Yet what had he to fear if this place were evil – was he not an upright and godly man who held no traffic with evil? If wicked spirits had power over such men as he, there would be no justice in it.
“That’s true,”said a voice behind him, “there isn’t.” — The Gibsons*
I must confess I had something else planned for today’s post, but I learned, at the last minute, of the existence of material that would vastly augment my intended post — and I wouldn’t want to drop the ball on that topic. One less piece to plan for the next Countdown, then!
I suppose I had thus far refrained from touching upon DC’s long-running Ghosts (1971-82) — too obvious? Well, here we are. Ghosts, like its presumed model, Ripley’s Believe It or Not: True Ghost Stories (1965-80, Gold Key), was always tame and rather formulaic, but frequently boasted wonderful artwork, and definitely great covers.
Within its pages lurks this gorgeous three-pager written by Carl Wessler, pencilled by the mysterious (how appropriate!) J. Noriega, and embellished by the peerless Alfredo Alcala.
*« A couple called ‘The Gibsons’ won a New Statesman competition in Britain with a 200-worder about a man who grows increasingly nervous while walking down a winding moonlit road. » — From Dr. Van Helsing’s Handy Guide to Ghost Stories, Part III, by Kurt Van Helsing, in Twilight Zone Magazine vol. 1 no. 7 (Oct. 1981, TZ Publications).
« The man asked, “Who are you?” “I am Death, who makes everyone equal.” » *
Greetings! Today I am giving my co-admin RG a much-needed chance to rest, and taking over Hallowe’en count-down duties. He protested a bit, but I was persuasive. Oh, don’t worry about him – he’s quite comfortable in the basement, and I may even unchain him at the end of the evening.
We have previously dipped a toe into Gespenster Geschichten (Ghost Stories) territory before, but – and this will come as no surprise – it was through the peculiar prism of tentacles. (For example, see Tentacle Tuesday: A Torrent of Teutonic Tentacles.) Yet this long-running (1974-2006) series published by Bastei Verlag also offers plenty of Hallowe’en-appropriate thrills: witches, ghosts, demented scientists, cold-blooded killers… you name it, Gespenster Geschichten has it! Here are a few covers which seem particularly appropriate for this wonderfully dreary, grey October evening.
The insides of these issues are of lesser interest: reprints of American horror comics, and, later on in the series, new content by artists local and migrated (Argentine, Spanish, Italian, Yugoslav…) Within some of these pages dwell reprints from Gold Key Comics’ Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery (for example, with artwork by John Celardo, Sal Trapani, and Canadians Jack Sparling and Win Mortimer). I think we can safely conclude that the covers are considerably more horrifying than the innards of these issues…
With that out of the way, let’s see what German ghost stories have in store for us!
This charming little doggo was a rather… creative interpretation of the following painting, created for Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 48 by George Wilson:
So you see how that particular Teutonic ball rolls! I admire George Wilson, but I admit I much prefer the German interpretation of this scene.
Since Hallowe’en isn’t as widely celebrated in Europe — Ireland and the rest of the U.K. aside, obviously — as it is in North America, it’s not always evident and easy to keep the countdown truly international. No worries: in such a situation, I’m no stickler — I’ll take the spirit of the law over its letter.
The first (and until now, only) time I posted about Thomas Ott, I wound up with a contender for least-popular post in this blog’s history. Have I learned my lesson? Heavens, no. I live, perhaps naïvely, in the belief that our audience has grown in the interim, and that said audience is ever more attuned and receptive to our quirks.
« Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. » — The Black Cat (1845)
What can I tell you about the legendary English cartoonist and bon vivantHunt Emerson — born in 1952 in Newcastle and still devilishly active these days — that he can’t tell you in his own words?
Did you hear the joke about fungus? You won’t like it, but it will grow on you.
As promised – though you folks may by far prefer tentacles to mushrooms – I am delighted to present this post about mushrooms both real and imaginary.
First of all why mushrooms? Those who know me are aware of my passion for fungus – it’s a gastronomic interest, as both co-admin RG and I love to cook with them, and also a platonic one, an admiration for their beauty and adaptability. In terms of aliens-on-earth, fungus is surely up there with the extraterrestrial octopus. We are currently on vacation, so this is the perfect moment to both admire some of our finds, and rediscover mushrooms in comics.
