"So I remain haunted by Bill Everett's ghost."

When I wrote those words in early summer of 2001, I never realized how ironic they would eventually prove to be. As you will read, this tale of loss and discovery is not just mine to tell. Special thanks to Dr. Michael Vassallo for his invaluable help and knowledge. And for further information on the career of Sam Kweskin, please read Dr. Vassallo's companion article:

Finding Sam Kweskin

     You will never forget where you were at That Day…

     This was The Day After.

     The images had been burned into your mind, the unreal had supplanted the real; fear and anger were about all that you felt. When I signed onto my computer September 12th, it was a rote action. Just to clear out my emails, to do something normal.

     I couldn't bear to read most of them. The same anguished words filled the subject lines…except…one…

     "Bill Everett"

     That's all that was written. Amidst all the emails decrying the terrorist attacks, a single post about the long-dead comic book legend.

     I clicked on it.

     "But not his ghost," it began. "I DID have lunch with Bill one day after he had had a heart attack somewhat earlier that month, and Stan Lee suggested we get together for me to get the "feel" of Bill's approach to a strip that he had developed. And so I began doing Sub-Mariner." More than curious, I read on… "Whether Roy Thomas or Stan or I decided it was not in the cards to continue it after a few issues, I can't remember, since at the time I was also president of my own small ad/art agency and responsible to several employees. Much of my time there had to be spent doing ad layouts and --on occasion--writing copy. By the way-congratulations on all your digging. I DID work under the alias of Irv Wesley for a while, when I resumed free-lancing for Marvel after about 12 years away from Atlas! How I wish I had saved some of those copies of Atlas and Marvel that I worked on! I would have loved to show them to my grandchildren."

      Then the last line stunned me. "And, oh, yes! Rumors of my death --for the moment--are still rumors. -Sam Kweskin"

     Sam Kweskin?

     It finally hit me: This email was a response to my online article entitled   "In Search of Bill Everett's Ghost". Within that article, the man I had designated as Everett's "ghost" (that is, an uncredited artist who helps or does all of the work credited to another artist) was Sam Kweskin. This was based upon interviews and exchanged emails with persons that are expert in the inner workings of Marvel at the time of Everett's illness and his final days. Most embarrassing was the fact that in the article, I had stated that Kweskin was dead.

     Obviously not.

     My chagrin aside, this email was a ray of light in the otherwise pervasive gloom of the day. After apologizing to Kweskin for the very premature obituary, my replying email went directly to the question asked in the article: was he the uncredited artist of Sub-Mariner #61?

     "I glanced at the page you referred to (ed.note: pg. 16), but the "draughtsmanship" doesn't look like mine," Kweskin wrote back, but added, "Wouldn't Marvel know the answers?"

     I knew the answer to that: no.

     Everett's illness came in the midst of his art duties on this issue and Marvel was sent scrambling to finish what he could not. Win Mortimer and Jim Mooney are credited with completing the work, but according to the inker, Mooney, at least some the penciling was done by Kweskin. However, Roy Thomas, the editor, denies this possibility. Since the only other surviving members of the team that put the issue together (Mortimer and Everett have both passed away) couldn't agree, hopefully Kweskin could provide an answer.

     Apparently Kweskin spent some time studying the page in more detail as several days later this email arrived:

"I've suddenly had the opportunity, Kweskin wrote, "to indulge in some retrospection, flawed as it may be: Frame one and two and four MAY be similar to what I MIGHT have done. I was aware that I knew anatomy pretty well, and drawing the back of Submariner in frame #1 looks like it could be by my pencil. Also, the knitted eyebrows on #2 and the slightly opened mouth could have been done by me--in any case, the inking doesn't seem to be mine."

      This was true; Mooney was the inker.

     "At any rate,
the horizontal panel (#3) doesn't look like something I might have thought up-- (but who knows, after all these years?!)"

"Now, for panel #4: I used the "floor up" method in the very first story--a mystery--that I ever did for Atlas. I remember one of the pane
ls had a close-up of trousered feet ascending a staircase and a rat or two scurrying away. I did both the penciling and inking overnight. All this is to say that the drawing of the soled shoe next to the other foot is not untypical of what I might have done." And he ended with, "Still, I could not vouchsafe that it was I who had done that strip. Woe to history!!"

