Aliens inevitably have tentacles. It’s a simple fact of life for any space explorer. Although I’m sure you wouldn’t dream of doubting my words, here are a few exhibits for your pleasure.
We’ll start off with a tentacle bonanza! This is what happens when you cross an octopus with a centipede.
When “plant creatures” (who look remarkably like toothy goldfish) gone berserk deploy their tentacles to strangle you – in space, no less – , it must be Tentacle Tuesday.
Seriously, who keeps stranding these vicious octopuses in space?
Since I like pointing things like that out, please note that all the plot points of “The Living Gun” that concern Platinum (the only girl on the team) are fucking inane. She gets jealous when Doc Magnus is wooed by a beautiful model; participates in a beauty pageant while everybody else continues with their scientific research; attacks her team-mates when she’s disqualified from the pageant for not being human; quits the Metal Men in a huff and barely makes it into the epic battle pitting Magnus and his Metal Men against the murderous, power-grabbing Solar Brain. Girls will be girls… at least when a certain writer with the initials R.K. is around.
I’m reading a play by Anton Chekhov these days. What relevance does this have to comics? Let me explain. I don’t know about the so-called « mysterious Russian soul », but this particular play is histrionic. And the chief cause of drama, of course, is love. One woman tries to poison herself upon discovering her husband has a mistress and is preparing to run off with yet another man’s wife; others literally crawl around while trying to convince the rascal they’ve fallen in love with to condescend to granting them a small sign of affection; small children are threatened with deadly diseases; men launch into hair-tearing monologues, intermittently planning suicide or murder but never actually getting around to it; money is borrowed, and is immediately tossed in the air, friendships are shattered, insults are hurled and then profuse apologies proffered… and everybody, and I do mean everybody, goes hysterical.
Which brings us to Golden Age romance comics. Ha!
I’m not intending to suggest that *all* of them are ridiculously over the top. However, a lot of them are plotted like your average soaper – understandably, as these stories were written with a drama-hungry, lovelorn audience in mind. « Boy meets girl, everything goes well, they’re happy together » is not the kind of thing that moves copies.
Here’s a selection of covers I really like (for various reasons), depicting some common situations in a young woman’s life – like getting back-stabbed or pawed or pregnant while dreaming of some Perfect Love.
Some gals don’t merely have to contend with vigilantes, but also wolves (of the animal *and* human varieties).
Speaking of wolves, we have this cozy scene with distinctly creepy overtones. Anytime someone mentions an “experienced man”, run the other way.
“Julie fought, but now she fought as much against her own hungry response as against his muscles. Try as she would, she could not keep herself from returning that kiss with all the fiery ardor of her wild loneliness.” Untamed Love is quite racy, as the title promises, and as much over-the-top as one could wish for. The cover story is about an evil seductress, but the rest of the tales all concern themselves with a love triangle of another kind, one in which a girl has to choose between two guys. This one’s for the ladies – it’s hunks galore!
Here’s the “ravishing creature” in action, in case you’re interested:
Alaskan beauties don’t understand English grammar, but they dig the language of love! Panel from “The Wrong Road to Love”: “Julie falls in love with truck driver Steve, but he moves to Alaska to become a fisherman. She follows him there, only to discover local resident Becky considers Steve “her man.” Julie is consoled by Steve’s partner Hank. Steve and Becky run off, taking all the money Steve and Hank have earned. Julie decides to go home, but Hank says she can stay — as his wife.”
Another sentimental overload (though one would think that being at war was dramatic enough)? The redhead in the square on the right is in love with a gay man! (She was in love with a man’s fiancé, after all.) The girl at the dance is struggling to get away from a grabby asshole! (Unfortunately, all-too-common even today.) The girl in the green dress is faking it because she’s too polite to say no! (Ditto.)
“They were like two jailers, my pa and my brother Bill! At 18, I hadn’t tasted the sweetness of courtin’! And I was hungry for it… bitter hungry…” Things quickly get out of hand in this issue of First Love – a young maiden meets a charming young man who kills her brother (by accident), after which she gets shot by her dad (also by accident). The story concludes with the two lovebirds reuniting while the father realizes that “his soul is black with sin“. Geez, the things some people have to go through to reach a happy ending in a comic story.
