Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 22

« People that pick up hitchhikers I believe are basically good people that believe in other people and understand problems and don’t judge people. That’s always the kind of person I’m looking for. » — John Waters

Let’s take a nocturnal drive with George Evans (1920-2001) behind the wheel. Best known for his stellar contribution as a member of the elite EC Comics bullpen, Evans had earlier crafted some impressive comics for Fawcett (his own favourite period of his work) and Fiction House, and later, post-Code, for Gilberton, Dell and Gold Key, Warren and DC. He also worked extensively in newspaper strips, notably on Terry and the Pirates (under George Wunder) in the 1960s. He took over Secret Agent Corrigan from fellow EC alum Al Williamson, a nice long stint from 1980 to 1996, at which point the strip wrapped up and Evans (and Corrigan, presumably) retired.

Belgian fantastique master Thomas Owen (1910-2002) has written not one, but two chilling variations on the theme of this particular urban legend, La passagère, which appeared in his 1966 collection, Cérémonial nocturne et autres contes fantastiques, then La grille, which appeared in 1975’s Le Rat Kavar et autres histoires de vie et de mort. While the former is currently nowhere to be found online, you can read — in the original French — La grille. For our English readers, here’s a fine translation of Le Rat Kavar (as ‘Kavar the Rat’, of course) to give you a bit of that eerie Owen flavour.

While Evans’ chief forte was aerial warfare, this piece highlights his way with a mood, his quiet grace and flawless draftsmanship. This story is an excerpt from Gilberton’s The World Around Us series (36 issues, 1958-1961); this is no. 24 (August, 1960), The Illustrated Story of Ghosts, an oft-told tale (but never better) of the urban legend widely known as The Vanishing Hitchhiker (here entitled The Hitch-Hiker). Can’t you just feel that rain?

The renowned folklorist Jan Harold Brunvant wrote, in his epochal study, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings (1981, W. W. Norton):

« A prime example of the adaptability of older legends is ‘The Vanishing Hitchhiker’ — the classic automobile legend. This returning ghost tale was known by the turn of the century both in the United States and abroad. It acquired the newer automobile motif by the period of the Great Depression, and thereafter spawned a number of subtypes with greatly varied and oddly interlocking details, some of which themselves stemmed from earlier folk legends. »

As a bonus, here’s Evans’ lovely, light-hearted frontispiece for the issue. “Face to faceless” — clever!

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 10

« Ghost stories … tell us about things that lie hidden within all of us, and which lurk outside all around us. » — Susan Hill

We’ve once before turned our attention upon Dell’s Ghost Stories, an anthology title with such an incredible first issue (written and directed by John Stanley) that all the subsequent ones whither in the long shadow it casts. In recent years, I’ve somewhat softened my stance on these sequels, taking into account that nothing could measure up to Stanley’s work on numero uno — and accordingly judging them on their own merits.

As a kid, I didn’t think too highly of Frank Springer (1929-2009), being primarily familiar with his inks over Frank Robbins on The Invaders (too sloppy, and no substitute for Robbins inking himself, which never happened at Marvel anyhow). Down the line, I ran into some of his earlier work (Phoebe Zeit-Geist, The Secret Six, The National Lampoon, Dial H for Hero and sundry items for Dell) and grew to appreciate his strengths.

Now, Ghost stories was interesting as a ‘horror’ (in the very limited Silver Age/Comics Code in full force sense) anthology, in that the vast majority of the stories were, after that peerless first issue, the work of one single artist (Gerald McCann, after contributing a couple of page to number one, handled issues 2-5, with a couple of filler pages thereafter, then Springer took over for 6-20, the rest of the run consisting of reprints, with the unexpected exception of no. 35).

Here then is what’s likely my favourite Springer Ghost Story: A Room with a Dreadful Secret.

