Three Investigators Artist

Ed Vebell

May 25, 1921 - February 9, 2018
Ed Vebell in his studio on Sept. 19th, 2004
So, which Three Investigators artist came first, Ed Vebell or Harry Kane?  The world may never know.  In 1964, Ed Vebell created the cover art for the first two titles in the series The Secret of Terror Castle and The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot while Harry Kane created the blue graveyard endpapers and the internal illustrations for both books.  Mr. Vebell never met Mr. Kane and it is doubtful that either saw the other's work for these books before they were published because both artists drew The Three Investigators very differently from each other.  I suspect that Mr. Vebell had the first opportunity to draw the boys and that his work was probably based on the first manuscripts before the descriptions of the characters were solidified by the author, Robert Arthur, and the editor, Walter Retan.  This was a very busy period in Mr. Vebell's career and his work may not have permitted him to commit more of his time to the series.  However, eight years later in 1972, Mr. Vebell returned to The Three Investigators series filling in briefly between the time Harry Kane left and Jack Hearne was brought aboard.  Unlike Kane's tendency to paint cover art based on scenes within the books, Vebell's cover art for books #17, #18 and #19 are highly imaginative exaggerations of the events which take place inside the covers. Ed Vebell's depiction of The Three Investigators themselves stays close to where Kane left off but the boys' wardrobes and hairstyles have changed. Listed below is a summary of Mr. Vebell's work on this series:
Random House Hardbound Trade Editions:

1964 #1 The Secret of Terror Castle - Cover Art only.
1964 #2 The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot - Cover Art only.
1972 #17 The Mystery of the Singing Serpent - Cover Art & Internal Illustrations.
1972 #18 The Mystery of the Shrinking House - Cover Art only.
1973 #19 The Secret of Phantom Lake - Cover Art only.

Windward Books Paperback Edition:

1972 The Secret of Terror Castle - Cover Art only.
1973 The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot - Cover Art only.
Like many artists, Ed Vebell prefers to paint or draw from photographs of posed models and his files are packed with thousands of photographs he's taken throughout his career.  No surprise, Mr. Vebell's artwork for The Three Investigators series is based on photographs he took of neighborhood boys playing the parts of Jupiter, Pete and Bob.  Unfortunately, Mr. Vebell and his daughters could not remember the names of any of his Three Investigators models but most of them were "kids from the neighborhood."  Ed recalled that the coach from the local high school would often refer young athletes to him as models.  Ed's huge body of work includes many, many illustrations done for sports books and magazines.  

Mr. Vebell photographed his Three Investigators models in two locations.  In the studio over his garage the white screen used behind The Three Investigators models is still there albeit slightly worn and yellowed from the years.  The second location used was the driveway next to his house.  After examining some of Harry Kane's and Jack Hearne's Three Investigators illustrations, it was Mr. Vebell's opinion that these artists did not use photographed models for their work on this series.
Sept. 2004 - Mr. Vebell revisiting his photos from The Three Investigators modelling sessions.
In September 2004, a few days after my visit with Ed Vebell, I received a surprising e-mail message from one of his 1972 Three Investigators models, Richard Webb.  By an amazing coincidence, the day after I left Mr. Vebell's home, Richard had bumped into Mr. Vebell and Ed later directed him to this web site.  Here is Richard's story in his own words:
Left: The studio over the garage. A white screen can be pulled down between the fireplace on the left and the door on the right.

Right: The driveway alongside the house and garage.
The reason I wanted to talk to him was that I am a history teacher and had recently read in the local paper that he has a great collection of documents and weaponry. I also mentioned on the side about posing for him - I got paid 10 bucks and felt like a man for the first time! - and vividly remembering one pose (recoiling from the Serpent, I also noticed online he must have recycled that pose for an interior illustration as well, where Jupiter is recoiling from something else). I have gone by his house a zillion times since then and have always wanted to ask about those sessions, but didn't want to impose.
I can remember parts of that photo session vividly. He was, frankly, looking for a chubby kid (I was) and he was pretty straightforward about it with me. We took the photos in his studio, I think above his garage - the part of the house closest to the McMahon's who had 6-7 kids all of whom I played with and adored. He took a series of photos, but the one I clearly remember was the recoil one - because I must have been ten years old.  He said, "Now look, act as if you are recoiling from something very scary," which I thought was incredibly cool, I was into "Chiller Theater" on WPIX channel 11 then and, like most boys, I liked to be scared. And I loved how I wasn't scared doing this, and how cool it was to be acting in something scary. This would have been around 1972. He told me what it was for, some mystery book involving boy investigators, but for 30 years I thought it was the Hardy Boys. I'd never even heard of The Three Investigators till yesterday.
The Vebell's lived on the road which was behind our house. Those streets were where a hoard of baby boomer kids played. There seemed to be thousands of us then. I must have played around the Vebell's house for a solid ten years. I lived there from 1967-1990, and I still live in the same town today. I ran into Ed Vebell while trying to park my car at a CVS, and he was in front of me. I noticed his personalized license plate, asked if he were Mr. Vebell, and introduced myself.
So, what I do remember was that one pose. And what I notice is that it was my body you see in these books. I was not brunette like the character Jupiter, but strawberry blonde, and probably somewhat freckled. I can't tell if the face was me, I can't remember what I looked like at age ten (but might start looking). I called Ed and want to set up a time to look at his historical stuff, and may ask to see if he has any more photos from then. Some were posted on line, but I don't recognize any of the boys.  I loved that time, my childhood and that neighborhood has intense memories for me so I enjoy 'going back'.  - Richard Webb
For more information on Ed Vebell and his work, you will enjoy visiting the following pages on this site:

NEW!  Fifteen never-before-seen T3I modeling photos from 1972 have been found by Ed.  See them HERE along with some words by Jupiter Jones model, Bruce Cranner!

From 2004: The Three Investigators 40th Anniversary!

Philip Fulmer's interview and write-up on Mr. Vebell.
You can also view the first batch of 10 T3I modeling photos here.

Back to the T3I Authors/Artists page.

Back to HOME.
The Mystery of the Singing Serpent.  Random House hardbound trade edition, 1972.
Sept. 2004 - Mr. Vebell in his studio.
Ed Vebell in the kitchen of his home, December 2009.
Photo courtesy of Ed Vebell and Dan Napolitano.