This issue has plenty more “man-starved” maidens up for grabs…
… and one memorable male character, Alan, “the gay, vital, gloriously-alive lover”.
The next cover reminds us to never send our dates for refreshments (punch, you say? looks more like something out of a witch’s cauldron), for this is where femmes fatales lurk in hopes of snaring fresh prey.
If you want a lover who doesn’t resist, put her in a trance, first, and then Miss Smith won’t be able to help but say “yes!”
Romance comics love to pit a woman’s career against everything a female should strive for (i.e. marriage). Am I carping that romance comics weren’t very progressive in the 1950s? Ah, I wouldn’t be, if I didn’t know for a fact that Silver Age romance comics often don’t do that much better in that department.
What do we have here? Despite what one would tend to think, this necklace was stolen, not given as a romantic offering. Such are true life secrets: kleptomania, clandestine children, and double-crossed partners.
« That young fella must be the college kid who’s going to work for my paper! Those two prairie wolves will pick him clean… it’ll be an excellent lesson to him, I reckon! »
— Max Cogswell, editor-publisher of The Boothill Gazette
Today marks what would have been the ninety-fifth birthday of suave Texan Renaissance man Aaron P. “Pat” Boyette (July 27, 1923 – January 14, 2000). The Golden-voiced Mr. Boyette was in turn actor, radio announcer, cinematic auteur and of course a far-beyond-fine painter and cartoonist. Ah, and if anything could speak more eloquently of his worth as a human being, he was best man at Gus Arriola‘s wedding.
Now, I could have focussed on any number of his remarkable projects: his 1966-67 run on The Peacemaker (« A man who loves peace so much that he is willing to fight for it! »), his tour-de-force fill-ins on DC’s Blackhawk (issues 242-43, from 1968), his lavishly-detailed work for Warren Magazines (1968-72), his brilliant, but admittedly controversial, run on The Phantom at Charlton (1970-73), his far-better-than-its-source adaptation of Hanna Barbera’s Korg 70,000 B.C., his intense The Tarantula for Atlas-Seaboard (with Michael Fleisher, 1975), his fun revival of Spencer Spook for ACE Comics in the 1980s, or any of his moody work for Charlton’s ghostly anthologies… but I won’t, at least not this time.
Instead, if you’ll bear with me, we’ll take a gander at a fine, fine backup series he co-created with Joe Gill for the pages of Charlton’s long-running Billy the Kid. « Mr. Young of the Boothill Gazette » (BTK 88, Dec. 1971, to BTK 110, Dec. 1974). Abel Young, bereft of sharp-shooting or pugilistic skills, is a true hero: a fool, an idealist, a stubborn cuss who acts nobly even when he’s scared spitless. His is a charming strip, full of graceful humour and humanity.
Here, then, is my selection: the series’ thirteenth episode, originally published in Billy the Kid #100 (March, 1973, Charlton).
Happy birthday, Mr. Boyette. The world needs more gentlemen of your ilk.
*so proclaimed the headline of a Boyette profile published in Creepy #33 (June 1970, Warren).
Ahoy, landlubbers! Today’s Tentacle Tuesday goes back to the good ol’ days of nautical journeys, ships crushed by mighty tentacles, and brave men who end their lives as snacks for the mighty cephalopod.
Speaking of the Sargasso Sea (frequently depicted in fiction as a perilous area where ships go to die, mired in Sargassum seaweed, unable to escape), here’s another vignette about that mysterious spot. Incidentally, it is the only sea that doesn’t have land boundaries, enclosed by the Gulf Stream on the west side, the Canary Current on the east, the North Atlantic Current on the North and the North Atlantic Equatorial Current on the South. No wonder people thought it was full of mystery and danger! Even I, more or less immune to the siren’s call of wild maritime adventure, feel a little thrill at its mention. *Ahem* back to comics.
As is often the case, the original painting has a lot more detail than the printed version:
What does this peculiar, one-eyed beast look like closer up, one might ask? Something like this:
The sea can bring many (other) strange things, including a sword-wielding octopus… who should have stayed in the water, where he had the home advantage, instead of attempting to wage battle on sort-of land.
