Today’s Tentacle Tuesday is a really fun one, given that its focus is the snazzy art of Richard Sala (1954-2020), deceased, alas, far too soon at 65, when he was about to launch a new webcomic.
Granted, perhaps the plots of his stories often don’t make that much sense. But! they’re awash in half-naked damsels, sad-eyed defeateds, vampires and ghouls of all kinds, a mad scientist or two, dark alleys and schoolgirl academies and strangely ominous museums and… all of this drawn in Sala’s easily recognizable, deliciously scary style. Peculia is definitely involved in this post (see co-admin RG’s Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 17), but so is Judy Drood, girl detective, plucky heroine and first-rate fighter… and a host of other characters! So follow me as I kick things off with some beautifully painted Evil Eye covers (and backs!) – Sala had an impeccable sense of colour.
I complimented Sala’s beautiful colour work earlier (and hopefully demonstrated this point!), but Sala’s black-and-white work is equally satisfying. Shall we have a look-see?
Some plant tentacles make an appearance in Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires (2013, Fantagraphics):
The Grave Robber’s Daughter (2007, Fantagraphics) spins the yarn of what happens when Judy Dredd is stranded in a strangely empty town… empty until the clowns come out, that is. I really enjoyed this 96-page tale (read it here), with its quick-paced, cohesive plot, top-notch art and of course a good dose of Coulrophobia. I don’t like clowns, either. Here are two pages highlighting Freddie, ‘the Crawling Thing’, and his manifold tentacles:
Finally, as a little bonus, I am including a pin-up that doesn’t have any tentacles to recommend it, but is otherwise perfectly appropriate to this not-quite-end-of-September. Co-admin RG has plenty up his sleeve with his upcoming Hallowe’en count-down, but I am allowing myself just one furtive foray into vampire territory…
Sala explains: « According to the editor, I was one of only a few of the cartoonists asked to submit ideas whose submissions were ‘sex positive’. That is, according to him, most of the submissions by younger cartoonists were more in line with the kind of scatological, angry, ‘gross-out’, excretion-happy humor more typical of today, or focused on the adversarial relationship between men and women. My somewhat sweet oral sex joke seems pretty quaint in comparison, I guess. »
Today, let’s dip a toe (at the risk of losing it) into the midnight domain of Swedish cartoonist and filmmaker Max Andersson (b. 1962). It’s a relentlessly-perilous scene, but like Kaz’s Underworld comic strip or Arnt Jensen‘s Limbo video game, I find it unexpectedly comforting in spite of (and thanks to) all the darkness, both thematic and in density of ink. In Andersson’s case, might it be owing to the author’s kindness to his protagonists? That’s a factor with odds I rather favour.
I don’t doubt that certain readers of a more sensitive cast will differ, but I posit that the cheerful lack of clemency the artist affords the callous, the cruel and the pernicious makes Andersson’s universe a profoundly moral one. Contrary to, say, your average American action blockbuster, such a purge of the villainous doesn’t restore the status quo… because here, malevolence is the status quo. Andersson’s put-upon little people are true outsiders, and his stories feel like Kafka, but blessed with dénouements far merrier yet merited.
See? A happy ending and all, and even a rare glimpse of daylight.
Soon after he began to publish his work, Gary Groth spoke with Andersson (The Comics Journal no. 174 (Feb. 1995, Fantagraphics):
Groth: What would you point to as your defining influences? How did you develop this approach, style and point of view?
Andersson: What I always have in my backbone is the style of classic comics, the stuff I read when I was a kid.
G: I don’t see much Tintin.
A: No, but it’s there if you look closely. The basic technique of how to tell a story well. I try to do that because I want the storytelling to work, to be easy to read.
G: Were you influenced by sources outside of comics — film, literature?
And don’t leave out old cartoons! Andersson’s thoroughly animist way dovetails neatly with early animation’s unhinged, anything-can-happen mode. By which I mean that anything and everything possessed motion and sentience, be they boulders or pebbles, thunderclouds, petals or creepers, sparks or flames, pantaloons or braces, blunderbusses or bassoons…
About Pixy, fellow dweller-in-darkness Charles Burns exulted: « So you think it’s a cold, creepy, world out there, huh? Hah! Just wait’ll you get a load of Max Andersson’s Pixy… safe sex suits, buildings that eat people, drunken fœtuses with bazookas, money that shits on you, recyclable bodies… hey, wait a minute, that’s not creepy, that’s fun. MY kind of fun. »
For more dope on this important creator’s endeavours, do sidle over to his official website!
