« … and now for some of that fun we promised you! Trained chihuahas! Car races! A couple of inspirational documentaries! And a quiz show! Hallelujahgobble! Hallelujahgobble! »
For my money, there’s no funnier man in comics, at least on such a consistent, sustained level, as the extraordinary Gilbert Shelton (born May 31st, 1940, in Houston, TX, which makes him 78 today). Sure, he’s slowed down some since 1959 (the year he foisted upon the world the Wonder Warthog), but the quality of his output has not decreased one iota (quite the contrary, in fact!) It may well be that the secret of his longevity lies in his choice of collaborators, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s just another facet of his talent. I’ll (mostly) let the man’s work speak for itself. Brace yourselves for the ride, here we go!
If your little heart desires babes with form-fitting clothing (or wearing nought but their birthday suits) and tentacled monsters with sad, expressive eyes, look no further than Wallace Allan Wood (1927-1981). Famously advising fellow cartoonists to “never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up”, he would return to the beloved theme of buxom girl + tentacles again and again.
Without further ado, let’s take a gander at some of Wally Wood’s tentacled offerings.
This theme is returned to again several years later:
There’s also this poignant scene…
Wally Wood was a tremendous influence on artists who came after, and there’s a myriad of parodies, imitations, and derivations of his style… But I’ll wrap up this post with one well-executed hommage that fits in well with the theme, I think.
Okay, now that you’ve seen some Mad covers (see a MAD dash… outside) let’s have a peek at some inside art by the habitués.
One of my favourite MAD artists is Antonio Prohías (1921-1998). Hailing from Cuba (but being forced to emigrate thanks to an repressive government that wasn’t too fond of the concept of “free press”), he moved to New York in 1960. Apparently Prohias was in no hurry to learn English (and, in fact, his cartoons are silent). Here’s a cute anecdote involving Sergio Aragonés, courtesy of Wikipedia:
« Two years after Prohias’ debut in the magazine, cartoonist Sergio Aragonés made the trek from Mexico to New York in search of work. Because Aragonés’ command of English was then shaky, he asked that Prohias be present to serve as an interpreter. According to Aragonés, this proved to be a mistake, since Prohías knew even less English than he did. When Prohías introduced the young artist to the Mad editors as “Sergio, my brother from Mexico,” the Mad editors thought they were meeting “Sergio Prohías. Twelve years later, Mad writer Frank Jacobs reported that Prohias’ conversational English was limited to “Hello” and “How are you, brother?” Said Aragonés, who speaks six languages, “Even I could not understand him that well. »
Clearly, art was Prohias’ language, and we’re not at all complaining.
Next on our list is Al Jaffee, the “world’s oldest cartoonist” (Guinness World Records certified and everything!), Mad’s longest-running contributor, creator of the Mad Fold-In, mastermind of Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.
Incidentally, Mad introduced fold-ins in 1964 – they were a most prominent feature of MAD Magazine, conceived, drawn and written by the aforementioned Jaffee. I’ll quote the man himself:
“Playboy had a foldout of a beautiful woman in each issue, and Life Magazine had these large, striking foldouts in which they’d show how the earth began or the solar system or something on that order — some massive panorama. Many magazines were hopping on the bandwagon, offering similar full-color spreads to their readers. I noticed this and thought, what’s a good satirical comment on the trend? Then I figured, why not reverse it? If other magazines are doing these big, full-color foldouts, well, cheap old Mad should go completely the opposite way and do an ultra-modest black-and-white Fold-In!”
I guess they folded (ahem) on the “black-and-white” part later on. Here’s another nice Al Jaffee production:
In a 2010 interview, Jaffee said, “Serious people my age are dead.” That may just be the recipe for eternal life.
Moving on to another mainstay of MAD: Sergio Aragonés, an artist about whom Mad director Al Feldstein said “he could have drawn the whole magazine if we’d let him.” Prolific, delightfully funny, and (by all accounts) a really friendly guy, Aragonés (born in 1937) is still with us today.
My favourite recurring feature by Aragonés is “Who knows what evils lurk in the hearts of men? The shadow knows.“ Many years ago, I picked up a copy of “Mad’s Sergio Aragonés on Parade” at a second hand store. I didn’t know who he was, then, but I loved the sometimes tiny, always funny squiggly drawings immediately. (I also didn’t know who the Shadow was, so that reference was sailing right over my head.) Even though I have since then upgraded to the considerably heftier “Sergio Aragones: Five Decades of His Finest Works“, there’s no way I’m getting rid of my dog-eared, stained and shopworn copy – that’s the one I reach for when I need a chuckle.