« The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little. »
― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
Dopey private detective parodies are a dime-a-dozen, and they seldom raise more than a lazy, jaded chuckle. With that out of the way, just how does Jean-Marc « Loro » Laureau (1943 – 1998)’s Les enquêtes d’Abel Dopeulapeul pull ahead of the pack? Let’s see: while it’s hardly side-splitting, it nevertheless scores precious points on the hilarity front by maintaining a mostly deadpan tone. But… one quick peek at the strip and the jig is up: it’s a glorious, unabashedly visual feast. Loro was blessed with that rather uncommon gift, the ability to seamlessly mix the cartoonish and the realistic. Even Wally Wood couldn’t pull that off. Frank Cho is a perfect contemporary example of someone who’s utterly incapable of it.
M.A. Guillaume, who penned the back cover copy for the second Abel collection, Sale temps pour mourir (1979, Dargaud), clearly gets the picture. I’ll translate:
« Dopeulapeul, a parodic and cretinized response to [Philip] Marlowe, views himself as that marvellous guy who stalks vice and corruption on fifty dollars a day plus expenses. Within the haze of his dream fed by adulterated bourbon, he doubtless imagines he’ll croak on some moonless night, alone like a dog behind the last trashcan of some filthy dead end. The reader will cackle maliciously, knowing no-one gives a toss about the death of a caricature. But he’ll be wrong. Dopeulapeul conducts himself like some village idiot in the throes of some clandestine passion for Lauren Bacall. His blasé detachment, dragging a language school aftertaste, is as seductive as an unkempt stinkbug. It matters little how offhandedly Loro may treat the tentative meanderings of this poor beggar. Within him slumbers a fascinated vision that survives all clichés: in the debauched night, a man moves along, and his shadow is weary of knowing too well the callousness of the blacktop and of men’s hearts. He is free and solitary and Death is at his heels.
Parody can’t put a dent to that, and Loro knows it full well. He may laugh, parody, demystify, “Sale temps pour mourir” is nonetheless an homage to an untouchable legend. »
Loro is all-but-forgotten nowadays, but his ability to channel vintage Will Eisner (particularly The Spirit) without aping him, while displaying plenty of his own pyrotechnics, by itself deserves a more prominent place in history.
« Réquiem pour un privé », an early entry in the series, first saw print in Pilote Hors série aventure (No 17 bis, October 1975, Dargaud)
« Gosh, if only Dad would inject me with some of that!* »
The undervalued Gaspano “Gus” Ignazio Ricca (1906-1956) managed, in the first half of his scant half-century of life, to get his foot in a lot of important doors: The New Yorker (1928), Liberty (1933), Time (1934), Collier’s (1935)… then he wound up in pulps and comics, for better or worse.
Having joined, at the dawn of the 40s, the fabled studio of Harry A. Chesler, the original comic book packager, he became, in 1944, art director of one of Chesler’s many lines, namely Dynamic Comics.
In general, Dynamic’s output wasn’t anything particularly distinguished or accomplished, but oh, those eye-catching covers!
We’d like to wish a happy birthday to Mexican cartoonist and animator Gustavo “Gus” Arriola, creator of beautiful, experimental, charming (am I running out of superlatives yet?) comic strip Gordo, published for an impressive some-forty-odd years (between 1941 and 1985, to be exact). Arriola was born on July 17th, 1917 and died in 2008, when he was 90 years old.
Gordo was designed to be a Mexican version of Li’l Abner, but Arriola quickly realized that his strip was relying on stereotypes of Mexican culture as seen through American eyes. He strove to make it truer to his mother culture, making Gordo (the main character – his real name being Perfecto Salazar Lopez, with his nickname more or less translating to « Fatso ») “an accidental ambassador” for Mexican mores.
The strip featured a lot of animals, and its plotlines often pivoted around concerns about the environment. It also regularly included recipes. For instance, Gordo’s beans and cheese recipe from a strip in 1948 got the comic strip into 60 extra newspapers. And, significantly, Gordo also had gorgeous, inventive art!