I’m afraid the appeal of Archie Goodwin’s (1937-1998) writing has always escaped me. As you’d expect with a career as busy and prolific as his was, there are notable exceptions*. But I think, as is often the case in comics, he gets a lot of credit for tepid, formulaic writing that happens to be masterfully illustrated. You know, like just about every story from the early Creepy and Eerie (Goodwin was editor and principal writer of the Warren line for its first four years or so) with their groan-inducing ‘shock’ endings: “But I’m a vampire, and we don’t like competition around here!” or “We ghouls don’t cotton much to werewolves!” or “You’ve guessed my secret too late — I’m a witch!” or “For I am… Death!“
On the other hand, he was a fine editor and, by all accounts, a terrific human being. In 2013, Mark Evanier put it this way: « At a time when some editors in comics were notorious for treating their freelancers with disrespect and yelling, Goodwin had a sterling reputation. He always would. Archie was nice. He was honest. »
It is to his great distinction that even such divisive, eternally-acerbic figures as Jim Shooter (« First and foremost, everyone loved Archie. Archie had a manner about him that you just couldn’t not like him. While he was tough as nails, and he was probably the best that passed through this business, he managed to do it without offending anyone. He managed to be respected and remain friends with everyone and do his job. ») and Alex Toth (« None of us were working there [at Warren ] for the money, because there wasn’t much. We were working there to work with Archie. ») reserved naught but effusive praise for the man.
But you know what I really like about Archie? His drawing, which was all-too-rarely showcased. While he did adjoin thumbnails layouts to his scripts, Goodwin’s drawings rarely appeared in print, aside from some jokey editorial asides at Marvel in the 1980s. Here’s Sinner, written and illustrated by Goodwin, from Wally Wood’s prozine Witzend no. 1 (Summer 1966).
Despite all this, Archie Goodwin’s greatest claim to fame simply has to be the tremendous legwork he did as Nero Wolfe’s assistant.
« Archie Goodwin’s first prose story was published by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which warned him he could not use Archie Goodwin as a pen name because it was a Rex Stout character in the Nero Wolfe books. According to Goodwin’s wife Anne T. Murphy, the magazine’s editors ‘then were so delighted when he wrote back to say that it was his real name that they used the anecdote as the introduction to the story, which ran in the July 1962 issue.’ »
*Notable exceptions: The Success Story, with art by Al Williamson (Creepy no. 1, 1964) has actual bite. Despite its rote-EC-revenge-from-beyond-the-grave finale, it’s a bitter parody of real-life comic-strip parasites such as Don Sherwood (Dan Flagg, The Partridge Family) and Alfred Andriola (Kerry Drake). There’s the tragically moving Island at World’s End, illustrated by Gray Morrow (Eerie no.4, July 1966). And a handful of inspired little tales that truly fired up the creativity of a freshly-emancipated Steve Ditko: Collector’s Edition (Creepy no. 10, Aug. 1966); Second Chance! (Creepy no. 13, Feb. 1967); Deep Ruby! (Eerie no. 6, Nov. 1966); and my very favourite, Room With a View (Eerie no. 3, May 1966… their first collaboration!). If anyone’s interested, the Goodwin-Ditko outings have been handsomely collected in Creepy Presents: Steve Ditko (2013, Dark Horse).
It must be said that Goodwin knew how to match a plot with the proper illustrator. As he explained, « I always tried to write the stories for individual artists. Sometimes, I’d ask them if there was a certain setting or a certain kind of story they were interested in, and I also knew what they did best. » It’s a shame that, overall, the stories themselves were so timid and unambitious, so mired in the glories of the past. Some people can’t help pulling their punches, I suppose.
**To give you a fair idea of Marvel’s delusions of corporate grandeur at the time, Epic Illustrated no. 2‘s convoluted and deceptive editorial credits read thus: Stan Lee (editor); Archie Goodwin (editorial director); James Shooter (consulting editor); Marian Stensgard; Louise Jones; Larry Hama; Ralph Macchio (editorial); Roy Thomas (contributing editor); Maggie Thompson (contributing editor); Don Thompson (contributing editor). Dollars to doughnuts that Goodwin and Louise Jones did all the actual work.
While concocting a post on a favourite oddball obscurity, the one-shot Alphabet Soup Kitchen (1990 Jabberwocky Graphix), I decided to reach out to one of its co-creators, the dapper Wayne ‘Wayno’ Honath, to see if he could shed some light on this delightfully batty project of yore. And did he ever come through!
