I think it first struck me how afraid of bright colour* we’d become, as a society, from years of ads for Bose’s odiously-designed Wave® sound systems, as consistently expensive are they are hideous (so they must sound fantastic!), circa the early 2000s.
Today, I’m going to (gasp!) restore some colour to your lives. This may lead to a sudden jolt, so avert your eyes if necessary.
Strictly speaking, I don’t have a favourite Playboy cartoonist — honestly, how could I, with that sumptuous, half-century-plus embarrassment of multifarious riches? Ah, but I certainly hold Leo ‘Dink’ Siegel (June 30, 1910 — Dec. 28, 2003) in quite lofty regard, thanks to his fantastic sense of design, his bold, delicious colour palette and his fastidious attention to detail (pay and treat your cartoonists well, and see what you get!). Today, I’ll concentrate on Siegel’s ‘roommates’ series; there’s generally a black pussycat hanging about, a fine furry bonus.
Once upon a time, in a kingdom beyond the seven seas, a little boy lived under the name of Scott Richardson in a seaside town (let’s call it Gloucester and pretend it’s in Massachusetts). His whole family were artists, and he would watch his grandparents paint the sea, the ships that sailed it and the people who commanded the ships. It must have come as no surprise at all when the boy, too, started to draw. Eventually, he grew up, moved around a lot, almost started a major war and somewhere along the way, acquired the nom de plume of Tony Millionaire (which, according to him, « comes from Old French. It means a person who owns a thousand slaves. Serfs, not slaves. »
How’s that for a little fairytale? You will forgive me for the jejune introduction, but something about Millionaire’s art is magic. It is easy to underestimate how good an artist he is because his art is so cartoony, and his characters so outlandish: his award-winning, syndicated strip Maakies, for instance, concerns itself with a perpetually blotto stuffed crow (Drinky Crow) and his best pal, a sock monkey (Uncle Gabby). Both were TM’s childhood toys. All children make up stories about their playthings. What’s magic isn’t that he was able to create a world for his toys to inhabit, it’s that he was able to pull us, the audience, in with him.
His art is also stunning on a purely technical level: the impeccable geometry of his Victorian houses, the zest of his epic battle scenes (often between a whale and a kraken, it should be noted), the lushness of the gardens inhabited by fairies, gossiping insects having tea, and mice with puritanical sensibilities.
A couple of other things about Tony Millionaire: he’s really funny (or “drunkenly charming”, if you prefer; read his interview with John F. Kelly from 1999), and he clearly loves drawing tentacles, gleefully sticking them hither and tither. He’s clearly long overdue for an inauguration into the elite hall of Tentacle Tuesday Masters. I’m not here to provide you with hard facts about when and how, either about the newspaper strip Maakies or about the comic series Sock Monkey. You can get that from elsewhere. But I do believe that this is the only website where you can get your tentacle fix *and* your TM fix all at once (courtesy of co-admin RG who did all the scanning work!)
Anyway, enough of this chit-chat, and let the tentacles abound!
« Maakies is me spilling my guts… Writing and drawing about all the things that make me want to jump in the river, laughing at the horror of being alive. »
As fun as Maakies are, I find that one gets weary of them quickly – they’re like chips that burst with flavour to the point of causing desensitization. I believe that Sock Monkey is where Millionaire really gets to shine; I fondly remember being bowled over by Sock Monkey: the Inches Incident, in which TM really put his nautical sensibilities to use. The other books from this series only reinforced this impression – the art was so much lusher, and the moral complexity of these stories made each tale bittersweet. The artiste himself summarized it well, stating that « Sock Monkey is me trying to rise above all that bullshit, to be more poetic, looking at the bright side, remembering the things that used to delight me as a child. At the same time, the main theme to all the Sock Monkey books is the crashing of innocent fantasy into bone-crushing reality. »
Fantagraphics published a full collection of Sock Monkey strips, but you can also read three of them right here online. I would of course strongly suggest supporting the publishing house and the author by purchasing the book, but what kind of high moral ground can it be if one is not offered a choice?