     Frustratingly close, it seems there would be no definitive answer. But more intriguing was Sam Kweskin himself. Never a well-known comic artist, even amongst the tightly knit comic art community, Kweskin was a very talented craftsman. His limited comic book output obviously contributing to his relative anonymity, Kweskin, nevertheless, was known to Dr. Michael Vassallo, the peerless Atlas comic expert. Knowing that he would be interested, I passed on my communications with Sam Kweskin to Dr. Vassallo, who in turn developed his own contact with the artist. In a fascinating series of emails with both Dr. Vassallo and myself, Kweskin has shown himself to be eloquent, insightful, witty and the possessor of a remarkable memory. What follows are excerpts from some of these communications regarding the career of Sam Kweskin, in his own words:

     "First, I was born in Chicago on February 24, 1924, since I wanted to be close to my mother at the time. I had the usual, rollicking boyhood, rustling cattle and stepping on nonagenarians, and keeping the local butcher close to poverty whenever my mother asked for additional, pink wrapping sheets so that her son could draw on them while lying on his little tummy. Indeed, I filled the sheets with cowboys and Indians, biplanes and doughboys. Oddly enough, there were no gangsters that I drew, although the local cinema was rife with such movies as "Little Caesar" and "20,000 Years in Sing Sing". Additionally, I lived in Chicago, which everyone thought sounded like an onomatopoeic outburst of a tommy gun."

     "That having been said, I loved playing softball and drawing and football and drawing and high jumping and drawing. In high school I was thrilled to win a scholarship to a place called Studio School of Art, where --at about 16--I was even taught how to approach a political cartoon."

     "...one of the greatest thrills ever, occurred when I was 16. Seems our neighbor across the hall worked with Hal Foster's brother, and he arranged for me to visit Foster at his attic studio in a clapboard white house in Evanston. He regaled me (I sat with my mouth open!) about his career (starting in Canada, did art for Drewry's Ale, worked for Hart, Schaffner and Marx as a fashion artist, drew Tarzan (I think before Burne Hogarth--that's another story: Hogarth was president of Cartoonist's and Illustrator's School {later SVA} when I was hired to teach a TV Art course). So, Foster said he mixed historic periods, but I couldn't care less, so in awe was I of his talents. I went back home in a daze, and wrote a story about my visit for my high school newspaper..."

     "The following summer I enrolled at The Chicago Academy for a summer course, where a young man named Bill Mauldin studied Political Cartooning with either Vaughn Shoemaker or Cecil Jensen, at the same time. I spent the year after high school graduation as a copyboy at the Chicago Tribune, then went into the Army. I served overseas with a mortar battalion, and sketched at every opportunity I had. The organization I was with had a median personnel average of 825, and at war's end had about 890 Purple Hearts."

     "In January 1945 I entered the Art Institute of Chicago as a freshman, and earned a BFA (Art Education) when I graduated in early 1949, marrying soon after. For about a year I worked with Sam Singer --who had originated the Seven Dwarfs for Disney--and we did two TV local cartoon shows at ABC for children. I left to go on my own and developed a TV version of "This Is the Story" (a kind of "for want of a nail, etc." series of true histories) and also a TV show called "What's Wrong With This Picture?"  

    "Thereafter (I had learned well from Sam the kind of "beat"or "tempo" in developing a "storyboard" effect) I drew biblical stories for "comic book" style stories published at David Cook Publishing Company in Elgin, Illinois..."
 
               
                            Bible Tales for Young Folks
#1, pg. 2 (August 1953)

"...fortuitously my wife and I attended an evening at her girlfriends' folk's , where they entertained a friend who had come in from NYC. We talked a bit, and I remember him saying. "Chicago hasn't come out of its doldrums. Everyone who has any art talent has either moved to NYC or Hollywood." We had just recently moved into a beautiful apartment just a block from Lake Michigan, but my wife had fallen in love with New York on an earlier trip, so I contacted one of the brothers at Magazine Management--the "friend" had been their comptroller, I think. Mike (something-or-other). The men ( I think there were more than one) were the Goodman's, who owned MM. The nephew (or son) was Stan Lee..."

     "So, I flew into NYC in August or September of 1952, stayed in a one-room walkup on West 92nd street (the owner was the father-in-law of a high school friend) and checked in with Stan."

     "Stan asked me to do a story--frankly, I don't know if he wanted to see how well i drew in pencil--but I went ahead and inked it , both pencil and inking done in one evening. He was extremely impressed..."

" ...I can't remember the title of the story, but it was a mystery, filled with gloom and trepidation. Lots of deep shadows and twisted eye-views and creaky steps and scurrying rats. I don't remember if Stan asked that I only pencil it, but I went to the local Sam Flax, bought some illustration board, and taped it to a board which I tilted against a dresser drawer as I sat on the edge of a boarding house bed...With drawing material I had carried from Chicago, I penciled AND inked the work, and brought it into Stan the following day. He was thrilled and even brought in
(John) Busecma to show him what this new "find" had done."