Hurray for Aragonés, the weird hours he keeps (by his own admission), and the thousands of ideas bubbling in his head at any given time. “Sergio has, quite literally, drawn more cartoons on napkins in restaurants than most cartoonists draw in their entire careers“, said Al Jaffee, and glancing at the tiny drawings decorating the margins and in-between-panels of Mad magazine, one can easily believe it.
The other guy who just has to be mentioned is Don Martin (1931-2000), promoted as Mad’s Maddest Artist. Where else would we get our fix for goofy characters with comically large, hinged feet? I can just imagine the squeaking noises they make.
Here’s a fun description of standard Don Martin characters (source):
« His people are big-nosed schmoes with sleepy eyes, puffs of wiry hair, and what appear to be life preservers under the waistline of their clothes. Their hands make delicate little mincing gestures and their strangely thin, elongated feet take a 90-degree turn at the toes as they step forward. Whether they’re average Joes or headhunters, Martin’s people share the same physique: a tottering tower of obloids. Martin puts the bodies of these characters through every kind of permutation, treating them as much like gadgets as the squirting flowers and joy buzzers that populate his gags: glass eyes pop out from a pat on the back; heads are steamrollered into manhole-cover shapes. All of this accompanied by a Dadaist panoply of sound effects found nowhere else: shtoink! shklorp! fwoba-dap! It’s unlikely Samuel Beckett was aware of Don Martin, but had he been he might have recognized a kindred spirit. »
« I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. » ― Groucho Marx
In the mid-90s, the always-discerning masterminds* at Rhino Records (they had, after all, picked William Stout to design their logo, back in 1974) called upon master satirist, caricaturist and of course pointillistDrew Friedman (1958-) to gather some perennial favourites on his old couch for the purposes of a three-volume compilation.
In this second entry in the trilogy, Mr. Friedman seems a bit out of his element, as drawing purdy gals and conventionally handsome men is hardly his forte. But he aces Gabe Kaplan, as you’d hope and expect. Judging from his expression, Gabe appreciates it.
This time, our artiste ably succeeds where he faltered earlier: he has no difficulty capturing the likenesses of Ms. Anderson and (5x so far) Mrs. Collins.
From volume 3’s liner notes: « The 1980s may well be remembered as the final decade of the television theme song. The disturbing trend of the ’90s seems to be the elimination of the title song in preference of an additional minute of commercial airtime – a sad state of affairs for fans of the opening anthem. »
Maybe it’s all for the better: I’d rather have an additional hour of commercial airtime than be subjected again to the opening jingle of, say, Charles in Charge. You have been warned.
Today’s Tentacle Tuesday honours Filipino artists who laboured in the comics industry in the 70s. To quote from Power of Comics: Filipino Artists (read the essay here),
« The Filipino talent began to arrive in 1970, when immigrant Tony DeZuñiga began to work for National Comics. DeZuñiga began with assignments on various romance, horror, western, and war anthologies—a combination that many Filipino artists coming after him would also follow—but he made a lasting mark when he co-created Western anti-hero Jonah Hex in All-Star Western #10 (1972). By then, DeZuñiga had convinced then National Comics publisher Carmine Infantino that other talented artists were awaiting discovery back in his nation of origin. With a stable of graying veterans working for him, Infantino was faced with a paucity of new talent in the early 1970s and had trouble finding gifted artists who could work for what the going page rate in American comics would pay at the time. DeZuñiga accompanied Infantino on a recruiting trip to the Philippines in 1971.
As noted, first among the Filipino artists to make a move were Redondo and Alcala. Among his works, Redondo turned in a memorable run on Swamp Thing, and the prolific Alcala picked up a considerable fan following for his work on series like Batman and Arak. Other Filipinos followed. Alex Niño brought a distinct style to Warren Publishing’s 1984 and 1994 series. Ernie Chan’s talent for composition led to his becoming National’s principal cover artist between 1975 and 1977. Gerry Talaoc enjoyed an extended run on The Unknown Soldier. »
Without further ado, let’s have a look at some of the tentacles the artists mentioned above have dreamed up. In no particular order…
I like the styles of all the artists mentioned in this post, but a couple of these names will make me do a little dance of joy when I encounter their art. Alfredo Alcala (b. 1925, d. 2000) is a definite favourite. He could draw anything he wanted, convincingly… at an amazing speed, and with the sort of detail that other artists would kill for.
