« A slithering tentacle now seizes Billy, and a shuddery voice pours into his ears! »
Previously, we’ve talked about Captain Marvel (the original, the best, the… dare I say, unique!) in a post about his co-creator C.C. Beck. Today, I’ll concentrate on the World’s Mightiest Mortal’s exploits with all manner of tentacled monsters.
« When I looked at the first Captain Marvel story, I knew at once that here was a story worth illustrating. It had a beginning, a carefully constructed development of plot and characters leading to a climax and an ending, and nothing else. There was no pointless flying around and showing off, no padding, no “Look, Ma, I’m a superhero!” Out of 72 panels, Captain Marvel appeared in 18, or one-fourth. »
The green, proudly toupée-d fellow appears in the opening panel of Terror Stalks the World’s Fair, but as it turns out, he has nothing to do with the rest of the story, really.
The cover story features an actual kraken with evil, myopic eyes! I rejoiced.
In an interesting plot twist, it is revealed that gigantic vampire bats and the Kraken (who has the gift of speech, sounding like somebody’s rather eccentric uncle) have struck up a partnership.
While we’re at it, Captain Marvel Battles the Legend Horror is a perfect demonstration of a point C.C. Beck made well:
« Billy Batson was the real hero of all the Captain Marvel stories, from the first issue until the last. Without Bill Batson, Captain Marvel would have been merely another overdrawn, one-dimensional figure in a ridiculous costume, running around beating up crooks and performing meaningless feats of strength like all the other heroic figures of the time who were, with almost no exceptions, cheap imitations of Superman. In fact, I have always felt that flying figures in picture form are silly and unbelievable, and I would much sooner have never drawn them, but the publisher insisted on them. Most of the time Captain Marvel’s ability to fly had little or nothing to do with the plots of the stories in which he appeared. Billy Batson started every story and ended every story. In between, Captain Marvel appeared when he was needed, disappeared when he was not needed. The stories were about Billy Batson, not about the cavortings of a ridiculous superhero for whom the writers had to concoct new and more impossible demonstrations of his powers for each issue. »
And our last encounter with tentacles for today…
The Invasion From Outer Space, plotted by Otto Binder and drawn by C. C. Beck, offers us lots of cute little alien guys:
« Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level. » — Denis Charles Pratt (1908-1999)
Longtime companions Bruce and Alex, who spend their days tracking down and investigating “queer events”, presumably for a guide they’re putting together, happen to drive near Oakville, where a gleeful oldster is on a tear.
Alex has a plan, and Bruce grasps instantly what Bruce has in mind. It’s like they’ve done this before. Somehow, Alex’s brainstorms always involve Bruce disrobing, and, judging from his expression, he’s unfailingly eager to comply.
Death rat·tle (/ˈdeTH ˈˌradl/), noun: a gurgling sound heard in a dying person’s throat.
Greetings! Today we explore Kitchen Sink‘s mostly-black-and-white horror anthology (drum roll, please) Death Rattle, which ran between 1972 and 1996 in three distinct “volumes” (please don’t forget your professional spelunking gear, things might get messy). For the pedants in the audience (and let’s be honest, that’s probably the majority of us comic-loving freaks), the break-down goes like this:
Volume 1, 3 issues published between June 1972 until June 1973 under the Krupp Comic Words imprint; volume 2, 18 issues published between October 1985 and October 1988 under Kitchen Sink Comix; finally, volume 3, five issues published between December 1995 and June 1996, also under Kitchen Sink Comix. I must admit that that my favourite period is Volume 2, and it’s from these issues that most material presented below has been drawn.
The first 5 issues of Death Rattlevolume 2 appeared in glorious colour, after which the series reverted to its standard black-and-white (financial hurdles). Issue 7 came out proudly bearing the slogan “too gruesome for color!” Issue 5 gave more details of the change to come:
« It will still be printed on quality paper, so you archivists out there won’t have trouble preserving disintegrating, rotting, putrid copies that look like they’ve just risen zombified from a Graham Ingels story. We’ll still be printing atmospheric stories of the unusual, the eerie, the — dare we say it — ghastly. So let’s rejoice, not mourn. »
I remember being vaguely disappointed for just a little while (it was nice to have colour), but the high quality of (most) stories made it easy to get used to the switch, and I really liked the unapologetic way Kitchen Sink confronted their audience, making a good thing out of a bad thing.
