Sea Devils #13, Sept-Oct 1963

“The Secrets of 3 Sunken Ships!”

For the thirteenth issue of Sea Devils, DC tried something a little different. The cover boldly announced a “Sensational Reader’s Poll! First Time in Comics’ History!” And they were probably right. Editor Bob Kanigher was trying an American Idol-style artists “competition.”

A look at the splash page reveals the details:

Sea Devils #13 splash

Basically, Kanigher had each of the three stories in the issue drawn by a different artist. The idea was that readers would then write in and vote for their favourite: “We will eagerly await your decision!” claimed Kanigher.

Each of the artists actually appear in the strip they draw, the notion being that they have been sent to pictorially report on a Sea Devils adventure as it happens! First up is Joe Kubert. Female Sea Devil, Judy, considers him “cute”:

Joe Kubert

Kubert sits and draws as the Sea Devils get involved in a dive to visit the wreck of a sailing ship, the Honor. In flashback we see the Honor sunk by a pirate attack, and renamed “Dis-Honor” by the wicked pirate. Thus cursed, Captain English, an ancestor of Dane Dorrance, leader of the Sea Devils, goes to his grave. Dane broods as he considers just how he can restore honor to the family name. Just then a nuclear submarine passes by and fires an “anti-frogman missile” at Dane. Understandibly upset by this turn of events, Dane picks up one of the sailing ship’s rusty cannon balls and lobs it into the open missile hatch of the sub. The missile fires and the submarine explodes. Dane goes back to his ancestor’s ship and erases the “Dis” from the name-plate.

Kubert is stunned by the tale and hopes he can do it justice.

Joe Kubert

Next up is Gene Colan, still a few years away from being “genial”. Amazingly, he meets up with the Sea Devils as they go about their business underwater!:

Gene Colan

Colan is witness to an adventure where the Sea Devils are swept back into ancient history by a strange underwater time current. In the past they are caught up in a battle between Grecian and Persian ships that fire flaming thunderballs at one another. Instantly taking the side of the Grecians, the Sea Devils tie together the anchor chains of the Persian vessels, causing mayhem. Returning to the present day once more “through the current of time,” the Sea Devils find Colan penciling away underwater! Wotta guy! Colan later claims that he’s sure he’ll be able to get all the details down, “Once I stop gulping my heart..!”

Finally, artist/inker team Ross Andru and Mike Esposito get their turn. They’re dropped off to meet the Sea Devils, Bond-style, from a helicopter!:

Andru and Esposito

Hoping to discover exactly what happened to the Marie Celeste, the Sea Devils have had an exact copy built and sail it to the position where the mysterious events were supposed to have happened. The Sea Devils themselves take the place of the hapless crew. As Andru and Esposito draw, a huge flying saucer appears and scoops up the Marie Celeste with its “magnetic ray”! The green-skinned alien pilot is gigantic and it drops the captured vessel into a vast “fish tank.” The Sea Devils have an ace up their sleeves though: they have a time bomb planted aboard and, after a bit of a struggle, are able make good their escape from the flying saucer before it’s blown to smithereens. Back on land, Andru and Esposito promise they’ll “make our fingers smoke” capturing the amazing adventure on paper.

Andru and Esposito

Kanigher finishes it all off with a caption requesting from the readers votes for their favourite artist.

Cool huh?

It’d be lovely to think that the issue was designed as a “try-out” for a potential new regular artist for the Sea Devils, with long-time artist Russ Heath having just departed the book. However, it seems more likely that the issue was running behind schedule and having three artists work simultaneously would get the book back on track. I don’t have any later issues so I can’t report back as to who the eventual winner was — but none of them became the book’s regular artist. That honour went to Howard Purcell.

The writer for this experimental tale was France Herron.

Sea Devils #13