I really enjoy the madcap world of Golden Age funny animal comics, and they’ve often made it into various Tentacle Tuesdays. Yet not everything fits into the somewhat narrow scope of tentacles (shocking, I know!), so I am pleased to take this fun gallop through some favourite covers that are quite devoid of cephalopods. Doing so involves going back some seventy, eighty years… a difficult to grasp concept for those of us who were not around back then.
My thirty-something colleagues consider movies from the late 90s to be ‘ancient’, so I can just imagine what their reaction would be to a comic from, say, 1942! Yet I feel emotionally close to these covers (whether artistically accomplished, entertainingly weird or just plain drugged-out) – humanity has not changed nearly as much as we tend to assume, and albeit some sources of humour require an historian’s explanation, others are every bit as funny and entertaining now as they were back then. As for talking animals, that goes back to the dawn of human history (Aesop’s fables readily come to mind, and Aesop was surely not the inventor of this concept!)
One could dedicate a whole lifetime to digging through this particular slice of history – I’ve tried to go for some variety in this post, but of course I am (happily) constrained by my own tastes in the matter. Here, then, are some Golden Age covers featuring funny animals that have amused, entertained or puzzled me.
Animal Comics no. 1 (December 1942, Dell), with a cover by H.R. McBride, is an amalgam of details both adorable and creepy – the harrowing expression of the fish contrasts wildly with Madame Crocodile’s peanuts-pilfering offspring and her flirty cocktail parasol, while her crocodile-skin purse makes me think of Disney’s Three Little Pigs cartoon (1933, Silly Symphonies). In case you’ve never noticed it, the third pig, the one with the brick house, has family pictures on his wall… for example, a string of sausages labelled “Father”. Black humour, indeed. Animal funnies are often dusted with a good sprinkling of the gruesome, as when a talking duck eats chicken legs for dinner.
Fast forwarding four years, we fall into pleasantly loopy territory of Fox Features’ Nuttylife no. 2 (Summer 1946, Fox Comics). Despite it being number two, this is technically the only issue, issue number 1 having appeared as Krazy Life, and issue number 3 and onward becoming Wotalife Comics. I can’t find credits for the cover, but the insides contain Pat Adams with Ellis Chambers (“One day a little goil went to her Grandma’s joint…”), Tim Howe and Cy King. Ellis Chambers by himself definitely deserves a separate post – take a glimpse at Eddie Elephant – 1946 Hallucinogenic Funny Animal Comix by Ellis Holly Chambers, for example.
I couldn’t very well leave Felix the Cat out of this post! I won’t go into the complex history of this character, but suffice it to say that this is one gorgeous cover. Clearly I’m not the only one to admire this image, as it was used for the cover of Craig Yoe‘s wonderful anthology Felix the Cat – Greatest Comic Book Tails (2011, IDW), which I highly recommend. This is Four Color no. 135 (February 1947, Dell Comics), with a cover by Otto Messmer.
The American Comics Group is responsible for many a goofy plot, source of my long-lasting affection for some of their titles (see Tentacle Tuesday: ACG’s Adventures Into the Tentacles). ACG’s Ha Ha Comics are a riot, all right, but I have two favourites among the 88 issues released. The first is Ha Ha Comics no. 11 (August 1944), with a cover by Ken Hultgren. A joke doesn’t have to be elaborate to be funny – something about the expression of the indignant man-eating lion and his wild mop of hair cracks me up!
The second is Ha Ha Comics no. 78 (Dec-Jan 1951), cover artist unknown. I like porcupines in general, but here we are presented with a truly bizarre situation – a porcupine who tears out his sweetheart’s quills one by one to figure out whether she loves him… (unless she’s just a friend helping out, and he’s in love with some other porcupine). Kinky, whichever way you look at it.