Alcala drew for all genres in the early portion of his career, and developed the speed and work ethic for which he later become known amongst his fellow professionals. His fastest page rate was 12 pages in a nine-hour sitting, while in one 96-hour marathon he produced 18 pages, three wrap-around covers and several color guides. During the portion of his career where he worked solely for Filipino publishers, Alcala worked without assistants and did his own inking and lettering. “I somehow always felt that the minute you let someone else have a hand in your work, no matter what, it’s not you anymore. It’s like riding a bicycle built for two…” (source)
Here’s a gorgeous sequence from « The Night of the Nebish! », scripted by Arnold Drake and illustrated by Alfredo Alcala, published in House of Secrets #107 (April 1973).
Ruben Yandoc (also known as Rubeny, 1927-1992) isn’t nearly as well-known as Alcala, yet he has a beautiful, half-decorative, half-sketchy style. He excelled at horror stories (published in DC’s Witching Hour, House of Mystery, Ghosts, House of Secrets..), and was a master at creating mood. His perfect grasp of architecture and anatomy enabled him to draw believable characters in incredible settings – none of this “figures floating about aimlessly” shit that you sometimes get from artists who can’t imbue their objects and subjects with mass. When Stefan gets grabbed by tentacles, you can feel their weight on his torso and feel the heat and painful brightness of the torch he’s holding, dammit!
Alex Niño’s art doesn’t give me butterflies. His stuff is quite weird, sometimes far too detailed, but his talent is nevertheless undeniable. For a good appreciation of his style (and more examples of it), go to this entry from Wizard’s Keep. As for me, I’ll limit myself to this humble, one-panel mass of tentacles, eyes, teeth, spikes, and god knows what else.
Redondo’s “memorable run on Swamp Thing” was mentioned at the beginning of this post. Well, we’ve already featured the tentacled robot who tries to finish Alec Holland off here, but rest assured – there’s more tentacles than just that in the career of Nestor Purugganan Redondo (1928-1995)! For example, this:
By the way, he’s most assuredly another favourite in this household. His women are believably sexy, his monsters inventive and scary, his animals pitch-perfect… His style is realistic but lush, his nature almost prettier than in real life. And I like him much, much better than Bernie Wrightson, as far as Swamp Thing is concerned 😉
A perfect fit for any Tentacle Tuesday, here’s the requisite damsel-in-distress-with-tentacles:
We shouldn’t forget Tony DeZuñiga (1932-2012), who after all started all this. Among other accomplishments, he co-created Jonah Hex and Black Orchid, two pretty damn cool characters.
I hope you enjoyed this (non-exhaustive) romp through Filipino-American tentacles! As historian Chris Knowles (1999) has noted about Filipino artists, « Here was a group of immensely talented and hard-working draftsmen who could draw absolutely anything and draw it well. They set a standard that the younger artists would have to live up to and that the older ones would have to compete with. » Amen to that!
And now… for a bit of levity: a few favourite MAD covers.
I’ll start with this by-now-iconic cover, that’s nevertheless worth posting (with proper attribution to artists involved and in high enough resolution to admire the details, two characteristics sadly often absent from stuff posted online). You’ll note I’ve skipped over the first couple of Harvey Kurtzman covers (MAD nos. 1, 3 and 4) – which are amazing but a topic for another conversation.
And it’s back to Kurtzman for covers of MAD nos. 6 to 10. Then I’ll disregard the somewhat boring covers, and jump over the Norman Mingo ones, and that brings us to… Frank Kelly Freas! It shall quickly become apparent that I really like his art (guilty as charged). Having started his career at Mad in February 1957, by July 1958 he was the magazine’s official cover artist (his first was MAD no. 40), and painted most of its covers until October 1962.
And to wrap this post up… a lithograph from the cover of More Trash from MAD no. 1 (1958).
“Only three of these lithographs were ever published before the production was stopped as a violation of the MAD copyright. The other two are currently in private major MAD Magazine collections. This is the only lithograph done by Kelly Freas of one of his MAD book covers.”
For more (not necessarily MAD-related) FKF, go here.
« That’s funny… I didn’t leave the lantern lit… wonder if anybody’s in there? »
In 1972, Golden Age journeyman cartoonist Stanley Josephs Aschmeier (1912-1992) wrapped up his career in comics with a single tale for Charlton, a publisher he’d briefly worked for two decades prior*, pre-Code. Yet earlier, at DC, he’d had a hand in creating Johnny Thunder and Thunderbolt (1939) and Dr. Mid-Nite (1941), the original sight-impaired costumed hero.
