New Release From Roger Langridge! “And there was much rejoicing…”

I’d like to talk about a book that’s coming out in October -“The Iron Duchess” by Roger Langridge. There’s two reasons to be excited about it: it’s a solo Langridge project; and it features Fred the Clown, a favourite character of many a R.L. aficionado. This graphic novel was initially self-published about a year ago, but Fantagraphics (displaying their usual impeccable taste) has picked it up since then, so it’s now commonly available through major stores.

But, you may ask, who is Fred the Clown and why should you care? Instead of blabbing incomprehensibly as I’m prone to doing when talking about Langridge (imagine a dog trying to explain its excitement about a juicy bone – there’s just going to be a lot of tail-wagging and drooling), I prefer to quote the back-cover blurb from the first Fred the Clown collection (equally highly recommended, published in 2004 also by Fantagraphics):

Existential clown comedy as you like it.
SEE! Fred the Clown get slapped regularly in his single-minded pursuit of l’amour!
HEAR! The screams of his lady friends from several blocks away!
SMELL! Fred the Clown’s scientifically improbable collection of fungal infections!
The signature creation of cartoonist Roger Langridge, Fred the Clown is the thinking man’s idiot. Fred has an eye for the ladies, as well as several other organs, but the only part of themselves they’re willing to share with him is a carefully placed kneecap…
Fred the Clown’s misadventures are a curious balance of bleakness and joyful absurdism; the universe may dump on Fred from a great height, but he never gives up. More often than not, they involve the pursuit of a lady—any lady will do, it seems, but bearded ladies are at the top of the list.

Just look at this striking art and Langridge’s impeccable sense of timing:

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(Fred the Clown in his initial black-and-white format.)

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To which I can add that I normally can’t *stand* clowns, and Fred is the only cartoon clown whom I not only tolerate but whose antics I actually enjoy.

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But to get back to the Duchess: *this* story doesn’t have bearded ladies, but it does have a (very) mad scientist, a damsel in dire and completely improbable peril, enough twists in the plot to make you yelp (and giggle) out loud (great for embarrassing yourself in public!), and heart-warming inter-species friendship, perhaps even romance. After all, there is a train involved; a train means somebody can be tied to the railroad tracks, or a couple can escape – or not – an evil father… I love people who can take a conventional story and run off with it while still “obeying” all the rules of the genre.

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It’s an entirely mute story, if you don’t count evil cackling as dialogue. Fred’s best friend is a pig, by the way, and as far as I’m concerned that’s another reason to love this goofball. The pig’s also considerably more intelligent than him.

It’s exciting, riveting and really funny. Did I mention the beautiful art, expert shading, etc., etc.? Just pick it up already. Langridge can deftly illustrate anything his freaky brain comes up with, which includes animals (especially horses, which most comic artists seem to struggle with), ugly people (ditto – it seems that artists often can draw either pretty people, or grotesque ones, but rarely both)… and he’s great at architecture and perspective, too.

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In an ideal world, Langridge would have free rein – and enough financial support – to draw the stories that are clearly close to his heart, instead of being forced (although he’s very gallant about it) to write for projects illustrated by pencillers/inkers so impressively inept that these comics, that should be excellent just by virtue of having a fantastic writer, become completely unreadable. Let’s at least take things one step closer to this ideal by adding the Iron Duchess to our comic book collections.

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Dare to take a train ride into the dark tunnel of creativity (but avoid awkward metaphors along the way.)

Don’t forget to visit Langridge’s Hotel Fred, his official website, where you can purchase original art, books, and also see lots of goodies like sketches, commissions, unpublished pages, and whatever else he’s got lying around.

~ ds

Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream.

A quick post in salute of Hugh Hefner (1926-2017), who truly was a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me, he remains, chief among these, one rare and precious thing: a steadfast, lifelong friend and patron to great cartoonists, a man of taste, at least in that particular area.

Here are a few relevant pieces. Mere drops in the bottomless bucket. All in good time, we’ll return to this topic.

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« I’ve been thrilled by the dazzling breakaway of your four-speed, close-ratio, synchromesh, manual transmission, and the lusty surge of your 315-horsepower, fuel-injection, high-lift cam engine… »

It’s astonishing how much toil an artist will put in, just to sell a simple gag. It doesn’t hurt if he’s recompensed decently, of course. Case in point: Ben Denison, for Playboy Magazine’s November, 1961 issue. Hugh Hefner has always known the value of his contributors, bless his great big heart.

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Erich Sokol (b. Vienna, 1933 – d. Mödling, 2003), originally published in Playboy’s September, 1960 issue.
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« This is nothing, wait until you see the women. »

Dink Siegel (1910-2003), from Playboy’s May, 1968 issue.

Happy trails, dear Mr. Hefner!

– RG

Who Needs Glasses?

Mr. (Quincy) Magoo was born in 1949 in the United Productions of America (UPA) animation studio. His creation was a collaborative effort – in other words, no-one really knows who came up with the idea, although we can mention Millard Kaufman, who wrote the script for Magoo’s first outing in a cartoon titled “The Ragtime Bear”, director John Hubley, and of course Jim Backus, the actor who voiced Magoo and was encouraged to ad-lib and generally jazz up the dialogue in any way he wanted. He became a comic book character in 1952, and appeared in Dell Comics for a dozen issues or so.

