Happy Birthday to Eldon Dedini

Amidst all the (justified) doom and gloom that this week has brought us, there is one bright spot that comes just in time to save this week from being a complete downer. It’s Eldon Dedini’s birthday! (He was born in 1921, on June 29th.) Yes, I know that he died in 2006… but his joyous, delightfully hedonistic art lives on. As a Russian whose father once started a rowdy party because it was Mozart’s birthday, I claim the privilege of celebrating Dedini’s jour de naissance by raising my glass of rosé (satyr-approved, of course) in his honour.

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“That’s all very well for you, but I’m the one who’ll have to sit on the eggs”.

He was one of Gus Arriola’s closest friends. To quote Arriola, «calling Eldon a cartoonist just christens the tip of an impressive iceberg. Beneath the surface is a superb painter, a remarkably inventive illustrator, philosopher, and humorist—a keen observer, revealing life’s little truths with his unerring brush. His chief reward was the viewer’s invariable burst of laughter. He was a walking repository of eclectic knowledge about art, history, jazz, wine—you name it. I gave up using my encyclopedia on a subject search: it was faster to pick up the phone and call Eldon.» By the way, I pulled this quote out of a R.C. Harvey article published in the Comics Journal titled “Viewing Life Through a Twinkle”, which gives you an idea of what a fun read it is.

The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Dedini is merrily frolicking satyrs, closely followed (or preceded) by unapologetically buxom women, all of this merry crowd looking to have some fun of the most basic kind. It’s not all randy woodland gods, though; there’s also room for lascivious gnomes, salacious wolves and whatever other lechery comes to mind. (Most of these were published in Playboy Magazine.)

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« Remember what Balzac said – ‘it is easier to be a lover than a husband for the simple reason that it is more difficult to be witty every day than to say pretty things from time to time.‘ »

 

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Ooh, tough choice.
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« Either we start pushing birth control or we’re going to be up to our asses in little people. »

 

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« But will you love me when I’m old and gray? » How is she managing to keep roses on her nipples, by the way?
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Nothing like taking the proactive role, huh?

Although it’s easy to be blown away by Dedini’s take on Grecian and Roman mythology – I think fabled creatures gave him an easy outlet for his joie de vivre – he could seemingly draw anything he wanted to, stunning forest landscapes or historical costumes, capturing carpet textures, clothing accessories or musical instruments with equal ease.

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« Well, I guess it goes to prove that not all God’s children got rhythm. » Note the name of the band, which made me snort into my tea.
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Whatever religion *that* is, I want to join it!

To wrap up, here’s a sweet anecdote from the aforementioned Viewing Life Through a Twinkle:

During an intermission at one year’s Festival, Dedini and some other PBL members went up on stage to have their photograph taken. Duke Ellington was still on stage, seated at the piano, putting eye drops in his eyes. When Dedini was introduced as “a cartoonist who sometimes draws jazz cartoons,” Ellington got up and, without saying a word, pulled out his wallet and started looking through it as he meandered, aimlessly, around the platform. Finally, he found what he was looking for, a folded up magazine clipping. He carefully unfolded it and spread it out on the piano: it was a cartoon Dedini had done for Collier’s. The cartoon depicted two Russians in Red Square, one of whom is obviously a dealer in blackmarket phonograph records: he has opened his coat to show the other fellow the record that he has tucked inside, saying, “ … Cootie Williams, trumpet; Johnny Hodges, alto sax; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Harry Carney, baritone sax; Duke Ellington, piano …” Said Dedini: “Ellington loved that cartoon because when he toured Russia the people of Russia loved his music, but they couldn’t buy the records.” For years thereafter, Ellington sent Dedini a Christmas card. “I have about twenty,” Dedini said. “He sends them in June.”

~ ds

Mike Royer’s Cruisin’ Years: the Interview, part 1

« This isn’t just nostalgia. It’s history! »

Today, Michael Royer (born June 28, 1941), who surely needs no introduction around these parts, celebrates birthday number seventy-seven, and on this special occasion, we have a treat, both for the great man and for the rest of us: part one of an interview Mr. Royer granted us, conducted just a few days ago.

