« I will eliminate this ignominious blot on the city’s reputation. I will correct this annoying oversight. And so Ostap undertook the actions dictated to him by his reason, his sound instinct, and the situation at hand. » – the magnificent Ostap Bender, from 12 Chairs by Ilf & Petrov
With considerable dismay, I recently realized that Gahan Wilson had yet to be featured as a Tentacle Master, despite having thoroughly deserved this title not only with the sheer number of tentacles in his cartoons, but their impeccable quality as well. Co-admin RG wrote a lovely piece on this prolific artist in Gahan Paints What He Sees!, and we’ve included his work in a multitude of posts, but he certainly deserves this official TT accolade.
Without further ado… and with many thanks to co-admin RG, who figured out where these were published and on what date, as well as doing a lot of scanning and editing while I was grappling with myriad technical issues at work (instead of grappling with tentacles, he-he).
A friend sent recently sent me an issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from November 1974 that has that characteristic, lovely aroma of aged paper. Lo and behold, some Gahan Wilson tentacles lurked within! I came for Mushroom World by Stephen Tall, and stayed for the charming doodles introducing different sections of the magazine… Here are the three together, once again scanned & processed by RG:
I can’t help returning to Warren Kremer (today’s his birthday, not coincidentally; he was born on June 26, 1921, passing away on July 23, 2003), first because I adore his work, and second because I quite concur with Jon B. Cooke‘s bold but sensible assertion that Kremer…
« … is an extraordinarily talented artist. A master of design, character nuance and just plain exquisite drawing ability, he is perhaps the most underrated – or even worse, ignored – comic book creator of significance in the industry’s history. »
And why is that? A combination of working outside the superhero genre and of doing it, uncredited and for decades, on the ole Harvey Family Plantation.
This blog’sIt’s a Harvey World category might as well be called It’s a Kremer World, since he’s pretty much had the spotlight to himself.
But Kremer’s comics career precedes his arrival at Harvey; after working for the pulps in the late 1930s, he entered the comic book field, and a sizeable chunk of his early work was done for Ace Magazines (1940-56), and this is the area we’ll be exploring today.
Happy birthday, Mr. Kremer — wherever it is you may roam!
Sometimes I stumble upon these comics I’d never previously heard of (or if I had, I had clearly promptly forgotten in a merciful fit of amnesia) but that have a hundred-something issue runs. For instance, I don’t remember this… sophisticated, steel-torso-ed and silver-haired fox at all. How poor my life must have been!
Created by Mike Grell, sword-and-sorcery champion Travis Morgan (actually an American pilot who accidentally discovers a new world in Earth’s hollow core) fights for the freedom of people from Skartaris – and also looks really good in a loincloth. Grell based Morgan on himself, using his experience as a former member of the Air Force (as an illustrator) and his own goatee* as a starting point, though hopefully the loincloth was an improvisation.
That Grell freely borrowed from Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughset al. and peppered this regurgitation with Greek-mythology creatures (harpies, unicorns, a Pegasus, minotaurs, the Atlanteans…) is not by itself enough to condemn this comic, because I’m trying very hard to be fair about it. However, given the stilted dialogue, ridiculous costumes and dubious anatomy, it is distinctly starting to look like Warlord is a chapter of comic book history that’s best forgotten.
But one thing I can say about him is that in his many (MANY) fight scenes, he often struggles against tentacles, whether they belong to an amœba, an actual octopus, a plant, or a dinosaur-thing.
Let’s have a look at those tentacles I was promising.
After the Tower of Fear, we get the Citadel of Death – a perfectly logical transition.
Skipping ahead a few issues, we find that Morgan added some nice billowing sleeves to his outfit.
And now we go into non-Grell territory. Does this make the art or the scripting a little better? Yes, actually, for a little while. The Jurgens-Adkins team, for one thing, can draw horses that actually look like horses (okay, unicorns, whatever). They also do some fun stuff with panel transitions. Witness these two, admittedly fun, pages, taken from Curse of the Unicorn, scripted by Cary Burkett, pencilled by Dan Jurgens and inked by Dan Adkins. This was published in Warlord no. 72 (August 1983).
Here is the same team working on the next issue’s continuation, Cry Plague, scripted by Cary Burkett and Jennifer Reinhold, pencilled by Dan Jurgens and inked by Dan Adkins. It was published in Warlord no. 73 (September 1983).
