Fire & Water Review

By | Monday, January 02, 2012 Leave a Comment
One of the reasons I don't do more reviews is that I can't seem to get the books and read them in enough time to be of any real use. But sometimes a book is worth highlighting even if it's a couple years old. Such is the case with Blake Bell's Fire and Water: Bill Everett, The Sub-Mariner, and the Birth of Marvel Comics.

It should come as no surprise that it's mostly a biography of Everett with some related info on the early days of what would later become known as Marvel Comics. I've had it sitting on my bookshelf for a little while now; it's large and inconvenient enough that I can't really carry it around to read on my lunch hour at work or anything. But it's a surprisingly fast read. I have to admit that I haven't studied Everett's work in great detail, nor much about the man himself, outside of his creation of the Sub-Mariner and his return to that character towards the end of his life. Consequently, much of this book was welcome information, from mundane issues about his childhood to a deeper look at his overall career in comics to some of the problems he fought to overcome. Much of the information comes from rare source material, many personal papers and notebooks as well as interviews with various family members, so it's good to see it all sorted through and recorded before it might get lost or destroyed.

The book looks like a coffee table style book and, to that end, it includes a lot of Everett artwork. Some original production art, some published material, many sketches and prelims. All of it looks fantastic. Worth browsing through just to see some of the detail he included on his pieces. The early pieces he did for NBC Radio are incredible, especially when you consider he was still in his teens when he did them!

There are two things I would've liked to have seen added to the book, though. First, I would have appreciated having notations in the text on where certain art pieces might be found. Some pieces are more-or-less where the explanatory text is, but many pieces are placed between chapters and there's an extra long art section in the back. Just a simple "see page 42" would have helped more than a few times where I was hoping to see what the text was referring to.

Second, I would have liked to have seen his dealings with alcoholism more evenly paced throughout the book. That he had lifelong problems with substance abuse beginning when he was 12 is mentioned early on, but then mostly dropped until his late 40s/early 50s. Granted, you don't want to focus his whole biography towards that one element of his life, especially since it's a negative one, but if it WAS a constant issue, as the book asserts, then I should think it would be more of a running theme. How did he deal with it while he was enlisted, for example? Were his various job losses due, in part, to alcoholism or was he just being stubborn as part of a basic personality make-up? There's a clear acknowledgement of the issue, but it's largely not referenced AS an issue except almost in retrospect.

That said, though, it is a beautiful book and has a lot of great information about Everett that I am glad to have learned. Worth keeping an eye out for this, if you can still find it!
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