Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 31

« I’m going to die and they’re laughing! »

It surely won’t shock you that the most difficult decision, in such a countdown, lies in crowning numero uno. There are, after all, plenty of worthy candidates. But one also seeks to avoid undue repetition. After a couple of false starts, I opted for a long-time favourite that’s never received its due.

Here, then, is Steve Ditko (and an unknown scenarist)’s expertly-paced department store nightmare, “Halloween Scene”, from Scary Tales #7 (Sept. 1976, Charlton). It occurs to me that Mr. Ditko is about to turn 90 in a couple of days… they didn’t call him “Sturdy Steve” for the alliteration alone, as it turns out.

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As a bonus (Hallowe’en comes but once a year, after all!), have a peek at the issue’s fine cover and its original art.

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Pencils by future “Good Girl” specialist (see his Haunted House of Lingerie series, in the name of research, of course) Rich Larson (with ink and airbrush work by artistic partner Tim Boxell).
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The published version offers reasonably accurate reproduction, though one misses some of the details hidden behind the logo. Nature of the Beast of Commerce…

Well, that’s it for this year. Happy spookfest to all, and see you next time, hopefully.

I pity inanimate objects
Because they cannot move
From specks of dust to paperweights
Or a pound note sealed in resin
Plastic Santas in perpetual underwater snowstorms
Sculptures that appear to be moving but aren’t
I feel sorry for them all.

Godley and Creme – I Pity Inanimate Objects (1979)

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday Takes a Turn for the Domestic

You might think that tentacles are just something that happens to other people, to the intrepid swashbucklers and globetrotters of this world. But watch out! No matter how dull your job and how stodgy your lifestyle, no-one is safe on a Tentacle Tuesday.

Let’s say you’ve embarked on a normal working day in a bustling city. No ravenous tentacle will be able to reach you as long as you stick to main streets, you think. Right? Wrong.

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One would think New Yorkers would be immune to being fazed by *anything* found in NYC sewers. Cartoon by Charles Addams.

All right, let’s play it safe, call in sick and stay home.

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Mother Goose and Grimm is a syndicated comic strip written and drawn by Mike Peters, published both in newspapers and online. Syndicated in 1984, it’s still going strong. Spoofs of modern culture, screwball comedy and dogs on blind dates, it’s all in there. Jan. 23, 2015.

Dang! How about going to a conference, instead?

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Comic habitués will easily recognize the talented pen of Gary Larson, and identify this as a Far Side strip.

Sigh, I give up.

As today’s Tentacle Tuesday happens to coincide with Halloween (can this day get any better?), I’ll leave you with an image that gleefully combines both:

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 I don’t know how Little Lotta manages to control all these tentacles when she only has two hands – maybe she’s in symbiosis with an octopus? This is Little Lotta in Foodland no. 27, August 1971 (okay, so it’s a masquerade party, not a Halloween one – cut me a little slack!), cover (as usual) by Warren Kremer.

~ ds

 

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 30

« Thought I’d inject a little excitement into this initiation… do I look any worse for wear? »

When EC überfan Russ Cochran launched his incredibly ambitious series of hardcover sets of the complete EC Comics in the late 1970s, there was simply no way I could afford the lot… so I gathered my shekels and mail-ordered a single volume of Tales From the Crypt (#3, midway through the run) and further managed to sweet-talk a nice lady at the local public library into ordering the first volume of Weird Science (years later, I would meet a couple of kids who’d become obsessed with the book, signing it out dozens of times and wondering how it had ever come to be acquired by our small, mostly francophone library).

Since the EC formula (meaning Bill Gaines & Al Feldstein) does wear thin with prolonged exposure, I gravitated to the outliers: Harvey Kurtzman, Johnny Craig, Bernie Krigstein, the Bradbury adaptations… but the true revelation in these volumes turned out to be John Benson and Bhob Stewart’s superb documentary notes, comprising astute analyses and eloquent interviews with the surviving participants… which are nowadays down to, well, colourist Marie Severin.

Anyhow, I was particularly intrigued by Gaines and Feldstein’s early system of “springboards”, which is to say that they based stories upon anecdotes encountered in newspapers and magazines. One title evoked time and again is Try and Stop Me (1944)*.