Warlord lasted 133 issues, all the way until winter, 1988. The last couple of years also involved tentacles. For instance, this page from The Kraken Pentacle, scripted by Michael Fleisher, pencilled by Ron Randall and inked by Pablo Marcos. This story was published in Warlord no. 119 (July 1987). Morgan has a bad case of ugly horse teeth in this issue, but thankfully they’re not too visible on this page.
There are tentacles on 120’s cover, too, but it’s just too ugly to share here. The inside stories, alas, just get worse and worse (and they were none too hot to start with), dragging in characters from Jack Kirby‘s New Gods, to add insult to injury.
And so a comic that was never great to begin with – but had its readable moments, somewhere in the middle – finished as a steaming pile of shit. I can go back to pretending it never existed 😉
Admire the dashing near-nudity of jewel-loving Travis Morgan and go on to greener pastures…
*Now if Grell based Travis Morgan upon himself, and since Travis Morgan is just Grell’s Green Arrow stripped naked and with white instead of blond hair, and given that Grell’s GA is a continuation of Neal Adams’ GA, does it follow that Adams begat, or at least designed, Mike Grell?
« In the last analysis, a pickle is a cucumber with experience. » — Irena Chalmers
Earlier this week, the world lost another of its greatest cartoonists in Nikita Mandryka (October 20, 1940 – June 13, 2021), and he’s been among my lifelong favourites, thanks to his accessible, deceptively simple style and its nervous, explorative vitality. I’ve written about Mandryka’s Ailleurs some time ago, so there’s no pressing need to rehash his biography.
This freed me to opt for another tack this time. Since Nikita’s work is all-but-untranslatable (between the argot and the puns and general free-form lunacy… I’m not Even Going to Try) and his pages too dense for meaningful large-scale extraction, I’ve selected a sort of random number of panels — eleven seemed right (and winnowing things down was predictably exacting); Hope you like them.
Encore merci, Monsieur Mandryka!
For more Concombre Masqué and all things Mandryka (did you know it was he who reportedly coined Métal Hurlant‘s title? ‘Howling Metal’ would have been such a better name than ‘Heavy Metal’… and ironically more Metal), check out his website (while it lasts). In french, hope you won’t mind!
JLA’s roster has rotated throughout the years, but for the sake of this post, only the seven original members will get cephalopod tussling privileges! Here they are, with the conspicuous absence of Batman and Superman who are no doubt rushing behind the scenes to rescue everybody (but don’t worry, we’ll get to them as well):
I’ll start with Superman, otherwise he’ll get offended – you know how susceptible he can be. Rather, a double whammy of Superman and Flash, who stumble upon some rather adorable (aside from their propensity to eating people) tentacled aliens. Of course our superheroes decide to make a race out of it, because concentrating on saving some planet or other is clearly not exciting enough – and Batman just happened to be hanging around to give the starting signal. Some afternoons are just that quiet. Race to Save the Universe!, scripted by Denny O’Neil, pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Joe Giella, was published in World’s Finest Comics no. 198 (November 1970, DC).
Nevertheless, this dynamic duo does allow itself to get distracted from its marathon, just long enough to defeat this green cutie:
Incidentally, Superman already has a Tentacle Tuesday all to himself (Tentacle Tuesday: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Tentacle!) Still, here he is collaborating (more like ‘rescuing’) Jimmy Olsen from an intriguing green (why must they always be green?) monstrosity with worm-like tentacles. Ugh, not the most appealing. These pages are from The Voyage of the Mary Celeste II!, scripted by Jerry Siegel, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein and published in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen no. 75 (March 1964, DC).
The cover story is The Alien Who Doomed Robin, scripted by Jerry Coleman and inked by Sheldon Moldoff.
Our next JLA member is the Martian Manhunter, whom I have a strange soft spot for. It’s well known that girls just can’t resist green skin! In honour of this bias, here are not one, but two excerpts from stories featuring tentacles front and centre.
First, two pages from The Beings in the Color Rings, scripted by Dave Wood and illustrated by Joe Certa, published in House of Mystery no. 148 (January 1965, DC).
And for dessert, a page from The Supernatural Masterpieces!, scripted by Dave Wood and illustrated by Joe Certa, published in House of Mystery no. 150 (April 1965, DC).