I didn’t realize it immediately, but this post ends up being some sort of cephalopod love song to Steve Stiles. Speaking of the latter, I’d like to mention that he doesn’t get enough credit for his work on Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales, even though he drew Schultz-scripted back-up stories for no fewer than 13 issues of XT – and, frankly, did an excellent job. Instead of getting interrupted smack in the middle of an intoxicating story, Xenozoic Tales could have continued to thrill us if Schultz scripted and Stiles illustrated. ‘Nuff said. Visit Stiles’ website – it has tons and tons of stuff.
If I may be allowed a slight digression, here are two examples of Stiles’ recent (and computer-coloured, I’m afraid) work taken from his Tumblr blog – I think tentacles still prey heavily upon his mind! 😉
Okay, no more distractions. Back to our regularly scheduled program:
« Yes, you may find yourself raving in the aisles when you read Death Rattle, although we sincerely hope not. We hope it will thrill, chill, slice, dice and possibly even amuse you. » (introduction from Death Rattle no. 4)
« Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain, For strip-mined mountain’s majesty above the asphalt plain. America, America, man sheds his waste on thee, And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea. » ― George Carlin
On this day, the forty-ninth edition of Earth Day, we feature some little-seen work (by his usual audience, at any rate) by Jim Woodring and his collaborator Scott Deschaine*. Given the current political climate, an increasingly dire state of affairs, I’ll (mostly) skip the chit-chat and make with the visual riches.
*French family names, after spending some time in English-speaking lands, tend to distort in interesting ways: “Deschaine” makes no grammatical sense. It likely started out as “Deschaînes” (of the chains), or its homonym, Deschênes ou Duchêne (of the Oaks or the Oak). Sometimes, the name gets so badly distorted that it’s quite unpronounceable: Shia LaBeouf (Leboeuf, the ox) or Cara Delevingne (Delavigne, of the vine)… not that I’d want to utter these names, save perhaps as curses.
«America’s top-flight intellectuals will one day hold entire conferences and seminars devoted to Sylviology. They will deconstruct her frame by frame with straight edge and compass, attempting to identify each tiny object as an Artifact of Our Time and a clue to our condition. They will bring in leading neurologists, phrenologists and psychoanalysts to study the blabbermouth pets, the thimble-sized martinis, the neurotic superheroes, to answer the inescapable question: What kind of a mind…?» \from the introduction to Planet Sylvia by Barbara Ehrenreich|
Many years ago, I was perching on a sofa in the corner of a cozy records store (the excellent Death of Vinyl in Montreal, in case anyone is wondering) when I noticed a stack of comics in a nearby bin. Something dishevelled and coverless, pages barely holding together, attracted my attention with its idiosyncratic drawing style and strangely articulated cats. There was also a big-nosed lady with giant earrings and a typewriter. I was hooked and purchased the book immediately, though I wasn’t even sure whether it was for sale or just placed there as reading material. (I located the cover, after all, albeit in a different bin.)
Sylvia is a more-than-slightly cantankerous woman with a wonderfully acerbic sense of humour. Sometimes she doles out social commentary from the bathtub, sometimes a local café serves as her headquarters — or she stays in her living room, dispensing wisecracks at yet another inane TV ad, or bestows advice to lost souls (typed on an honest-to-god typewriter). She’s clearly a feminist, and equally clearly fluent with clichés of womanhood, such a certain obsession with dieting and a definite obsession with cats. She embodies many tropes – she’s the crazy cat lady, an Apron Matron (albeit with a flowery hat instead of an apron), a Dear Abby-type adviser – and puts her peculiar tilt on them all. Extravagant earrings and the odd flamboyant hat (all the articles about Sylvia seem to overstate the presence of hats, yet Sylvia’s handsome head often boasts nought but big hair adorned with a hairnet or bow) are just the cherry on the cake.
As for Nicole Hollander, she is a Chicago native and brought forth something like 30 years of Sylvia. Born as a series of cartoons for the feminist magazine The Spokeswoman, it was syndicated in 1981 and continued until March 26th, 2012, upon which date Hollander declared that Sylvia was retiring.