As you can imagine, Mr. Royer has spent decades answering the same queries about his work with Jack Kirby and with Russ Manning, so that’s quite a well-trod line of investigation. We like to approach things a bit differently here at WOT; having long been intrigued by Mr. Royer’s evocative series of LP covers for the Cruisin’ anthology series, beginning in the late 1960s, and frustrated by the lack of solid information concerning said contribution, I figured I’d take a hand, and reached out to Mr. Royer.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Cruisin’ Series, here’s the pitch: « Cruisin’ is a year-by-year recreation of pop music radio during the years 1956 through 1962 [the years of 1955 and 1963-1970 were produced later]. Each album is not just a collection of the top pop music of a particular year, but a total recreation by a top disk jockey (of that year) doing his original program over a major pop music station. That means actual commercials, promotional jingles, sound effects, newscast simulations and even record hop announcements in addition to the original records themselves. »

« Cruisin’ producer Ron Jacobs monitored thousands of feet of tape, travelled over 10,000 miles and rooted through forgotten files and cluttered basements for old commercials, station promos and jingles. »

« What’s so special about these album covers? », you may ask. I’d posit that they’re unique in the sense that, while they each work as standalone pieces, together, they form a quite impressive comic strip, one in which a year or so elapses between panels. Just about every detail has its place, imparting information plainly or quite subtly. Characters come and go, years apart, sometimes entirely offstage, often never speaking a word. It’s graphic storytelling at its finest. And the LPs are pretty spiffy too.

Now that you’re up to speed, shall we begin? Mr. Royer and I spoke on Tuesday, June 2018, and he was most generous with his time and his recollections. I assure you that the minutes simply fly in such gracious company.

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Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1955 in its entirety here!
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Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1956 in its entirety here!
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Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1957 in far less that its entirety here. Sorry!
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Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1958 in its entirety here!
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Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1959 in its entirety here!
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For this entry’s cd reissue, the cover artwork was inadvisably cropped, quite obscuring the political differences between Kevin Buchanan III (front) and Eddie (in uniform). Mr. Royer’s least favourite cover, incidentally. Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1960 in its entirety here!
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Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1961 in its entirety here! And remember, « if you say ‘Woo Woo Ginsburg’ with your order, you get another Ginsburger free of charge! »

Who’s Out There: Mr. Royer, How did you happen to be selected for the job in the first place?

Michael Royer: In 1966, I was working for Grantray-Lawrence Animation on the Marvel Superheroes limited animation cartoon series. And I believe that a man named Paul Gruwell… If you look at the record album, he’s listed in there as the art director… I’m listed as the artist and they misspelled my name.

WOT: Of course. We’ll set that straight.

MR: Paul was one of the guys working on the series and I did some work with him on an outside project he was doing, where he was doing… I guess you could call them slide shows, on the history of the Mormon church.

I was working on these things, and he knew someone at the record company who had this idea for the history of rock ‘n’ roll. And for the life of me, I can’t remember what the young man’s name was. But he’s the cover of one of the records, where he’s coming out of the backroom, through the beads [Cruisin’ 1967]. It’s like a head shop, or something…

WOT: Would that be Ron Jacobs? He was the producer.

MR: Yeah, yeah.

MR: So, anyway, the first batch of covers that went through, I believe, 1968… and the last cover had Peg and Eddie, who were reunited, with her little boy from her fist marriage. And they’re in the front seat of a van, in a traffic jam leaving Woodstock. That cover was never printed.

WOT: No wonder I’ve never seen it!

MR: Anyway, the covers that I did, how many was it? ’54 through…

WOT: Fifty-five. ’55 through ’70, plus one that’s “The Cruisin’ Years”…

WOT: How much latitude/wiggle room were you given? Were research materials provided or not? Were specific cultural signifiers specified, or did you get to pick (or a mix of both)?

MR: Anyway, on those ones that I did in the late Sixties, early Seventies, Paul Gruwell gave me little three-or-four square inch thumbnails… on the covers that he wanted me to do. All I got was his, in my opinion, so-so little thumbnails, which I guess gave him the reason to call himself ‘art director’…

WOT: I was going to ask if he could draw.

