kirby's layouts on the Incredible Hulk feature. Here is an effective splash page from Tales To Astonish # 80, June 1966.

When Everett quit his position he returned to comics for good. In late 1965 Lee welcomed him back to Marvel, getting him up to speed by finishing Jack Kirby’s layouts on “The Incredible Hulk” (beginning in Tales to Astonish # 78, April 1966). Everett also received inking assignments, adding his lush brushwork to artists such as Gene Colan (who, coincidentally, was penciling Sub-Mariner, the co-feature in Astonish). Everett worked on many features for Lee, taking over “Dr. Strange” in Strange Tales when Steve Ditko quit; drawing his beloved westerns in back-up stories, inking Stan Goldberg on Millie the Model, and, inevitably, returning to his creation, this time with Lee co-plotting. The revised Namor, while still having a chip on his shoulder, was now Prince of Atlantis and spoke in pseudo-Shakespearean tones. 

Everett often faced deadline problems, some due to alcoholism, forcing others to finish penciling or hastily ink his work. By the late 1960s Everett also preformed production duties, including coloring, and wrote several issues of Sgt. Fury. His best efforts in that period, arguably, was his embellishment over Jack Kirby’s pencils on Thor. Everett’s inking added a layer of sheen to Kirby’s art, making every page stand out. 

Sometime in 1970 Everett was offered work by Sol Brodsky when he moved to Skywald. Everett accepted, although he continued to freelance for Marvel. Everett's art appeared in their premiere publication, Nightmare # 1 (December 1970), a black and white horror magazine designed to compete with Warren Publishing's popular titles (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella). A companion magazine, Psycho, debuted the following month.      


Everett produced superb work in black and white. The Skywald magazine line made great use of his meticulous etchings, which could give EC Comics master of the macabre Graham (ghastly) Ingles a run for his money! Nightmare # 1, December 1970.  





Three of Everett's images accompanied the text story "The Skeletons of..Doom!". Everett drew gorgeous women and, unrestricted by the Comics Code Authority, he took full advantage of the situation. 




In addition to the new stories in Nightmare # 1, a number of 1950s horror reprints appeared in the early issues. This helped cut production costs, although most were retitled, relettered and altered (sometimes heavily), apparently so they would not look old fashioned. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito did the honors on a few stories, but here is a direct comparison of how extensive the redrawing was. On the left is Everett's revised version. On the right is the original Norman Nodel/Vince Alascia splash, originally published in Eerie # 11, April 1953 (courtesy of the indispensable ComicBook plus site http://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=23585  The splash panel is almost entirely redrawn and Everett added touches to many of the pages/panels, particularly the male and female protagonists.   



                       Two more examples of Everett's alterations from the same story.


Bill Everett illustrated a series of horrific pin-ups, this one offers his depiction of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Dripping with atmosphere, this was the second time Everett illustrated the Creature,having drawn him in a 1950s Sub-Mariner story. Nightmare # 2, February 1971.

                 


Another example of how reprints were thoroughly renovated  from the original. On the left is the original story drawn by Gene Fawcette, from Avon's one shot Robotmen of the Lost Planet # 1 (1952). On the right is Bill Everett's altered version. Everett's main changes are on the male and female protagonists and a more traditional take on the robots. The original typeset lettering was also replaced with hand lettering, often by Jean Izzo. Nightmare # 2, February, 1971.


Bill Everett's third pin-up is another example of incredible artistry and meticulous detail. Nightmare # 4, June 1971. 



The Heap was a revised version of the monster originally appearing in Hillman Periodicals Air Fighter's Comics and Airboy in the 1940s and 50s; Skywald's Heap was featured in Psycho and a one-shot color comic drawn by Ross Andru and Jack Abel. Bill Everett fashioned his own interpretation for the back cover of Psycho # 4, September 1971.   


 Everett's frenetic scene of a monster earthworm attacking a highway is filled with a few inside jokes, including the name "Roman" (opposite of Namor) on the truck and a Bergenfield, NJ address, which may have been his residence at the time. Psycho # 5, November 1971.

                   

Everett's last pin-up appeared on the back cover of Psycho # 6, May 1972, his Mr. Hyde is clearly based on Fredrich March's 1931 film version.  


Skywald's Hell Rider magazine was an "adult" version of a super-hero, with the requisite sex and violence. Along with the motorcycle riding hero other characters were introduced in their own features, including the first African-American super heroine, Butterfly. Newcomer Rich Buckler drew the second and last instalment (Hell Rider only ran two issues before cancellation) although Bill Everett touched up some of the main figures throughout. Hell Rider # 2, September-October 1971. You can read more about Butterfly and see the entire story at this interesting blog:  http://museumofuncutfunk.com/2011/12/05/hell-rider-2-circa-1971/    

The color comic book line consisted of oversized 25 cent titles (instead of the then-standard 15 cent size) featuring an assortment of western, jungle, horror and romance features. The standard format consisted of a new lead story, followed by reprints from various defunct publishers, material which had been acquired by publisher Israel Waldman. As far as I can ascertain Everett did not alter many of the western comics, concentrating mainly on creating a contemporary look to the clothing and hair styles of the male and female characters in the romance stories, a trend many publishers followed. It’s unknown whether this fooled many (or any) of the young female readers.    


An Everett face is attached to Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, quite noticeable in panel two.  Everett drew his share of attractive jungle heroines for Atlas, particularly on 1950s covers. The original art is credited to Robert Webb and is from Fiction House's Sheena, Queen of the Jungle # 17, Fall 1952.


 Skywald's longest running color comic was Tender Love Stories, which ran four issues. Each issue featured one new story by the likes of Jack Katz and Kurt Schaffenberger, followed by 1950s or early 1960s reprints. While Ross Andru and Mike Esposito revised many of the reprinted stories in Tender Love Stories # 1 (February 1971), Everett modernized the final story, although underneath his alterations I believe the original artist is Ogden Whitney.