This is Ghost Stories no. 14 (June 1966, Dell). Cover by Springer.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 9

« I don’t know what the hell I published.
I never read the things.
» — Stanley P. Morse

In the sinister wake of Warren Publishing‘s success with Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, old-school fly-by-night 1950s comics publisher Stanley P. Morse (Aragon Magazines, Gillmor Magazines, Medal Comics, Media Publications, S. P. M. Publications, Stanmor Publications, and Timor Publications…) dusted off some of his old pre-Code chillers in the late 1960s and early 1970s in black and white magazines such as Shock (15 issues), Chilling Tales of Horror (11 issues), Ghoul Tales (5 issues) and Stark Terror (5 issues). It certainly wasn’t all junk: after all, Morse had published Weird Tales of the Future and Mister Mystery, with their Basil Wolverton and Bernard Baily classics…

Unlike Eerie Publications’ grey-toned and blood-and-gore-ified reprints, these are, as far as I know, unretouched, not to mention decently printed.

This is Shock Vol. 2 no 5 (no 10, November, 1970). Edited by Theodore S. Hecht.

Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t Kurt Schaffenberger just about the unlikeliest pick of cover artist for a pre-code horror anthology? Sure, he fit in nicely with ACG’s gentle moral fable aesthetic, but aren’t you just expecting the Man of Steel or The Big Red Cheese to swiftly sweep in, catching the damsel-in-distress before the A Train smooshes her?

To wit: one of Kurt’s fun ACG covers, this is Unknown Worlds no. 43 (Oct.-Nov. 1965, ACG).

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 4

« She’s a haunted house / and her windows are broken. » — Scott Walker, “Big Louise” (1969)

I’ve been wanting to share one of the all-time most beautiful art jobs Steve Ditko ever wittled, 1960’s The Ghost of Grismore Castle! (published in Strange Tales no. 79), but I don’t have that book. I do, however, own a 70’s reprint of it, in Vault of Evil no. 14 (October 1974), but the colouring and reproduction were so bland and washed-out that I knew that justice wouldn’t be done to this meritorious piece.

Then it hit me: I *had* seen a lovingly reconstructed presentation of the tale — has it nearly been… 30 years ago? Yikes!

It was reprinted with brio in the redoubtable Mort Todd‘s Curse of the Weird (no. 2, January 1994), a flawlessly-assembled anthology title he somehow conned Marvel into publishing in the early 90s.

So my gratitude goes out to Mr. Todd and, once more, my admiration to Mr. Ditko.

« We shot it from the original stats I dug out of the Marvel vault, rather than reprint VoE #14, and lovingly recolored it! Thanks for noticing! »

Oh, and as bonus, here’s the cover, one of those absurdly lush Kirby-Ditko collaborations. As usual with Marvel, all captions are de trop.

This is Strange Tales no. 79 (Dec. 1960, Marvel), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Steve Ditko. And duh, *obviously*, “The Thing” is here, Stan. Show, don’t tell.
The very 70’s update. This is Vault of Evil no. 14 (Oct. 1974, Marvel); cover pencils by Larry Lieber, inks by Frank Giacoia.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: The Silver Age of Wonder Girl, Part II

in Tentacle Tuesday: Wonder Girl in the Silver Age, Part I, we covered the cephalopods of Wonder Woman issues 112 to 126. Today’s post opens with issue 150 and continues until 166. Just like last time, all of the following is scripted by Robert Kanigher, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by Mike Esposito. This time around, it’s not only Wonder Girl that’s involved – some of these stories are about Wonder Woman.

We begin with a page (and a panel) of The Phantom Fisher-Bird!, published in Wonder Woman no. 150 (November 1964):

I’ve never heard of an octopus using its tentacles by sticking them out of the water and forming a cage, but I suppose that’s the least of our worries.
I say, let ’em die! At least the octopus won’t have to decide whether to have fish or fowl for dinner.

Two panels from Battle of the Boiling Man, published in Wonder Woman no. 154 (May 1965):

This octopus is incidental, but handsome!
That’s ‘Gesundheit’ with an S, thank you.

