Tentacle Tuesday Masters: George Wilson and His Painted Covers for Gold Key

« Savage plants, monster mutations, human vultures… »

George Wilson (1921-1999), prolific cover illustrator for Dell Comics and Gold Key from the 1950s through to the 1970s, is such a ubiquitous figure for anyone interested in comics of that era that it’s almost like he’s taken for granted by comic aficionados. “Oh, yes, another gorgeous George cover”, we say and move on to something else. Let’s not, shall we? We can admire his trademark bright colours, eye-popping attention to detail and impeccable compositions *and* celebrate Tentacle Tuesday. And there’s all kinds of tentacles in these covers – organic or motorized, animal, mineral, or… plant-like. (I refuse to use “vegetable” as an adjective.)

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Mighty Samson no. 11 (August 1967). This might just be the most random menace (and the most ridiculous set-up) I’ve seen in a while.

Mighty Samson was created by writer Otto Binder and artist Frank Thorne, and involved a heroic barbarian-type sword-and-sandaler loitering around a dystopian, post-nuclear disaster world that has reverted to something resembling the Stone Age. One thing that amused me – not only is our dashing hero blond, but so is his love interest (apparently recessive traits help survive radioactivity). The evil temptress-cum-scientist is a dark-haired femme fatale, obviously. You can read each and every issue of Mighty Samson here.

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Panels from “The Swamp Rats“, written by Otto Binder and drawn by Jack Sparling, whose art is for some reason hated by many (the same many who have no trouble with bad art from other, more publicly accepted artists).

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Doctor Solar, created by writer Paul S. Newman and editor Matt Murphy, was fairly humble at first, despite his somewhat ponderous moniker. (« The Man of the Atom »!) Originally clad in a normal lab-coat, he acquired his red costume in issue #5. The source of his super-powers? A nuclear disaster, of course. It’s difficult to be impressed by that when everyone and their auntie is getting exposed to radioactivity. I try to keep in mind that Doctor Solar was one of newly-formed Gold Key’s first publications, and in 1962, a nuclear war seemed imminent whatever side of the continent you were on… but I’m still bored. There’s a list of Atomic Superheroes with 27 items in it here, but it only includes public domain characters.

Of special interest are the first two issues of this series because they boast glorious covers by Richard Powers. Go look at them. That’s an order.

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Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom no. 21 (October 1967).
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Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom no. 24 (July 1968).
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Page from “The Deadly Trio”, written by Dick Wood and drawn by Ernie Colón. That “monstrous master of the sea” is so freaking cute!

All of Gold Key’s Doctor Solar run is available here. How much time do you have on your hands, anyway?

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Fantastic Voyage no. 2 (December 1969).

This two-issues “series” features « adventures based on the cartoon about the Combined Miniature Defense Force (CMDF) with Jonathan Kidd, Erika Lane, Dr. Guru, and Busby Birdwell. » Clearly, nobody cared about the comic. Maybe someone cared about the animated TV series the comic was based on.

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Speaking of boring… I haven’t yet encountered *one* issue of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! that wouldn’t cause me to yawn or start rolling my eyes. However, painted covers are often worth dwelling on, and the inside art is also occasionally quite nice (especially when it’s by Luis Dominguez).

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Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 12 (February 1969).

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The Microbots no. 1 (December 1971). The tentacled monster was designed by Jack Sparling, who illustrates This Is the Way the World Ends and Day of the Juggernaut, but the cover art is by George Wilson.

There’s an excellent (and suitably sarky) review of this one issue of Microbots on Gone & Forgotten. Here’s a little taste: « Superstitious, parochial, and frequently eaten alive by mutated elephants, the people of the future world have turned their backs on technology. » Bet you’ve never seen *that* sentence before. Or — « The Microbots are the creation of Dr. Norman Micron (of the Connecticut Microns, I presume), a scientist living in the dire times of a world succumbing to man’s pollution. ‘Mankind had ample warning that he was destroying the world around him’ he muses, standing by a window with a highly-desirable garbage view. »

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The crew of the Starship Enterprise keeps running into tentacles, it seems. (Presumably, they couldn’t do it as convincingly on the TV show, as the visual effects weren’t quite up to snuff.)

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Star Trek no. 24 (May 1974). Gold Key published Star Trek comics between 1967 and 1978, for a total of 61 issues. They weren’t a rehash of the TV series, and featured original characters and stories, although later issues included sequels to a couple of episodes (which is pretty cool, if you ask me).
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Star Trek no. 29 (March 1975).

Gail O’Brien shared this snippet on a forum about Wilson’s art, sadly a fairly typical story: « You might be interested to know that George’s widow (a friend of mine) has had no income from his paintings as they “disappeared” from his estate at his death while they were separated. She is presently living on small retirement from teaching. I’ve tried to influence her to seek legal advice to acquire her share of George’s sales, but she feels it is impossible… hope there is a lawyer who enjoys George’s work, who would want to go on a 50/50 basis to acquire what is rightfully belonging to my friend. » |source|

Look at more (less tentacle-centric) George Wilson art here.

~ ds

5 thoughts on “Tentacle Tuesday Masters: George Wilson and His Painted Covers for Gold Key

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