Monday, February 20, 2012

Scans of Bill Everett Sub-Mariner B&W origin story

We hope you’ll join us for the Bill Everett Book Launch on Wednesday February 29 in Toronto for Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1. We’ll be featuring some dazzling early work by Everett in my brand new slideshow on the Sub-Mariner creator, as well as on Steve Ditko. (Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives v3 went to the printers last week! Out in Q2!)

Perhaps the most dazzling piece of Everett artwork from the early Golden Age of Comics (Everett produced work during this period from 1938-1942 before going to war; he started up again in 1946) is the original origin story for the Sub-Mariner. Most people remember the 12-page story in color from Marvel Comics #1 in 1939 but, prior to owner Martin Goodman commissioning that first book, Everett had already worked up the original 8-page version for a movie theatre promotional giveaway called Motion Picture Funnies Weekly. It was produced by the Funnies Inc. shop (i.e., a studio of comic-book creators that packaged comics for publishers unwilling in these early days to have their own stable of paid employees) that Everett had formed with his editor at Centaur Publications, Lloyd Jacquet (where Everett started in 1938 doing comics that we feature in the Everett Archives). Copies of MPFW only surfaced in the 1970s when Jacquet passed away.

Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 had a color cover, but the interior was B&W, and led off with Everett’s Sub-Mariner origin story. Click HERE to view scans of the entire issue (thanks to author Sean Howe for the link), including the back cover drawn by Everett promoting Funnies Inc.'s desire to encourage similar business for the shop. Read through the message board thread and you’ll learn a lot about the history of this key comic book (which we discuss in great length in my Fire & Water Bill Everett biography). When the story was “reprinted” in Marvel Comics #1, Everett expanded it by four pages (the original art to page 12 is featured in the Everett Archives v1) and attempted a coloring process that, in print, didn’t yield the desired results. Seeing the story in B&W only highlights Everett's place in the absolute top tier of creators during the Golden Age of Comics. (Creators, not just pencilers, since Everett was a five-tool player, to use a baseball analogy).

My favorite panels from the story include that stunning bottom panel on pg 2 (the first shot of the diver underwater) and I've always been in love with the "grace" of the final 4 panels of the following page. Page four features the Sub-Mariner crushing the head of the diver - hardly the plain jane origins of a garden variety superhero! On page 6, I love the way he portrays the Sub-Mariner, his mother and the Emperor; such fluidity in that line work. Once Everett gets down to the business of pumping out the strip, and his other work for Funnies Inc., on a monthly basis, we don't see the Sub-Mariner portrayed in this fashion again. And, of course, we get to see history clarified in that last panel on pg. 8 - April 1939 and "continued next week", removed for the expanded version (12 pgs) in Marvel Comics #1. The historical importance of MPFW can never be underestimated, in terms of writing the history of Marvel Comics, the company.

As we point out in the Everett Archives v1, Bill’s style in 1938-39 is very raw and dynamic, compared to this first Sub-Mariner story, until 1940 when that “polish” for which he became famous kicks into high gear on strips like Hydroman. But you can clearly see from these scans why Everett was considered a prodigy. He had artistic talent in spades before he entered comic books and it shines through in the original origin story of the Sub-Mariner in B&W.


  1. Thanks for the B & W Everett art link. He was quite an impressive comics creator who deserves much more credit than he has gotten, but you are helping keep his work and memory alive! Thanks, Blake!

  2. Strange in that the colouring process didn't work. I liked the murkiness of the colouring, it felt more under water authentic then anything I've seen in comic since.

  3. GREAT article, Blake! I remember when MPFW surfaced and was covered in the Overstreet of the time; such a big deal! And rightfully so. Still, some historians gloss over it or forget it entirely, which is a shame. Thanks for bringing it back to its rightful prominence.

    BTW, I'm sure you know, but the original art for the story surfaced as well some years ago. I hope you had access to it for your wonderful book! Would love to see the raw pages and any margin notes.

    Mike Pascale

  4. Looking at that art it's nice to see the time that comic books still used captions! Today editors actually forbid writers from using captions. As a result there is no atmosphere in the stories, no background, and no introspection since thought balloons aren't used any more either. It's no wonder people feel like they're not getting their money's worth when they can read an entire comic book in 5 minutes.