Everett reworked the art on three of the reprinted stories in Tender Love Stories # 2, April 1971. The mouths and hair are usually dead giveaways.


While the woman's face and a few other figures are altered by Everett, the original artist is not totally obscured. Bill Draut drew the original story, from Prize's Young Love Vol 6, No. 3, October-November 1962. Sam Rosen lettering. Tender Love Stories # 3, June 1971.


The second Everett altered reprint includes another fine artist whose work is recognizable. Bob Powell originally drew this unidentified story. 


   

The final two reprinted stories in Tender Love Stories # 3 are both originally credited to Rafael Astarita (originally published in Avon's Realistic Romance #'s 4 (February 1952) and 12 (July 1952) but the Everett faces and figures shine through.     



  
  
While it's interesting to examine much of Everett's undocumented corrections and revisions, it's also maddening to conceive that a talent of his proportions performed such menial production work. Everett would have been better served lavishing his drawing skills on horror stories, a genre he was obviously skilled at. Perhaps he was too busy inking for Marvel at this point and didn't have time to draw many stories. Whatever the case the only story he illustrated appeared in Psycho #3, May 1971, a superbly drawn 10 pager dripping with atmosphere. Everett's use of pen and ink is exquisite and his fog-shrouded scenes display great craft. It is truly some of the best work of his career.     

Everett's last work for Skywald appeared in early 1972. Sol Brodsky left the company around the same time, returning to Marvel. Coinciding with his departure from Skywald he was offered the job of taking over the writing and art of his creation, Sub-Mariner (beginning with #50, June 1972). With sales slumping Everett was given an opportunity to refashion the strip, returning some of Namor’s original personality and charm. Everett's art continued to flourish; his depiction of the sea was particularly enchanting, enhanced by his real life experiences as a young man stationed in the Merchant Marine. 

"..I had always been interested in anything nautical, anything to do with the sea- - ever since I was born, I guess." Bill Everett, interview with Roy Thomas, Alter Ego # 11, June 1978



Who says you can't go home again? Not Bill Everett, whose return to his creation over 30 years later was magnificent. Sub-Mariner # 50, June 1972.  

Everett's run on Sub-Mariner was cut short when he passed away on February 27, 1973 at the age of  56.  He had fought alcoholism much of his life, but became a proud member of Alcoholics Anonymous, a group that helped him greatly in his struggle. At the peak of his artistic prowess he left both fans and pros mourning the loss of a unique craftsman and a true original. 


Special thanks to Michael J. Vassallo for the loan of his Skywald romance comics, where I discovered Everett's unknown corrections, inspiring me to write this post. 

9 comments:

Jonathan G. Jensen said...

Very interesting blog Nick, I really enjoyed those Everett pin-up originals! The Sheena book would be a Fiction House mag not a Avon, unless I missed something...

Nick Caputo said...

Jonathan,

Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks also for noticing the Fiction House error. Its been fixed. I'm always happy to make any corrections.

Kid said...

Your usual thorough attention to detail puts many other blogs to shame, Nick. Have to say I never really liked Bill Everett's inks on Thor as they highlighted the cartoony aspect of Jack Kirby's pencils, unlike Vince Colletta's, which diluted it. I've read somewhere that the Everett inked issues didn't sell as well, so, if true, many readers didn't go for his Thor inks either. I liked most of his other stuff 'though.

Nick Caputo said...

Kid, You're much too kind, but I appreciate your sentiments. As far as Everett's inks on Thor, if we all agreed on everything it would be a pretty dull world!

Russ said...

Everett's work gets better with successive decades. I love the fifties stuff and look forward to the second Venus Masterworks volume. Everett did some halftone work on the original black and white Spectacular Spider-Man, which was otherwise pretty poorly produced. Apparently nobody at Marvel knew how to work in tones, unlike the pros who worked at Mad, Warren, or Goodman's own adult magazines. Even Pussycat looked better. Those cover paintings on Spectacular Spider-Man and the first Savage Tales were pretty weak as well. It took a while for Marvel to catch up in these other media.

By the way, I think the color Heap comic was pencilled by Tom Sutton, though I don't have it at hand to check.

Nick Caputo said...

Russ,

I agree with you on your assessment of Everett's growing skills. Everett was not credited in Spectacular Spider-Man # 1 with production work; only Sol Brodsky, John Verpoorten and Herb Trimpe (along with letterers Artie Simek, Sam Rosen and Morrie Kuramoto) but he did ink the back-up Origin of Spider-Man pencilled by Larry Lieber, although he may very well have assisted on tone work on that story or the opening.

You are correct. Tom Sutton pencilled the color Heap comic, with inking by Jack Abel.

Russ said...

I'd remembered Everett having a "special effects" credit, but I went back and checked and you're right, of course. It took me a while to figure out where I'd seen that and there it is on Skywald's Hell-Rider: "Bill Everett, Special Effects". Even with all of my carping above, I was surprised, looking at these now, at how shoddy they were, though the trashy look sort of fit Hell-Rider. while Spectacular Spider-Man was hyped in the Bullpen page as a prestige work of Art.

Those Everett pin-ups for Skywald were sure knockouts,though, weren't they?

Jacque Nodell said...

I purchased all four issues of Tender Love Stories a few years ago and have been sitting on sharing them. I really need to share them! Anyhow, I am going to try to remember this post for when I do write those posts. You have lots of great info here on the artists in those issues. Thank you, Nick!

Nick Caputo said...

I'm very glad you enjoyed the post, Jacque. Feel free to share any of my info when you write your post. I look forward to your thoughts on these rarely discussed stories.

Nick