In one of those happy cases of talent and perseverance rewarded, Wayno®nowadays splits creative duties on syndicated strip Bizarro with its originator, Dan Piraro (since 2018, though he’d been part of team Bizarro going back to 2009), with Wayno® ably handling the dailies and Mr. Piraro the Sundays. It’s a fact: Wayno®, thanks to his crisp visual style, sharp gag writing and encyclopedic grasp of cartooning history and archetypes, was just the right ink slinger for the task.
Without further delay, I cheerfully yield the floor to Wayno®, his superbly lucid recollections, and some choice letters from the Alphabet Soup Kitchen!
Sure, I remember doing Alphabet Soup Kitchen! Ted Bolman and I had traded minicomics through the mail, and appeared in some of the same publications. We may have collaborated earlier, but I don’t think so.
I don’t recall whose idea the book was, but it sounds like something I’d have done. I liked to define parameters or constraints for projects, and then work to complete the parts. We split up the alphabet so Ted would do the first half of “A,” then I’d do “B,” and we’d alternate to the end. We sent the pages to each other by mail.
There were two different printings. I printed it as one of my “No Way Comics” minis. The interior was black & white, and the wraparound covers were brown ink on an off-white textured stock. I used a local printer for my minis, and most of them were offset printed, not Xeroxed. (I did several “secret” publications in editions of 50 or fewer, and those were Xeroxed.) They’d offer a free ink color once a week, and that’s how the brown ink on the cover came about. I drew the inside cover endpapers.
After my minicomic version was published, Brad Foster contacted me about doing a larger reprint under his Jabberwocky Graphix imprint. I drew a new wraparound cover featuring characters from the interior. I included a photo of two men wearing some sort of jaw-braces to represent the Boho Brothers, and also drew these guys on the cover. I can’t recall whether the endpaper drawings were included in this edition. I have a copy somewhere, probably in my office/storage space. I believe that Brad Foster may have done the color work on the cover. Yes, just confirmed that on the Poopsheet Foundation webpage (a good source of minicomics images and info).
I also included copies of my original printing in one of two multi-packs I offered for sale. This was in a set called THE NO WAY MINICOMIC FUNBAG, which included Boho, Uncontrolled Copy, The World’s Most Dangerous Animal, and one bonus minicomic from my backstock. They were packaged in a plastic bag with a wraparound cover.
That’s as much as I can come up with off the top of my head!
I mentioned to Wayno® that I enjoyed his cover work for Dana Countryman’s Cool and Strange Music magazine (28 issues, 1996-2003), to which he responded:
Cool & Strange Music was great! I’m still friends with Dana Countryman, and I still admire that he was able to continue self-publishing it for so long, and always on schedule, and he always paid for the art. He was more reliable and professional than a lot of bigger mainstream publications I worked with!
Once more, three cheers and my most heartfelt thanks to Wayno® for his generosity and kindness. Best of luck with everything!
Back in August, I promised to follow Tentacle Tuesday: Dark Horse, Pt. 1 with another instalment of cephalopod material issued by this publisher. The time, as they say, has come! While I’m not always on board with the comics they opt to publish (rarely, I might even say), I do like today’s selections.
Dark Horse obtained the licence to produce James Bond comics in 1992. The result is a number of series and stand-alone comics – Serpent’s Tooth was the first, a three-part miniseries. The following two pages are from Serpent’s Tooth Part III: Mass Extinction, scripted by Doug Moench and illustrated by Paul Gulacy, published in James Bond 007: Serpent’s Tooth no. 3 (February 1993).
In 2007, Dark Horse stepped into a partnership with New Comic Company, who had earlier acquired from Warren the rights to Creepy and Eerie. The result was the gradual publishing of ‘archival’ hardcover collections of all issues of Creepy and Eerie magazines. In 2009, DH launched the ‘new’ Creepy Magazine, which mostly featured new stories, sprinkled with the odd reprint. A revived Eerie soon joined it.
The next story is Tentacle Master Mike Mignola‘s ‘Champion of the Worms‘, which held my lazy interest for a few pages… until I found out that it’s actually quite good. What a pleasant surprise for one who had such low expectations! It also brims over with tentacles. The following three pages are from ZombieWorld: Champion of the Worms (October 1997), scripted by Mignola and illustrated by Pat McEown.
Last but not least… Scarlet Traces is a sort of sequel to Ian Edginton and D’Israeli‘s adaptation of H. G. Wells‘ The War of the Worlds, with heavy Dan Dare and Doctor Who references. This story wears its Englishness on its sleeve!