Usually people react in one of two ways to mentions of gathering wild mushrooms – ‘but how do you know you won’t poison yourself?‘ or ‘magic mushrooms! yeah!‘ The first question is pertinent, although there’s no need to take that horrified tone, and the second reaction is more than slightly one-track-minded.
Just like in real life, comics fungi come in all shapes and sizes: from cute appearances in the background of a cartoony comic, to psychedelic manifestations of the underground, to horror stories peppered with a slice or two of the deadly toadstool, and everything in between! I’ve tried to go for maximum contrast in this post, and include a little bit of everything. Dive in, like we dove in yesterday into our hedgehog-and-honey-mushrooms-pasta yesterday 😉
Speaking of Mercier, I love this anecdote: « One day, Claude McKay, the editor-in-chief of Smith’s Weekly, took a dim view of an X Emile Mercier had drawn under the upwardly extended tail on a cat. After a few stern words about “dirty gimmicks in cartoons”, the grim-faced McKay instructed Mercier to get rid of the cross.This presented Mercier with a challenge. He was someone who used to say you “have to think funny as well as draw funny” and he was not keen to let McKay’s prudish approach to his cat go unchallenged. Mercier’s solution was to draw a miniature roller blind under the cat’s perpendicular tail. He was in no doubt the blind would draw more attention to the cat’s anus than the X had. Fortunately for him, McKay saw the funny side of the addition and let the cartoon run. Not a man to push his luck too far, Mercier drew all future cats without an X at the base of their tails. »
« By 1948, the Italians had begun to pull themselves together, demonstrating once more their astonishing ability to cope with disaster, which is so perfectly balanced by their absolute inability to deal with success. » — Gore Vidal
The accomplished Italian graphic designer, animator and illustrator Niso Ramponi (1924-2002), is perhaps most renowned (it’s all relative, but not to actual merit!) under his pinup cartooning nom de plume of “Kremos”.
Ramponi champion Joseph V. Procopio sheds some light on the genesis of this alias:
« Ramponi’s pen name, Kremos, was born of necessity: Like many of his generation, after the war Ramponi was conscripted into the Italian army for a year of service. Loath to abandon his budding cartooning and illustration career but barred by military regulations from working as a freelancer, Ramponi conspired with a friend named Sandro Cremo, who acted as his intermediary to secure and deliver freelance art assignments on Ramponi’s behalf. To maintain the ruse, Ramponi signed his work Kremos, a pseudonym that stuck even after his discharge from military duty. »
My own initial exposure to Ramponi/Kremos’ work came through Lawrence Lariar and Ben Roth’s splendid, but woefully short-lived Best Cartoons From Abroad collections (1955-60), which contrasted favourably against the genteel contemporary American humour anthologies. Fortuitously, Signor Procopio eventually assembled, circa 2015, twin collections of Ramponi’s finest cartoon work, ‘Kremos: The Lost Art of Niso Ramponi‘, volumes 1 (b&w) and 2 (colour). Grab ’em while you can!
Here’s a mixed even dozen of my favourite Kremos cartoons. Buon appetito!
« It’s true that Gourmelin’s world has everything to unsettle the general public: it contains as much horror as black humour, as much morbidness as sombre poetry. But to classify his drawings in a well-defined genre is a hopeless enterprise, and we well know how our times need clear, idiotic and exact labels. This relegates Gourmelin to some fuzzy area, a sort of no man’s land where one can find anything — even fanatics — but never a thing to eat or to drink. » — from the artist’s presentation in the anthology Les chefs-d’œuvre du dessin d’humour*(1965, Les éditions Planète; ).
While France’s Jean Gourmelin (1920-2011) started out as a painter and practiced — and often mastered — scores of artistic techniques and media (etching, technical drawing, sculpture, stained glass, wallpaper design, and so on…), he’s more commonly remembered for his stark black and white, wordless pen and ink drawings. Even as they remain open to interpretation, their power and eloquence are undeniable.
