Rereading Comics: Early Mike Mignola Sub-Mariner


Three-panel sequence from Sub-Mariner back-up story from Marvel Feature, No. 15, written by Bill Mantlo, drawn by Mike Mignola

I came across an early story by Mike Mignola, who’s now among my favorite comic book artists. Before Hellboy and Screw-On Head, there was Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner. 

Cover of Marvel Fanfare No. 16, art by Dave Cockrum

The story is “A Fable” published as a back-up story in Marvel Fanfare No. 16 in September 1984. It’s written by Bill Mantlo, colored by Ben Sean.

It’s not Mignola’s finest work by any stretch, but it’s a treat to see his inimitable style emerging – lots of rich black areas, plenty of skulls, Kirby dots, and dramatic dynamic panel arrangements. There’s tons of dramatic rolling waves in front of black clouds and a full moon… and it works.

The underwater scenes have just a hint of the lush undersea atmosphere Hellboy encounters in his battles with the evil mermaid Bog-Roosh in The Third Wish, published in 2002, collected in Strange Places trade paperback. I just noticed that Mignola refers to the Sub-Mariner story in his intro to Strange Places, stating that the Hellboy story actually had its genesis as a never-to-be-realized second Sub-Mariner story.

Indeed the splash (pun intended) page of A Fable, written by Bill Mantlo, drawn by Mike Mignola

Mignola plays a bit with Namor’s head. It appears even more triangular than ever… not an entirely successful choice for me (but then again I’ve probably read too many Sub-Mariner comics.)

There’s a sort of deus-ex-machina appearance by Father Neptune, which, in a way, foreshadows some of Hellboy’s father issues.

ah the legendary father figure – Neptune, Namor and a sea-horse, and a skull – written by Bill Mantlo, drawn by Mike Mignola

And it all concludes with one of Mignola’s iconic cover illustrations… which doesn’t quite appear on the cover… but it’s sort of Mignola warming up for the all great covers that would come later.

Namor, Neptune and the undersea world – an early iconic Mignola cover-type illustration

I guess I read this when I was 21 years old… though I don’t remember it at all. It’s fun to see it now, knowing the body of work Mignola went on to do.

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