« I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. » — Henry David Thoreau
Have you picked out that special pumpkin for your fast incoming (dark, presumably) celebrations? If not, better get on it — someone (or something) else may be casting covetous glances and about to call dibs.
The lovely barefoot damsel is Richard Sala’s plucky heroïne (well, one of them!) Peculia. She was the star of Sala’s showcase title Evil Eye (1998-2004, Fantagraphics), as well as the graphic novel Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires (2005). Fret not, she can fend for herself.
As you may or may not have heard, Mr. Sala was one of the many notables we lost over the course of this nearly unparalleled Annus horribilis. Let’s remember him through this heartfelt eulogy penned by his closest friend and esteemed colleague, Mr. Daniel Clowes.
« Then — when O’Flaherty turned on the light, his blood crystallized! »
Its classic cover aside, this Fawcett one-shot is barely worth reading, save for the utterly bizarre Footprints on the Ceiling.
The gangsters O’Flaherty and Flitcher train a revived dead dog to be a trick dog on stage. But they have to fight off hordes of skeletal zombies coming after them to bring the dog where it belongs – in the province of the dead.
Who came up with that scenario? (it’s not merely a rhetorical question: no one seems to officially know). Might its loopiness have in some small way inspired Bob Burden’s gonzo Flaming Carrot epic The Dead Dog Leaped Up and Flew Around the Room? It’s not such a stretch, given that Burden is no stranger to Golden Age comics, having been a-dealing in such goods, with a marked (and healthy) predilection for the oddball. Obviously.
And after all these dead dogs, what do you say we enjoy the sight of a curious and healthy live one?
Wasting the wide range of my xeno-tech training on a home office job was like putting a carpenter in charge of the psycho-ward. Like any fish out of water, I didn’t fit in. Bureaucracy said I didn’t belong.
So they finally shipped me out.
‘Murder on the O’Brien Express‘, published in Keif Llama – Xeno-Tech no. 4
« The ability to think like another species is a rare and galactically valuable gift. Those who are capable of it are called xenotechs. »
Technically, Kēif Llama (pronounced keef yamma) is a government official specializing in communication with alien species. Off record, she tends to poke her nose into beehives, and wards off attempts to deter her from doing so until she gets to the bottom of whatever’s happening, often pursuing the investigation far beyond formal confed business. When the government wants her to provide an quick’n’easy solution, or to hush things up, she kicks up a well-justified fuss. For this reason, despite being a top-notch xeno-tech, the planets to which she gets sent are further and further away from civilized life, the missions assigned to her increasingly inconsequential. Inconsequential to the government, that is – following the thread of a seemingly random event, Llama often stumbles upon some serious plot, often than not concocted by some evil corporation (and occasionally supported by the government itself).
Her name is probably a sly wink to Keith Laumer, a sci-fi/fantasy writer whose Retief series is about a diplomat solving alien conflicts on various planets. Except that Retief always comes out with his nose clean and his credentials reinforced by his success. Llama, on the other hand, stumbles through the puzzling and melancholy worlds she’s banished to with an increasing sense of despondence and powerlessness. She often lacks information to make informed decisions, though not through lack of trying; and in this universe of shades of grey, it is often unclear which is right and which is wrong. Saving one alien life can lead to a whole planet perishing. Overlooking a minor detail means disaster, and when hindsight is 20/20, her burden of guilt is heavy to bear.
In FF1986: Keif Llama, Lars Ingebrigtsen, who likes this series with a few reservations, argues that “The stories are problematic. More than a few of them end with a sense of “Huh? That’s the end? Did I miss something?” And most of them feature a genocide of some sort or another. After a while, it starts grating on you.” I would respectfully disagree: these stories are a bit like a slice of life. Sometimes we start in the middle of something that’s already under way, and sometimes we get but a small glimpse of some larger, out-of-reach picture. Not everything gets explained, but that’s not because Howarth couldn’t tie the ends of this plot together: he’s our guide through strange worlds, but even a guide doesn’t know everything. This is *excellent* science-fiction, as far as I’m concerned, imaginative and wide of scope. And Llama does have her moments of triumph (made more precious by their rarity), when she manages to outwit the fools, the bureaucrats, the religious fanatics whose actions would lead to a destruction of a precarious ecological balance or a grave injustice. Howarth’s hallmark humorous winks are scattered throughout the stories, giving the readers a welcome respite from the frequently heavy subject matter.
