Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Number 1719: Bill Everett, Marvel Boy

Bill Everett did these two entertaining tales for Atlas Comics in the early fifties. The Marvel Boy story is from Astonishing #3 (1951). Marvel Boy has an occupation as Bob Grayson, insurance investigator. He also goes after commies. At some time in a callous and cruel youth I might have laughed at the way he escapes from the geezer who is acting as his guard. (“HAW! HAW! Look at how that old man gets his head bashed on the table! HAW!”) But the oldster is kind to him, and now I am more the old man’s age than Marvel Boy’s, so commie or not, I wish MB had handled his escape some other way. But then, as one of the bad guys tells him, “You’ve been readin' too many comic books, chum!” And as we all know, comic books will rot a young man’s mind, even a character in a comic book.

“Ghost Story” is from Amazing Detective #13 (1952), and Everett, as he did so well, pulls out all the stops on his rendition of the supernatural entity. Not content to show a more traditional ghost, Everett’s ghost is something out of a nightmare’s nightmare. Being me, I must say that showing it in the splash panel is a mistake, a spoiler.


Bill Everett’s salad days

As a very young cartoonist in the very young days of the comic books, Bill Everett showed a knack for the medium. While his early artwork could be somewhat crude compared to his later, slicker style, what was possible was already showing. The book by Blake Bell, Amazing Mysteries, subtitled The Bill Everett Archives Vol. 1, shows how quickly the potential of Everett as a major comic art talent developed. Examples shown were published orignally from 1938 to 1942.

The 200 pages of Everett artwork reproduced in the book (top-notch reproduction from ancient comic books, too, I must say) goes from his earliest work with Skyrocket Steele to the curiosity, Dirk the Demon, to Amazing-Man. From that character it wasn’t far for Everett to progress to Sub-Mariner, arguably his createst creation, and the one that has had the longest life. (Will future volumes reprint any of his Sub-Mariner work? It would be a shame to leave it out, but Sub-Mariner, unlike the stories reprinted here, is not in public domain.)

Although there is a section devoted to Everett’s Western creation, Bulls-Eye Bill, the whole comics industry moved where Superman took it, so Everett’s earliest work mostly involved superheroes. He worked on such features as Hydro-Man, Sub-Zero Man and The Conqueror.

This is a page from The Conqueror (Victory Comics #1, 1941), which shows Everett’s slicker inking, and his command of storytelling, comic book style.

 Covers were a place where Everett was able to show his skill in creating instant eye-appeal. His early covers for Centaur’s Amazing Mystery Funnies have a poster-like quality.

Author Blake Bell includes biographical information on Everett, who came from an upper middle-class Massachusetts family, and Bell also tells us of some of the things that cut his life short. Everett had tuberculosis at an early age (he was sent to Arizona to recover in the dry climate, hence his interest in the Old West and cowboys), began drinking at age 12, and smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. It is almost an “amazing mystery” how he managed to live to just a couple of months short of his 56th birthday.

Bell also includes some pages of original art, including some concept sketches for comic book covers that never were. It is the kind of fascinating ephemera I really appreciate.

Fantagraphics Books did an excellent job with this book, and it gets my highest recommendation. The printing and binding are attractive and durable. It is available from the usual outlets, and is listed with a retail price of $39.99.


More Bill Everett. Just click on the thumbnail.


J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

No need to point out Everett's craft, the second story is definitely the best. I like the art, not only the "blobby" creature but also the expressive faces drawn by Everett. Plus, we have Nixon on the chair. The art is less effective in story n. 1.
As for the writings, i believe the revenge of an executed criminal was a leit motiv in 50's horror comics, and it turned into a couple of more or less decent films in the 80's. Last panel must be haunted, by the way. When I click on it, it takes me to a Namor story!
First story... to be honest, I'd trade it for some more giant penguins.

Pappy said...

J D, I'm unsure how it happened, but I have corrected the Namor-linked page; it is now the actual last page of the story.

Unknown said...

Who actually STARTS drinking while dealing with tuberculosis? But, despite his illness (and demons), Everett was doing comics all the way to the end: his final work was published after his death. He missed out on doing "Tomb of Dracula," the post Stan Lee wanted him for. Did you know he's descended from William Blake (his name's actually William Blake Everett)? And that there are only EIGHT copies of "Motion Picture Funnies Weekly," Namor's first appearance, still in existence?

Pappy said...

Ryan, Everett's famous ancestry is mentioned in the book, yes. If I had someone that world famous in my lineage I'd mention it, also. I have Charlemagne, but then how many millions of others share that famous ancestsor? So, forget I said anything.

In this posting of a couple of Everett stories I did in 2011 I showed "The Greatest Magician of All" by Everett, which he did in 1972...I think he got even better as he got older, and presumably, sicker.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Pappy. Very good stuff. I hadn't seen most of the Everett shown/linked here.