Naturally, Aquaman has encountered more than a handful of octopuses in his long undersea career – I went on about that in some length in Tentacle Tuesday: Aquaman and his Octopus Sidekicks. I have plenty more where that came from, so there surely be a part II to that particular tale… in the meantime, here is a rather striking cover that didn’t make it into that post.
The cover story is Glag the Destroyer, scripted by Bob Haney, pencilled by Howard Purcell and inked by Sal Trapani.
Last… and maybe least, because I could never warm up to him… is Green Lantern. The following pages are from a story pencilled by Gil Kane, who doesn’t generally get glowing reviews from WOT. Nevertheless co-admin RG wrote an ingenious post combining our common dubiousness about Kane and percolated it through specifically Green Lantern covers – the result is Hot Streak: Gil Kane’s Green Lantern, which impressed, if not quite convinced, me.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of the Justice League of America as filtered through the rather eccentric lens of tentacles.
« A kid one time fell asleep chewing Bubble Yum, and he woke up with his mouth full of spider eggs. » — Some nameless rumour-monger
The other day, a neighbour was asking me whether it was a safe for his Golden Retriever puppy to eat the worms it was digging up (I was impressed), the guy presuming that said worms were quite filthy and rife with germs. I replied that no, it’s probably all the rooting through the trash and gobbling up whatever it finds that’s giving the pup gastric distress. Worms, in fact, are considered a delicacy in many a culture, including some European ones. Not that I’ve indulged: just like The Kinks’ Apeman, I’m a strict vegetarian.
This brought to mind those 1970s rumours of earthworms serving as filler in McDonald’s burgers (never mind that worms are a far costlier ingredient than is beef). Which led in turn to the equally-outlandish notion that the secret of Bubble Yum’s softness (introduced in 1975 by Life Savers, it was the first soft bubble gum ever concocted) lay in its containing spider eggs. Again, steady procurement would have proved quite a daunting challenge.
But the bubble was about to burst (or at least deflate somewhat), as reported by The New York Times (March 29, 1977):
The Great Spider Egg Mystery remains unsolved but it may yet have several happy endings. The mystery concerns Bubble Yum, a popular new bubble gum that has, in a year, overtaken such symbols of earlier childhoods as Dubble Bubble and Bazooka. A few weeks ago came toil and trouble: the unexplained spread of lurid rumors among children in the New York area that, gasp!, Bubble Yum contained spider eggs (or, according to haughtier youthful accounts, caused cancer). Stores which had up to then been unable to stock enough to meet demand suddenly saw sales plummet. Last week, the manufacturer, Life Savers, Inc., took out full‐page ads in 30 area newspapers to combat the rumors.
This is not the first time the bubble gum business has been beset by evil rumor. When Jimmy Carter was a boy, youngsters in Sumter County, Georgia, were scared off by reports that bubble gum was made with snake oil —until they were reassured by an ad in the Americus Times‐Recorder. Nor is bubble gum normally regarded as the stuff of moral lessons. Its history, since it was invented by Walter Diemer in 1928, is marked by such milestones as packaging it with baseball cards (1933) or making it squeakless (1953).
But there is something more significant, and appealing, in the open way in which Life Savers has chosen to deal with its problem. We hope the spider egg rumors are expunged as successfully now as the snake oil rumors were then. And there will be a happier ending still if the subject is properly understood to be not bubble gum but canard. No consumer is too young to learn the malign effects of rumor or to understand that there will always be someone, not always in youthful innocence, eager to raise the cry—whether about Communists in government, environment, energy or bubble gum—of “spider eggs.”
Susan M. Smith wrote, in her 1989 thesis, Consumer Rumors and Corporate Communications:
Whether the rumor is isolated or widespread, the company must select media that reach the rumor’s community of interest, and particularly, its influential leaders. The importance of this is shown by what happened after a rumor episode in New York City for the Life Saver’s Company. The company conducted an all-out attack to combat a rumor in 1977 that the company’s innovative, new soft chewing gum. Bubble Yum, contained spider eggs. It sought publicity, inserted full-page newspaper ads, and sent letters with a copy of the ad to the city’s PTA groups, school principals, and retail outlets.