From John Benson’s documentary notes in Haunt of Fear, Volume 1 (1985):

« ‘House of Horror’ [Tales from the Crypt #21, Dec. 1950 – Jan. 1951] is even more directly derivative; the story is merely an elaborated version of an anecdote from the Trail of the Tingling Spine chapter of Bennett Cerf’s Try and Stop Me, which was the source of a number of EC stories. Kurtzman remembers the story as ‘an ass-breaker.’ It was the first story he did for the EC line and he wanted to make a good impression. ‘It was the effort that got me the EC account.’ »

If you’re used to the usual rubbery, sketchy (but deceptively spontanous-looking) Kurtzman, brace yourself.

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« At initiation time it was my idea to take the three neophytes we had selected and brundle them out to a deserted house about fifteen miles from the campus. It had been unoccupied for years, was windowless, sagging and ugly, and was said by the villagers to be haunted. We picked a black, starless night for the initiation, and all the way out to the place poured tales of horror and the supernatural into the ears of our three apprehensive freshmen. »
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« I watched him enter the deserted house. It was about two hundred yards from where we were gathered. His instructions were to stay inside for a half-hour, and then come back to us. When forty-five long minutes went by without any sign of him, I experienced my first uneasiness, and dispatched the second freshman to fetch him. Ten more minutes went by. Nothing happened. There wasn’t a sound anywhere. The fire was burning low – we just sat there, quietly watching. »
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« ‘These kids are a little too smart for their own good’, I said at last. ‘Davis, get in there and bring them back fast,’ Davis was our prize conquest – a handsome, two-hundred-pound boy whose scholastic records foreshadowed an almost certain place on the next year’s All-American squad. He had already been elected president of the freshman class.
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« The first thing that struck me when I entered was a musty smell like the smell of an attic full of old books and newspapers. I yelled for the boys, and poked my flashlight into every corner but there wasn’t a sign of them. Only a faint, steady tap that seemed to come from the roof. »
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The relevant illustration, by Carl Rose, from Try and Stop Me’s original version. « I stuck my head through the open skylight. There was Davis, stretched out on his stomach! His hair had turned snow-white. His eyes rolled in his head. He was mad as a hatter. In his hand he held a hammer covered with blood. » « He died in the college hospital the next morning without uttering a single syllable. We never found any trace of the other two boys… »

*I lucked out and found a nice copy in the 1980s… for $4.50, according to the usual lightly-pencilled note on the flyleaf.

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 29

« Hasn’t the weather been gray, drizzly, foggy and oppressive? »
« Yes, just lovely! »

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Tom Eaton’s Oliver Cool strip appeared in The Saturday Evening Post Company’s Young World. YW had picked up, in 1972, the numbering (but not the title) of Western Publishing’s Golden Magazine. Of writer-illustrator Tom Eaton, little is to be found online, though he’s left a considerable body of work, such as fun books like Chicken-Fried Fudge and Other Cartoon Delights (1971), Captain Ecology, Pollution-Fighter (1974), Book of Marbles Marvels (1976) and The Beastly Gazette (1977). His Fizz & Farra in the Year 2250 comic strip also ran in Child Life magazine in the late ’70s.

A snatch of autobiography found on the back cover of Captain Ecology, circa 1974: « Tom Eaton is probably 30 or 40 years old, and lives with a tribe of baboons in a water tower on the outskirts of Chanute, Kansas. He writes and draws everything himself, with almost no help from his dog, Oscar. This is not his first book. His goal in life is to buy the state of Massachusetts and change its name to something he can spell. »

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The issue in question bore a spiffy Halloween-themed cover by George Sears… so here it is.

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 28

« I hope I will not be accused of undue vanity if I publicly thank Mr. Addams for immortalizing me in the person of the witch’s butler, to say nothing of the rather hairy gentleman whose clothes are strangely cut and who appears to subsist on a diet of bananas. »

Boris Karloff, from his foreword to the Addams collection Drawn and Quartered (Random House, 1942)

At the risk of being obvious, the ghoulish wit of Charles Addams brings us Hallowe’en on any old day of the year… but it’s no reason to take him for granted when the proper season slinks into view. Here’s a small selection of favourites. I’ve noticed that many latter-day collections have been plagued by terrible reproduction (heads should roll for that particular crime against art!), so I’ve gone back to the original collections in my library. Enjoy, fiends!

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A lovely piece originally featured on the cover of The New Yorker’s November 2, 1963 issue. This logo-free version was reprinted in The Groaning Board (Simon and Shuster, 1964.)
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Addams at his understated best. A 1953 cartoon collected in Homebodies (1954, Simon and Schuster.)
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« Well, here’s where I say good night. » A Morticia prototype from an undated cartoon collected in the first Addams collection, Drawn and Quartered (Random House, 1942.)
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« While you’re here, there’s a squeaky trap-door I’d like you to look at. » That’s the Morticia we’ve come to know. Also reprinted in Drawn and Quartered (Random House, 1942.)