Page from I Married a Monster, published in Wonder Woman no. 155 (July 1965):

This story is just its very own kind of special, and I’ve talked about it in Don’t Let a Mysogynist Plan Your Wedding: Robert Kanigher and Wonder Woman’s Utterly Unsuitable Suitors.

While looking for tentacles, I came across this panel (from ), which greatly amused me:

And good riddance to Steve’s brain – he didn’t know how to use it, anyway.

A page from The Sinister Scheme of Egg Fu, the Fifth!, published in Wonder Woman no. 166 (November 1966):

And on that cheerful note – “This octopus reminds me of my darling Steve!“, I bid you adieu — until next week.

~ ds

Hot Streak: Bob Oksner’s Leave It to Binky

« Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves. » — J. B. Priestley

Here at WOT central, we’re both massive Bob Oksner (1916-2007) fans, and it’s not generally for the writing. For a long time, his multi-faceted talent was used to great effect all over the DC Comics line, but he rarely received the acclaim he so richly deserved.

Take for instance, a peek at this jaw-droppingly generous, downright encyclopedic overview of his lengthy career, and then just try to tell me Mr. Oksner wasn’t even more accomplished than you’d reckoned.

After DC sent up a trial balloon with Showcase no. 70 a year prior, Binky returns after a decade’s sabbatical (an eternity in the teen world!). This is Leave It to Binky no. 61 (June-July 1968, DC). The product was slightly updated (fashions and hairdos) dusty reprints with fabulous new covers.
This is Leave It to Binky no. 62 (Aug.-Sept. 1968, DC). For the record, Peggy is Binky’s blonde girlfriend. Let’s face it, she’s the true star of this book.
This is Leave It to Binky no. 63 (Oct.-Nov. 1968, DC). Lovely inks provided by fellow Golden Age veteran Tex Blaisdell (1920-1999).
This is Leave It to Binky no. 64 (Dec. 1968-Jan. 1969, DC).
This is Leave It to Binky no. 65 (Feb.-Mar. 1969, DC).
This is Leave It to Binky no. 66 (Apr.-May 1969, DC).
During last year’s Hallowe’en Countdown, I spotlighted Mr. Oksner’s fine work on DC’s long-running licenced Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis titles, but also featured his holiday-appropriate Binky cover. For thoroughness’ sake, here it is again: this is Leave It to Binky no. 67 (June-July 1969, DC).
And one more: this is DC Special no. 2 (Jan.-Mar. 1969, DC). Hard to fathom why this one came out at all, its great cover aside.

And then it was over, in this visual idiom anyway: with the following issue (LITB68), DC brought in well-traveled Henry Scarpelli to handle the covers and create the impression that Binky was just one more Archie clone. Over the subsequent four issues, a handful of (pretty good) new stories were mixed in with the reprints. Then came a change of title and a new logo. The book, now simply called Binky, was a full-on Archie ersatz, and lasted another ten issues into 1971… with one final special popping out of nowhere in the summer of ’77. For ol’ Binky, par for the course!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: That Soupçon of the… Unexpected!

DC’s Tales of the Unexpected offer quite a ménagerie of strange looking creatures! Any peculiar combination of animals you can think of, you’ll find somewhere within the pages of this series. This possibly deserves its own post, as it’s quite entertaining to see artists combining, say, an elephant with a tiger. That being said, I tend to get annoyed at artists who can’t visualize anything truly alien-looking, thus resorting to carving up earth animals and stitching different body parts together… but that’s a different conversation.

Art by Lou Cameron.

Occasionally the artists will also add tentacles, a sure shortcut to make something mundane look properly alien, and this is today’s area of interest! For more questionable monsters, have a gander at Tentacle Tuesday: Convoluted Critters.

And now, onto ‘unexpected’ tentacles, even if the result of this ends up looking like badly-made puppet with a tacked-on beak…

The Strangest Show on Earth, illustrated by Jim Mooney, was published in Tales of the Unexpected no. 10 (February 1957).

Of course one can’t discount the lasting power of classic vine-tentacles.