Going a few years back, we take a little inter-planetary voyage with Coo Coo Comics no. 38 (March 1948, Pines/Standard Comics), with a cover by (possibly)Vince Fago. I am very fond of this purple-green monster who looks like he’s suffering from a bad hangover (or terminal cretinism). Coo Coo Comics is credited with having introduced the first funny animal superhero (in its very first issue, published in October 1942). That little guy was Supermouse…
… but the other contender for this title was Terrytoons’ Mighty Mouse, also introduced in October 1942 (under the name of ‘Super Mouse’) in the theatrical short The Mouse of Tomorrow. That’s enough to get anybody confused in all these mice! This is Terry-Toons Comics no. 1 (October 1942), with an Ernie Hart cover that hints at the influence that funny animal comics had on the underground comix artists:
Today’s Tentacle Tuesday is a really fun one, given that its focus is the snazzy art of Richard Sala (1954-2020), deceased, alas, far too soon at 65, when he was about to launch a new webcomic.
Granted, perhaps the plots of his stories often don’t make that much sense. But! they’re awash in half-naked damsels, sad-eyed defeateds, vampires and ghouls of all kinds, a mad scientist or two, dark alleys and schoolgirl academies and strangely ominous museums and… all of this drawn in Sala’s easily recognizable, deliciously scary style. Peculia is definitely involved in this post (see co-admin RG’s Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 17), but so is Judy Drood, girl detective, plucky heroine and first-rate fighter… and a host of other characters! So follow me as I kick things off with some beautifully painted Evil Eye covers (and backs!) – Sala had an impeccable sense of colour.
I complimented Sala’s beautiful colour work earlier (and hopefully demonstrated this point!), but Sala’s black-and-white work is equally satisfying. Shall we have a look-see?
Some plant tentacles make an appearance in Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires (2013, Fantagraphics):
The Grave Robber’s Daughter (2007, Fantagraphics) spins the yarn of what happens when Judy Dredd is stranded in a strangely empty town… empty until the clowns come out, that is. I really enjoyed this 96-page tale (read it here), with its quick-paced, cohesive plot, top-notch art and of course a good dose of Coulrophobia. I don’t like clowns, either. Here are two pages highlighting Freddie, ‘the Crawling Thing’, and his manifold tentacles:
Finally, as a little bonus, I am including a pin-up that doesn’t have any tentacles to recommend it, but is otherwise perfectly appropriate to this not-quite-end-of-September. Co-admin RG has plenty up his sleeve with his upcoming Hallowe’en count-down, but I am allowing myself just one furtive foray into vampire territory…
Sala explains: « According to the editor, I was one of only a few of the cartoonists asked to submit ideas whose submissions were ‘sex positive’. That is, according to him, most of the submissions by younger cartoonists were more in line with the kind of scatological, angry, ‘gross-out’, excretion-happy humor more typical of today, or focused on the adversarial relationship between men and women. My somewhat sweet oral sex joke seems pretty quaint in comparison, I guess. »
« Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves. » — J. B. Priestley
Here at WOT central, we’re both massive Bob Oksner (1916-2007) fans, and it’s not generally for the writing. For a long time, his multi-faceted talent was used to great effect all over the DC Comics line, but he rarely received the acclaim he so richly deserved.
And then it was over, in this visual idiom anyway: with the following issue (LITB68), DC brought in well-traveled Henry Scarpelli to handle the covers and create the impression that Binky was just one more Archie clone. Over the subsequent four issues, a handful of (pretty good) new stories were mixed in with the reprints. Then came a change of title and a new logo. The book, now simply called Binky, was a full-on Archie ersatz, and lasted another ten issues into 1971… with one final special popping out of nowhere in the summer of ’77. For ol’ Binky, par for the course!
Hello, cephalopod aficionados! I have some lovely tentacles for you today, all wrapped around voluptuous women (my favourite kind of cephalopod content, I admit). There is a lot of ‘that kind of thing’ going on in the rivers of the comic kingdom, but most of it, alas, is distinctly ugly. I have accumulated a few covers not suffering from that particular scourge (quite by accident, most of them use a green-and-red palette), and I invite you to enjoy them with me!
The first is a Judge Dredd cover that had somehow previously escaped my attention, despite WOT’s affection for the former and my personal affection for Judge Anderson (lackaday, ill-handled once out of the hands of creator John Wagner and writer Alan Grant – and preferably drawn by Brian Bolland, of course).
The following cover presumably has something to do with DC’s Star Rovers series, which ran between 1961 and 1964, but I wasn’t able to find more about this particular comic, the company that published it (Comax), or the equally mysterious cover artist, Butch Burcham. A comic-savvy friend described the latter as ‘a low rent Frazetta knock-off artist‘. I have no opinion about that part, but I do like this cover and its lushly coloured maiden with her completely impractical suit.