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 27

« Trent’s home under th’bed! »

Marvel’s Dynamite Magazine ersatz, Pizzazz (15 issues, 1977-79), despite ratcheting its model’s celebrity coverage by several notches, while providing the House of Ideas’ usual rabid circle-jerking… wasn’t all bad. For one thing, there was its inspired recycling of Harvey Kurtzman’s splendid Hey Look! one-pagers from the 1940s, lovingly recoloured and presented with painstaking attribution. Fan on board!

And when Pizzazz reached beyond the Bullpen for ink slingers, it often struck paydirt, landing a heady mix of established and burgeoning talent, such as Jon Buller, John Holstrom, Bobby London, Ken Weiner (aka Ken Avidor), Rick Meyerowitz… and Graham Hunter.

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The original caption: « Have a HAPPY HALLOWEEN! PIZZAZZ SAYS THANKS… Look at this picture. If you’ve ever written us, you may find your name in it. If not, take a look next month, or a few months after.PIZZAZZ says a big, warm THANK YOU to everybody who’s written us. And KEEP THE MAIL COMING – some month maybe your name will be in the picture! » The feature ran for the final seven issues of the magazine (including a gorgeous Xmas double spread.) This was Pizzazz no. 13 (October, 1978, Marvel). Say, is that your name in there?

Hunter was a bafflingly brilliant pick: his career in comics, as far as I know, consists in the main of a string (1946-47) of one-pagers featuring early soft drink product placement shill/mascot, the prosaically-named Pepsi, the Pepsi-Cola Cop. Guess what he was pushing!

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This is Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact vol. 17 no. 4 [310] (October 26, 1961). The issue features Treasure Chest’s strident screed This Godless Communism, illustrated by EC veteran Reed Crandall. It still sucks. I said they were entertaining, but I draw the line at politics. Read it for yourselves right here, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Of greater interest is the handful of covers Hunter created for the surprisingly entertaining Catholic comic book Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, and this is what must have landed him the Pizzazz gig, a couple decades down the pike.

Nailing this sort of humorous bird’s-eye-view crowd action scene requires some rather astonishing artistic chops. Perspective, proportions, movement, comic exaggeration… and that’s just the basics. This sort of thing was popularized by Dudley Fisher’s Right Around Home strip, which débuted in 1938.

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A Right Around Home Sunday from 8-20-39 (King Features Syndicate). Here’s a fine, informative article about the strip, from the indispensable comics mag Hogan’s Alley.

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 26

« I’m doing some new phony ghost effects and these hicks just eat it up! Show ‘em a ghost and they’ll swear they recognize it! »

Is it just me, or are horror covers more effective when they’re basically wordless? EC and DC and Charlton got it, but Marvel never did, with its protagonists/victims standing around uselessly pointing out the obvious: “Oh no! We’re trapped with… the Thing that walks!” “Uh, honey, I think it’s more of a Thing that shambles!”

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This is House of Mystery no. 236 (October, 1975, DC) and it’s quite an issue on the inside too: Steve Ditko with Mike Royer inks (“Death Played a Sideshow“), and Paul Kirshner with Neal Adams inks (“Deep Sleep“.) Lest we forget: this fine cover palette brought to you by Tatjana Wood.

… and since this is our first, sadder Hallowe’en without the macabre Bernie Wrightson  (1948-2017) to inspire us, let’s have one more shot, shall we?

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This is the frontispiece ushering us into issue 219 (Nov. 1973) of DC’s House of Mystery.

Interestingly, BW’s signature (at bottom, on the spine of a book in the centre) is reversed, which makes one wonder whether the image was flipped before dialogue was added. On the other hand, perhaps it made for better arcane lettering for a dusty grimoire.

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 25

« No, obese one. I am not dead… not in a manner you would comprehend. »

Here we present Luis Angel Dominguez’s (born 1923, Argentina) splendiferous cover painting for Marvel’s Dracula Lives no. 5 (March, 1974). Pure velvety ambiance.

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… and the printed version, bogged down with the usual Marvel ’nuff said (as if) hard sell copy. Now you know what you were missing. Sorry about that… it can be disconcerting.

DraculaLives5ATo give credit where credit is due, the colour reproduction is pretty faithful and quite a bit of detail is retained. That hardly ever happened!

