Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Basil Wolverton – Part 1

SPOOP! And a happy Tentacle Tuesday to you, too. Today’s feature is devoted to Basil Wolverton. A lot could be said about his sense of semi-slapstick, semi-surreal comedy and his unhinged-yet-meticulous drawing style, his delightful work in the realm of humour comics or his genuinely scary contribution to horror-in-pictures… but as I have a one-track mind, I’ll focus on his love of tentacles. No matter what sort of thing he was drawing, tentacles somehow managed to slip into it… and that’s understandable, for tentacles are both hilarious and fearsome. Without further ado, here’s your master of ceremonies and cephalopods… Basil Wolverton!

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Here’s some more sounds you might like to know about, to be used indiscriminately to spice up humdrum conversations around the water cooler:

Hungry cannibal filing eyetooth: FWATCH!
Man with calloused feet crossing rough linoleum: SKIRP! SKIRP!
Thumb gouging eye: SPOP!
Hot lava speweing on WCTU convention: FOOSK!
Hot lava spewing on Elks’ convention: SSSCRISH!
Person skidding on hot stove in bare feet: SCREESH!
Beaver biting into wooden leg: CRASP!
Car crashing into large vat of frogs’ eggs: SKWORP!
False teeth falling through skylight: TWUNK!
Sock in the face with Sears Roebuck catalog: PWOSH!
Sock in the face with Montgomery Ward catalog: PWASH!

This mirth-inducing stuff is from an article that Basil Wolverton wrote for the Daily Oregon in 1948 called “Acoustics in Comics”. Here’s another excerpt of that article (which is definitely worth reading in its entirety, and is fortunately easily found online… here, for instance):

« ‘I want realism!’ he (my publisher) had bellowed. ‘No more of this wild imaginative stuff that’s causing some people to want to ban our comic books! From now on, get that realism in there, and your strips will be horribly funny! Then the readers will go into hysterics and laugh like crazy, and our books will be acclaimed the most laugh provoking on the stands!’ That meant that an imaginative word like CRANCH was taboo. It was up to me to get the real sound word. »

And, hoppin’ horse hocks, he did.

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Enough of the rib-splitting stuff: this is a serious blog that discusses serious horror. *ahem*

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Page from Ethan Downing (1935), an early endeavour by Wolverton – unpublished.
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Amazing Mystery Funnies vol. 2 no. 12, December 1939. You may with to point out that this bandit is a cannibalistic spider, *not* a tentacled creature, but look at how he’s using his appendages, look me straight in the eye, and tell me that those aren’t tentacles. Besides, spiders have 8 legs, not 6, and this guy is definitely a 6-leg wonder… and they get called « tentacles », right from panel one.

No inventory of Wolverton tentacles would be complete without the classic « Creeping Death from Neptune », first published in Target Comics vol. 1 no. 5 (June 1940), and reprinted many a time since, nearly as often the amazing Brain Bats of Venus (also quite heavy in quasi-tentacles. If aren’t familiar with it already, do yourself a favour and read it in full here.)

BasilWolveronTheCreepingDeath fromNeptune
A page from Creeping Death from Neptune, first published in Target Comics vol. 1 no. 5 (June 1940). The earth-girl is interestingly deadpan about being consumed alive by some sort of slithering weirdness.
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This story also has « tentacle-like » metal arms. I’m telling you, pretty much everything’s a tentacle where Wolverton is concerned.
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Meteor Marlin, cover illustration for episode one, April 4th, 1940… never published. In this one, noses are tentacles!
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A panel from Nightmare World by Basil Wolverton that originally appeared in Weird Tales of the Future no. 3, 1952. This is a reprint from Mr. Monster’s Super Duper Special no. 8, 1987, re-coloured by Jeff Bonivert.

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Phew! I’ll end this on a humorous note: octopuses evidently make fabulous hairdressers.

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This is a panel from a Powerhouse Pepper story that doesn’t really have a title, being referred to as “Haw! Haw! Grab a good gander…” instead. Originally published in Tessie the Typist Comics no. 9, April 1947.

Sadly, Wolverton’s weirdly frightening villains did not always find favour with the powers-that-be. Back in 1940, Jim Fitzsimmons, assistant editor at Centaur, publisher of Amazing Mystery Funnies, wrote:

« Though the fantastic and weird are the essential selling point of this feature, we would advise that you keep away from the use of revolting characters such as Brain-Men. Some of these characters you have developed have actually sent shudders down my otherwise unconcerned vertebrae. »

Reading The Life and Comics of Basil Wolverton, Volume 1: 1909-1941 written by Greg Sadowski (2014, Fantagraphics), one gets the impression this brilliant master of spaghetti-and-meatballs* comics spent his artistic life trying to fit his imagination into the narrow guidelines imposed by editors, heads-of-companies and other pundits. He died in 1978, aged 69, but was active in the comics field until 1973 («Plop!») I’ll leave it for people more erudite than I to debate his success (or lack thereof) in the comics field…. I’m just happy to witness a resurgence of interest in this great artist, and enjoying the treasure-trove of material that’s available.

~ ds

*Basil Wolverton, whom Life magazine once described as being from “the spaghetti and meatball” school of design.

12 thoughts on “Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Basil Wolverton – Part 1

    • redscraper August 29, 2018 / 00:29

      Thank you, fellow Wolverton fiend! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • tref August 29, 2018 / 00:35

        If all Basil had ever done were the Mad & Plop! comics he still would be remembered as one of the most innovative artists of his generation. Thanks

        Liked by 1 person

      • redscraper August 29, 2018 / 01:11

        Stay tuned – we will definitely be Plop-ing away soon! Plop! is a favourite of mine, even though I came to it much later than its release dates. (Better late than never, right?)

        Like

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