« You know, the dog food that Billy Jack loves! » — The Firesign Theatre
Ah, September the 18th. Today’s the birthday of the staggeringly accomplished William Stout (born in 1949), master of ancient reptiles, bootleg record covers, friend of The Firesign Theatre, former Russ Manning assistant (none but the best would do!), and I’ll spare you the illustrious details of his career in cinema. Still, let’s look around a bit, shall we?
Speaking of ’74, isn’t that rhino a dead ringer for Swan’s oleaginous right-hand man, Philbin, from Phantom of the Paradise?
And that’s Bill Stout for you: stunningly versatile, but always himself. Could any artist strive for more?
Sometimes I stumble upon a comic with a fight-to-the-death scene in which something-or-other- with-tentacles plays the role of a lethal enemy for our hero – but upon closer inspection, in turns out that the ferocious creature is… gosh-darned cute. I mean, how can you kill anything that has adorable whiskers, or tufted eyebrows like Oscar the Grouch?
When your attackers are carrots with tentacles, and they really get on your nerves (although I think Ann is safer with them than with Dr. Maylor), I’d suggest throwing them into a nice big pot of soup, maybe… but if you please, do consider abstaining from flinging acid at them.
While we’re on that topic: things get delightfully wacky and madcap (not much) later in the story. Namely, Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin are summoned for help against the tentacled carrot-horde.
« The stranger’s face was entirely obscured by a broad-brimmed felt hat bent downward over his features; and the long, black coat looked almost like part of the thickening fog. » –Harry Vincent first encounters his future employer. (Shadow Magazine, April/June, 1931)
We note today the birth anniversary of Walter B. Gibson (September 12, 1897 – December 6, 1985), an extremely prolific writer and professional magician. Gibson is best known for developing the radio character of The Shadow, through nearly three hundred stories he wrote under the collective nom de plume of Maxwell Grant.
The Shadow’s had an interesting and varied career in comics, but Gibson’s novels (and the radio shows… Orson Welles!) are where it’s at. Still, let’s take a look around, shall we?
As a bonus, let’s slightly depart from comics proper and admire a couple of paperback reissues from the brush of noted fabulist James Steranko.
« J’fais dans la bande dessinée, qu’est bien plus pop que le ciné!* » — J.C. Forest (Une chanson, 1973)
On the eighty-ninth anniversary of his birth, let’s salute in passing one of the great pioneers of French comics, namely Jean-Claude Forest (Sept. 11, 1930 – Dec. 29, 1998), Barbarella’s creator, the man who, in the early 1960s, ushered strictly-for-kids bandes dessinées into decidedly more risqué and adult realms of eroticism, fantasy and fun.
« It is not Frank Hampson’s original creation from the 1950’s Eagle, far from it. This is a different beast, featuring a harder man in a harsher world, a long way from the good-natured stoicism and stalwart, stiff upper lip of the original… »
(Garth Ennis in his introduction to Dan Dare: The 2000 AD Years)
Dan Dare, sort of the British answer to Buck Rogers, took his earliest space flight in the pages of the very first issue of Eagle, a now legendary British children’s comics periodical. He was created by illustrator Frank Hampson. From the day of its inception, Eagle was meant to perch on a high moral ground. Its founder, reverend John Marcus Harston Morris, an Anglican vicar, devised the Eagle in collaboration with Hampson (one of his parishioners, and a budding artist seeking fulfilling work) with a specific purpose in mind: a magazine that would hold itself to high standards of art and printing, but would stay away from violence and depravity, instead offering children wholesome characters they could use as role models. Aligned with that vision, Hampson’s Dan Dare stories were meticulously researched, based on a wealth of models (space ships, suits, and even a complete space station) and reference materials, including the services of Arthur C. Clarke as a science and plot advisor in the early days of the strip. Dan Dare‘s complex plots, witty dialogue and full-colour art guarantee that British children who lived through the 50s cherish their memories of this character.
1959 was the year of change – Morris resigned from the editor’s seat after bitter disputes with the bean-counters from Hulton Press (Eagle’s publisher at the time). Shortly after, the Eagle was taken over by Odhams Press, with the new owners objecting to the complexity of Dan Dare stories as well as the cost of Hampson’s studio. Hampson could not compromise his lofty standards and pursuit of perfection, and left. Things were never the same after that, with Dan Dare strips varying in format and quality until the series ended in 1967.