MR: I had to do all the research. Each cover had to feature certain items that definitely said that it was that year. Like newspaper headlines, magazine covers…

WOT: Movie marquees…

MR: … automobiles, and I had to look up all that. I went to the library, as we didn’t have “online” then. Ah, on one of the covers where I need the dash, I believe, of a ’57, or ’58 Chevy, I had to go to a used car lot in South East Los Angeles, and with my Polaroid camera, I asked these two big guys in their double-breasted suits if I could, uh, photograph the interior of one of their cars, and they looked at me like… « Okay, white boy, you’re crazy if you wanna shoot it, but we’ll let ya, you know. »

WOT: People do like those odd requests.

MR: It was very interesting researching the cars, and making sure that, even if they were shown from the basement [Cruisin’ 1963], out parked at the curb…

WOT: They had to be accurate.

MR: … you could still tell that it was a Studebaker. You know, and the jukebox had to be, I believe the Wurlitzer that was in places in that year [Cruisin’ 1961]. And so I did all of that. So all of the research materials were not provided by anyone other than me, and the special cultural signifiers had to be newspaper headlines, uh, I think the one where Peg and Eddie are in the basement [Cruisin’ 1963] café, and the Studebaker’s up on the street, there’s a newspaper that says something about “Cuban Missile Crisis” [Cruisin’ 1961 and The Bay of Pigs. 1963’s headline was the Profumo Scandal]

MR: It’s so long since I’ve looked at these, Richard.

Our interview continues in Part Two!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Plants Sometimes Have Tentacles, Too

The topic of today’s Tentacle Tuesday is based on a plant-based mishap. I was walking along an alley, minding my own business, when some sort of climbing plant with especially long and vicious tentacle-vines, swinging from from a nearby fence,  grabbed my arm. The result were scratches that felt like burns.*

So today’s gruesome offerings are mostly cousins of the Venus Flytrap, if the latter had tentacles to assist its quest for prey. (Let’s breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn’t.)

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Midnight Tales no. 6 (November 1973), cover by Wayne Howard. I am a big fan of Midnight Tales and its blend of humour and adventure. Note the “created by Wayne Howard” announcement on the cover, which wasn’t exactly typical for its time – comic book companies didn’t use to acknowledge the creators of their “content” so openly and insistently.

Midnight Tales often offer moments of “wait, how did that get through the Comics Code?” Arachne (Professor Coffin’s undeniably attractive niece) is frequently more sexually provocative than one would expect from a kid-appropriate comic, crimes committed are nastier than surmised, and the plots go from morbid to surreal… with some comedy thrown in. Oh, sure, there’s some terrible clunkers, as every issue has three or four stories linked by a common theme and illustrated by different artists, but overall the quality remains high throughout its 18-issue run.

I’ve seen people online saying that Howard shamelessly plagiarized Wally Wood’s style – perhaps people more erudite than I see that, but I don’t. “Influenced” is one thing – but one can build on those beginnings to create a recognizable style of one’s own, right? Those who like Wayne Howard frequently classify him as a “guilty pleasure”, and proceed to insult his art while they’re explaining why they like it. To quote, for instance, from Atomic Avenue, who follow the unspoken rule – just mentioning Charlton Comics warrants a condescending tone, and any acknowledgement of their quality has to be tempered by mockery. 

Creator Wayne Howard blatantly imitated the style of comic art great Wally Wood right down to his gothic signature, but at least he aimed high in his plagiarism. Consequently, Midnight Tales had the look of a seedy, off-register knock-off of an EC horror comic—putting it at the top of Charlton’s quality spectrum.

Another opinion from Cap’n’s Comics:

In my world of geek’n out over all this great art, Wayne Howard is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. He loves to draw like Wally Wood, but he’s no Wally Wood. His females usually look like Wally’s women after a really bad day, and his males are just plain fugly. His Wood machinery is close to the background machinery behind the awesome machinery, and everything shouts fan art VS pro art, but… Luvittopieces

Ah, well. I won’t be apologetic about liking Howard’s art, and Midnight Tales will be proudly presented as a favourite series on a need-to-know basis. Fortunately, there’s some nice articles about him, too – a sort of obituary for a great African-American artist who died at only 58.

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Another Flytrap for your enjoyment, in this tale of brotherly rivalry:

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“Harvest of Hate” was scripted by Jack Oleck and drawn by Alfredo Alcala (speaking of whom, I still can’t get over how beautiful his signature is.) Page scanned from House of Mystery no. 251 (March-April 1977).
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Don’t worry, the “gardener” who fed his brother to this man-devouring monstrosity gets his comeuppance, all right.