The campaign successfully stopped the rumor, but Bubble Yum’s New York sales did not recover for many years. It turns out that even though the company had blanketed the city with its rumor denial, it never spoke directly to product users, the school-age children, to bolster confidence in the product. The selection of inappropriate media makes the refutation message miss the rumour’s public allowing the rumor to continue to spread or delaying recovery from the rumor.
But I suppose all this controversy merely seems quaint now, what with all today’s heavy weaponizing of misinformation. Besides, the bubblegum market has been rather moribund in the past few decades, since apparently Nobody Likes to Chew Gum Anymore.
For a bit of sugar high nostalgia, I’ll leave you with a pair of vintage Bubble Yum ads: 1976’s brand introduction, featuring The Flavor Fiend;
Being in the throes of a heatwave is no fun. Given that I currently feel like my brain is melting, I shall keep this post to a minimum of text and a maximum of visual thrills. Luckily, today’s little collection of pretty forgotten comic book covers is quite fun, with covers that tantalize and mystify. Some of them also involve a lot of splashing around, which is a distinctly enjoyable thought right now. Let’s dive in, shall we?
« The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself. » — Virginia Woolf
It has dawned on me that we’ve been neglecting the romance genre of late, and so the time has come to remedy this regrettable situation. To that end, I’ve opted to spotlight some early work by Spanish-Argentine master José Luis García-López (born 1948, Pontevedra, Spain).
If you ask me, Mr. García-López is far under-appreciated. His graceful but unassuming virtuosity, and the seeming ease with which he wields it, makes it too easy to take him for granted. And while he’s tackled just about every major character (and many a minor one) in the DC Comics stable, much of it has been behind the scenes, in the way of style sheets and promotional artwork.
Meanwhile, in comic books, he’s mostly made pedestrian scripts* shine more brightly than they deserved. But there’s only so much, er… polishing one can do.
As it stands, my favourite portion of his œuvre is the romance comics he illustrated for Charlton early in his career, roughly 1968-74, before he moved to New York to launch his North American phase. While my predilection for his romantic material is a minority opinion, I’m not alone in this, I’m relieved to report.
It seems to me that, as a man who can clearly draw anything at all, JLGL’s chops are largely squandered on superheroes and such. But, in comics as in life, romance is hard. As Mr. García-López confirmed in the definitive interview he granted in 2010 to the championne of romance comics, Sequential Crush‘s Jacque Nodell: « Even now, I consider romance stories the most difficult genre to illustrate properly. » Bingo.
If you’ve at all read comics from the early 70s, romance or otherwise, you’ll have noticed that clothing and hair fashions can generally be termed (charitably) ‘of their time’. Not so much here. Have we come full circle, or does JLGL have a secret? He confides (do read the full entrevista… it’s well worth it):
« In those years we also had photo-novel magazines (like the foto-romanzo or fumetti in Italy) and they were very useful to design the characters and for the romantic scenes. Doing a good kiss without a good reference was very hard, honest. Besides, I was lucky to have two kindly girl friends that helped me with fashion advice and suggestions and even posed for me. That period was full of learning experiences – there is no better way to learn to draw than from a living model. »
Now, artwork aside, why am I fond of this particular story?
I love the mise-en-scène: characters are introduced in the background and without dialogue before they enter the stage. Namely Dorothy in the first panel of page 2 and ‘that beanpole’, Jim Loomis in the first panel of page 6. His first line comes in the final panel of page 7, but he and Dorothy have been staring holes into each other from the start. That’s great staging, not to mention something that, arguably, only the comics medium can achieve effectively.
I also enjoy the evolution of Amanda and Dorothy’s friendship; at first testy and tentative, Amanda’s calling her roommate ‘Dot’ by page 7. And they learn from, and support, each other. No cheap betrayal in this one.
It’s a lovely change of page for the genre that, once gridiron ‘hero’ and BMOC Dan Sruba commits his inevitable transgression… he’s gone (save for a passing mention from Les): no ‘second chance’, no confrontation, no revenge, no melodrama.
Despite the headline, I’m reading this as the story of Dot and Jim’s romance. Amanda’s interest in Les, beyond playing matchmaker for her roommate, is uncertain.