– RG

 

Tentacle Tuesday, Franco-Belgian edition

Today’s Tentacle Tuesday comes to us courtesy of France and its long-suffering neighbour, Belgium. There’s an easy joke one could make about the reputation Frenchmen possess of having hands like grabby tentacles, but instead I’ll concentrate on their wonderful comic writers and artists and the classic bande dessinée. Let’s gracefully step over all the obscene connotations of a “French edition” and delve into exhibit A:

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“So that’s it, your real face?” asks the old man. “What were you expecting?” asks the emerald-eyed cephalopod.  This is a page from Les chercheurs de trésor, volume 2: La ville froide, David B. (2004, Dargaud).

David B. is the nom de plume of Pierre-François David Beauchard. Non-Francophone audiences might know him from Epileptic, an autobiographical graphic novel that won accolades and awards from an international audience. And yet it’s not his most interesting œuvre, as far as I’m concerned. Although Epileptic is full of imagery and allegories, it’s when David B. lets his imagination soar without the constraints of real life that he creates his most dazzling worlds and astonishing stories. He’s one of those rare comic artists whose art is as accomplished as their storytelling.

Here’s a bonus “tentacle” from Monsieur B.:

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« La Lecture des ruines » was published by Dupuis in 2001. (It loosely translates to “reading the ruins”, “study of the wreckage”.) It’s the story of a mad scholar who tries to find a mathematical equation for violence in the decayed rubble that war has left behind. Excerpted material from an imaginary periodical is appended, “Les incidents de la nuit” (the incidents at night). This tentacled worm – Le Grand Ver, the Great Worm – is one of the creatures that lurk within…

Give a hand of applause, ladies and gentlemen, to David B., and let’s move to our next topic.

“Sorti des abîmes” translates to something like “risen from the abyss” – and what sort of thing rises from an abyss? Why, tentacles, of course!

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Tif et Tondu: Sorti des abîmes (1972)

Tif and Tondu, an intrepid team of private investigators, were originally created by Fernand Dineur, but their most popular incarnation is by writer Maurice Tillieux and artist Willy Maltaite (who mostly went by the nickname Will), which is what you’re currently admiring. The strip saw birth in 1938 in journal Spirou and lasted a whopping number of years, ending in 1997, one year short of its 60th birthday.

Things are a bit tricky with the numbering, because Tif et Tondu are popular enough to have been anthologized several times. Sorti des abîmes appeared as the series’ 19th entry (1972), after being serialized in Spirou #1746 (September, 1971) to #1764 (February, 1972).

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A closer look at the creature from the abyss: not exactly an octopus, but in distinct possession of tentacles. “Armed and dangerous”, as they say! The poor thing is dissolved at the end of the story by some infrared rays.

Incidentally, “Tif” is slang for hair in French, and “Tondu” means “shaven, sheared”. Naturally, Tif is the bald guy, and Tondu is the hairy one.

Now that we’ve had our fill of scary, destructive tentacles, I’ll move on to something friendlier.

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Pif Poche (No.72, Aug. 1971.) The last panel says “Paws off… Don’t touch! You’ve got cold hands!”
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Pif Poche (No.72, Aug. 1971.) “This creature is starting to annoy me with its tickling!”

Pif the dog was the mascot of the kid’s magazine Pif Gadget (« gadget » referred to the fact that each issue of the magazine was accompanied by some thingamabob to amuse the youngsters). Pif Poche were pocket-sized collections of short Pif strips, as well as jokes, games and such. The character was created by José Cabrero Arnal in 1948, who gradually abandoned the strip by the 1960s while other artists took over.

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Pif Poche (No.72, Aug. 1971.) “Even in a can… I adore seafood! Ripoff… it’s octopus!” Story and art by Arnal’s immediate and worthiest successor, the prolific Roger Mas (1924-2010)

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 24

« If you didn’t have a shootin’ iron, I’d give you a fust class spankin’! »

I bet you say that to all the boys.

Here’s a nostalgic entry cover-featuring the official bogeymen of Hallowe’en ’43: Adolf, Benito and Hirohito (Uncle Joe was still our “friend”.)

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This is 4Most vol. 2 no. 4 (Novelty Press, Fall, 1943). This anthology ran for 36 issues, published between 1942 and 1949. Cover artwork by longtime Superman chronicler Al Plastino.

Gorsh dagnabbit, you can read the whole consarned issue right here, thanks to comicbookplus.com.

– RG