While his earliest drawings appeared in print sporadically from 1951, his crucial turning point was his 1961 encounter with Belgian writer-historian Jacques Sternberg, who encouraged Gourmelin to emphasise, in his work, idea over form. This canny shift in approach soon landed his newly-galvanised work in the pages of Planète, crucially, but also those, just as notable, of Bizarre, Midi-minuit Fantastique, Pariscope, Hara-Kiri… with occasional forays into other media, for instance some striking production design for a 1967 TV adaptation of Gustav Meyrink‘s classic novel, The Golem. Here’s an unexpected (and fine!) article in English about Gourmelin’s work on the film.
Here, then, are some (dark) highlights of Gourmelin’s work in the 1960s.
*It says something (flattering, if you ask me) about the Gallic character that Gourmelin’s work would fall under the category of “humorous”. We’re a looong way from, say… Dave Barry.
Occasionally, I like going with the flow when selecting the topic for a Tentacle Tuesday. I recently traded for a Junji Ito book I’d never heard of, Remina, and as one of its highlights (um… possibly the only highlight, but more about this later) is the profusion of tentacles within, it seemed like a natural fit for a topic of discussion.
We have only mentioned Junji Ito once before (in Tentacle Tuesday: Octopods Dig Manga!), but I am a fan of his work – or at least of the best of his work. In my assessment, that would be the genuinely disturbing Gyo (with the catchy subtitle of ‘The Death-Strench Creeps‘) and the haunting Uzumaki, as well as a handful of excellent short stories.
I’m by no means a horror manga pundit, but I’ve sampled a certain number of works by mangakas whose work has been translated to English, and found most of these œuvres quite unappealing, be it because of incompetent art, more human cruelty than I can stomach, far too much soap-opera-style drama, or glaring plot loopholes. Ito is not without his flaws, but something sets him apart from other authors working in a similar vein: he can depict stomach-churning gore and moments of quiet dread with equal aplomb. Cartoonists who rely on carnage to horrify their readers are ten a penny, those with a more subtle approach are few; those who can effortlessly transition from one to the other are something special.
As in that old joke about the horse that always takes its rider to the nearest pub, Ito does have a favourite approach: he starts with a most mundane object or incident, elicits a delectably menacing atmosphere out of it, and then gives it all a good twirl until the spiralling events send the protagonists (and sometimes the whole country, if not the whole planet as well) into the welcoming arms of total, uncompromising Armageddon. One might argue that he does that because it’s easier to finish it all than to think of a ‘proper’ ending, but it gives his work a certain surreal quality I really appreciate – everybody is going to die, and now that this little matter is out of the way, we can concentrate on the creative ways this is going to happen.
Remina was serialized in Big Comics Spirits from September 2004 to July 2005. The English volume (released by Viz Media, who have published the bulk of Ito material in English, slowly making their way through his whole bibliography in excellently designed hardcover editions) was released in December 2020. The plot concerns itself with a scientist who discovers a new planet and names it Remina in honour of his beautiful daughter. Of course, the planet turns out to be hurtling towards Earth at physics-defying speeds, annihilating everything in its path (which the main scientist somehow is completely unaware of, until his many lab assistants inform him of the latest developments).
In (not entirely unbelievable) leap of logic, Japanese citizens decide that the impending destruction is caused by Remina, previously an immensely popular and celebrated girl, and that executing this ‘witch’ is going to solve the problem. What follows is a series of chase scenes, with a giant crowd pursuing Remina throughout the progressively more and more destroyed city. Remina’s three protectors (the president of her fan club, her manager, and some uber-rich fanboy who tries to rape her later in the book) drag her around, trying to keep her safe from the murderous crowd, but they don’t do such a great job – she gets crucified next to her dad but survives, set free, captured again, flogged, tortured, crucified again, and so on.
It doesn’t help that Remina, like a lot of Ito’s pretty creations, doesn’t really have a personality. She just sobs, screams for her daddy and her lost love (the manager, who apparently she was profoundly in love with), and implores people to just leave her alone. Scenes of crucifixion and the creepy robes worn by her pursuers indeed suggest religious fervour – as the earth’s gravity changes, cities are destroyed, volcanoes erupt etc., the only thing almost everybody is interested in is Remina’s mutilation and dismemberment.