The cover of this issue of House of Mystery is also a good exhibit of plant tentacles, even if the children are a superfluous addition:

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House of Mystery no. 251 (March-April 1977), cover by Neal Adams.

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Here’s something more recent – published on some almost-thirty years ago, instead of forty – the tentacular adventures of Doctor Gorpon! I hope these guys count as plants (even if they’re slightly more mobile) – they’re the right shade of green!

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Doctor Gorpon no. 2 (July 1991) by Marc Hansen. The little guy in the right bottom corner is extra-cute – if only all children looked at their parents with the same sense of admiration and awe! It’s “Ooze Me, Baby!”

I only finished reading this three-issue series today, and I must say, it was an exciting ride. Highly recommended (if you can find it, that is).

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A panel from the aptly-titled “Big Eyeballs!”, published in Doctor Gorpon no. 3 (August 1991).
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A page from “Big Eyeballs!”, published in Doctor Gorpon #3 (August 1991).

~ ds

*
Plantburns

One Summer Solstice at the Old Fishing Hole…

« I had me a scientific career before… ah… circumstances forced me to take up fishin’… »

In case it’s escaped anyone’s notice, summer’s officially arrived.

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This is Xenozoic Tales no. 7 (Oct. 1988, Kitchen Sink), a series that presented, wonder of wonders, a post-apocalyptic future that wasn’t strictly doom and gloom. Cover by Mark Schultz. This issue features « The Growing Pool », written and drawn by Schultz, and “Crossed Currents”, written by Schultz and illustrated by Steve Stiles.

The lady is Hannah Dundee, and she may soon have to share her lunch. Something tells me this illustration is a pastiche of some The Saturday Evening Post-type cover.. there’s something charmingly old-fashioned about it, and I don’t mean Cambrian Age old.

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You know, that sort of thing. The Saturday Evening Post‘s August 5, 1933 cover by… who else? Norman Rockwell.
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It’s the new falconry! Xenozoic Tales’ coexistence of humans and dinosaurs is not your run-of-the-mill anachronism: this is the world of tomorrow, not yesterday’s. This striking portrait of Ms. Dundee was conceived as a t-shirt design in the late 1980s. I should still have mine stashed somewhere…

– RG

The Observant Ambulations of Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer

« This peephole was smeared when I moved in »

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« A RAW One-Shot » (1991, Penguin Books)

Originally appearing in alternative weekly The New York Press in the late 1980s, Ben Katchor’s Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer belongs to that most exotic breed of comic strips, those that suddenly awake the mind to the medium’s grand possibilities. Said experience can be abrupt and dizzying, but in this particular instance, it’s soothing and bittersweet, full of rightful yearning for things that possibly were or surely should have been, glimpsed in a daydream by the low flame of the fantastic mundane.

Mr. Katchor (born November 19, 1951 in Brooklyn, New York) is blessed with a vision of startling depth and singularity. By its nature and scope, it’s not everyone’s thing, but the rest of us likely wind up as lifelong admirers, and isn’t that just the ideal audience?

Much has been written elsewhere, often brilliantly, about Mr. Katchor and his œuvre; it’s work of a calibre to inspire theses, dissertations and papers, so I’ll mostly stick to presenting some samples. The passionate plaudits these strips have inspired tend to obscure the fact that most people just haven’t had the pleasure, or at least the opportunity, of encountering such rich material.

These vignettes were collected in 1991 as Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay. Oddly enough, it was the only one of Katchor’s books to go out of print… the situation was remedied in 2016 by Montréal’s Drawn & Quarterly, who brought it back in a lovely hardcover edition.

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While on vacation, my accountant fell in love with a hot sauce manufactured on the small Caribbean island of Dominica. He’s since devoted considerable energy to renewing his stock of the stuff, which has involved much international horse trading.
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Montréal has its share of architectural remnants of bygone commercial enterprise; arguably, the most famous is the “Giant Milk Bottle“, but no, it isn’t full of milk.
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This melancholy vignette ties in quite nicely with a recent piece from Atlas Obscura noting the fading lingo and diminishing rôle of the soda jerks of New York City. Read it over a mug of murk with a choker hole.