Aside from being a music aficionado, Gus Arriola was also a great connaisseur of art. R.C. Harvey, the editor/writer of “Accidental Ambassador Gordo: The Comics Strip Art of Gus Arriola” mentions Arriola’s love for jazz: “[he] finally [settled] in Carmel, where he met his life-long friend and fellow cartoonist, Eldon Dedini, and they both became fixtures at Doc’s Lab, where Hank Ketcham and other habitués of the place met weekly to admire jazz and tell stories.” Read the rest of his lovely article here.
In 1999, Arriola was interviewed by John Province for Hogan’s Alley #6 – it’s well worth a read if you’ve got some spare quality time! You can read the interview here.
Want to see more? Head over to the Fabulous Fifites blog, where many scans of Sundays strips are available for perusal. (Ger Apeldoorn, the blog’s author, did a monumental job of scanning newspaper strips for our enjoyment.)
Heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go. Octopuses have to work, too (at least occasionally). (And while they work, they have to restrain from grabbing unwilling passersby, as they don’t want to get slapped with a sexual assault lawsuit. I present to you a list of some of the professions that cephalopods excel at… no hanky-panky involved.
Richard Thompson*, cartoonist extraordinaire and an exceptionally kind and talented man, tragically passed away in 2016 – and I don’t like to throw the word “tragically” about without good cause. His was a rare combination of wit, imagination, and style – think of how often one comes across an excellent writer whose material suffers from his poor drawing ability, or an artist whose beautiful art is like en empty shell, with nary a story nor convincing characterization in sight. Thompson had ideas, tons of ideas, and he was able to translate them into visuals with a dynamic pen-line and elegant watercolours.
His first truly successful strip was Richard’s Poor Almanac, which ran in the Washington Post for seven years or so from 1997. These little gems have been collected in “Richard’s Poor Almanac: 12 Months of Misinformation in Handy Cartoon Form” in 2004, but sadly this wonderful volume is quite out of print. You can get your fix from GoComics, however, as they’re re-running the whole thing here.
*not the musician.
Here’s a few strips from Richard’s Poor Almanac that always make me chuckle, no matter how many times I see them.
The sprawling, madcap Almanac presented “misinformation in handy cartoon form” on subjects ranging from traditional almanac fodder like weather phenomena and local fauna to entertainment and political news. “The ideal cartoon for the Almanac was made up off the top of my head with no research, with only its own comic logic holding it together,” noted the artist in The Art of Richard Thompson. (Andrew Farago for the Comics Journal.)
You may have heard about the Almanac thanks to the fame of “Make the Pie Higher”.
«Upon learning that George W. Bush had opted not to invite an official poet to his inauguration ceremony in January 2001, Thompson composed his own poem from Bush malapropisms, and assembled them into a free-form verse entitled “Make the Pie Higher”. The cartoon was widely circulated online over the next year, was set to music by multiple composers, and earned its own entry on the fact-checking website Snopes.com. » (source)
« Speaking of winners, I’ve got Zwellyn Zablow of 11 West Second Street in Freeport, New York, who saw me at the Rockefeller Center dance. I want you to check in at Murray Hill 85-700. Anyway, MU-700 within the next ten minutes… »
Now then, here’s part two of our exclusive conversation with Mr. Mike Royer, picking up the thread from where we left off in Part One.
Michael Royer: Richard, you asked « How were you selected? » Well, I’d been working with Paul, and apparently he liked what I did on the Mormon history slides, so he asked me if I would do the ‘final art’ and all the research and everything on the covers, and the last time I saw Paul, before the second batch, that started with The Cruisin’ Years, that had the tickets on the table, and the picture of… I don’t know if it was Eddie in uniform or not… but whatever, that was when Howard Silver of Increase Records decided to do more for the line. And continue the series.
MR: And from that point on, all of the writing, and all the ideas, were totally mine.
WOT: I figured it would happen at some point…
MR: I think the ideas might have been a collaboration between Jacobs and Gruwell, but one of the reasons Howard Silver asked me « Do we need to contact Paul Gruwell? », and I said « Nope, you have no reason in the world to contact Paul. »
WOT: Cut out the middleman!
MR: I’m the guy who Paul used to introduce at parties as « This is the man who *inked* my Cruisin’ covers. »
WOT: Oh, boy. Okay.