« Silence at the proper season is wisdom, and better than any speech. » — Plutarch
When I think of cover layouts, I always recall the sage advice of my art school book design teacher, who posited that « a poster should be One Angry Fist », as you only have a second or two to make your point to the undecided consumer. That knuckle sandwich is what gets your message across, not a bunch of clichés and slogans; these only detract from the power of your image.
While we’re obviously dealing, in comics, with a commercial medium, it’s hard to not view it as creative interference, a lack of confidence**. While all publishers indulged in cover overhyping to some degree, Marvel and DC were the main offenders, and DC at least had superior title and logo designers***.
In the 60s, Jack Kirby created a massive amount of stunning cover art for Marvel… which editor Stan “Ne’er ’nuff Said” Lee buried, as often as not, under his trademark wiseass hyperbole. One might argue that this hardsell approach worked, commercially speaking. Artistically, on the other hand… well, the debate lingers on.
One could counter that cover hype only increased in the subsequent decades (imitated, amplified and distorted), and that stands to reason. That trend is pretty universal, since everything is getting louder, literally and figuratively: commercials, recordings, everyday life. Indeed: louder, sweeter, saltier, faster, meatier and of course cheesier.
Ah, but for what seems like a mere blip in its history, which is to say around ’68-’69*, Marvel somewhat dialled down the verbiage and let some prime Kirby compositions enjoy a bit of breathing room (at least on Fantastic Four, the company’s second-best seller — and number 16 overall for 1968).
This particular streak is circumscribed by two ho-hum (by lofty Kirby standards) covers: flat FF 81 and messy FF 88 (featured here)… which leaves us with plenty of goodies in the middle. Let’s take the tour, shall we?
In the face of all this, is it any wonder I found so refreshing the design quietude and purity of some recent comic books covers, such as the Chris Samnee creations we recently spotlighted? There’s hope, thanks to some enlightened folks out there.
I think the most disappointing scientific discovery of recent years is that there appears to be no octopuses on the moon. Not one teensy-weensy tentacle was spotted by the lunar rovers (that we dispatched to the Moon for that very purpose, of course). But comics had led us to expect otherwise!
The inside offers us even more tentacles:
A bit of comic relief…
And back to our scheduled program of lethal, tentacle-sprouting monsters that attack the moment anyone sets foot on the moon.
Here’s a good instance of the good folks at Marvel getting quite confused. The First Men in the Moon, published in 1901, was written by H. G. Wells. From the Earth to the Moon was written in 1865 by Jules Verne. Which one is this supposed to be an adaptation of, then? I can confirm that the vaguely ant-like creatures with tentacles are H. G. Wells’ creation. His Selenites are described as following: « They are vaguely similar to quasi-humanoid ants, about five feet tall, with a light physical constitution enclosed in an exoskeleton from which slender jointed limbs and whip-like tentacles protrude. »
However, the first page of this comic informs us that…
So I guess whoever laid out the cover screwed up. The insides, scripted by Don McGregor and drawn by Rudy Mesina, are considerably better drawn, and an unqualified tentacular treat.
Did this adaptation succeed in being faithful to and respectful of Wells’ influential novel? Well, not really, although an honest attempt was made. But I found that it focused far too much on the fight scenes, and left out quite a few complex nuances as well as skewing the philosophical underpinnings of The First Men in the Moon. That being said, if you like tentacles, I heartily recommend reading this issue. I cringe at the very idea of recommending something from the Marvel Classics line, but honestly must prevail. Really, it’s good fun. Take a look —
Did the artist go into tentacle overdrive? Oh boy, did he ever!
« What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day. » — Phyllis Diller
Between the poles of Abner Dean’s more normal magazine work and his often quite abstract, therapy-inspired books, lies his neglected Come As You Are, his most accessible single-theme work.
In few words but with devastating visual lucidity, Dean turns a probing spotlight on party dynamics, laying bare the casual cruelty, manipulations and seductions, feints and blindsides, alliances and betrayals, thrusts and parries. The results are often hilarious… but laden with uneasy recognition; despite the distance of nearly three-quarters of a century, little appears to have changed in the fundamentals… which really should come as no surprise to anyone.