The Earth Gladiator, illustrated by Nick Cardy, was published in Tales of the Unexpected no. 20 (December 1957).

Whereas these mini-planets gone bonkers with tentacles-cum-hair bring to mind, but anticipate, something by Junji Ito.

The Alien Earthmen, illustrated by Ruben Moreira, was published in Tales of the Unexpected no. 62 (June 1961).

The idea of an interplanetary veterinarian makes little sense for its assumption that life on other planets would have similar physiology to ours (even limiting the scope of action to only planet earth would be too ambitious – ask a doctor to treat a sick jellyfish and see how well he would do), but here we have the satisfaction of a sweet little scene of inter-species succor.

Creature Doctor of Space, illustrated by George Roussos, was published in Tales of the Unexpected no. 63 (July 1961).

Some 30 issues later, we have another case of rabid tree-tentacles… this time composed of rubber (or something that behaves like rubber, at any rate).

Prisoners of Hate Island, illustrated by George Roussos, was published in Tales of the Unexpected no. 93 (Feb-March 1966).

Finally, this tentacled purple gorilla (so his tail is more dinosaur than gorilla, so what?) will no doubt please a regular reader of this blog!

Tales of the Unexpected no. 71 (June-July 1962). Cover by Bob Brown.

~ ds

Treasured Stories: “Where Is the Paradise of Space?” (1962)

« Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people. » — David Sarnoff

The other day, my partner was trying out a video game whose soundscape seemed exceptionally judicious and well-integrated to the action. At one point, she noticed that the optimal way to play was by matching one’s pace and movements to the musical rhythm. I said, “Oh, it’s just like that Star Rovers story!”

And now for a bit of context: The Star Rovers was a short-lived series that sporadically appeared in the back of DC’s Julius Schwartz-edited titles, mainly Mystery in Space, backing main feature Adam Strange.

As Michael Uslan beautifully puts it, in his introduction to Mysteries in Space: The Best of DC Science-fiction Comics (Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1980):

« The Star Rovers were a whole other category of space heroes, typical of the kind of originality demanded by Julius Schwartz. A transgalactic trio of playboy, glamor-girl and novelist-thrill-seeker, they rarely agreed about anything and were rarely right about anything even when they did agree. »

This is the third Star Rovers episode, Where Is the Paradise of Space?, from Mystery in Space no. 74,Mar. 1962, DC).
This is the sequence that brought this story to my mind.
One of the most charming aspects of the Star Rovers is the protagonists’ equal footing. In this case, Karel is a bit more than the fellows’ equal, but the series is mostly exempt of the sexism you’d expect from the period of its creation.

Much of the appeal of the Star Rovers is that they’re not a team: they’re friendly rivals, ‘frienemies’, as we’d call them these days. Aside from matching wits and theories, they never directly compete, as differences in their fields of endeavour would make the exercice pointless. There’s a light, jovial tone to these mysteries, yet they can still be taken seriously as intriguing puzzles.

All nine episodes were edited by Schwartz, scripted by Gardner Fox, and illustrated by Sid Greene (1906-72). The latter, a veteran of the comics industry with published work going back to 1940, arguably turned in the finest work of his busy career, and likely would have kept on doing so had it not been for… Batman’s troubles.

To make a long story short, as the Batman titles were shedding readers like there was no tomorrow (making it possible that there would, indeed, be no tomorrow), DC bigwigs opted to switch things around a bit, pulling editor (and Jack Kirby blackballer) Jack Schiff off Batman and Detective Comics and handing him the reins of Schwartz’s SF titles Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space. He ran those into the ground, but in goofily entertaining fashion, at least. Unlike the bat-books, there were expendable to DC.

As the ultimate Star Rovers tale appeared in the final issue of the Schwartz-edited Strange Adventures before the changeover, it seems likely that the series would have carried on under a Schwartz régime. But the Rovers weren’t at all in Schiff’s wheelhouse: the delicate premise called for deft, intricate plotting and wit, qualities not to be found within Schiff’s stable of writers. Gardner Fox and Greene were among Schwartz’s trusted confederates, and talent poaching was rarely allowed within DC’s editorial enclaves.