But more importantly, it’s those ‘problematic’ – whether downright cryptic or just lacking closure – endings that make Kēif Llama into a truly striking body of work. Depressing, it can certainly be (thus the importance to not binge-read your way through these comics, assuming you get your hands on a bunch of them at the same time). Yet as we accompany Llama on her ‘journey of discovery’ that leads her (and us) through a maze of corrupt (or just so weary they can’t be bothered) officials, profit-hungry conglomerates, macho idiots who can’t bear to take orders from women, and alien locals who mostly want to be left alone or refuse to explain their culture to an ‘ugly and smelly’ human, the weight of the universe Howarth has created settles squarely on our shoulders, and keeps us pinned until some uncomfortable truths are faced, commonly held beliefs are unravelled, and a few tears are shed. Happy endings often come at a heavy sacrifice.
On a lighter note, fans of Matt Howarth will indubitably have noticed the abundant presence of tentacles in all of his series. Howarth is exceptionally good at drawing aliens: tangible, ‘believable’ aliens who come in a staggering variety of shapes and sizes, and rarely look like some Earth animal with extra appendages (something artists of more limited imagination resort to quite a lot).
A small-time sheriff, alien as he may be, summarizes the type of thanks Llama frequently gets in this tirade: « You’re an ambulatory disaster area, Llama. Smuggling fiascos, international incidents, they can’t even ship you to the frontier without trouble following you. You’re in transit to Edison-Blue, Llama. I don’t want you or your bad luck in my town any longer than is painfully necessary. »
« It is the beginning of wisdom when you recognize that the best you can do is choose which rules you want to live by, and it’s persistent and aggravated imbecility to pretend you can live without any. » — Wallace Stegner
It’s funny how, closing in on 300 posts, I’m only getting around to discussing some of my very favourite series. As my co-conspirator ds points out, these are far harder to do justice to.
Many of these were abject commercial failures, but providential glimpses into fully-formed universes we must leave forever unexplored save in our dreams. In the eighties and nineties, Fantagraphics were particularly courageous in following up on their principles (explicitly elaborated upon in the pages of The Comics Journal) and publishing material for which there wasn’t much of an obvious market. For instance, the four issues of Jim Woodring‘s pre-Frank anthology, Jim. Still my favourite work of his… but a definite commercial non-starter.
He’s not really an anarchist, you know. This amusingly led an overly literal-minded, self-styled hardcore aficionado (from the nerve centre of American Punk, Monroe, LA) to testily complain to the authors: « Where do you get off calling your lame comic ‘Kid Anarchy’?!! Yup, I thought for sure this might have something to do with Anarchy, hardcore, social and political matters and so on, but what does it turn out to be? A deadbeat story about a bunch of rednecks sitting around a house. You guys suck! Why don’t you get your shit together and do something you understand, like a story about two posers wanking each other! Get a life! »
Ah, but Kid Anarchy could have been utter offal… had it conformed to that (mis)reader’s expectations. Anyway, see for yourself.
To me, the deeply poignant charm of KA rests in its character study of a band of outsiders, drawn together by virtue of greater difference from the rest of the populace than from one another. While each of them outwardly appears to represent a ‘type’, this facile pigeonholing is defeated and contradicted at every turn. Not one of them fits the tidy category that convention and circumstance seek to wedge them into. Also notable is the tonal choice undergirding the narrative: let’s face it, young Tommy is generally a sullen, immature prick, while the authorial voice of his older self is honestly rueful and brimming with hard-earned insight. I would have loved to see where the story was bound: would the gang dissolve? Would we follow Tommy with a new entourage? What’s the sinister secret behind Pop’s low prices?
As it was, the third issue, appearing over a year after the second, made it clear that it was an indulgent boon from the publisher.
« Mister X has always puzzled me. I’ve never been exactly certain where he came from. It seems like he has always been present — maybe not skulking through the perplexing shadows of the city so much as through some kind of collective unconsciousness. » — Dean Motter (1986)
On this day, back in 1953, the celebrated art director, graphic designer, writer-illustrator and cartoonist Dean Motter was born in Berea, Ohio, not far from Cleveland.
Aside from his comics work, Motter spent a considerable part of the 1980s working for the Canadian arm of what was then the biggest (and possibly stingiest) record label in the world, CBS/Sony, shepherding or designing beautiful and clever covers for albums that were often neither… but that’s an art director’s job, cynical as it may seem. Anyway, you know you’ve made it when your work rates a pastiche decades on; to wit:
What is there left to do but to warmly wish Mr. Motter the finest of birthdays… at a safe distance? Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!