While Aschmeier’s already-manic drawing style hadn’t changed much in the intervening years, the industry certainly had, which made him a man well out of time. Still, as with his peer, sudoriparous Rudy Palais‘ final work for Charlton, the nervous energy and artistic freedom yielded something unusual and charming. While this sort of semi-primitive outsider approach decidedly isn’t for everyone, it’s a breath of fresh air. I found it unsettling and baffling when I first encountered it all those years ago, and it hasn’t lost its jolt, unlike many fan favourites I could name.
Without further preamble, here’s Joe Gill and Stan Asch (his abridged nom de plume)’s tale, from Ghostly Haunts no. 27 (Nov. 1972, Charlton.)
As for the story, it’s the soul of the thing: to my mind, what made writer Joe Gill’s work special was his common-sense response to the meagre number of available plots: when the mood struck him, he focused on ambiance, tone and character, as he does here.
I love that our protagonist, Harve Davis, is so shiftless, so insignificant, that the reader can’t even be bothered to hate him: throughout the story, we witness his well-earned unpopularity, and what a shabby and piteous creature he is. He murdered the only man who gave him the time of day, and he was too dense and self-absorbed to be anything but resentful of it. I do feel that the tale’s very construction supports this view: it opens on the commission of his crime, and the aftermath is a fateful tumble of dominos.
*For stylistic comparison, take a gander at a 1944 Mr. Terrific tale by Mr. Aschmeier, and some of his crime comics work from Lawbreakers Suspense Stories no. 14 (Sept. 1953, Charlton), featuring three Aschmeier-illustrated pieces, Flight!, The Green Light and The Face in the Glass. Enjoy!
Welcome to the entertaining world of science-fiction/fantasy of the 60s! If you’re an admirer of extravagant creatures with improbable anatomy, or a fan of twisted stories that take questionable leaps of logic to arrive to an implausible conclusion, willkommen.
However, if, like me, you tend to root for strange creatures (most of which didn’t want to be discovered in the first place), tread gently. If there’s one pattern in House of Mystery stories, it’s that the “monsters” (that fly in from space/emerge from the sea/crawl out of the depths of the earth/are born in fire/whatever else we can think of) get slain, more often than not, by well-meaning people… or not-so-well-meaning people who are afraid of anything that looks different. If they somehow manage to escape getting shot or bombed out of existence, they’re buried under a convenient avalanche or volcanic eruption.
I know that it’s Tentacle Tuesday and everything’s possible, but… this? An octopus with spines on his tentacles (very conveniently placed, I might add) and the puffy eyes of a career alcoholic? A parrot-dragon with opposable thumbs?
As Tentacle Tuesday continues, we are once again confronted with a situation where misunderstanding between species leads to needless conflict. Shoot first, sort it out later, is the mantra of any red-blooded man! I’m sorry, am I being a tad unsubtle?
Some guys land on an island patrolled by creatures controlled by a beautiful woman. Well, there’s no need to quarrel, they can talk it out, right?
Okay, the woman seems to be friendly. So far, so good.
So perhaps everyone can go on their merry way and leave the island and its creatures alone? No, it’s not enough to just kill them. Oops! The whole fucking island explodes to smithereens when the guys detonate some explosives in a cavern and thus trigger an underwater eruption. I mean, the real threat to these “nice” people was the evil guy trying to gain control of the beasts, but do they try to attack *him*? Nah, they focus on killing the octopus, instead! And the giant armadillo! And the furry rhinoceros!
« And soon, Beast Island sinks beneath boiling, steaming waters… », the omniscient narrator tells us. « The island is gone now – and so are the terrible things that walked on it, flew over it — and swam around it! » The power-grabbing asshole is okay, though – he escaped just fine!
There’s plenty more tentacles in House of Mystery – to which we will no doubt return.
« Now, Carlos — put that gun away! »
« Why, Fernando, I thought I’d start the show with a bang! »
That guy in the audience with the irritating donkey laugh is finally getting his. This unforgettable cover is the work of the peerless Norman Saunders, whose long and prolific career blazed its way through pulps, comic books, slicks, men’s adventure magazines, paperbacks, trading cards… you name it!
This is Ziff-Davis’ The Crime Clinic no. 11 (actually its second issue, September-October 1951). And for once, the inside story kind of matches the cover mayhem.
Today’s Tentacle Tuesday is home to that conventional, oft-seen beast, the comic strip. Without getting into the complexities of defining this term, I use “comic strip” here to refer specifically to the (syndicated) newspaper comic strip, although by now the newer ones may have never seen print in a newspaper, only online.
Most of these are available for perusal on one of the comics-clustering websites, such as gocomics.com, or sometimes directly on a strip’s own website (in which case it also becomes a webcomic strip, I guess). I’ve provided the links in the description.
We started on a Bizarro note, so let’s wrap things up with another.