Finally, we have a surprisingly tasteful (albeit a bit stiff – so would you be, barely perching at the very edge of a chair like that), girl-next-door Vampi cover. And look, she actually has enough space for internal organs! I like that the tentacles seem like a friendly presence, almost guarding her (as opposed to getting a quick grope in). In case you want more Vampirella, head over to Tentacle Tuesday: Warren and Its Many Tentacles, Part II.
Pip pip cheerio and toodle-loo, and see you next week!
In 1973, he gave us Birds of Israel (included at the end of this post); farther along, he (with his frequent collaborator, Montréal-born writer Sean Kelly) gave us a look at The Birds of Summer, (2007, The New York Times). And in 2016, these ardent but irreverent crypto-ornithologists were at it again with Odd Birds, which added in excess of one hundred and fifty fascinating new species to the tally. However, Meyerowitz only illustrated a handful (but such a handful!), which I present to you here. Still, how I would love to behold his depictions of, for instance: The Three-Day Lark; the Venomous Spite; the Oblivious Walking Jay; the Perpetual Jackhammer; the Yellow-Bellied Stool Pigeon; the Groveling Wince; the Hoodwinked Bagholder; the Celibate Tot-Fondler; Zimmerman’s Cryptic Drone; the Barecheeked Thongbird; the Bald-Faced Lyre; the Fact-Spinning Mockingbird; the Screaming Scarlet Manager; the Gulf Coast Petrel Dumper; Oscar’s Pink-Bottomed Boychick; the Crapulous Binge; the Free-Screech Owl… or the Swaggering Gut-Sucker! Man, this project needs to go the full book route.
The source of tentacles in Golden Age comics seems inexhaustible – every time I think I have reached the bottom of the well, I find myself awash in cephalopods. That being said, a lot of these octopusoid appearances are one-panel cameos, and even when the tentacles linger for a few pages, the shitty printing, questionable scans or bare-bones art don’t exactly incite me to use this material in a Tentacle Tuesday. Today’s crop is all Golden Age, running the gamut from 1939 to 1952, and composed of pages/covers I can enthusiastically endorse.
George (of Harry J. Tuthill’sThe Bungle Family, ‘one of the most under-rated comic strips in the history of American cartoonery’ according to Art Spiegelman,‘one of the top hundred comics of the 20th century‘, according to The Comics Journal) may be thoroughly bundled up in tentacles, but he still keeps a sort of prosaic calm that I admire.
Just look at the canines the red devil is ready to plunge into Black Hood’s leg! Throw in a fanged octopus, and this cover has as much action as one would possibly want. Sadly, nothing of the sort actually goes on in this issue.
« By 1948, the Italians had begun to pull themselves together, demonstrating once more their astonishing ability to cope with disaster, which is so perfectly balanced by their absolute inability to deal with success. » — Gore Vidal
The accomplished Italian graphic designer, animator and illustrator Niso Ramponi (1924-2002), is perhaps most renowned (it’s all relative, but not to actual merit!) under his pinup cartooning nom de plume of “Kremos”.
Ramponi champion Joseph V. Procopio sheds some light on the genesis of this alias:
« Ramponi’s pen name, Kremos, was born of necessity: Like many of his generation, after the war Ramponi was conscripted into the Italian army for a year of service. Loath to abandon his budding cartooning and illustration career but barred by military regulations from working as a freelancer, Ramponi conspired with a friend named Sandro Cremo, who acted as his intermediary to secure and deliver freelance art assignments on Ramponi’s behalf. To maintain the ruse, Ramponi signed his work Kremos, a pseudonym that stuck even after his discharge from military duty. »
My own initial exposure to Ramponi/Kremos’ work came through Lawrence Lariar and Ben Roth’s splendid, but woefully short-lived Best Cartoons From Abroad collections (1955-60), which contrasted favourably against the genteel contemporary American humour anthologies. Fortuitously, Signor Procopio eventually assembled, circa 2015, twin collections of Ramponi’s finest cartoon work, ‘Kremos: The Lost Art of Niso Ramponi‘, volumes 1 (b&w) and 2 (colour). Grab ’em while you can!
