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.
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.)
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Another Flytrap for your enjoyment, in this tale of brotherly rivalry:
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:
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!
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).
« 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.
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.
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.
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. »
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.
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.
« 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?
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.
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.
Another octopus who kindly consented to let his tentacles be used as swings. He apparently sings, too!
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.
‘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?)
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.
« 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.
« 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!
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!”
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! »
« Wait! This isn’t oil! It’s dense, black and real sticky! »
« 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! »
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.
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.”
*Gary Groth’s introduction to an interview with C.C. Beck published in Comics Journal #95 (February 1985) and conducted in 1983.