My wife was disappointed in the ending, and I can certainly see why: will Dorothy lose her fire and her beliefs? I prefer to think not — she was looking for an equal, respectful relationship, and I do think she’s found it with Loomis. And she had him well before word one, and she was clad in glasses, picket sign and dungarees. The guy seems like a keeper to me. They’re both quiet, thoughtful observers, for the most part. I like their odds.
There are a few glitches here and there, but given that the script had to first be translated into Spanish (Mr. García-López claims to still not speak English to this day… technically) to be illustrated, there may have been here and there a nuance missed, a description gone astray. Loomis isn’t quite a beanpole, and neither is Dorothy, for that matter. And ‘Plain Janes’? (page 8) And I scarcely think that Les and Jim were planning a hatchet piece (given Jim’s evident interest in Dorothy, for one), no-one would mistake these two for Plain Janes. Well, that’s always been a systemic weakness of the romance genre, in comics and elsewhere: the plain one, the skinny one, the rejected one? Still gorgeous.
What’s that? Oh, right. Fine, here’s that « FREE Pin-Up Poster of David Cassidy » already.
*as a well-scripted exception, I submit the opening chapter of David V. Reed‘s The Underworld Olympics ’76!, in Batman no. 272 (Feb. 1976, DC).
Today’s Tentacle Tuesday doesn’t have an over-arching theme, other than featuring some bits and bobs I’ve accumulated – from something drawn in 1942 to a cartoon created by computer in 2020. In a sense, this way of proceeding is much closer to the way my brain works, jumping from theme to theme and adding brackets within brackets. This is somewhat off topic, but incidentally, if that’s the way your brain works, too, I highly recommend David Foster Wallace‘s non-fiction material (read 27 of his articles and essays here!) and The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the World War by Jaroslav Hašek for a deliciously rambling approach to story telling and arguments.
If you’re not already following WOT’s favourite cartoonist Roger Langridge on Instagram, I highly recommend doing so: his daily slice-of-life strips provide an interesting glimpse into the author’s family life, inner dialogue, and artistic endeavours. You can also support him on Patreon (he has a measly 54 supporters right now – compare that to the thousands of subscribers boasted by some considerably less talented comics artists, who shall remain nameless). The following daily from December, 2020 features the aforementioned introspection, a glimpse at the artistic process, Garfield and tentacles.
Texan cartoonist Sam Hurt is the creator of Eyebeam, and I say that with a similar reverence that one would employ in talking about some deity that has concocted a self-governing universe. It is a strange, a bitter-sweet, topsy-turvy place with its own impeccable logic, to which our world remains criminally indifferent. Tackling the problem of talking about Eyebeam, which is both the name of the protagonist and the title of the comic strip, is something we haven’t yet had the courage of doing on this blog. Still, co-admin RG bravely dipped his toe in these waters and talked about a connected comic series – read his All Hail Peaches, Queen of the Universe! and admire his courage. I will also add that Sam Hurt is a great painter, and that I am lucky to have one of this paintings hanging on my office wall (best Christmas gift, ever).
From its humble beginnings around 1978, Eyebeam has grown and survived (with some interruptions) to this day! Strips from 1996 until now are available on GoComics. Someday, fortified with some Dutch courage, we will do a proper post about it, we promise.
I’ve never actually read Usagi Yojimbo, the eminently popular rōnin comic book epic by Stan Sakai. Rolling Stones’ slapdash list of best graphic novels, insultingly titled The 50 Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels (which immediately makes one feel that they consider non-superhero comics somehow inferior), places it at 43. I will doubtlessly get around to at least reading one volume or two at some point – Sakai is definitely a talented artist, and I have nothing against anthropomorphic animals when they’re well-drawn. However, a dedication to reading the whole series is not for the faint-hearted: there are 35 books in total, which have been collected into nine omnibus volumes in more recent years, a considerable time commitment.
‘Usagi Yojimbo’ literally means something like ‘rabbit bodyguard’, which is what the main character, Miyamoto Usagi, is. Here he is fighting an octopus or two!
Theodor Seuss Geisel, far better known under the pen name of Dr. Seuss, was not only the author of famous books for children, but also a perceptive political cartoonist. Between 1941 and 1943, he was working for PM, a New York daily newspaper, and this is when he produced a series of satirical cartoons about the Policy of Appeasement, the British policy makers’ attempt at avoiding a war with Germany by conceding to some of Hitler’s demands.