Ed Vebell and The Three Investigators

According to Mr. Vebell, the world of illustrating has changed tremendously since he first entered the field. In the "old days," he did not use an agent; paying a commission to an agent did not seem a wise use of his money when he was able to find work on his own. So when he was ready to accept a new illustrating job, he would tuck some samples of his work under his arm and go to visit art directors at the publishing companies. Typically, he would visit three publishers in a day's time and usually he got at least one illustrating job for his effort. This was how he got involved in drawing for the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series with Random House.

To do the illustrations, the publisher would deliver a manuscript of the story, which Mr. Vebell would read. Based on his sensitivities as an artist, he would then pick the scenes which he felt would best capture the action of the story, keeping in mind that the illustrations also needed to be more or less evenly distributed throughout the book. The jobs would take anywhere from 4-6 weeks, which was sometimes a tight schedule depending on other activities at the time.

After selecting the scenes to draw, Mr. Vebell would then take photos of models in poses that he had visualized for the illustrations. He acknowledges that in theory an artist should be able to draw everything from within the imagination, but almost all artists use models to help them get a more natural drawing, particularly when there are multiple people in an illustration. So Mr. Vebell found young boys that looked like the Three Investigators: a somewhat stocky boy for Jupiter, a taller, more athletic boy for Pete, and a boy of smaller of stature for Bob. Although it was not uncommon to use professional models, Mr. Vebell was able to find local boys near his home who resembled the Three Investigators; so he used the neighborhood boys. He had them look dramatic in their poses to achieve the atmosphere of fear and mystery that was associated with the series, and he then drew the illustrations from those photos.

Although Mr. Vebell can obviously draw illustrations in color or black and white, he prefers the black and white drawings, and when you look at his drawings, you can see that his black and white illustrations are almost photo-realistic. To get sharp lines on the illustrations, he would usually draw the original illustrations at a size of about 2 to 2.5 times the printed illustration (much larger drawings would result in fine lines being shrunk into blobs when the artwork was reduced in size for printing). When these were sent to the publisher, the camera-ready copy would be prepared at the size to be published in the printed book.

Mr. Vebell knew two of the other artists involved with the series: Herb Mott and Jack Hearne (Mr. Vebell remembers having lunch at Hearne's home one day). However, they never had occasion to discuss their common involvement on the series; so Mr. Vebell's involvement with the series was limited to just his artwork.

Mr. Vebell drew 7 book covers for the Three Investigators series and did the internal illustrations for one book. His signature can be seen in most of the cover illustrations, but they are usually uncredited on the title page. The one exception to this is the first edition printing of "The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot," where the internal illustrations are credited to Mr. Vebell whereas he did only the cover for that one. Subsequent printings of the book correctly credit Harry Kane for the internal illustrations but do not credit Vebell as the cover illustrator.

The illustrations that Mr. Vebell drew for the series are listed below (click on the link to see the scans of the drawings).

1. Cover illustration - The Secret of Terror Castle (original hardback version)
2. Cover illustration - The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot (original hardback version)
3. Cover illustration - The Mystery of the Singing Serpent (original hardback version)
4. Internal illustrations (7) - The Mystery of the Singing Serpent
5. Cover illustration - The Mystery of the Shrinking House (original hardback version)
6. Cover illustration - The Secret of Phantom Lake (original hardback version)
7. Cover illustration - The Secret of Terror Castle (Windward paperback version)
8. Cover illustration - The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot (Windward paperback version)

Mr. Vebell also took time to share some tidbits about the various drawings that he did. I have included them below, because they give additional insights on how he constructed the drawings.

1. The Secret of Terror Castle - He used a place he was familiar with as the inspiration for the walls that are illustrated in the dungeon scene on the cover of the original. He drew both the front and back covers of the book, and he used a skeleton (stored in his attic) to draw the skeleton on the back cover.
2. The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot - He used a variety of props to draw the clutter in Headquarters on the hardback version of this cover. He still has the dressmaker's dummy that is illustrated on the back cover.
3. The Mystery of the Singing Serpent - He had quite a bit to share about the
internal illustrations on this one.
a. His middle daughter was the model for Allie Jamison in the
first and last illustrations in this book.
b. He used his wife as the model for Mrs. Compton, who is illustrated in the
hospital bed scene with Jupiter looking at the curious serpent bracelet.
c. He used himself as the model in three of the illustrations:
the scene where Pete is confronted by a guard at the house (Vebell is the guard, although Vebell admits that he beefed himself up a bit in the drawing from his normal appearance), the scene where the boys are escaping from Bentley's apartment (Vebell is Bentley; Vebell had no mustache at the time so he had to add one to the drawing), and the scene where the sťance is occurring (Vebell is the neatly dressed gentleman in the suit at the back of the table).
d. He used his sister-in-law as the model for the lady on the far left of the
illustration where Hugo Ariel is conducting a meeting with the group

I acquired the remainder of Mr. Vebell's photos that he had in his studio from his days of illustrating for The Three Investigators. If you would like to look at them, along with what I can reconstruct of how they were used, click here.


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