After this editorial switch, Greene was, with few exceptions, put to work inking the pencils of Schwartz’s big three: Carmine Infantino on Batman and The Elongated Man, Gil Kane on Green Lantern and The Atom, and Mike Sekowsky on Justice League of America. The problem, at least as I see it: Greene’s inks didn’t mesh well with any of these pencillers’ styles. Oh well — it’s a living. At least Greene was able to return to full pencil and ink duties on a handful of short stories for editor Murray Boltinoff, mostly in the pages of The Unexpected. Better late than never.

Finally, for your edification and amusement, here’s a Star Rovers checklist:

Who Caught the Loborilla? (Mystery in Space no. 66, Mar. 1961)
What Happened on Sirius-4? (Mystery in Space no. 69, Aug. 1961)
Where Is the Paradise of Space? (Mystery in Space no. 74, Mar. 1962)
Where Was I Born– Venus? Mars? Jupiter? (Mystery in Space no. 77, Aug. 1962)
Who Saved the Earth? (Mystery in Space no. 80, Dec. 1962)
Who Went Where– and Why? (Mystery in Space no. 83, May 1963)
When Did Earth Vanish? (Mystery in Space no. 86, Sept. 1963)
Will the Star Rovers Abandon Earth? (Strange Adventures no. 159, Dec. 1963)
How Can Time Be Stopped? (Strange Adventures no. 163, Apr. 1964).

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Flash Gordon, Space Opera Saviour

« When I was a young writer if you went to a party and told somebody you were a science-fiction writer you would be insulted. They would call you Flash Gordon all evening, or Buck Rogers. » Ray Bradbury

We’ve talked about newspaper strip Flash Gordon in Tentacle Tuesday: Lurkers in the Newsprint, and now it’s time for its comic book version! Although I normally have very little interest in FG, this is no second-rate Tentacle Tuesday: there is some prime tentacular material to be enjoyed.

We first concern ourselves with the Flash Gordon Charlton Comics run, which picked up the count where King Comics had left it in 1967. From 1969 until 1970, Charlton published issues 12 to 18, all of which but the first had glorious covers and cover stories by Pat Boyette, an absolute WOT favourite ( you can visit co-admin RG’s Pat Boyette — Hillbilly Makes Good* for a deeper exploration of his career).

The cover of issue 14 has an octopus shortage (a serious flaw affecting many, many comic book covers!), but the monster o’nine-tentacled-tails the ’emotionless killers’ encounter is a beauty. The following page is also a good example of Boyette’s imaginative page layouts, in which things are kept dynamic, but never engender confusion about who is doing what and to whom.

Page from Rancor and the Seven Shadows of Flash Gordon, scripted by Bill Pearson and illustrated by Pat Boyette, was published in Flash Gordon no. 14 (June 1969).

Then we come to a real bevy of Boyette tentacles a few issues later –

Flash Gordon no. 17 (Charlton, November 1969). Cover by Pat Boyette.

The Creeping Menace, the cover story, is scripted by Joe Gill and illustrated by Pat Boyette. I am including two pages (and a panel) because it’s too difficult to choose between them – all boast the aforementioned dynamic layouts and striking tentacles.

Isn’t this a lovely, stylish panel? I want it on a t-shirt.

The publishing history of comic-book Flash Gordon was an interesting relay race: Gold Key Comics resumed the run with issue 19 (1978), and kept it up until issue 27 (1979); finally, issues 28 to 37 were published under its Whitman imprint between 1980 and 1982. The latter category offers two tentacled covers, and some inside goodies.

Original art (sadly by an unknown artist) for the cover of Flash Gordon no. 29 (Whitman, May 1980).

The cover story The Deadly Depths is scripted by John Warner and illustrated by Carlos Garzón. Oh, this thing is not hostile… just hungry.

The last Whitman issue also is of some interest, though on the cover Flash looks like he’s fighting caterpillars with an martini olive for a head.

