The Photos of The Three Investigators

During the course of my conversations with Mr. Vebell, he mentioned that he had no original artwork left from his sojourn with The Three Investigators, but he did have a few photos left. At the time, I was ignorant of the use of photos for illustrating purposes, but Mr. Vebell explained that most illustrators use photos to make sure that they accurately draw objects and people in their illustrations, particularly for getting the perspective and angles right. Mr. Vebell used models for all his illustrations, but when it came to the photos for The Three Investigators, there were several boys in the area surrounding his home that looked like they would fit the bill for the boys in the stories. So he rounded them up at various times over the years and shot some photos of them. He had them in a variety of poses for the stories, but for cover illustrations he favored having the boys look frightened by some phenomenon. So most of the photos show the boys running away from something.

Because it was so long ago, Mr. Vebell obviously doesn't remember every detail of each photo that he took; but a little detective work in inspecting the photos helps put the story together of the photos. I have grouped the photos according to what I believe are different photo sessions. This is based on the physical condition of the photos (paper type, contrast, etc.), the appearance of the boys themselves, and the clothing they wore. The thumbnail images of the photos are displayed below. Clicking on them will display a larger size image of the photo. Enjoy!



Group 1

This group of photos was taken of the same boy. In photos #1 and #3, he is dressed as Pete, but in photos #2, and #4 he is dressed as Bob. Photo #1 was used as the basis for the drawing of Pete on the cover of the Windward paperback edition of The Secret of Terror Castle, while photo #2 was used as the basis for the drawing of Bob on the hardback version of The Secret of Phantom Lake. Interestingly, the pose in photo #4 is very similar to the pose of Pete on the cover of The Secret of Phantom Lake; so it's possible (but unprovable at this point) that Mr. Vebell used this photo as well on that particular cover.

It's also a real possibility that Mr. Vebell used photo #3 (or a similar one) as the basis for the model of Pete on the cover of the Windward paperback editionof The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot. The facial expression and hair are certainly the same, and changing Pete's position in the illustration from that used in the photo would not be a major effort for a talented illustrator.

You can tell from the photos that Mr. Vebell dressed the boy in these photos as he envisioned the boys would appear. As Pete, the boy wears a jacket, while as Bob, he wears a fringe vest. The pants are definitely typical of the 1970s; so these photos were certainly taken during the time when Mr. Vebell was drawing the Windward cover for Terror Castle and the hardback cover of Phantom Lake.






Group 2

This set of photos was apparently taken during the early 1960s for a possible cover of the original hardback edition of The Secret of Terror Castle. The clothing on the boys is certainly from the 1960s rather than the 1970s, and the model for Pete has the crew cut that we associate with Pete prior to volume 15 of the series (Coughing Dragon was the last book to show Pete with a crew cut). However, even in these earlier photos, it certainly appears that Mr. Vebell may have intended to show the boys running from the castle as a cover photo but for some reason decided to draw the dungeon illustration instead.

There are several interesting things to note about these photos. First, although Mr. Vebell did not use these for the original cover of Terror Castle, he did use the model of Jupe in these photos as the basis for the illustration of Jupe on the cover of the Windward edition of Terror Castle (i.e., the running with the arms raised). Second, the boy used as the model for Pete is clearly the same boy that was drawn on the cover of the original hardback version of The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot. One unusual thing to note is that Photo #7 may be of a scene in Terror Castle where Pete and Bob explore the castle, but I am unable to find which scene this could be. Pete does not carry the camera on any of the expeditions to Terror Castle. A mystery indeed...




Group 3

This pair of photos shows the models for Jupiter and Bob, apparently again for a possible cover of the original hardback version of The Secret of Terror Castle, which for unknow reasons may have been changed to the dungeon scene where Bob and Worthington rescue Pete and Jupe. For the same reasons given with Group 2, these photos were most likely taken in the early 1960s. In addition, it's easy to see how the model for Bob was used in his pre-glasses, pre-blonde days. There is no question that this is the same boy that was drawn on the cover of the original hardback edition of The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot.

Another thing I noticed (and which Seth Smolinske also noticed when he saw these) is that the camera that Bob is carrying is exactly like the one drawn by Harry Kane in the internal illustrations of Terror Castle. Obviously Kane and Vebell collaborated on the look of the boys, but the nature of the collaboration is unknown.

So even though these photos were not used directly on a cover, they are interesting indeed to show us the appearance of the models used by Mr. Vebell in drawing The Three Investigators.




Group 4

This single photo puzzled me at first until I looked over all of the covers that Mr. Vebell drew and recognized that these are the boys drawn on the original hardback cover of The Mystery of the Shrinking House. Granted, they are shorter than the boys on that cover, but it would not be difficult to add some height in an illustration. The boy in the front of this photo is obviously the boy used as the model for Pete on that cover, and it explains somewhat why Pete's appearance was not consistent with Vebell's other covers: a different model was used. The boy at the rear of this photo was the model for Bob, although Vebell had to add glasses, but the nose and mouth features are unmistakable.

Plus, the boys are drawn in a pose as though they are watching a house shrink from sight, which is exactly what Mr. Vebell ultimately drew on that cover.

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