« In the old days, the disconcerting feel of the strip as well as Sylvia’s middle-aged ‘dame’ image and her biting humour gave the artist problems. After St. Martin’s had started publishing Sylvia, even the big syndicates were forced to sit up and take note of her. But they did so in a grudging, good-old-boy sort of way, taking away with one hand what they gave with the other. After Field Enterprises took Hollander on in 1981, a rep would intermittently call Nicole to shake a finger at her – for instance, the week on Sylvia cartoon mentioned hemorrhoids, and another mentioned Lightday pantyliners. “They said, It’s your life, but you’re ruining it. If you leave stuff like this in, a lot of papers will pull the strip. I gave up the hemorrhoids, but not the Lightdays. There was this voice in my head that said, You must take a stand. So I said, I will take my stand for Lightdays, and threw hemorrhoids to the dogs.”» |From Don’t Throw That Old Diaphragm Away! by Ellen Cantarow, published in Mother Jones (June/July 1987)|
In case you’re wondering what *can* you do with a diaphragm, this handy illustration might help:
For all its popularity, there aren’t a lot of Sylvia strips available online, let alone in decent resolution. Oh, sure, you can go to GoComics and read a whole bunch of them, but that seems to be just the strips from the 2000s. Somebody got started on a documentary about Hollander in 2015, but I get the impression that that was abandoned somewhere along the way, probably for lack of funds. Even Hollander’s website, Bad Girl Chats, doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Speaking of that, please watch this adorable video in which Nicole explains what sort of things she posts on her website.
(On the brighter side, in 2018, Fantagraphics released Hollander’s autobiography-slash-graphic-novel, We Ate Wonder Bread.) I aim to remedy this situation at least a little bit, by showcasing some of my favourite strips (scanned from The Whole Enchilada, 1986 and also from Planet Sylvia, 1990; the black and white strips were “colourized” by co-admin RG, who abhors lousy greying paper.)
« When we sat down Hollander began talking about how she and her friends used to sit silent and wide-eared at a table in the deli while their mothers gabbed. I didn’t appreciate how vital a memory this is until I opened Wonder Bread and spotted a sketch of the women yakking, another of young Nicole sitting primly before a corned beef sandwich and a jar of dill pickles as the grownups dish. “We were avid listeners,” says the text, filling in details you sense from the art, “fearful of interfering with their talk, hoping they wouldn’t notice us so they would keep on talking. They were all witty women, fiercely loyal to their friendship, to the specialness of every woman in the group.”» |Life After Sylvia: Cartoonist Nicole Hollander publishes a memoir|
One last tidbit: on 2012, Nicole Hollander’s “unique collection of condom packages and sex toys” entered the collection of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. That raises more questions than it answers, doesn’t it?
I understand that the artist left quite a lot of empty space on purpose – to be filled with pointless text – but still, was it necessary to plaster nearly every inch of the image with captions yellow, red and purple? (I do like how the WEB seems to be made out of plasticine… and likely was.) Here’s the cover without all that wordy fluff:
The Rook couldn’t quite kill the fishy brute’s whole family in #4, so he had to confront its slightly more colourful cousin in issue 7:
Co-admin RG suggested I check Eclipse Magazine‘s tentacular offerings for this post, and he was correct, there was one issue involving an octopus used as a coffee table.
Marvel’s Epic Illustrated, with its 70-odd pages per issue, surely offered something for everyone. The aforementioned offerings were quite hit-or-miss, but the occasional presence of Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, Basil Wolverton (in reprints), Berni Wrightson, Ernie Colón, Craig Russell, et al. makes it worthwhile to go through its 34 issues (okay, maybe not all in one sitting, unless you have quite a few thermoses of tea prepared – or something stronger).
Brunner’s painting is rather nice – the mermaid and her friendly octopus both look so serene! – that here it is again. And read an interview with him while you’re at it: Legendary Feathers: Interview with Frank Brunner. (I apologize for linking to a website titled Fanboy Nation, though. Erk.)
Issues 10 to 17 of Epic Illustrated featured Rick Veitch’s Abraxas and the Earthman, a purported retelling of Moby Dick (although frankly, aside from a vengeful squid, the similarities are not striking). Naturally, tentacles abound. Really freaky, creepy tentacles, much like the rest of the story.