Fast forward to 1976. « A punk who has always written outrageously violent, scabrous satirical and often hilariously funny attacks on authority and the establishment» – which is to say, Pat Mills, a British freelance writer and editor – set out to create a science-fiction themed weekly publication, 2000 AD. With the aid of John Wagner as script advisor, presided over by John Sanders, the publisher, he decided to 1. develop a horror strip, which later became Judge Dredd; 2. revive Dan Dare, so that at least something about 2000 AD would have immediate public recognition. Oh, there were plenty of other strips in there, too, but that’s a topic for another conversation.
« 1976. I realize that the science fiction comic I’m creating, 2000 AD, needs a space hero. I think about bringing back Dan Dare – the publisher, John Sanders, is agreeable, he tells me not to worry about the original fans. I study the bound Eagle volumes. Artist Belardinelli submits a wild version on spec. At least it’s exciting and eye-catching and – most important – helps us over the poor quality paper. 2000 AD appears, it’s a success and Dan Dare is popular – about 3rd or 4th in the popularity charts. I don’t recall any critical letters apart from things along the lines of « my dad doesn’t like it, but I do ». And, sometimes, « my dad likes it, too ». Lots of criticism in the press, however, but we don’t care about annoying them. In fact we quite like it. » (From an article by Pat Mills, published in Spaceship Away: the Dan Dare Fan Magazine)
Okay, now that we have the backstory over with, on with the tentacled show!
Dan Dare’s early 2000 AD adventures were drawn by Massimo Bellardinelli, who seems to take great delight in adding tentacles hither and thither. Are we expected to believe that every alien and every alien’s ship is be covered in them? Yes? Ah, okay. Please carry on.
This cutie from Hollow World also wished to say “tally-ho!”:
Belardinelli’s style is often described as “hallucinatory”. Despite Pat Mills’ portrayal of his art as “eye-catching” (although even Mills thought that he made “the hero look awful”), his work on Dan Dare was not very popular. It’s also possible that readers were still sore about Dare’s sacrilegious resuscitation. All I can state with certainty is that it’s not really *my* cup of tea – I prefer my cuppa strong and dark, without excessive flourishes or hallucinations, thank you kindly. For those of you who agree, more… grounded times were coming: with Programme 28, Belardinelli switching over to drawing Harlem Heroes while Dave Gibbons took over Dan Dare, with an occasional hand from Brian Bolland.
Oh Dan, where is your moral compass now? While I love the guys from 2000 AD to bits, I have to grudgingly admit that taking someone else’s character and modifying his raison d’être beyond all recognition is a tad uncouth (and certainly anti-authoritarian, which is, after all, Pat Mills’ leitmotif). Can you imagine how this trigger-happy Dan Dare apparition, some 25 years later, ruffled the feathers of readers who take their heroes seriously? (If we have any readers who have lived through this themselves, please chime in!)
« Indeed, the reader may be forgiven for thinking that the Lost Worlds sector is soon going to be a very quiet sector indeed, just because there’s not going to be much left of it. The frequency with each our heroes resort to violence – sudden, crushing, all-consuming, high-velocity violence that utterly obliterates whatever it’s unleashed upon – – is really quite spectacular. Unidentified species of dodgy appearance? Play safe, fry ’em. Giant-sized aquatic life form? Got to be worth a torpedo or two. Alien intruder? Give it loads. If things get sticky, just do the whole ecosystem. And you know those planet-busters we’ve got in the tail-fins…? »
The sprawling Servant of Evil (scripted by Tom Tully and drawn by Dave Gibbons, published in Programmes 100 to 126) was the last Dan Dare story, one that wasn’t even finished. Was it too complex or morally ambiguous for readers of 2000 AD, or simply too rambling? Dan Dare’s exit was probably caused by the confluence of several factors – Dave Gibbons was leaving the strip to work on UK Marvel’s Dr. Who Weekly; the failing comic Tornado needed a new home within an established title, so 2000 AD needed to make room for it by pushing something else out; and let’s face it, Servant of Evil was dragging on, even though fans still bemoan the lack of closure from having all those plotline threads severed so abruptly.
Do you have a couple of hours to spare? You can actually read the full collection of 2000 AD Dan Dare strips here.
« If you don’t want to be idolized by the masses, you don’t become an author, you become a plumber-welder! » — Entretien avec Mandryka, Les cahiers de la bande dessinées no. 28 (1975), conducted by Numa Sadoul
Nikita Mandryka was born October 1940 in Bizerte, Tunisia, to Russian émigré parents. His grandfather had fled the Russian Revolution in 1921 aboard a warship he was commanding. Nikita’s first professional strip appeared late in 1964 in Vaillant (Boff, in Vaillant no. 1024, Dec. 27, 1964), soon renamed Vaillant, le journal de Pif , then Pif Gadget in 1969. While he’s best known for his loquacious, dominoed cucurbit, Le Concombre Masqué, today we’re going to harvest the riches of his somewhat less familiar, but equally absurdist creation, the free-form strip Ailleurs (“Elsewhere”). The feature debuted with the inaugural issue of Pif Gadget and made its bow with issue 35, a few months down the line.
