Saturday, March 19, 2011

Intro. to Bill Everett Archives v1 off to the publisher today!

Whoever said "half of writing is rewriting" I don't think got their percentages quite right. Today, I'm sending to my publisher, Fantagraphics, the completed introductory essay to my upcoming book, Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1, that will make its debut at this year's San Diego Comicon. The book collects Bill Everett's non-Marvel Comics work from 1938-42 for the first time.

So, other than writing this blog post, what do you think I'd be doing today? Surely not rewriting a 335-word passage at the 500-word mark of this 5000-word essay, right?

Well, you'd be wrong. In giving the introduction one final read, I wasn't happy with this 335-word section that speaks to the evolution of sequential art in the 19th century, the comic strip, and the influence of the Hearst/Pulitzer newspapers. Thankfully, in part, by just moving some elements around, it reads more clearly and makes its point more succinctly.

Lots of people use the first appearance of Superman in 1938, or Marvel Comics #1 in 1939 (featuring Bill Everett's The Sub-Mariner), as the landmark in comic-book history and they certainly are key in the history of the super-hero, but Bill Everett's beginnings in the comic-book industry pre-date both events. His career can be viewed as a bridge between the evolution of the comic-book form and the whirlwind of superhero comic books that led the charge into World War II. We explore the connections in essay and I've been rewriting it until I've gotten it right...which I've hopefully done this morning!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Listen to my interview re: Everett & Ditko

Click HERE to listen to a podcast of my hour-long interview, conducted this past week for Vancouver radio with Robin McConnell. We spend the hour discussing all things Bill Everett and Steve Ditko. Our main focus is on my upcoming book, Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1 - debuting at this year's San Diego Comicon which features Bill Everett's non-Marvel Comics work from 1938-1942, collected for the first time. However, we also delve into my Steve Ditko Archives series, as we look forward to volume three coming out towards the end of 2011. Check out the rest of the interviews on Robin's site - he is the premier interviewer when it comes to gathering the industry's talent to talk about comics (case in point - the interview before mine was with one of my all-time favourites - Joe Sacco). Click HERE to listen to the 2008 Inkstuds interview for the release of my Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko book.

Saturday, March 12, 2011 interview about my Everett/Ditko books

Just got off the phone with Canada's best comic-book interviewer, Robin McConnell, he of We spent an hour discussing my upcoming Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1 book, as well as my ongoing Steve Ditko Archives series. Robin hopes to have the interview air on radio this Thursday and we'll let you know when it's posted on line for your listening pleasure. Inkstuds is a stunning resource of recorded interviews with great cartoonists from every aspect of the industry. Just yesterday, Robin posted his interview with one of my favourites, Joe Sacco. You can also still hear the interview Robin and I did together back in 2008 for the release of my Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko biography by clicking here.

"Bill Everett Archives" Update: The Winding Road to Centaur

I've locked myself indoors all weekend to finish off work on the introduction to Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1 that will be debuting at this year's San Diego Comicon. It reprints Everett's non-Marvel work from 1938-42; stories never before collected as such.

Many fascinating aspects of the comics themselves have bubbled up during my research for the introduction. Sure, the creators in the Golden Age of Comics were fascinating, but almost as unique are the publishers of the comics and how the industry operated, especially before the onset of the superheroes in 1938/39.

Case in point: Centaur Publications. This was the company that hired Bill Everett to do his first ever comic-book work. They published most famously Amazing-Man Comics and a host of other titles featuring Everett-drawn characters. To your left is the cover to 1938's only issue of Uncle Joe's Funnies. It doesn't have a month associated with its publication, but it's amongst the first ever comic book entries in Everett's canon of work, drawn a year before Marvel Comics #1 with the Sub-Mariner made its debut. What's interesting is how the history of Centaur's line of comics winds back before the company began even publishing comics.

The trail begins back in 1936, with the formation of the company Comics Magazine Company, Inc. by John Mahon and Bill Cook, former employees of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson who had formed National Allied Publications - the company that published the first all-original material comic book the year before, 1935's More Fun Comics (the company would eventually evolve into what we now know as DC Comics).

When Mahon and Cook left, they took some of NAP's inventory with them for issues 1 and 2 of The Comics Magazine (#1 cover-dated May '36). Issue #2 adds "Funny Pages" to the cover title, but the indicia remains The Comics Magazine.

With issue 6, however, only Funny Pages remains in the title, cover-dated Nov '38, which skips a month - Sep to Nov - from issue 5 of The Comics Magazine (Funny Pages). This is an important issue in comic-book history as it features the appearance of the first masked hero to appear in an American comic book, The Clock, by George E. Brenner. The publisher also debuted a new title that publication month - Funny Picture Stories v1 #1 which features The Clock for 7 pages and on the cover, another first.