  Uncanny Tales
#12 (September, 1953)

      "I was also moved by the fact that Stan was never stand-offish, and always found time to sit in his office with an artist to just talk. He immediately gave me another story, which I completed to his satisfaction. Eventually, I had to return to Chicago; after the first NY trip I took two more excursions that Fall/Winter to make certain that I might decide to move East--in fact, Stan had been sending me scripts and said that, "of course, you could do more work if you lived here". My wife was especially thrilled with New York--I had never been there except on a soldier's pass for a day or so--and so I moved first to NYC, found an apartment, and was followed by my wife and two small children."

     (on working at Atlas): "I never worked in the bullpen, and always free-lanced for Stan. There were few people that I socialized with--I think a letterer named (Sam) Rosen who also loved opera the way I do--in fact, he and his wife came to my Manhattan apartment once and he and I sang a duet from "The Pearl Fishers"--I did the baritone and he did the tenor."

  
     

      "The work kept coming in, but competition within the industry created an unhappy sequence of events that included more voluptuous heroines and scantier clothing--that's when parents stepped in, and to make as long story shorter, caused a number of magazines to be dropped, while all the others were cleaned up."


                                                                               Astonishing
#25 , pg. 5
                                                                                        (June 1953)


     (on the story, "I'll Die a LIttle Bit!"): "...a sidebar of little interest - page 5, panel 4 shows a surgeon about to do an autopsy. I copied the face of an opera baritone friend of mine (who also played Woody Allen's father in "Annie Hall") named Leo Postrel."

     " As in many cases, the last to join would be the first to go, and I found myself among those. Consequently, I went to work as a studio artist for a while, then became an Art Director of an industrial film organization. Following that I worked again in a studio as a free-lancer (I had always done free-lance book covers and inside illustrations on the side) and then went back to Art Directing for an agency doing mostly Latin American advertising. This was followed by a job as Television Art Director for a large ad agency--all the while continuing free-lance work, such as the medical illustrations for the Merck Therapy Manual---and, in a couple of years, maintained a small agency of my own. It was about 1968
(ed. note: actually 1972) or so that I went back to do more stuff (then MARVEL) and met with Everett to take over some of his work."

     (on his meeting with Everett): "When I received a call from Stan in about 1972 or so, I found he wanted me to meet with Bill Everett. It seems, in retrospect, that Bill had a heart condition although I am not certain. In any event, I imagine he told Marvel he felt he should retire from working on Submariner, and we were introduced to one another. We met at Marvel and he and I went to lunch at a restaurant around the corner from the Black Rock (CBS) on 6th Avenue in the 50s. There, over lunch, he gave me some hints about Submariner but pretty much left the art and design in my hands, approving what he had seen of my work on previous Marvel/Timely pages.

           Sub-Mariner
#62, pg. 18
                     (June 1973)


   (on use of the pen-name, Irv Wesley): " I was involved in my small agency, and for reasons of things politic, I thought it best not to have possible clients (who looked down on comic magazines) associate my name with the books; I used Irv Wesley because Irving is my ACTUAL first name, and Wesley is the "Anglicization" of our otherwise Lithuanian name that some earlier family settlers used in their business."


  

   " I was already involved in my ad agency cum free-lance work, and I found it sometimes difficult to squeeze in Submariner. Circumstances such as this, plus--I imagine--the desire to make Submariner now more muscular within a new philosophy about the strip, came to a head and I was thrown into more and more ad work as Roy or Stan, contemporaneously, felt Submariner should now go to other artists. My memories of both Roy and Stan and others stand out in my memory as part of a wonderful bunch of people…"



                                                                        Journey Into Mystery
vol. 2, #3, pg. 6
                                                                                         
 ( February 1973)
 
     "I was busy at my own ad agency and there seemed to be a meeting of events--less use of my work, less time for me to put in at Marvel, that precluded continuing beyond that period. I was asked to come on as an Art Director of to magazines in the Ziff-Davis publishing family (three years), and then spent ten years free-lancing as a Storyboard Artist for practically every large ad agency in New York, and even free-lance visits to Toronto and Chicago to contribute to ad campaigns. How I found time even to paint and exhibit at galleries is a question I still ask myself--Grand Central Galleries in NYC, the Salmagundi Club, The Society of Illustrators, etc."

  
   " In 1993 I moved to Boca Raton, Florida, where I have free-lanced for magazines as well as shown at galleries. In June I had a cover printed for Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine, and had a commissioned canvas done for a military museum in Louisiana."



    Rickenbacker Celebrating Armistice Day-1918
                         
  (painted 1990)

     Today, Kweskin continues to stay busy, teaching a cartooning course at a local museum in addition to doing occasional commissions.

     Sam Kweskin will probably never be as well known as some comic artists, but certainly, not for lack of talent. The art history of comic books is richer for the contributions of Kweskin, both as an artist and for his recollections. He serves to remind us that not every skilled artist gains the noteriey of a Jack Kirby or a Frank Frazetta, just as not every hero wears an "S" on their chest.

©2002
Ken Quattro
and the one that started it all: