« His face taut… his coloring now shell white… Fred took the object from his bowling bag… his friends screamed in horror… »*
Welcome to the second edition of Who’s Out There’s annual Hallowe’en Countdown. We’ll be greasing the rails to carry us along with sinister haste through to that most shiver-iffic of holidays, but duly noting and relishing each daily marker along the way.
Let’s push off with a tasteful dash of splatter and a tidy selection of Eerie Pubs‘ typically over-the-top, gloriously gory cover artwork. While EP covers featured the work of a handful of artists, none is better-remembered or more closely associated with the line than former Irving Klaw-associated fetish specialist Bill Alexander. Fact is, the notoriously cheap-jack publisher cut ‘n’ pasted and endlessly recycled (not to say bowdlerized) Alexander’s work, and it’s sadly safe to assume he was only remunerated once, and poorly at that. Just another soul stranded in the limbo of exploitation publishing…
And the insides, you ask? Oh, that. Some reprints of lacklustre pre-Code
horror (Ajax/ Farrell) owned by publisher and gun enthusiast Myron Fass sometimes with added gore, sometimes redrawn from scratch and updated. Then, for a while, actual original material, not entirely devoid of occasional just-about-accidental charm. It’s a special kind of charge to witness the Grand Guignol excesses of pedestrian early 60s Jack Kirby inkers Dick Ayers and Chic Stone as they give vent to their less wholesome tendencies, overcompensating with eyeball-gouging and limb-hacking vengeance.
But all is not blood ‘n’ guts ‘n’ fury… sometimes the quiet, ink-washed ambience weaves a low-rent hypnotic spell and the fool thing works. But what with all the reprints and mediocrity, it’s a uncommonly perverse mania that drives a collector to pursue a complete set of these musty bits of flotsam. After decades of neglect, they’ve become impressively pricey.
* from « The Mad Bowler » (Horror Tales vol. 4 no. 6, Oct. 1972). Read it here!
French comics artist Georges Pichard (1920-2003) specialized in erotic comics, and his work ranged from “just controversial” to “outright banned”. I have a soft spot for his excellently-endowed women with almond-shaped eyes – what they lack in sensuality (to my opinion, at least), they compensate with cantankerous personalities and odd liaisons with deities. Pichard also displays a preoccupation with labour and industrial themes, kind of a communist thing to my mind – his women are called upon (mostly unwillingly) to work with heavy hardware, build railroads, excavate mines, and undertake other menial tasks involving much metal and machinery. This, of course, is accomplished while naked, or nearly naked (shackles are frequently involved.) It doesn’t come off as sadistic or even sexist, however – it’s more like a grotesque comedy or satire. Anyway, I’ll get to all that in just a second.
First I’d like to show a few examples of his earlier work, which wasn’t “pushing moral boundaries” (as an anonymous admirer once put it). His two early series – Ténébrax and Submerman – were collaborations with comics artist Jacques Lob. Although Pichard’s eye for pretty women was already in evidence, his style was much cartoonier, which is lovely.
Ténébrax is an homage of sorts to the roman policier (the French genre of detective stories): a villain uses the Paris subway for his base while he whips his rat army into tip-top shape for world domination, but his heinous plans are foiled by a whodunit writer and his assistant, who manage to throw a spanner into his nefarious schemes.
Submerman, on the other hand, is a superhero parody:
Paulette began in 1970 and chronicled the wild (and ever so slightly improbable) adventures of (who else?) Paulette. She gets kidnapped (more than once, by different parties), wooed, attacked, betrayed, saved, pregnant, communist-icated, converted to capitalism, harem-ed, and so on, not necessarily in that order. The only thing she doesn’t get is left alone. Poor girl. I wouldn’t say the series is entirely light-hearted, however – the authors used their pretty héroïne to ventilate all sorts of issues.
« Here she is, ready to climb aboard airplanes that are inevitably hijacked, to wind up in jungles, in wasp nests, in ambushes, to crash through panels, through traps, into the arms of men unworthy of her, and to come through all this with a smile, without blaming anyone, not even Pichard and Wolinski, whose main preoccupation it is to never leave her alone.» (Introduction to Paulette 4, 1975)
An illustration to the political-gone-absurd content of Paulette:
Speaking of bearded beaus: one of my favourite Paulette plots – although I haven’t read the whole series – involves Joseph, the old perv we just saw in bed, whose job is to protect Paulette from… err, himself, I guess? When Paulette rescues a magical mole, it offers her one wish, and because she is terminally naïve (bordering on the cretinous, if with a heart of gold), she wishes for Joseph to become young again. The mole, however, is myopic like all others of its kin, and mistakes Joseph for a woman, so he gets transformed into a sultry brunette.
Moving on to other oeuvres…
And I saved the funniest as a digestif: in the last panel, the man is saying « But what am I supposed to do now? », to which she responds with « Replace your windshield, of course! I’ll give you an address, they’ll give you a ten percent discount if you mention that you were sent by Fairy Motricine – I’m the sister-in-law of Fairy Electricity. » (Note: Motricine was a brand of gas.)
« I’m not content when I’m traveling, but I’m not content when I’m not traveling. So I guess I’ll keep traveling. » – Shel Silverstein
Another one of those nice Jewish boy geniuses, Sheldon Allan Silverstein (1930-1999) was born eighty-eight years ago, on September 25, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. Uncle Shelby lived life to the fullest, creatively in every respect. He tried his hand at many things, and what do you know? He succeeded at every often-unlikely turn, sometimes artistically if not commercially, but generally on both counts: cartoonist, singer, songwriter, screenwriter, poet, actor, playwright, children’s book author, bon vivant, raconteur and lover… yet his dad was never impressed. Old man Nathan wanted his son to join him in selling furniture. Some obstacles are just plain insurmountable.
Once more, faced with the daunting prospect of discussing a prolific and versatile creative soul, it seems well-advised to concentrate on a tiny area of his roadmap. And so…
In 1957, Playboy magazine founder and esteemed patron of cartoonists Hugh Hefner entrusted Shel with a special assignment, that of roaming the Earth and recording his special impressions. The results, published between 1957 and 1968, were twenty-three travelogues brimming with the gregarious Silverstein spark and spirit. But he first had to be sold on the approach. According to Hefner, in his foreword to the definitive collection “Playboy’s Silverstein Around the World” (2006), « I envisioned something along the travel letters Ernest Hemingway submitted to Esquire — A sort of personal diary that would be dispatched from around the globe. Shel was uncomfortable in that role. He didn’t want to include himself, but I persisted. And I’m glad I did. What we got back in those drawings was narrative storytelling of a very personal manner. We saw Shel establish himself as a character.»
Let’s leave off with these revealing words from Playboy photographer Larry Moyer: « He was one of the funniest guys I ever knew — and it was never at anybody’s expense. A lot of humor is based on putting other people down. I don’t remember one time Shel ever put anybody down in his work — and that’s something. » That’s something indeed, now more than ever.
As I pointed out during my initial foray into the tangled relationship between superheroes and tentacled creatures (Superheroes in Octopus Land), even heroic stock characters with extraordinary powers get bested by the occasional octopus, be it of oceanic, mystical, or outright intergalactic origins. Some of these monsters are aliens from proverbial outer space, some swam out from the depths of the sea for reasons they alone comprehend; some are plants, some are mammals – animal, mineral, or vegetable in form and content.
Our first entry is someone who’s faster than a speeding bullet… but requires a passerby’s help to get rid of some pesky plant tentacles. None too impressive for someone of his calibre, the first superhero that comes to mind for most.
That’s enough bumbling. I’ll move on to someone who can *really* handle tentacle problems!
“High atop Slaughter Mountain, where the rain never stops, stately Stearn Mansion stands silhouetted against the blood-red moon. This is the home of Dr. Strongfort Stearn, known throughout the world as … Mr. Monster!! From this lofty perch, Doc Stearn peers unflinchingly into the black abyss below. For it is Mr. Monster’s mission to search out evil — and destroy it!” Today Mr. Monster is fighting a cute octopus with googly eyes. Sometimes monsters look most innocuous, you know.
And this is the way it was published:
« Since the first simple life-form crawled from the pounding turf, the sea has been laced with legend! From the daring men who faced the raging waves in primitive wooden craft to those who probe the hidden depths today in devices of plastic and steel, fables have been passed, secrets whispered from father to son… » And where there’s sea legends and fables of raging depths, there’s tentacles, you can be sure of that. Can the mysterious Phantom Stranger cope with them?
Maybe saying that starfish have tentacles is stretching it a bit, but just look at the way their arms bend at the ends! Besides, they can “walk” using their tubed appendages, which look like tentacles to all but the most pedantic.
Starro, a.k.a. Starro the Conqueror, was created by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky in 1960. He’s a mean, stubborn alien lifeform with an idée fixe to enslave mankind, which he repeatedly tries to do by scattering his starfishy spores (which grow into clones of himself) over large cities. And, yes, he has prehensile extremities; it’d be difficult to wreak as much havoc without them.
Technically, Medusa’s got hair, not tentacles, but she expressed the wish to be part of our Tentacle Tuesday line-up… and I am not going to argue with a woman with hair that can knock out an army.
Does anybody have an answer for catty Ms. Kyle? I’ll see you next Tentacle Tuesday – until then, keep away from hungry and horny octopuses.
« I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies. » – Le Corbusier
Carl Buettner (1905-1965) started out as an animator with Disney Studios and Harman-Ising Studio (founders of Warner Bros and MGM animation studios), then shifted to newspaper strips for a few years (Charlie McCarthy, 1938-40), then on to Western Publishing for the rest of his career, handling a bunch of Disney characters for Dell Comics (Joe Carioca, Bucky Bug, Dumbo The Flying Elephant, Bambi…) until the early 1950s, when he became editor of Western’s Little Golden Books line.
On the side, he kept his hand in with a nifty tutorial feature, “Quick on the Draw”, that ran in Western’s The Golden Magazine for Boys and Girls. Though he passed away early in 1965, Buettner’s QOTD ran well into the next year, since he was evidently working well ahead. The feature was then taken over by his fellow former Disney animator and scribbler Carl Fallberg (1915-1996). Fallberg spent most of his long career working on the scripting and story directing side, but he evidently kept his pencils sharp.
« Maybe we could find some way to send barges of trash to the sun and incinerate it all. Hey, it’s an idea. It’s an idea! » — Adam West
Lately, I’ve noticed that crusty ol’ Bob Crumb is being pilloried… well, more than he usually is. It appears that some members of the, er, younger cartooning generation are taking offense, in the most tone-deaf, irony-deprived and contextually-clueless way imaginable, to a half-a-century old, utterly static, wafer-thin and inaccurate idea of his work. « …old white cartoonists of the most explicitly homophobic, anti-feminist, racist, and controversial comics of 70s/80s ». Funny, I’d say that comment itself is more than slightly racist (not to mention ageist). Guess it’s open season on some targets.
I was going to feature what’s possibly my all-time favourite Crumb story, « The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick » (Weirdo 17, Summer 1986), but lo and behold, it’s already available in full on the philipdick.com site… but as there’s no dearth of first-rate picks, here’s another comics essay from the pages of Weirdo (no. 6, Summer 1982). Please note how fair-minded and even-handed Crumb is here: I’m certainly guilty myself of a couple of the attitudes and behaviours depicted, but since the author’s challenge is so unflinchingly honest, his criticism becomes food for thought. He’s not interested in flattering the comfortable, including, most of the time, himself.
I’ll leave you with some sage words from Alan Moore, who describes the circumstances of his love affair with Angelfood McSpade: « Firstly, and more obviously in the case of this particular image, there was the open sexuality. Not having led a terribly sheltered life, I was familiar with the images of sex to be found in the neighbourhood magazine racks, ranging from Playboy to the Fry-the-Krauts-on-Passion-Bridge ‘Men’s Sweat’ periodicals of the day, to the soft-core titillation of homegrown products like Parade. Judging from the drawings and photographs that graced these magazines’ covers, sex was something that was deadly serious, not to say faintly miserable, smothered as it was in commercial gloss and the self-conscious poutings of the ex-stenographers staked out across the centre spread.
Angelfood was different. She was wearing, in addition to the grass skirt, a big, pleased-with-herself smile rather than the slightly-concussed ‘Just Raped’ look that her cover girl contemporaries were starting to adopt. It was my first taste of the sexual openness of the psychedelic movement, and though it bears little relevance to my overall impression of Crumb’s work, it requires mention in these terms for the personal impact that it had upon me. This is not to say that its effect in other areas was not equally as marked. Sexuality aside, this drawing was subversive.
For one thing, it was subversive in the way it commented upon race. Many cartoonists since Crumb have referred back, ironically, to the stereotyped image of black people that dominated the cartoons of the past, but this was the first time I’d seen it done: the first time I’d seen a cartoon depiction of a Negro so exaggerated that it called attention to the racialism inherent in all such depictions. » (excerpted from “Comments on Crumb”, Blab no. 3, Fall 1988, Kitchen Sink.)
p.s. This was our 200th post… thanks for your interest and support!
Tentacles have no anglophonic bias. A tasty human morsel is every bit as appetizing when it’s babbling in Italian or German. Join me on a visit to the European side of things, where tentacles are truly horrifying and there’s none of this politely-hold-a-girl’s-leg stuff. It’s gore and revulsion through and through!
The cover, painted by German artist Johnny Bruck, is a reprint from the German sci-fi series Perry Rhodan, published by Moewig-Verlag starting in 1961. Here is the original:
If the last cover made me vaguely think of an arsehole, this next one clenches, er, *clinches* this unfortunate association.
The cover is by Franz Fernández, a Spanish artist born in Barcelona. He worked for Selecciones Illustrades, a Spanish art agency mostly known for its deal with Warren Publishing, which led to many Spanish artists submitting stories to Warren between 1971 and 1983.
On a somewhat less revolting, yet no less puzzling, note, we have these gorilla dinosaurs with tentacles. Why the hell not? I dedicate this cover to my friend Barney, a fan of silverback gorillas.
I appear to be utterly incapable of doing a Tentacle Tuesday post without some sort of scantily clad, beautiful maiden joining the fray. Why resist? Here are a couple of precursors of The Possession.
The original painting allows us to see more detail in the alien’s, err, anatomy. After seeing this, I don’t think anybody needs abstinence speeches.
« Unless you’re some kind of masochist, I would imagine that you’d like to begin your plant experience with the easy, almost impossible-to-kill group. »
A sunny reminder of some of the plant world’s myriad of virtues, from 1973’s Mother Earth’s Hassle-free Indoor Plant Book by Lynn and Joel Rapp, a terrific little tome that bears the probably unique distinction of having yielded its own soundtrack. Not only that, but its own *excellent* soundtrack, Mother Earth’s Plantasia by Canadian-born songwriter, producer and electronic music pioneer Mort Garson. The LP was distributed through one of the wackiest marketing schemes I’ve ever encountered: it was given away with the purchase of a Simmons mattress from Sears. Uh?
I see Plantasia’s even been reissued a few years back on fancy 180 gram vinyl. But you can hear it in its entirety without making the considerable financial investment, thanks to this lovely tribute on the Music Is My Sanctuary blog.
The book (and LP booklet) are illustrated by « Marvelous » Marvin Rubin… who quite deserves the sobriquet, if you ask me.
« …the finest line ever to be bequeathed to a cartoonist. It dances; it snaps gracefully back and forth. » (Coulton Waugh in “The Comics”, 1947)
That description was written à propos of Don Flowers (1908 – 1968) and his art. Some of you may remember seeing Glamor Girls in your favourite gazette – at the height of its popularity, this syndicated strip ran in about three hundred newspapers. This story goes thus: Flowers, working for AP Newsfeatures, created a few strips, namely Oh, Diana!, Puffy the Pig, and Modest Maidens. The first two achieved very modest success, but the third one was a huge hit, so much so that newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (displaying his usual impeccable taste in comics) offered Flowers double salary if he came to work for Hearst’s King Features. Since AP owned the rights to Modest Maidens, the strip was renamed into Glamor Girls. Flowers drew Glamor Girls, both dailies and Sundays, until his death by emphysema in 1968.
His art is quite lovely – but I don’t expect you to take my word for it. Here are some examples. (All strips below have been published by King Features syndicate between 1958 and 1963.)
« That Flowers is not better known is both a pity and a surprise, especially given his technical expertise and the recent renaissance in the popularity of the pin-up genre. Whether blondes or brunettes, showgirls or housewives, Flowers rendered them flawlessly and elegantly, and always with equal aplomb. » (Alex Chun in Glamor Girls of Don Flowers, Fantagraphics, 2006).
«…There are things that never change, especially the early foundations. For better or worse they become part of your style. And as I continue to draw, every time I look at a page I think to myself, that nose is an Oski nose, that body is a VIP body, and every time I draw a beautiful woman, I think – no, I wish – she is as beautiful as a woman drawn by Don Flowers. » (Sergio Aragonés in his introduction to Glamor Girls of Don Flowers, Fantagraphics, 2006)
Flowers’ art looks as good, if not better, in old-fashioned black-and-white, which is often the case with artists who have a fluid inking line. The original art for some Glamor Girls strips allows us to admire details:
After his death, Flowers’ son self-published Standing on Ceremony, a collection of marriage-themed cartoons plucked from his vast collection of his father’s original art. You can see some of them here.
« The menacing tentacles came probing down out of the sky in a fantastic quest for the secret of life! »
To celebrate Tentacle Tuesday, I’ve planned a visit to the mysterious planet Rann, as seen through the eyes of Adam Strange, that intrepid, quick-witted, teleporting archeologist. (First, a little context: Adam Strange was created by Julius Schwartz, with a costume designed by Murphy Anderson. He first appeared in Showcase #17 (November 1958). At first, Gardner Fox’s scripts were penciled by Mike Sekowsky, but this task was assigned to Carmine Infantino once the character moved to Mystery in Space, with Murphy Anderson inking most of the stories. As much as I like the Infantino + Anderson team, today’s contributions mostly involve other inkers.)
That green thing? That’s Yggardis, a sentient planet that (who?) craves companionship. Here’s its highfalutin explanation, in that pompous English that Enemies of Mankind use when detailing their raison d’être to their victims: “For uncounted centuries, I have roamed the universe, raiding other worlds for their life-forms, lifting them in my tentacles! Unfortunately no form of living thing which I stole from other planets could live on me more than 24 hours!” The solution to that is (obviously) to steal even more animals for its private, deadly zoo, which is what it proceeds to do on Rann.
Yggardis’ problem is solved when Adam blows it into carefully calculated smithereens, thus separating its radiation-producing mind from the rest of its inert body. A comparison is made to human surgeons removing deadly tissues and organs from an ailing patient. Uh, yes, surgeons regularly use explosives to sever their patients’ brains from their bodies, thus eliminating the need for expensive medication and such.
The Mechanimen are anthropoid robots hellbent on protecting humans on Rann, destroying all their weapons on the principle that “weapons breed mistrust! mistrust breeds wars!” When the Mechanimen, while attempting to repel a sneak attack by some hostile aliens, run out of power (they “mechanically never gave a thought to renewing their power” – what?), Adam has to save the day, much like he has to avert disaster every time he sets foot on Rann. How did Rannians ever survive without him around?
As you’ve probably noticed, Adam Strange stories tend to have gonzo plots. I *like* goofy stories, but these leave me frustrated: they’re far too far-fetched to make any kind of sense, yet they’re not wacky enough to be properly entertaining. The stories toss around “futuristic” terms like sky-radiation and zeta-beams and altered molecular structures, and provide “scientific” explanations that are supposed to make the plot plausible, except that the plot’s still ridiculous, all the more so after these attempts to shoehorn logic into it. It wouldn’t be so bad if Strange wasn’t over-explaining everything – he’s like your best friend’s pedantic dad, droning on about something while everyone feigns interest, sucking out the joy from topics that would otherwise be fascinating.
The other interesting aspect of Adam Strange is the sexual tension – basically, Adam’s zeta-beam wears off every time he and Alanna share an embrace. (That sends him back to Earth until he catches the next beam and gets teleported back to Rann.) That’s an original way of keeping them apart, I have to admit.
He’ll be back soon, he says – as will I, with another Tentacle Tuesday.