What's also interesting to note is that The Comics Magazine + (Funny Pages) issues #1-5 all have a Chicago company address, but that changes to a St. Louis address for FPS v1 #1 and no mention of either in Funny Pages #6. The only consistency is the New York editorial office at 11 West 42nd Street.

Comics Magazine Company, Inc started publishing books with a May '36 cover date, but comes to an end as a company with their books that have a Jun '37 cover date, such as Funny Pages v1 #11. (Oddly enough, #8 has a Cleveland address for the company versus the original Chicago office that was then followed by the St. Louis office, even when the editorial offices are consistently in Manhattan? Perhaps Cook or Mahon used their home address for the company and keep moving!).

The Comics Magazine Company, Inc brand name comes to an end with the Jun '37 books because Cook and Mahon sell out to two gentleman, I.W. Ullman and Frank Temerson, who brand their company Ultem Publications. Ultem acquired two of their four titles from Mahon and Cook - Funny Pages and Funny Picture Stories - and two from the company Chesler Publications, Inc. - "Star Comics" and "Star Ranger" - which was run by Harry A Chesler, who would remain as editor of the books.

A quirk about Funny Pages v2 #1 published by Ultem. It has two different indicias. From the indicia on inside front cover: "FUNNY PAGES is published monthly at 404 N. Wesley Ave., Mount Morris, Ill., for Comics Magazine Company, Inc., 1213 W. 3rd St., Cleveland, Ohio. EDITORIAL OFFICE, 11 W. 42nd St., New York, N. Y." From the indicia on contents page: "FUNNY PAGES is published monthly by Ultem Publications, Inc., Mount Morris, Illinois. EDITORIAL OFFICE, 276 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK, N. Y."

Ultem, however, only holds out for five publishing months before the two men, Joe Hardie and Raymond Kelly, who have been publishing pulp magazines under the Centaur Publications banner, ride in and take over the four titles to start Centaur's line of comic books with the Mar '38 cover dates. (All four of Ultem's titles stop with Jan '38 and they then skip a month to start under Centaur with Mar '38).

Centaur's main thrust is humor books until they hire Lloyd Jacquet as editor who steers them towards the action-adventure genre. 1938 is the year Jacquet hires Bill Everett, who starts with his Skyrocket Steele strip in Amazing Mystery Funnies, the cover to issue one (seen above) and then Everett's first full story in issue two, cover-dated Aug and Sep '38 respectively.

And there you have the twisting road leading to Centaur's line of comics and the hiring of Bill Everett into the comic-book industry! Back now to fleshing out the introduction to Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1, where we go into greater detail about the early days of the Golden Age of Comics, and pick up the Centaur/Everett story as Jacquet, Everett and their band of creative anarchists break away from Centaur to form their own company that will ultimately package the contents for Marvel Comics #1 featuring Everett's the Sub-Mariner!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Super-Rare Material Uncovered for The Bill Everett Archives!

There's gold in them thar hills, I tell ya! I feel like Doctor Who when putting together books like The Bill Everett Archives - the wonderment and unabashed surprise when you uncover something that likely 99.9% of the world has never seen before.

Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1 is making its debut at the San Diego Comicon this July. It features over 200+ pages of Bill Everett's non-Marvel artwork from 1938-42. Most was done for the Lloyd Jacquet shop, Funnies Inc., which supplied packaged artwork for publishers like Centaur, Eastern Color, Novelty Press and more (not to mention Timely Comics). The original comics are rare and haven't been thoroughly examined like their Marvel and DC Comics counterparts have.

Little did I know when I started this project that I'd uncover artwork by Bill Everett that I'd never seen before, that I never knew existed! To your left is a text illustration that I never knew existed (remember those pesky two-or-three page text stories companies used to throw in to get a cheaper postal rate? They actually now have some value!) and ranks as one of the five oldest published pieces of Bill Everett comic-book artwork known to exist (there's actually two illustrations by Bill in this text story)!

The two illustrations are buried in a text story from an issue of Funny Pages (v2 #11 - Nov '38) that otherwise contains no Everett artwork, so who would have thought to look there? And since it's not exactly a name book, a superhero book, that made the chance of its discovery even more rare. The only challengers for older Everett artwork are his first - the cover to Amazing Mystery Funnies v1 #1 (cover-dated Aug '38), his first interior work in Amazing Mystery Funnies v1 #2 (cover-dated Sep '38), issue #3 of that series (Nov '38), and possibly his cover to Uncle Joe's Funnies, which is only dated "1938".