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From the collection’s back cover blurb: « In a vast and shadowy city of old skyscrapers, neglected warehouses, juice stands, and coffee shops, Julius Knipl, a rumpled, middle-aged man in a suit and hat, wanders the streets photographing buildings and pondering the details: the scent of the past that seeps into the present; the ghosts of other values and culture embedded in the urban landscape; people and behaviors almost gone that linger on. He sees what others overlook, a Borscht-belt Buster Keaton. »

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The esteemed Mr. Katchor.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Hilary Barta

There are few things more satisfying than hitting two birds with one stone. Today’s Tentacle Tuesday almost, but not quite, coincides with the birthday of Hilary Barta, who was born on June 17th, 1957. As it happens, he is delightfully adept at depicting tentacles, and quite enthusiastic about it, too…. so it is my pleasure to combine tentacle festivities with a (hopefully) tantalizing sampling of a great artist’s work.

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All I could find about this illustration is that it was meant as a cover to a book. To quote from Rhine’s website, « writer R.S. Rhine and illustrator Hillary Bata will collaborate on the graphic novel (release 2005) ». Was it ever released? It doesn’t seem so.
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Art for The Black Flame no. 7, 2017. Art by Hilary Barta. So Black Flame is getting attacked by a bunch of drooling monsters and he’s victoriously brandishing… a small lizard?
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The published version of The Black Flame no. 7. I think this colour scheme works much better, actually.

There’s no mentioning Barta without perusing some of his Simpsons’ work, especially under the umbrella of that tentacle-rich (my favourite!) manifestation of the Simpsons, the Treehouse of Horror.

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P is for Portal! This « Lexicon of Lurid Limericks » was published in Treehouse of Horror no. 8, 2002. Art by Hilary Barta, colours by Dave Stewart. Moe is nonplussed, as usual… it’s going to take more than a few slimy tentacles and a big puddle of gore to shake him up.

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Barta can also channel Wally Wood with ease, and who says “Wally Wood”, says “tentacles”!

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Art by Hilary Barta for a promotional poster for the Lake Count-I-Con, Lake County’s 2014 comic convention.

(And this is what the actual poster looked like… at least they didn’t cover up too much of the artwork)

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It’s rare for me to post something published recently (my head is firmly lodged in the past), but this is a pleasant exception:

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Comic Book Creator no. 17, 2018. It just came out, actually, so you’ll still catch it on quality newsstands if you hurry.  Cover by Hilary Barta.

Don’t forget to visit Barta’s blog, Surly Hack Attack!

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Barta, looking at Professor Frink no. 1, 2013 (the cover has tentacles, by the way) in which he has a story titled « Frink Sinatra ».

~ ds

The Expanding Ego Theory: Neal Adams at 77

« Now at this age, I look back and oh, Adams is probably one of the worst things that happened to the medium, when I look at it historically. » – Darwyn Cooke (2004)

On his 77th birthday, the legendary Neal Adams must surely look back on his storied career and radiantly beam (‘gloating’ is for lesser beings). Still, with all he’s accomplished (and with such brio!) in the fields of graphic storytelling, advertising, physics, the theatre and geology, who could find it in his heart to blame him? With so much to celebrate, let’s just stick to the highlights, shall we?

