In Search of Bill Everett's Ghost

     Refresh…good…refresh…good…refresh…damn.

     Only the last thirty seconds of any eBay auction matter. You could bookmark an eBay auction as you were leaving Anchorage to begin the Iditarod, run your dogsled 10 days and nights, and still have time at the finish line in Nome to log on and snipe someone in the waning seconds of the auction. This time the sniper took his shot too soon, and I reclaimed the lead just in time to win the original art for page 16 from Sub-Mariner #61.

     Offered by the inker, Jim Mooney, the art held a greater significance because it came from the last comic worked on by Bill Everett.

      Everett was the legendary, but often-overlooked artist who in (dare I say it?) antediluvian times, created Marvel's (formerly Timely's) first super-hero, the Sub-Mariner. "…the idea of a character turning himself into flame came first. Carl (Burgos) called him the Human Torch." Everett recalled in The Steranko History of Comics, "Then we discussed the natural opposite of fire…water. What could we do with a character and water? That was my part of it. I recalled these lines from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
     "The sun came up upon he left,
  Out of the sea came he!
      And he shone bright, and on the right
  Went down into the sea."

      I called him the Sub-Mariner after the poem and for the name Namor, I simply spelled "Roman" backwards."

The Sub-Mariner was initially published in a giveaway comic entitled Motion Picture Funnies Weekly, which beat the seminal Timely comic, Marvel Comics #1 into publication by several months. Everett's singular drawing style was unique in that he was influenced not by the usual comic strip icons Caniff, Foster and Raymond, but slick magazine illustrators Dean Cornwell and Floyd Davis. The triangular-faced, arched eyebrowed, pointed-eared Namor defied the square-jawed ubermensch template. And Everett was a superb, fastidious inker, employing all of the tiny pen strokes unused by Basil Wolverton. Everett did work for Timely, by now called Atlas, until it's implosion and near collapse in 1957. He spent the next half-dozen or so years employed in the advertising industry. Everett made his way back into comics and Marvel with the first issue of Daredevil in 1964. By the late sixties, he was a fixture again illustrating Doctor Strange and ultimately his old creation, the Sub-Mariner.

      But this page from Sub-Mariner 61, this wasn't Everett, was it? I asked Jim Mooney that question in the email confirming my high bid in his auction.

     " I know it's not Bill Everett," he wrote, " I'm pretty sure it's Sam Kweskin."

     Who?

     The name was vaguely familiar, very vaguely, but certainly not one I associated with this comic. Pulling out the comic, I checked the credits on the splash page:



      "Everett, Mortimer and Moon(e)y"
      No mention of Sam Kweskin. Was Mooney wrong? I needed to know, so I began consulting The Experts.

      "Sam Kweskin was an old-time artist who sometimes worked with Everett," answered Mark Evanier. And did he draw this comic? "It looks like Kweskin…"

     Richard Howell had a bit more information. "Sam Kweskin (also occasionally billed as Irv Wesley) worked with Everett during the short period Everett was doing full art on the Sub-Mariner series (in about 1972, beginning with issue #50)," wrote Howell, " I'd understood that Kweskin did some underdrawing on some of the Everett "solo" issues; then, later (when Everett got sicker) drew some of the issues himself. I'd heard at the time that Kweskin/Wesley had done some work for Atlas in the '50s, but I've never gotten that confirmed." Mooney's contention began seeming more valid.

Then Dr. Michael Vassallo added more to the Kweskin bio. "There is very little biographical info on Kweskin. He was born in 1924, that I know. I also know he has passed away", said Dr. Vassalllo, " (ed. note: Not so! Please read the sequel to this article, "Finding Sam Kweskin") Working backwards, he did some work for Marvel in the early 1970's on Daredevil and Dr. Strange as well as some mystery story art in Marvel's 1970's horror revival books like Journey Into Mystery (vol. 2). He wrote and penciled a story in issue #2 (Feb/73) inked by Ernie Chan. I believe he was a Vince Colletta ghost in the late 1950's also. I
know him best though for his pre-code work for Atlas in the years 1952-53. "

                                                              Kent Blake of the Secret Service #14, pg. 1

     I figured the Kweskin portrait was just about complete.

     Just one more source I wanted to check. Roy Thomas was one of the first to make the transition from fan to comic professional. He quickly rose in the ranks at Marvel from writer to its highest editorial position. One of the books under his editorial eye was Sub-Mariner. If anyone would know for sure if Kweskin drew this issue, it would be the man responsible for assigning the artists.

     "I'm afraid you've been mostly misinformed about Sam Kweskin's work in the early 70s for Marvel, " Thomas wrote, " He did some work on Sub-Mariner and other comics, but he worked directly for Marvel and was in no way Bill Everett's assistant, even though he may have finished a book or two started (or meant to be started) by Bill Everett as Bill's terminal illness manifested itself. If he's not listed in the credits, he certainly wasn't ghosting Bill; their art wasn't that much alike. "

      Back to square one.

     This much I knew for certain:
     1) The art in issue #61 was credited to Everett, Mortimer and Mooney.
     2) Jim Mooney, the inker, claimed it was Kweskin's pencils on this page.
     3) Sam Kweskin penciled Sub-Mariner issues 58-60, 62 and 63. In other words, all the surrounding issues to the one in question.

I went back to the comic itself to look for any other clues. And perhaps I found one in the letters column. "As you've no doubt noticed from the first three pages of this issue, Everett was back…and better than ever!" wrote the editor (Thomas) in reply to a letter, "And then, with only those three pages completed, the Wild One (Everett) took ill. And, sad to say, it's the kind of illness that's going to keep him off the Sub-Mariner (or any mag) for a month or two to come."

    "As of this writing, we have not yet chosen an artist to continue in Bill's absence. So next issue's gonna be a surprise to everybody, even us!"

     Reading between the lines, it seems there was a scramble to find an artist in a hurry. Everett was very ill and passed away soon after this was written. Is it possible that in all the confusion, could other hands have touched the art on this story that even the editor was unaware of? And given that Kweskin was already familiar with the character, if he was to lend a hand with the pencils it would make a lot of sense.

      Perhaps there will never be an answer to this mystery. Two of the three artists credited with drawing this comic are gone, Everett and Mortimer, and the memory of the third artist conflicts with his editor's.

      So I remain haunted by Bill Everett's ghost.

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©2002
by Ken Quattro

Many pieces of art have more of a story to them than what is told on the page. This series explores the story behind the art. If you have artwork with a tale to tell, please contact us at:

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