Veitch’s fucked-up (I mean that as a compliment), imaginative tale continues with “Man and Whale (Chapter Eight)”, the final installment. Alongside a plethora of sea-creatures (no longer in the sea), there’s this Devourer of Awareness, Bearer of Tentacles:
For much of its existence, The Golden Magazine thrived, having access to top creative talent from the Western publishing empire (Whitman, Gold Key, Golden Press, Golden Book Encyclopedia…)
As Archie Comics had their Christian-zealot madman in Al Hartley, so did Western in the person of Vic Lockman. A significant difference, however, is that Hartley, despite quite stiff competition, is arguably the very worst Archie artist; he’s certainly got my vote [Seconded! ~ ds]. Lockman (1927-2016), a prolific but often terrible scriptwriter, was a terrific cartoonist, blessed with a gorgeously fluid line and exemplary design sense, lively and detailed. Here, then, is a story from Wacky Adventures of Cracky no. 3 (June, 1973). Script and art, including his distinctive lettering, by Mr. Lockman.
During the run of his comic book, Cracky (and sidekick Mr. Kaws) wore many hats: detective, inventor (presumably giving Lockman the chance to recycle some of his rejected Gyro Gearloose scripts), ship’s captain, escape artist, sheik… And yes, he did encounter some choice tentacles, but I leave it to my partner to conduct her own investigation. Lockman beautifully handled the first ten issues of WAOC; the instant he stepped away, the thing dissolved into tripe. Avoid accordingly.
Lockman was also among those sadly deluded souls (hello, Chuck Dixon) who tried to lay claim to the title of most published comics writer. Let’s face it: the most likely contenders (Joe Gill, Paul S. Newman, Gaylord DuBois) toiled in anonymity for most of their long careers.
« Knock it off, squiddo! You couldn’t make a class-B horror picture on earth — you’re not even good for a milk shudder! Better skeddadle, or I’ll tie your tentacles into a bow! »
Tentacles are no cause for levity, you say? Ha! Their place in all manner of spoofs and parodies (and other silliness) is ensured. Peppered with a barrage of puns (never undersell puns, please!), whimsical tentacular entanglements abound in literature… err, comic literature, at any rate, and that’s good enough for me.
Even some 100 years ago (well, a little less), some unfortunate octopus could easily become a Figure of Fun if he wasn’t careful.
I can’t mention équivoques and wordplay without mentioning Pogo, Walt Kelly‘s keenly intelligent comic strip. Sadly, this was the only appearance of Octopots, as far as I know (and I long to be corrected).
In the competitive world of jokes in bad taste, the man from SRAM probably takes the cake. It’s lucky that he has no qualms about hitting females, or the world would be doomed… although his mirthless monologue would probably kill the creature with sheer ennui.
On the other hand, Superman‘s creative insults can easily shame a thin-skinned Tentacled Terror (was his spaghetti-and-meatball crack some sort of early Flying Spaghetti Monster reference, even though the latter was only officially created in 2005?)
« Hello… Times? … I want to place an ad in your Situation Wanted column! Wanted… dangerous assignment… will go anyplace, anywhere, anytime… contact The Spirit, Box 35! » – The Spirit, Apr. 30, 1950
If you’ve followed our series dogging the steps of The Spirit, you won’t be in the least surprised that, after a sixteen (plus colour special) residency with Warren Publishing (Apr. 1974 – Oct. 1976), the late Dennis Colt found himself, after a year’s break, updating his mailing address once more. As returning publisher (and later, also Eisner’s agent) Denis Kitchen put it Kitchen Sink’s inaugural magazine issue (no. 17, Winter 1977):
« Welcome back, SPIRIT fans! Several years ago, we launched an experiment, publishing Will Eisner’s SPIRIT in ‘underground’ format. The experiment was so successful that Eisner arranged for Warren Magazines to publish his stories in a larger format, distributed on a national scale.