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Why is the little dude threatening the giantess? Why, Neal, why? Well, I suppose that is some people’s idea of romance. This is Heart Throbs no. 120 (June-July, 1969), edited by Joe Orlando.
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I don’t know if you’ve ever pulled yourself out of the water onto a dock, but that… is not the way to do it. One might argue that Triton is an Inhuman, and as such, gravity and anatomy are trifles unworthy of his kind. From Avengers no. 95 (Jan. 1972, Marvel), a chapter in the “Kree-Skrull War”, cobbled together by Roy Thomas from discarded Kirby plot effluvium and Jerome Bixby and Otto Klement’s Fantastic Voyage.
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Ah, Neal Adams. He who brought naturalism and realism to comics. A panel from “The Powerless Power Ring!”, a Green Lantern backup strip from Flash no. 226 (March 1974, DC Comics.)
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Neal’s influence can’t be overstated, and not only in the fields of comics and geology. Here’s US figure skater Jason Brown‘s poignant tribute to that very Green Lantern tale, presented to warm applause at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. As Neal is fond of saying to any cartoonist he encounters, « You are all my children! »*
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A concert poster reproducing Our Neal’s gatefold art for Grand Funk‘s 1974 LP, All the Girls in the World Beware!!! (which incidentally features their finest original composition, imho, Bad Time) Despite the difficult assignment, Neal comes through with flailing biceps and chicken legs; thank goodness his caricature chops are equal to his grasp of earth sciences. Curiously, half the groupie throng seems to be cloned from a particularly manic Marsha Brady, and most of the rest from Carol Burnett.
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They’re an American Band. From left to right: Don Brewer (he of the competent drum work), Mark Farner (he of the wild, shirtless lyrics), keyboardist Craig Frost (Homer didn’t rate him), and of course Mel Schacher (he of the bong-rattling bass.) One may wonder just who those guys in the poster are supposed to be.
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Faceplant time, or The perils of drawing comics whilst grabbing lunch, getting a massage on 52nd, or simply resting on your laurels. How does this cover make any sense? Just picture the scene from another angle, or if someone tried to build a model of it. Archie’s Super Hero Comics Digest Magazine no. 2 (1979 edition.)
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As legendary as his renditions of established characters are, it is with his own creations that Neal Adams’ true legendary status rests: fabled names, always spoken in hushed awe, such as Ms. Mystic, Samuree, Cyberad, Crazyman, Megalith, Valeria the She-Bat… and of course Skateman, Jason Brown’s childhood idol. Here’s his premiere (and dernière) issue, published in November 1983 by Pacific Comics.
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And here’s a mock-up of the same cover. I’ll go to my grave wondering why they chose to run the cover sans this piquant, vernacular-rich dialogue, which would have shown once and for all that Neal the writer was every bit the equal of Neal, the artiste. Eat your heart out, Noël Coward!
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Neal applies his Midas touch to another original creation: Crazyman! Double bag several copies of this number one, someday it’ll put your kids through college. It even comes with an embossed cover! By then, Adams was drawing donkey teeth on everyone, evidently his shorthand for “hilarious”. April 1992, Continuity Comics. You know, “The other superhero company”!

– RG

*as recounted by Yanick Paquette

Tentacle Tuesday: The Friendly Octopus

So far, we’ve leaned heavily in the direction of the aggressive octopus, the hoggish, ill-mannered brute who grabs people without so much as a how-do-you-do. Even when the multi-tentacled beast has self-defence as an excuse, the gory results are often not for the weak-hearted. Yet, like any complex creature, it has many personality facets; let’s have a look at the friendly cephalopod, the octopus-next-door type, the one who’s willing to let you use its tentacles in lieu of swings and lend a feeler’d arm with your fishing.

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In 1946, Belda Records came up with the concept of a “komic book & plastic record”. The series was called Talking Komics, promising (and delivering!) kids a “record-music-story-comic book” experience. There were 8 characters, one per book-cum-record, in all. Our friend the Lonesome Octopus is one, although he seems to be doing all right socially. The other 7 are Grumpy Shark, Happy Grasshopper, Chirpy Cricket, Flying Turtle, Blind Mouse, and in a slightly different vein, Enchanted Toymaker and Sleepy Santa.

The records were written & produced by Bob Bellem and narrated by Marvin Miller (a well-known voice actor – to name a few well-known shows, he was Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet and in  The Pink Panther Show he voiced the Inspector, Deux-Deux and the Commissioner), the music was composed & conducted by Frank Hubbel, and the comic was illustrated by Mel Millar, who may or not be Marvin’s brother. Cartoons were created for at least some of the records/comics (so it’s more like “record-music-story-comic-book-animation”) – some of them used to be findable on Youtube some time ago, but the years seem to have swept everything away.

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Another octopus who kindly consented to let his tentacles be used as swings. He apparently sings, too!

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Mutt and Jeff is a newspaper strip created by Bud Fisher in 1907, generally believed to be the first daily comic strip (or at least the first really successful one). It featured Augustus Mutt (the tall fellow swinging on the right tentacle), greedy and highly inventive (if not downright insane) with his parade of get-rich-quick schemes, and bald Jeff, his reluctant sidekick, whose sideburns would surely get him accepted as a hipster in these modern times. Go here to read an enthusiastic article about this cultural phenomenon, and here to read some comics.

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Little boys who over-work an octopus are going to end up as his dinner, I say. Still, for the time being, here’s a sweet scene of inter-species coöperation.