Mandryka left Pif Gadget on good terms (and returned over the years), and with a solid reason: while Pif’s editorial team rightly adored his work, its left-field humour left the majority of Pif’s young readership quite baffled, and sometimes infuriated. Mandryka’s place in the magazine may have been secure, but he yearned for an audience that actually understood him. This he would find at Pilote, with its teenage readership, and all the more so with L’Écho des Savanes (which he cofounded, in 1972, with Claire Bretécher and Marcel Gotlib).
Pif’s was an unusual case: its most singular, daring, arguably most valuable strips were those least appreciated by the kids. And that slice of the readership, you’ll have guessed it, tends to express its opinions more freely and vehemently than their elders, who did love (but more quietly) the somewhat abstract, second degré (offbeat, ironic) features, such as Marcel Gotlib and Henri Dufranne‘s Gai-Luron**, the recently-departed Massimo Mattioli‘s M. Le Magicien or Henri Crespi‘s Nestor. Still, the savvy editorial team, who after all had made the magazine a massive hit, keenly grasped the import of editorial balance and trusted its collective taste and instinct over the “wisdom” of the accountants and marketers… who, at the height of the magazine’s popularity, pulled a mutiny and… sank the ship. So, in hindsight, Mandryka was right to leave.
American artist Richard Larson has had his ink-smeared fingers in many pies. He has drawn ghost stories for Charlton Comics (see our posts dealing with that here and here), followed by some underground comics, followed by Marvel super-hero portfolios, followed by his own series Demon Baby, followed by…. He often works in tandem with other artists, most notably with Tim Boxell and with painter Steve Fastner (see a gallery of their collaborations here).
« Steve Fastner and Rich Larson have been working in concert since 1976, and together they create one entity of staggering abilities. Rich will lay down the structure of an illustration in pencil form, and then Steve will attack it with army of airbrushes – and when the dust clears – a magnificent painting stands proudly. For over a quarter of a century, they’ve been able to do this, working for comics, book publishers, advertising agencies, movies and television, and now the web. » (quote from Fastner and Larson Gallery, 2002)
I would be remiss in not including a collaboration between Larson and underground comix artist Tim Boxell, whom I mentioned at the beginning of the post and then proceeded to neglect.
Speaking of beautiful women in varying states of undress… if I mention Haunted House of Lingerieto you, does it ring any bells? Does it sound like an intriguing concept? Then the first thing you should do is visit our Tentacle Tuesday: a Day at the Beach. Nothing like shameless self-promotion! But afterwards, you might want to seek out the three volumes published so far before the whole thing goes completely out of print.
« He’s back from the dead / the telegram read / If you get on a flight / You could catch him tonight / You’ll find Commissar / He’s at the Munich Hilton Bar » — B.A. Robertson
In 1958, Classics Illustrated publisher Gilberton tried something a bit different: a mostly non-fiction documentary title on various topics entitled The World Around Us, and featuring The Illustrated History of… Dogs, Space, Pirates, Great Explorers… depending on your area of interest, these could mean unrelenting tedium or sheer bliss. I haven’t encountered many issues, but the two I own, Ghosts and Spies, count among my prized paper possessions.
This is The World Around Us no. 35 (August, 1961), featuring this lovely mixed media piece by The Unknown Artist, whose cover remains defiantly unblown. On the inside, some fine company: George Evans, Norman Nodel, Edd Ashe, Jo Albistur… and Jack Kirby (inked by Dick Ayers)… the most beaten-down, anonymous, excitement-dialed-down-to-one Kirby you’re ever likely to see. Oh, he could do the job just fine, but the job, and the publisher, were not making anything of his regal strengths*. He would recall that this was « … the worst paying job of my entire life, including times I worked for free. »
Those early post-Code years were difficult ones for the diminished comics industry, and Kirby’s situation wasn’t exactly rosy: he’d been blacklisted at DC, thanks to the Jack Schiff / Sky Masters imbroglio, and his work at Harvey Comics had dried up. So what was a prolific artist to do, but pick up whatever bits of freelancing were available, here and there…
Quoting from Paul Gravett‘s review of Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, we find this telling statement: « The most demanding editor was Roberta Strauss, a stickler for detail, who would count soldiers’ buttons or pleats in skirts and even called an editorial meeting in her hospital room only days after her son’s birth. » Give me Harvey Kurtzman‘s editorship** any old day!