Here’s a mixed even dozen of my favourite Kremos cartoons. Buon appetito!
DC’s Tales of the Unexpected offer quite a ménagerie of strange looking creatures! Any peculiar combination of animals you can think of, you’ll find somewhere within the pages of this series. This possibly deserves its own post, as it’s quite entertaining to see artists combining, say, an elephant with a tiger. That being said, I tend to get annoyed at artists who can’t visualize anything truly alien-looking, thus resorting to carving up earth animals and stitching different body parts together… but that’s a different conversation.
Occasionally the artists will also add tentacles, a sure shortcut to make something mundane look properly alien, and this is today’s area of interest! For more questionable monsters, have a gander at Tentacle Tuesday: Convoluted Critters.
And now, onto ‘unexpected’ tentacles, even if the result of this ends up looking like badly-made puppet with a tacked-on beak…
Of course one can’t discount the lasting power of classic vine-tentacles.
Whereas these mini-planets gone bonkers with tentacles-cum-hair bring to mind, but anticipate, something by Junji Ito.
The idea of an interplanetary veterinarian makes little sense for its assumption that life on other planets would have similar physiology to ours (even limiting the scope of action to only planet earth would be too ambitious – ask a doctor to treat a sick jellyfish and see how well he would do), but here we have the satisfaction of a sweet little scene of inter-species succor.
Some 30 issues later, we have another case of rabid tree-tentacles… this time composed of rubber (or something that behaves like rubber, at any rate).
Finally, this tentacled purple gorilla (so his tail is more dinosaur than gorilla, so what?) will no doubt please a regular reader of this blog!
« Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. » — George Orwell
For its July 4, 1949 issue, Life Magazine pulled a couple of rather unusual moves: it featured an elaborate preview of George Orwell’s just-published novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and, as if that wasn’t weird enough, it called upon the services of renowned cartoonist Abner Dean to (copiously) illustrate the article.
Typically, given the USA’s usual political temperament and the then-prevailing climate of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, Life resorted to some choice bits of disinformation and misdirection to sell Orwell and his book to its decidedly whitebread readership. No irony whatsoever.
« British novelist George Orwell, 46, who fought in the Spanish Civil War, saw firsthand what the Communists were up to and has since devoted all his talents to warning the world of the fate which awaits it if it confuses liberalism with regimentation. His new novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, is a terrifying forecast of what the world of human beings may be like 35 years hence. It is a July selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and will be condensed in the September Reader’s Digest. It is guaranteed to make the flesh creep on anything except brass monkeys and commissars. »
Let’s see, now. Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War. Fair enough. Let’s dwell on that detail for a bit. Which side was he on?
« In December 1936, Orwell went to Spain as a fighter for the Republican* side in the Spanish Civil War that was provoked by Francisco Franco’s Fascist uprising. He did not join the International Brigade as most leftist did, but the little known Marxist POUM. In conversation with Philip Mairet, editor of New English Weekly, Orwell said: ‘This fascism… somebody’s got to stop it’. To Orwell, liberty and democracy went together, guaranteeing, among other things, the freedom of the artist; the present capitalist civilization was corrupt, but fascism would be morally calamitous.
He joined the Independent Labour Party contingent, which consisted of some twenty-five Britons who had joined the militia of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM – Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista), a revolutionary communist party. The POUM, and the radical wing of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT (Catalonia’s dominant left-wing force), believed General Franco could be defeated only if the Republic’s working class overthrew capitalism — a position at fundamental odds with the Spanish Communist Party, and its allies, which (backed by Soviet arms and aid) argued for a coalition with the bourgeois parties to defeat the fascist Nationalists. » [ source ]
So… Orwell was not merely a communist, but a Marxist advocating the overthrow of capitalism. Just like your average Reader’s Digest subscriber, obviously!
It’s intriguing that LIFE would devote this much space to such a controversial topic, but hardly surprising that it would stack the deck. It’s a regrettable hallmark of blind hubris to believe that only ‘the opposition’ is capable of totalitarian atrocities, when allowed unchecked power. Benevolent dictators have always been very, very scarce. To quote Margaret Atwood, a lady who knows her way around a dystopia, « ‘1984’ is not a wonder tale. Not only could it happen, but it has happened, but under different names. »