Fire and Water: Bill Everett, the Sub-Mariner and the Birth of Marvel Comics
Written by Blake Bell
Published by Fantagraphics
Blake Bell chronicles the life of cartoonist Bill Everett, most famous to most current comics readers as the creator of Marvel Comics’ Namor, the Sub-Mariner and Daredevil, the Man without Fear, in his latest book, Fire and Water: Bill Everett, the Sub-Mariner and the Birth of Marvel Comics. An effective biography and a great showcase of classic comics artwork, Bell’s book provides an intriguing look into the life of a man who played an important role in the shaping of the creative side of the comics industry.
Although it weighs in at over 200 pages, Fire and Water does not provide a detailed biography. As the figures behind the comics were not recognized during much of Everett’s career, interviews with the cartoonist are not plentiful. As such, Bell relies on accounts from Everett’s family and colleagues to fill in the blanks and trace the young man’s introduction to the comics business and evolution across forty-odd years as an illustrator. Accounts of Everett’s non-comics jobs and alcoholism are plentiful, as are tributes to his talent and lamentations to his many wasted opportunities.
Despite relying on mostly second-hand accounts, Bell provides readers an effective if not overly deep account of Everett’s life and relationship to the comics industry. The book’s biggest appeal, however, comes from seeing Everett’s artwork displayed in the oversize hardcover format. Fire and Water does not give readers any complete Everett comics stories, but half of the book is devoted to showcasing the illustrations – detailed pages from the late 1930s up through the early 1970s. The book presents readers with illustrations and pages involving Namor, Daredevil, westerns and horror books, jungle adventures and humor comics, as well as dynamic drawings done for non-comics publications or for his own personal enjoyment.
Although it’s not the deepest biography ever written and it doesn’t present any full comics stories, Fire and Water: Bill Everett, The Sub-Mariner and the Birth of Marvel Comics is a worthwhile window into the life of a seminal creator in the evolution of the comics industry. Abetted by plentiful examples of Everett’s illustrative prowess (both at his peak and when in the depths of addiction), it’s a valuable tool for anybody interested in the history of the medium or the men behind their favorite stories and characters. And it’s fortunate that men like Blake Bell and publishers like Fantagraphics are committed to telling these stories so that we don’t lose sight of our roots.