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I sure hope that this octopus gets his share of fish at the end of the day! Also, wouldn’t it be more efficient to just grab the fish directly with tentacles instead of using man-made contraptions like fishing lines? This is The Funnies no. 23 (Dell, August 1938). Does anybody know the artist?

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Orrible Orvie and Awful Annie will help us wrap up this Tentacle Tuesday. This octopus isn’t assisting the kids directly, but the kind smile on his, err, face radiates benevolence (well, not to the fishes, but one has to feed on *something*, right?)

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This is The Little Monsters no. 41, 1977 – only three issues away from the series’ end (it ran from 1964 to 1978 for a total of 44 issues, plus a giveaway issue of March of Comics). Artist unknown.

~ ds

Free Inside Package: James Sturm’s The Cereal Killings (1992-95)

« You cannot work with men who won’t work with you. » — John Harvey Kellogg

Before he created his justly-celebrated The Golem’s Mighty Swing, wrote the mini-series Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules, or co-founded The Center for Cartoon Studies, James Sturm (b. 1965) committed to paper and ink a mind-expanding, if little-noticed, saga entitled The Cereal Killings, complete in eight issues and published by Fantagraphics between 1992 and 1995. Sturm valiantly struggled through ocular problems during that period, undergoing no less than three retinal operations, leaving him with one good eye.

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The Cereal Killings no. 3 (Sept. 1992), colours by Mark Lang. Hey, I’d pay good money to see The Screaming Ernies perform. I’d settle for a t-shirt!

Sturm dug well beyond the shallow pun of the title and implacably hauled it to its logical conclusion. TCK has been likened to a Watchmen with a cast of funny animal cereal mascots, and that’s not that far off the mark. But beyond its conceptual debt to Alan Moore’s superhero deconstruction, Sturm’s story actually takes aim at more adult concerns and issues, made all the more harrowing and poignant by how psychologically credible his cast of cereal pitchmen and acolytes is. Corporate malfeasance, petty theft, betrayal, bitterness, grandiloquence, blind ambition, dementia, remorse… and wisdom. You name it, it’s all there, in a gripping, kaleidoscopic and haunting narrative.

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Sturm, Fantagraphics & Co. made splendid use of the entire, (actual) ad-free magazine to flesh out the concept. This is Mark Lang’s gorgeous depiction of The Scarecrow and Carbunkle. These are our good guys, appearances notwithstanding.
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Issue 3’s back cover provides a helpful look at our cast of characters.
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This is the cover of TSK no. 4, featuring Schmedly the Elephant, who wishes he *could* forget. Colour by Mark Lang.

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A crucial flashback scene from the eighth, and ultimate, issue (Jan. 1995). It would appear that The Scarecrow is a stand-in for cereal giant Kellogg’s founder, John Harvey Kellogg.

« It’s the present! It’s nostalgia! It’s a crispy non-sweetened comix story that doesn’t get soggy in milk! And remember — product is sold by weight, not volume. Some unsettling may occur. »

The series has never been collected or reprinted, so you’ll have to do the work… I think I noticed a torrent file somewhere. Sturm at one point intended to issue a revised collected edition, but has apparently changed his mind since. That’s no way to treat one’s masterwork, neglected as it may be.

-RG

Happy Birthday, Charles Clarence Beck!

« It’s difficult to know just what to make of C.C. Beck. He’s crusty and curmudgeonly in the Cleveland Armory mold. He’s virulently opinionated, yet insists that he doesn’t take himself seriously. His aesthetics are inflexible if not reactionary, and not entirely consistent at that. He also happens to be one of the most endearing and original cartoonists ever to breathe life into a super-hero.“*

Charles Clarence Beck was born on June 8th, 1920 and left this world in 1989. The world is a stodgier place without him!

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My favourite of Otto Binder/C.C. Beck’s characters – Tawky Tawny, the well-mannered, reasonable, tweed-wearing tiger. Sweet Tawny first appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #79 (December 1947), as a talking tiger who longed for a life as a normal, suit-wearing, polite member of society. He also really likes ice cream. This panel is from “Mr. Tawny’s Personality Peril”, a story by the Binder and Beck team, published in Captain Marvel Adventures #115 (December 1950).

