Tentacle Tuesday: Educational Cephalopods

Today we bring you a selection of edifying cartons that will (hopefully) teach you something about our friends the cephalopods. Like how to check that you really are looking at an octopus, for instance: like with most things in life, just ask!

Cartoon published in Mad Magazine no. 486 (February 2008) The author, in all senses of the word, is our beloved Al Jaffee.

I like the idea of learning from comics, but stories written specially to teach children (or the occasional adult) moral lessons or scientific facts often end up incredibly boring, insultingly condescending, or painfully obvious. However, (gently) throw an octopus into the mix, and I’ll be willing to consider it!

Of course sometimes the octopus is the student, albeit an undressed one.

Treasure Chest Vol. 21 no. 4 (October 21st, 1965). The cover is by Pete Hironaka, born in California to Japanese parents. Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact was a comic book series that was Catholic-oriented and featured inspirational Christian stories and such, but also ran stories about science, history, and just plain adventure, emphasizing values like teamwork, honesty, etc. throughout. No, it’s not as boring as it sounds! Most of the stories weren’t at all preachy, just kind to their characters, which is something I really appreciate. The title was distributed throughout parochial schools from 1946 to 1972.

Are there tentacles inside? Well, yes!

I am slightly disturbed by how angry Murphy is at the octopus’ supposed ignorance (especially since he’s so blatantly wrong). Art by Pete Hironaka.
I wish octopus lobotomy wasn’t on the menu, but what can you do…

On the topic of classrooms – octopuses have to write essays, too, just like any old student Joe. It’s a bit hard to hold a pencil with a tentacle, though.

An illustration by Lynda Barry, 2018.

I’ve never watched SpongeBob SquarePants, because the idea of a protagonist who’s some sort of dumb-looking kitchen sponge (I’m sorry, “sea sponge”) has never appealed to me. It may be brilliant, for all I know. However, whenever I encounter a SpongeBob comic, I’m always surprised at how good the stories are. Given that the calibre of some contributing artists and writers (Ramona Fradon, Tentacle Tuesday Master Hilary Barta, WOT favourite Stephen R. Bissette, Tony Millionaire of Many Tentacles, the aforementioned Al Jaffee, Michael T. Gilbert… come on, it’s like a who’s who of comics talent), this is actually less astonishing than one might expect – and the fact that Stephen Hillenburg, the creator, managed to attract such talent speaks well of him. Another fact, namely that that he worked as a teacher of marine science at the Ocean Institute of Dana Point (California) and decided to create an educational comic book depicting the life of anthropomorphic sea creatures, confirms that he’s one cool (sea) cucumber.

A cephalopod installment of Flotsam & Jetsam, scripted by Maric Wicks and illustrated by Nate Neal. This page was published in SpongeBob Comics no. 9 (June 2012, United Plankton Pictures)

A final educational strip, although to be perfectly honest with you, a tad on the boring side. Mark Trail was created by Ed Dodd an eternity ago (which is to say, April 1946). Dodd was a national parks guide and (quite naturally, one would hope) an environmentalist, so his syndicated newspaper strip featured a lot of environmental disasters, mostly orchestrated by human hands (but the evil guys often received a satisfying punch in the mouth from Trail, a nature writer-cum-photographer – if only it were this easy in real life!)

This strip is from August 16th, 2020.

After passing through a few pairs of hands, the strip landed at the doorstep or artist James Allen, who began by assisting on the Sunday page in 2010, and formally took over in 2014, to continue until 2020, at which juncture he left his position by mutual agreement with the syndicate. After some years of reruns, Mark Trail is now continuing once again, this time with artist Jules Rivera at the helm.

I admire Dodd’s art and plotting, and in my opinion the others who have continued the strip in recent years (from 1978 and onwards) lack his doigté and his talent to various degrees. For example, take a look at the original art for the Sunday strip of September 25, 1955:

Clearly drawn by someone who loved and understood animals. Art by Ed Dodd.

Of course it doesn’t help that the recent Sundays had garish (by my assessment) colours. For a more detailed story of Mark Trail, head over to this Daily Cartoonist article.

~ ds

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