Witness the following excerpts…
From the back end of the book: « This is Abner Dean’s fourth adventure with the cross-eyed muse in that area of unexpected turning and hilarious insights that is particularly his own.
The first, in 1945, was It’s a Long Way to Heaven. People began seeing themselves and their friends as Dean saw them. They were startled and fascinated by the view. With What Am I Doing Here? in 1947 they winced and laughed again. Psychiatrists started using certain of his drawings for discussion with their patients. People began playing games of identification with individual pictures.
In 1949 came And on the Eight Day to make more Dean converts. And now here’s a fourth book about people to smoke out any unbelievers who may be lurking in corners at parties.
For those who like their incidental intelligence in an unbalanced phrase — Abner Dean was born in 1910, attended the National Academy in 1927, was graduated from Dartmouth in 1931, and hasn’t been away from a drawing board for more than a few days since then. He is happily married and lives in New York. »
This is our third look at Mr. Dean’s œuvre. If you’re left longing for more, read on:
I’m always happy to revisit Wonder Woman in her glorious young days of being depicted by H. G. Peter, whose expressive, dynamic art I just can’t get enough of. The stories are none too shabby, either! In my earlier post, Tentacle Tuesday: H.G. Peter and Wonder Woman lend a hand, I overlooked a few choice cuts. Well, having spent a few delightful hours going through WW stories originally published in Wonder Woman, Sensation Comics or Comic Cavalcade, it is my pleasure to remedy my previous oversight, and I can possibly even claim that these two posts are a pretty definitive list of Wonder Woman’s tentacular entanglements.
Do you have a few hours to waste – pardon – dedicate to research, too? Here you can read the entirety of DC’s Wonder Woman: Golden Age multiple-volume omnibus. Personally I think the graphic designers responsible overamped the contrast when they cleaned up the images, and much prefer reading these stories in their original colour… but nothing beats having all of this stuff on one website for convenience.
All stories are written by William Moulton Marston with art by Harry G. Peter.
Demon of the Depths, printed in Wonder Woman no. 7 (winter 1943):
The Adventure of the Octopus Plant!, printed in Sensation Comics no. 41 (May 1945):
This is not strictly tentacle-related, but I would also like to share a few choice panels that I’ve stumbled upon while looking for tentacles. Gorgeously weird, they remind us just how strange, inventive and subversive Wonder Woman was in her glory days of yore!
And voilà! But don’t fret, we will see Wonder Woman in the tender embrace of an octopus again… this time in the 60s, Robert Kanigher and all.
« See? Brute force triumphs after all!!! » — Mr. Fly (Jan. 11, 1942)
While Kitchen Sink’s ambitious chronological gathering of Eisner’s post-WWII The Spirit was intended to clean up and organize the series after decades of random, piecemeal reprinting, it was still a bit of a mess, at least early on. The methods of reproduction varied from issue to issue, and even within issues: three of four of issue one’s stories carry the original newspaper shadings, while one (« Hildie ») is newly-coloured and grey-toned. However, the folks at KSP can’t be faulted for this chaos: it all hinged upon which stories’ original line art remained in existence. Through it all, the publisher remained commendably hopeful but realistic and honest about the prevailing realities and conditions.
The colour question elicited ever-churning controversy and budgetary woes in the face of steadily diminishing sales. By issue 9, the custom colouring was abandoned to make way for the rather more economical, but muddy laser-scanning of original Spirit sections, and an extra story was added to issues 10 and 11; then inside colour was jettisoned for good, with gray toning retained. But issue size was reduced to 6 1/4” x 9 3/4″ (as opposed to the traditional comic book format, which is, as we all know, 6 5/8″ x 10 1/4″) for issues 12-16.
Denis Kitchen sums up the situation very aptly, circa issue 4, late in ’83:
« … the current color comic market demands a more sophisticated reprinting of these stories. There is nothing sacred about the original color. Though Eisner experimented boldly with color, he generally left coloring to assistants, and much of it was handled in a pedestrian manner.