Here are a few covers which showcase A) C.C. Beck’s stylish art B) the lovely goofiness of it all. To quote the man, « When Bill Parker and I went to work on Fawcett’s first comic book in late 1939, we both saw how poorly written and illustrated the superhero comic books were. We decided to give our reader a real comic book, drawn in comic-strip style and telling an imaginative story, based not on the hackneyed formulas of the pulp magazine, but going back to the old folk-tales and myths of classic times. » Well, to be honest, aside from the so-called Greek origins of Captain Marvel (“Shazam”, the catalyzing cry which allows ordinary Billy Batson to transform into his superhero alter-ego, stands for “Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, Mercury”), there’s little in these stories that evokes classic folk tales *or* mythology. I know the Ancient Greeks were into some kooky shit, but I don’t recall any myopic worms with a Napoleon complex nor talking tigers in suits. Ultimately, Captain Marvel comics are family fun. “Old-fashioned” values are the backbone of these stories: friendship, loyalty, kindness to those weaker (or stupider) than us. If that sounds boring, it isn’t. Beck had a cartoony style that make his stories fucking adorable, especially when coupled with the often surreal and delightfully wacky plots.

“Quote! Mr. Tawny is not a tiger – he’s a worm! Unquote!”

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At first glance, this cover is celebrating the beauty of autumn; upon a closer inspection, it turns out that it has much darker overtones – two faceless guys in the background, clearly following some nefarious plan to break up Tawny and Captain Marvel’s friendship (how dare they!) and a creepy boarded-up house. This is Captain Marvel Adventures #113 (October, 1950), cover by C. C. Beck. Read “His Feud With Mr. Tawny” (scripted by Otto Binder, illustrated by C.C. Beck), which is finally not at all gruesome, just heart-warming, here.

C.C. Beck co-created Captain Marvel with writer Bill Parker in 1939. The Big Red Cheese made his first stellar appearance in Whiz Comics #2 (cover date February 1940), published in late 1939. Captain Marvel was a huge hit, and so Fawcett put out a number of spin-off comic books – as for Beck, he opened his own comic studio in 1941 that provided most of the artwork in the Marvel Family line of books.

« Special! Baby dinosaurs! New! Different! Be the envy of your friends! »

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Captain Marvel Adventures #123, 1951. Did you know that dinosaurs apparently wag their tails like dogs to express their affection? No? Head over here.

« Wait! This isn’t oil! It’s dense, black and real sticky! »

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Don’t let go of that piglet, Captain Marvel! Pigs’ reputation for loving mud may be well deserved, but no self-respecting swine wants to be dropped into black, sticky goo. This is Captain Marvel Adventures #126 (November 1951), cover by C.C. Beck. The cautionary cover tale, Captain Marvel and the Creeping Horror, was written by Otto Binder and pencilled by C.C. Beck (with inks, tentatively, by Pete Costanza).

« Did you hear that, ma? We’re on another – uh – world! Ma, aren’t you scared? »
« Land sakes, pa, why get scared? At least my wash will dry nice and fast with two suns shining down! »

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Captain Marvel Adventures #135 (August 1952); cover by C.C. Beck.

IGN ranked Captain Marvel as the 50th greatest comic book hero of all time. You know how they qualified it? “Times have changed, and allegiances with them, but Captain Marvel will always be an enduring reminder of a simpler time.” If there’s one thing I hate, it’s people who assume that generations before theirs were naïve or that the world was a “simpler” place (take a peep in any good history book and see if that was the case). This kind of condescension poisons any compliment.

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C.C. Beck in 1982. He kinda looks like my physics teacher from high school!
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Doctor Sivana comes out with his whole family to taunt Billy! Says Beck, “The publisher also once wanted to drop Sivana, claiming the old rascal was becoming a more interesting character than Captain Marvel. The editors paid no attention to so silly an order and kept him alive and cackling.”

There’s a beautifully conducted interview with Beck by Tom Heintjes, published in Hogan’s Alley. I highly recommend it. Heart-breakingly, Heintjes explains in the introduction that “when Beck died of renal failure on November 23, 1989, my inability to complete a book celebrating Beck’s life and career—to my mind, one of the most commercially and aesthetically successful in the entire history of comic books—was a source of acute regret.

~ ds

*Gary Groth’s introduction to an interview with C.C. Beck published in Comics Journal #95 (February 1985) and conducted in 1983.