What we're uncovering (with fellow Everett enthusiasts like Steve Carey, Ryan Heshka, and Robert Weiner) doesn't just end at those two illustrations. We've found nine total text story illustrations to date from this 1938-42 period that likely few have ever seen. I didn't even know that he did the cover to Dickie Dare #1 (1941). Now I do. If you think you have any more super-rare Bill Everett material, please email me so that we can make these two volumes a complete representation of the man's work!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Help with Bill Everett credits on Heroic Comics

(The newspaper headline for this story should be "Do you see any Everett in this Music Master story from Heroic Comics #13, but here's some context first...) Ahh, the fun one has when putting together a book about comic artwork from the 1930/40s when credits were nowhere near as meticulous as they are today...and, sometimes, many artists could contribute to a particular story, clouding the credits even more. This is mostly owing to the "Shop" mentality in the Golden Age of Comics. "Funnies Inc." was the Lloyd Jacquet shop, featuring numerous artists like Bill Everett, that packaged comics for publishers. Sometimes, even when an artist signed his name to a story, there was no guarantee that it wouldn't pass through other hands to finish up the pencils on backgrounds or when it needed the inks finished to rush it out the door. These people had no time or inclination to care about history, that we'd be looking at these books 70+ years later with such an eagle eye.

The two volumes of The Bill Everett Archives that I'm putting together are relatively straightforward in presenting Everett as Everett. Luckily, we have a great resource like the Grand Comics Database that lists credits in detail for almost every comic you can plug into the search engine.

Everett's work on the Hydroman character is amongst his best of the era and it can be found in Heroic Comics. Starting with issue 1, Everett did all the work up to issue #9, but then his involvement gets a bit hazy. The covers stop being signed by Everett after #6, but #7 -  - looks clearly like Everett, #8 and #9, though, not clearly so much. The Hydroman looks like Everett, but the Man O' Metal character looks like two different artists drew him each time. The GCD lists H.G. Peter as the cover artist and Stephen A. Douglas (S.A.D.) is listed as the creator of Man O' Metal. Anyone want to take a guess at this?

Issue #10 is not signed by Everett (for the first time on the run). The GCD listing, however, credits it as being signed by Ben Thompson and while I don't disagree that this looks like Thompson (perhaps with some assists by Everett, or Everett inking/touching up?), if you'd like to take a look, you can click here to go to the page on the Golden Age Comics public domain downloading site and take a look for yourself. Thoughts?

Issue #11 of Heroic Comics has a cover signed by "S.A.D." (for Stephen A. Douglas, a Golden Age editor at Eastern Color, who published Heroic Comics), even though the GCD listing says it's by Everett. The GCD listing also credits the Hydroman story to Everett, even though in the first panel, it says "by Ben Thompson." Ben doesn't do a bad Bill Everett in some panels and you can click here to download issue #11 to take a look. Thoughts? Any Everett here?

Issue #12 (May '42) has no Everett on Hydroman (again, the GCD listing has Everett doing the script, pencils and inks for Hydroman, even though "By Ben Thompson" is above the masthead, but this is the first appearance of The Music Master. The splash panel says the character was "Created by Stephen A. Douglas". Here's the cover to #12. Thoughts from anyone on whether this is pure Everett, some Everett, no Everett? Who else?

Issue #13 is where it goes off the beam. The cover date of May '42 for issue 12 is the same cover date of Marvel Mystery Comics #31, Bill's last work on the Sub-Mariner before he goes off to War. Again, the GCD listing has Everett doing the script, pencils and inks for Hydroman, even though "By Ben Thompson" is above (can't see a whit of Everett here). But it's the Music Master story here that is interesting. There are elements of Everett, some panels that definitely look like Everett (page 3, panel 1), some inking that looks similar to Everett, but there's clearly somebody else at play here, but who? Stephen A Douglas? I don't (the world doesn't?) have enough of his work to know the difference.

Here are scans of pages 1 to 3 (click on to enlarge) of the Music Master story. Anyone care to comment on whether or not they see Everett here and who else?

Issue #14 has no Everett Hydroman work, and there's another Music Master story, again only saying "created by Stephen A. Douglas". It doesn't look like Everett at all in any panel.

I don't have issue #15, but I'll "go out on a limb" here and say the GCD listing is also wrong here for the Hydroman story. Can someone please confirm this? Issue #15's cover date is Nov '42 and Everett enlisted in the War in Feb '42.

And then there's this Stephen A. Douglas person. Editor as Eastern Color in the 1930s for sure, but brief cover art and creator of some of the Eastern Color characters? Anyone have more on him?

There's more magic that I've unearthed in my work putting the Bill Everett Archives together and I'll comment on that tomorrow! Stay tuned!