**« Kurtzman’s editing approach to Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat was a stark contrast to EC editor Al Feldstein‘s style. Whereas Feldstein allowed his artists to draw the story in any manner they desired, Kurtzman developed detailed layouts for each story and required his artists to follow them exactly. »
I’ve always been fond of this oddball little ad, which appeared in mid-70s comic books (in this case, a late 1974 DC 100-pager). It certainly demonstrates the considerable influence that pioneers such as Thimble Theatre creator Elzie Segar had on many an underground cartoonist.
If the advertised products had been iron-ons (à laRoach Studios*) instead of finished t-shirts, they’d be easier to find today. The Mickey Rat shirt is still being produced these days, though likely a grey market item… same as it ever was. On the other hand, I can find neither hide nor hair of the Hebrew Shazam shirt. Anyone?
Here’s a bit of background on the Crazy World shirt, designed by (or swiped from) John Van Hamersveld, the genius behind the unforgettable The Endless Summermovie poster: « The face emblazoned across the chest of Mick Jagger in a 1972 New Musical Express feature on the Rolling Stones had a rich history according to its creator. The iconic image was the product of a mescaline and marijuana jag, after which Van Hamersveld was left with the enduring image of a man’s face with a big, toothy, wide smile. From a portrait of Jimi Hendrix he had made in 1968, Van Hamersveld came up with the Johnny Face logo the following year, which he used for promoting his own work. »
For me at least, it’s hard to look at Johnny Face without seeing in it echoes of The Face of Steeplechase, Coney Island’s widely-grinning mascot.
Trivia time: can you name the infamous individual behind the 1966 demolition of the beloved Steeplechase amusement park? Find the answer here.
As for the artist who crafted the Natural Trading Company ad, I was drawing a blank until a few years ago, when the wonderful Jay Lynch (1945-2017) kindly lifted the veil on that particular mystery: Jerry Kay was the stylish culprit. Much appreciated, Mr. Lynch!
One of the oft-recurring themes of tentacles-in-comics-land is one of aggressive invasion. No, I don’t mean body cavity invasions, you creepos! I mean the large-scale kind: cephalopodian aliens who insidiously infiltrate human ranks, hypnotize or control people’s minds with all sorts of high-tech hanky panky, or just plain deploy their far-out weapons and open martial festivities without as much as a how-do-you-do. Their goal is, naturally, full dominion and control of planet Earth. Sometimes it’s because our planet has something they want (water, minerals, or just plain real estate), occasionally they want to feed on us… or they just got out on the wrong side of the bed and are cranky and territorial.
Let’s see a few case scenarios on this installment of Tentacle Tuesday!
Our first story doesn’t explain why the aliens want to attack the planet or capture humans, but their nefarious scheme threatens life as we know it! Jet Black and Jak Tal, patrolmen of the 21st century, encounter some space-dwelling aliens who are up no good at all. Though they’re cute as can be, it can’t be too practical to have one’s tongue hanging out all the time… The Men from Deep Space, illustrated by Fred Guardineer, was published in Manhunt no. 6 (March 1948).
In example number two, the tentacled Organus is after humans because he has the munchies. Well, I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to propel your tongue towards somebody else’s face in the middle of a conversation. The Soul-Thief from the Stars, scripted by Paul Levitz, pencilled by Pat Broderick and inked by Bruce Patterson, was published in The Legion of Super-Heroes no. 284 (February 1982).
Let’s move on to the next instance of grabby critters wanting supremacy over humans, shall we?
One long-winded, epic story of tentacled ones began in 1993, with Lost in Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul. The story has everything that makes one of those invasion yarns entertaining – cruel cephalopod captors, barbaric vivisection experiments, computer codes assigned to every prisoner for better monitoring…. The bulk of this happens in the pages of Lost in Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul no. 13 (August 1993) and Lost in Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul no. 14 (September 1993), scripted by Bill Mumy (the original Will Robinson himself) and illustrated by by Michal Dutkiewicz.
Oh yeah, I also mentioned insidious infiltration, a sly, Machiavellian approach to alien invasion. The Seeds of Jupiter, written and drawn by Al Feldstein and published in Weird Science no. 8 (July-August 1951), fits *that* particular bill.
By the way, apparently the following scene inspired the “alien bursting out of some poor sod’s chest” sequence in the 1979 movie Alien.
What? You don’t believe that it’s truly an invasion? You say the seeds ended up on earth by accident? Well, listen to the man with funny hair*. He does not lie.