We shoot these stories, where possible, from original art in Will Eisner’s archives. Where stats, negatives silverprints or other proofs are the only source, we use the best existing copies. Our colorists, where possible, use the original sections as color guides and are concerned with authenticity and precedent. Color changes, gray tones and other ‘augmentations’ are made with the approval of Will Eisner. »
If you’ve just caught us mid-swing, nothing to worry about: earlier entries are at your beck and call as follows :
« It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude. » ― H.P. Lovecraft
I’ve actually had a friend tell me that he sees tentacles wherever he goes because of my Tentacle Tuesdays. Hey, I’m not making this up – tentacles *are* everywhere. Whether you’re in a well-lit room, with reassuring noises of the city filtering through the windows, or in a city centre, cushioned from harm by the comforting presence of a crowd… repairing a TV set, kissing a date, heading over to the pub for a well-deserved drink… some cephalopod horror is but a blink away. Fie, fie, foul apparition!
What better beginning to this post than… TERROR VISION!!! (“Aiiieeee!“, to quote the man.)
Things go from bad to worse for our repairman…
Normally I wouldn’t post yet another page from the same story, but I like the art so much that I have to share.
I’ve already mentioned German horror comics in the shape Spuk Geschichten (see Tentacle Tuesday: A Torrent of Teutonic Tentacles). Its mother publication, Gespenster Geschichten, also has its share of tentacles. For now, I will limit myself to this one cover:
One would be justified in thinking that roofs are generally quite octopus-proof, but nope, this one is either a talented climber or just unimaginably huge.
As a bit of an aside, there’s a really fun account of one collector’s quest for John Jacobs stories written for Madison Comics over at Kirby Your Enthusiasm (link: Finding John Jacobs). Far Frontier no. 1 has a few of those, and apparently they’re quite perverse and brain-melting. An excerpt of the essay in question to whet your appetite:
« I first became aware of [John Jacobs] through a review by noted comics writer Jan Strnad in The Comics Journal #94 of Dr Peculiar #1. I read and re-read it dozens of times and marveled at the samples of his primitive pencilled art. My mind tried to absorb a comic that had heavy religious overtones plus a healthy dose of T&A (with a monster rape/cannibal fetish). The reviewer theorized that John Jacobs’ mind must be like a bowl of maggots. »
As an editorial aside, I am inclined to trust Strnad on this, both because I really like his writing and because Kirby Your Enthusiasm‘s summary of Jacobs’ plots confirms the maggots theory.
« I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited. » — Charles Bronson
Welcome to our 400th post! I suppose a Steve Ditko birthday post would have been more momentous, but I did that already a couple of years ago, while he still drew breath.
Today, our man Charles Dennis Buchinsky, aka Charles Bronson (1921 – 2003… he would have turned 98 today — picture that!) squeezes in a rather routine bit part (merely credited as « The Pilot ») in Joe Molloy and Mike Zeck’s nonsensical hijacking melodrama Only a Toy. Heck, read it here if you don’t believe me.
Oddly enough, this expanded cameo came about just a year after Bronson’s megahit Death Wish, as Bronson reached the pinnacle of his earning power (in inverse proportion to the quality of his output, thanks to his long association with the shady Cannon Group). Presumably, he was just doing a favour for his old pal Zeck.
Ah, but this wasn’t the first time cartoonists had paid such tribute to Bronson: in 1971, writer Jean-Marie Brouyère and artist William Tai (aka Malik) created the South-America set Archie Cash series for Belgian bédé weekly Spirou. The series had a healthy run of 15 albums (what one would call a graphic novel over in North America) between 1973 and 1988.
Anyway, back to our birthday boy: if you want to see Bronson at his finest, I recommend his early, pre-moustache TV showcase Man With a Camera (1958)… the 29-episode boxed set’ll cost you peanuts and it’s great value. Then, from his European period, you can’t go wrong with 1968’s Adieu l’ami (Farewell, Friend), co-starring the aforementioned Mr. Delon; 1970’s gloriously weird Le passager de la pluie (Rider on the Rain), 1971 winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and co-starring creepy Eva Green‘s mom (or should that be “mum”?) Marlène Jobert. And of course 1971’s Soleil rouge (Red Sun), co-starring, this time not only Delon, but none other than Toshirô Mifune!