Flash Gordon no. 37 (Whitman, March 1982). Cover by Gene Fawcette.

Cover story My Friend, My Killer! is scripted by George Kashdan and illustrated by Gene Fawcette and features cute serpent plants that look like they’re wearing little hula skirts.

And that concludes our tour of Flash Gordon tentacles in the Silver Age (and with some forays into Bronze).

🌱 ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Wonder Woman in the Silver Age

Wonder Woman is probably my most recurring area of focus when it comes to TT posts – although this is just the third, as it turns out, despite feeling like the fifteenth. The first two were devoted to the Golden Age Wonder Woman (Tentacle Tuesday: H.G. Peter and Wonder Woman lend a hand and Tentacle Tuesday: More Golden Age Wonder Woman Wonders!), and having more-or-less exhausted the GA’s tentacles, we move on the Silver Age (which, in my assessment, is considerably less interesting, but sometimes has quite nice art).

All pages are scripted by Robert Kanigher, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by Mike Esposito, except for the first page from Stamps Of Doom!, which was scripted by Bill Finger.

Page from The Stamps of Doom!, scripted by Bill Finger (credited as Charles Moulton). printed in Wonder Woman no. 108 (August 1959).

I bitched about Kanigher WW in Tentacle Tuesday: Wonder Girl in the Silver Age, Part I and Don’t Let a Mysogynist Plan Your Wedding: Robert Kanigher and Wonder Woman’s Utterly Unsuitable Suitors. I’m starting to feel like my needle is stuck in the groove, but I will however note one more thing: in my righteous anger about Kanigher’s preposterous depiction of women, I’ve been ignoring that he’s not great at writing men, either. That is… he can write wonderful male characters (see Enemy Ace, for instance), as long as romance is totally off the menu. It’s as if he is saying that romance transforms intelligent, capable men into utter, snivelling dolts (a point of view that one could defend, but within limits). Take a look at what kind of suitors poor Wonder Woman gets saddled with (perhaps their stupidity is one more way of spiting her?) in these panels from Wonder Woman’s Impossible Decision, published in Wonder Woman no. 118 (November 1960):

To reiterate: man is sitting on a rock. One wouldn’t think that this is a particularly dangerous activity. And yet one minute he’s contemplating the injustices of life (sitting!), and the next he’s sinking (at the speed of a locomotive) into sea, right into the welcome arms of an octopus. I think the octopus planned it.
The guy’s suffocating, but he’s still fretting about Merman as a rival for WW’s affections.
This is Wonder Woman no. 128 (February 1962). Cover by Andru and Esposito.

Allow me to drive one more nail into that coffin, and after this I shall forever hold my peace. I stumbled upon this rather entertaining quote, taken from an interview with Kanigher conducted by Tim Bateman and Steve Whitaker in 1989 (read the full thing here). Here it is, with no further comments from me:

« So Ditko […] tried to force meanings where meanings did not exist. But he tried to tell me that I knew nothing about romance, because his idea of romance was professorial, pedantic. I know what romance is, I’ve written more romance probably than anyone alive. Romance is an excess of passion, and I don’t care if there’re a thousand books that says romance is not that, romance is a time period. Tchaikovsky is a romantic. Excessive, that’s what romance is. So to say that my idea of excessive emotion is not romantic…» 

And now, I shall remain mum, and let you savour these tentacles in peace!

Two pages from The Academy of Arch-Villains!, published in Wonder Woman no. 141 (October 1963).
In comics, swordfish are often pitted against octopuses (one doesn’t have to go far for examples – just look at the previous story), but I wonder how often that happens in real life…
Page from War of the Underwater Giants, published in Wonder Woman no. 146 (May 1964).
Page from The Olympics of the Doomed, published in Wonder Woman no. 148 (August 1964).
Page from I Married a Monster, published in Wonder Woman no. 155 (July 1965).
The Sinister Scheme of Egg Fu, the Fifth!, published in Wonder Woman no. 166 (November 1966).

~ ds