Seventeen issues later, we once again have the rights to THE SPIRIT. We will continue publishing stories never before reprinted, on a quarterly basis. In addition, we are adding new features, virtually eliminating the ad pages, and upgrading the quality of the paper. We hope you like the difference and will continue to support THE SPIRIT. »
Well, the first issue was all right, but looked a bit shoddy, a surprise, given the usually-solid production hand of KS’s peerless production man, Pete Poplaski. With the following, er… quarterly issue (five months later), all the kinks had been worked out, and every subsequent entry looks sharp and terrific.
Ah, but there’s the rub: Kitchen Sink’s magazine ran for 25 issues, most of them boasting spectacular, brand-new wraparound watercolour paintings by Eisner. Some brutal excisions had to be made, to say nothing of the backbreaking process of smoothly collating the front and back halves (we have standards!). Hence the necessity of “pt. 1”. Will you settle for my dozen picks of the twenty-five? I’m afraid you’ll have to.
If you’ve just joined us mid-programme, fret not: simply rewind to our earlier instalments, if you will:
«Men!! They are a worse menace than any octupus [sic] or shark that ever swam…»
Oh, poor octopuses. Authors use them as a (not very original) symbol of a terrifying, all-powerful force, and then get them (not very creatively) destroyed. An octopus is lucky to “just” get stabbed; everything seems to be fair play in this violent spree – dynamite, torpedoes, even freakin’ nuclear weapons. In most cases, the problem is definitely Man: man who enslaves sea creatures and makes them do his bidding with varied gadgets, man who intrudes on the octopus’ territory, man who sticks his nose where only tentacles should be.
« I only have to give him the claws of the killer lobster… the teeth of the tiger shark… and the heart of the barracuda! That is all! » Because any normal doctor has this stuff just lying around his operating theatre, obviously.
Spectacular, deadly monster created? Next thing to do is to rip an octopus to shreds, in a particularly gory eyeball-wrenching, tentacle-mincing scene.
Next up, your standard slashing-at-tentacles-with-a-kitchen-cleaver. The guy must have been stashing it in his swimming trunks; there’s really no need for wearing an actual diving suit. That sap getting squeezed by a tentacle wore one… and look at all the good it did him.
I love the idea of an eight tentacled obstacle, and shall aspire to insert that phrase into completely irrelevant conversations.
I have to admit that Don Winslow (not the author) is the kindest octopus handler we’ve seen today. It must be part of those Naval traditions and courage Martinek insisted on. (He was quoted as saying “Since Don Winslow of the Navy is approved by the Navy Department, I cannot allow him to do anything that is contrary to the ideals, traditions or motives of the Navy.“)
“It takes cold, raw courage to step up to… This is the grandfather of all octopus… or is it octopi…?” Only a true hero starts fretting about the properness of his English while in proximity to a giant octopus. Are you wondering why that octopus looks distinctly fake? He’s actually made out of rubber, as Don Wallace, a.k.a. Torpedo Man discovers when he punctures the counterfeit cephalopod.
In the 1950s, “atomic” was distinctly a cool word, which clearly inspired the creation of this Atomic Submarine (nuclear powered, that is) and its Atomic Commandos… a crew of, like, four people. To quote Toonopedia, “The real atomic sub was apparently a bit more complex and challenging to deal with than the comic book one. Commander Battle’s got along with only four men aboard — Bill Battle (the boss), Champ Ruggles (“the most powerful man on the American continent”, and maybe even the other American continent as well), Doc Blake (the scientific genius) and Tony Gardello (only mildly ethnic).”
“The atomic commandos didn’t know that the way to the island was barred by an awful defender… by a gigantic nightmare creature that staggered the imagination! They didn’t see it as it rose from the depths behind them, flaring tentacles ready to pounce, clutch…” The octopus went from red to green – is that for better camouflage?
The weird threat from the center of the earth is actually a nation of sea-dwellers who demand humans cease using atomic weapons, threatening to burn Earth’s surface if this is not done (and unleashing their almost-indestructible octopus, as well). When Commander Battle triumphs at the end of the story, all the “giant attackers” die from a radioactive cloud. “And so it came to an end, this civilization of titans at the center of the earth… for now, not a single on was left alive! Let it be said that they were not evil! Destiny had willed it that they cross man’s path...” In today’s Tentacle Tuesday, this story takes the cake for its number of gratuitous deaths.