MR: “Up yours, pal!”
WOT: Oh, this is gold, thank you!
MR: So I said « We don’t need him! », you know, and so all the rest of the albums after that were mine. And there are two covers that were done for a packaging, done for big box stores, that would have had either two or six cds in a tall case…
WOT: I remember those. ‘Longboxes’, shoplifting deterrents of the early cd era.
MR: … and one of them, Eddie is saying « We’ll be late for something at the theater » and Peg is saying « … but, but, the Beatles are on Ed Sullivan tonight! » So they were done to fit in the chronology of the covers. When he said « I’d like to start over with 1968 », and I said, « Well, I don’t wanna do the Woodstock. »
MR: « I don’t want Peg to have a kid from her serviceman, who obviously… died in service. »
MR: So I, and you’ve probably seen it, the cover is in front of a theater showing 2001: A Space Odyssey. Eddie discovers Peg there, as one of the Vietnam Widows for Peace. So now we know what happened to the serviceman that she ultimately married.
MR: ’cause I think, uh, the shot of Eddie and the musician with the beard…
WOT: Luthor, yes.
MR: … in college, and he’s got a newspaper clipping taped to his lamp that says « Peg marries… » somebody.
WOT: « Kevin Buchanan III » … he appears to be a society boy.
MR: I don’t know if you have all of them…
WOT: As far as I know.
MR: And of course, I continued, on all of the covers, to introduce a little bit… of tension.
WOT: Do tell.
MR: ’cause there’s some in every cover, sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s overt. But I believe I did through… what year is the Kent State thing?
WOT: Let’s see… 1970. Eddie’s talking with his boss about it.
MR: Peg says « That’s okay, because Mike wants to give me another tennis lesson. »
WOT: Well, another “lesson”, at any rate. Whether it’s tennis remains to be seen. She’s got the racket, but…
MR: So… I can say all those new covers were made… the one previous to that is where they’re at Niagara Falls, and he’s talking about things could happen at his firm, and she’s saying « But Eddie, *I* might want a career! » And I enjoyed doing that cover, because I just wanted to do her standing there at the little motel sink in her slip.
MR: … and of course, being male and having to draw female forms, I made sure that her skirt was blowing in the wind… and in her little tennis outfit in the next year.
MR: We did, uh, let’s see: there was The Cruisin’ Years, which re-established the whole series. And then, starting with ’68 through ’70.
MR: Okay, I did two ‘Cruisin’ With‘… the second one, I guess it was never published…
WOT: Ah, right.
MR: … or produced, or released. And it was just another… let’s see: Porky Chedwick has got her in a poodle skirt and they’re dancing, right?
WOT: Yeah, that’s it.
MR: Okay, the next one was outside on a city street, and in the brick building behind them you see the silhouette of a disc jockey, and the broadcast booth at a radio station, I think the sign is on the roof. And Peg is protesting something. She’s got a banner, and Eddie and she are arguing about something. Ah, I only have a copy of my rough on that, or my comp. And of course there’s more detail on her than on him. I enjoyed drawing her. That last ‘Cruisin’ With’ I thought was much better than the first one I did, for cover art.
WOT: (laughs) exactly.
WOT: Is Cruisin’ a frequently-evoked topic by your fans?
MR: Every once in a while, it’s funny… for years, once in a blue moon, somebody would say something about Cruisin’. But I was in Charlotte, just… less than two weeks ago.
MR: … and I swear, a dozen or more people talked to me about the Cruisin’ covers at my table. Maybe that’s because there’s a new series of Cruisin’ albums… with art that I don’t like.
WOT: Oh, I don’t like it either: it looks like, and likely is, clip art.
MR: I don’t know who’s producing it. I don’t think it’s Howard Silver.
WOT: It’s called “The Cruisin’ Story“, it’s out of England, and it’s just a series of run-of-the-mill compilations, without the defining radio program concept.
MR: Howard Silver ran Increase Records. I don’t know if he bought out Increase and that was [Ron] Jacobs’ company or not. He’s in Hawaii now, last I heard. Jacobs [Indeed he was, but Mr. Jacobs passed away in 2016].