Still, there are some fun moments, most of these involving tentacles! Remina the planet has a giant eye and a coquettish, tentacular tongue that it flicks out to swallow the moon just as Remina the human is about to be killed.
It uses the same ‘tongue’ to lick Earth and accelerate its spinning…
… which sends everyone airborne, and gives rise to funny kung-fu-in-the-air scenes as yet another protector kicks the collective asses of Remina’s would-be executioners.
Then there’s planet Remina’s surface, all writhing tentacles, acid pools and noxious fumes. That’s where most of the tentacle enjoyment lies.
Somewhat atypically, there is even a happy ending, albeit one involving some of the main characters floating around in space in an atomic shelter bunker with a year’s worth of provisions (and hopefully oxygen?)
« There are two kinds of Arctic problems, the imaginary and the real. Of the two, the imaginary are the most real. » — Vilhjalmur Stefansson
As it’s been a record-shattering scorcher of a week over much of North America, I’ve been daydreaming of cooler, much cooler climes whilst simmering at my desk. And why not make a post of it? A couple of years ago, I picked up one of the finest comics I’ve ever encountered, Racontars arctiques: l’intégrale (2018, Sarbacane). Its myriad of virtues, subtle and obvious, made it easy to enjoy, but a challenging work to dissect and properly discuss. But here we are — hope I did it justice!
Danish writer Jørn Riel (b. 1931 in Odense) spent the better part of his twenties and thirties in Greenland as part of a scientific expedition. This sojourn in turn inspired a successful series of tall tales set in the Arctic, fanciful accounts of the lives of hardy explorers, hunters and Inuit natives. His works have been translated into fifteen languages, and in an unusual twist, English isn’t among these.
French cartoonist-illustrator Hervé Tanquerelle (b. 1972 in Nantes) might be termed a cartoonist’s cartoonist, with all that entails: he hasn’t achieved superstar status, but it’s not through any lack of talent or toil. While I’ve often lamented the rather banal tragedy of great North-American artists who can (and do) cruise through decades-long careers without ever coming within hailing distance of a decent script, Hervé Tanquerelle’s path has been paved with glorious scenarios, most of them provided by writer-artist compères: Professeur Bell (with Joann Sfar, 2002-06, which I’ve featured here); Le legs de l’alchimiste (with Hubert Boulard, 2002-07); Les faux visages (with David B., 2012), and his most commercially successful opus thus far, Racontars arctiques (with Gwen De Bonneval, 2009-13). He has just completed work on the ambitious Le dernier Atlas (with De Bonneval and Fabien Vehlmann, 2018-2021), nothing less than a gritty, SF-infused alternate version of the Algerian War.
For Racontars, Tanquerelle even travelled to Greenland with a group of scientists and artists, with Jørn Riel among them, which added layers of authenticity and personality to what was already an undeniable labour of love. Try to envision your average US cartoonist putting out this kind of effort and commitment (one notable exception being, of course, the prodigious William Stout)! Anyway, Tanquerelle made fruitful use of this experience and its attendant documentation with a semi-autobiographical ligne claire account (fittingly published by Casterman, Tintin’s forever home), Groenland Vertigo (2017).
Despite essaying the thankless role of the invisible middleman, Gwen De Bonneval (Tanquerelle’s fellow Nantois, né Gwénaël de Bonneva in 1973), deserves full marks for admirably condensing Riel’s tales without sacrificing their appeal, not to mention cherry-picking the ones most ripe for adaptation (confirmed by co-admin ds, who’s read both the prose and the comics versions).
Jørn Riel defines a racontar (rumours or gossip don’t quite convey the meaning), as “a true story that could pass for a lie. Unless it’s the other way round“. I hope the language barrier doesn’t prove too much of a hurdle. These marvels truly offer a fantastic opportunity for the discerning publisher… and, unless I missed something, the overdue scoop of Riel’s first English-language publication. Hello, Fantagraphics, D&Q…
« 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!