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In case you’re not already familiar with him, Mr. Magoo is wealthy, short, and nearly (and catastrophically) blind, which he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge. Needless to say, Magoo’s immoderate myopia leads to many madcap adventures and increasingly improbable situations; as far as I am concerned, the zanier, the better!

In 1964, the Chicago Tribune syndicated a Mister Magoo comic strip that was drawn by Pete Alvarado and written by Don Sheppard. Here’s one of them, a Sunday strip in (glorious, right?) colour, 1964.

 
~ ds

Can You Hear Us?

« Galloping ladybugs!
What *are*
those things, professor? »

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It’s hard to imagine an explanation for this premise that wouldn’t raise more questions than it answered. By the 1960s, DC just didn’t know *what* to do with the Blackhawks. The title had been among DC’s top-sellers since the early 1940s, but it was becoming harder and harder to keep up with the times.

This is issue 199, from August 1964. Cover by Dick Dillin and Sheldon Moldoff. No one rushes forward to claim credit for writing « The Attack of the Mummy Insects », but it’s probably Dave Wood.

The title would run until issue 243, in 1968. Ironically, its very finest issues would be its final two (until it was briefly revived in the 70s), an amazing two-parter drawn by Pat Boyette and returning these venerable characters to their roots and original uniforms.

 

– RG

Return of the Tentacles

Once upon a time (or, more precisely, a handful of years ago), we started a little weekly celebration of tentacle glory in comics and called it Tentacle Tuesday. (My husband came up with that alliteration; I hope he’s willing to share the credit for this pithy little phrase with others, as I honestly don’t know whether he was first to dream it up. By now, #tentacletuesday is a hashtag and there’s a Facebook page with that title). Yet “real life” (read: “a sad existence tragically devoid of octopuses”) got in the way, and although we’ve often thought about Tentacle Tuesday, no offerings were made at the Octopoda altar. We’d spot some glorious tentacles while reading comics, and wistfully dream of sharing them with a like-minded audience, but the impulse would pass, leaving behind vague but lingering regrets.

Well, we are back. Let’s keep Tentacle Tuesday going strong, for after all, comics and tentacles are among the universe’s greatest achievements. Let the cephalopod fiesta begin – we welcome you to this blog’s first-ever installment of Tentacle Tuesday!

Our first offering features, quite naturally, a Welcome Mat leading to a trapped, angry octopus, who seems to be indignant about being stuck in a pit with a bunch of uncouth, plebeian imaginary monsters. Claws, pincers, and talons, razor-sharp teeth and dendritic horns? Ha, *he* has tentacles! And if the other denizens of this trap are purely monster-under-the-bed material and act as if they’re drunks at a party, Mr. Octopus here is a professional who takes his job of being terrifying seriously.

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This is a pin-up, if I may call it that, by the easily identifiable Sergio Aragonés, scanned from DC’s House of Mystery no. 189 (Nov./Dec. 1970). The giggling guy is Cain, the so-called host of House of Mystery, and is every bit inclined to betray and double-cross as his Biblical namesake. Incidentally, number 189 is an excellent issue: “Eyes of the Cat”, with art by Jerry Grandenetti and Wally Wood, is both gorgeous and scary, with bonus points for prominently featuring a black cat (which Neal Adams made look like a rat on the cover – if you don’t believe me, try http://pencilink.blogspot.ca/2008/05/house-of-mystery-189-neal-adams-cover.html ) It is followed by “The Deadly Game of G-H-O-S-T” by Leonard Starr, and the issue wraps up elegantly with “The Thing in the Chair” with art by Tom Sutton.

In a slightly different vein, but equally lighthearted, is this cover of Abbott & Costello no. 16 (Aug. 1970, Charlton). I hope our readers shall be too polite to point out that Tony Tallarico, the artist, made tentacles look more like elephant trunks, or that this… creature… has but four of them, which would make him probably the only quadripartite octopus in existence (they’re supposed to have 8, for those of us who are a little hazy on the specifics). Now, if only Charlton paid by the tentacle rather than by the page…

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This comics series was of course based on the American comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, of early 40s and 50s fame. Fast-forward to 1967, and with Costello having long passed on (in 1959), the pair was miraculously given a new, two-dimensional lease on life (hey, you take what you can get… comedy’s a vicious game!) through the auspices of Hanna-Barbera Productions, and Charlton landed the comics licence and ran with it… for a healthy twenty-two issues. The first eight or nine of these, featuring the madcap talents of artist Henry Scarpelli and (especially) scripter Steve Skeates, are the ones to seek out. You have been warned!

~ ds

 

Tossing pebbles down a well

OutThereIconIt stands to reason that there are tons of spiffy-yet-unheralded material out there, most of it slowly mouldering away in obscurity. You may count on us to do some foraging and to showcase some of the spoils here… with proper attribution.

Our image: Artwork by Ed Robbins, from “Cemetery Scene”, writer unknown (The Twilight Zone #36, March 1971, Gold Key).