Wacky Animal Antics on Parade!

I really enjoy the madcap world of Golden Age funny animal comics, and they’ve often made it into various Tentacle Tuesdays. Yet not everything fits into the somewhat narrow scope of tentacles (shocking, I know!), so I am pleased to take this fun gallop through some favourite covers that are quite devoid of cephalopods. Doing so involves going back some seventy, eighty years… a difficult to grasp concept for those of us who were not around back then.

This one-shot comic from Famous Funnies featuring a sweet cover by Dave Tendlar may not be-laugh-out-loud funny, but makes up with charming innocence what it lacks in the hilarity department. This is Dover the Bird no. 1 (Spring 1955, Eastern Color Printing).

My thirty-something colleagues consider movies from the late 90s to be ‘ancient’, so I can just imagine what their reaction would be to a comic from, say, 1942! Yet I feel emotionally close to these covers (whether artistically accomplished, entertainingly weird or just plain drugged-out) – humanity has not changed nearly as much as we tend to assume, and albeit some sources of humour require an historian’s explanation, others are every bit as funny and entertaining now as they were back then. As for talking animals, that goes back to the dawn of human history (Aesop’s fables readily come to mind, and Aesop was surely not the inventor of this concept!)

One could dedicate a whole lifetime to digging through this particular slice of history – I’ve tried to go for some variety in this post, but of course I am (happily) constrained by my own tastes in the matter. Here, then, are some Golden Age covers featuring funny animals that have amused, entertained or puzzled me.

Animal Comics no. 1 (December 1942, Dell), with a cover by H.R. McBride, is an amalgam of details both adorable and creepy – the harrowing expression of the fish contrasts wildly with Madame Crocodile’s peanuts-pilfering offspring and her flirty cocktail parasol, while her crocodile-skin purse makes me think of Disney’s Three Little Pigs cartoon (1933, Silly Symphonies). In case you’ve never noticed it, the third pig, the one with the brick house, has family pictures on his wall… for example, a string of sausages labelled “Father”. Black humour, indeed. Animal funnies are often dusted with a good sprinkling of the gruesome, as when a talking duck eats chicken legs for dinner.

The insides have two Walt Kelly stories, including the first appearance of Pogo Possum and his friends!

Fast forwarding four years, we fall into pleasantly loopy territory of Fox Features’ Nuttylife no. 2 (Summer 1946, Fox Comics). Despite it being number two, this is technically the only issue, issue number 1 having appeared as Krazy Life, and issue number 3 and onward becoming Wotalife Comics. I can’t find credits for the cover, but the insides contain Pat Adams with Ellis Chambers (“One day a little goil went to her Grandma’s joint…”), Tim Howe and Cy King. Ellis Chambers by himself definitely deserves a separate post – take a glimpse at Eddie Elephant – 1946 Hallucinogenic Funny Animal Comix by Ellis Holly Chambers, for example.

I couldn’t very well leave Felix the Cat out of this post! I won’t go into the complex history of this character, but suffice it to say that this is one gorgeous cover. Clearly I’m not the only one to admire this image, as it was used for the cover of Craig Yoe‘s wonderful anthology Felix the Cat – Greatest Comic Book Tails (2011, IDW), which I highly recommend. This is Four Color no. 135 (February 1947, Dell Comics), with a cover by Otto Messmer.

The American Comics Group is responsible for many a goofy plot, source of my long-lasting affection for some of their titles (see Tentacle Tuesday: ACG’s Adventures Into the Tentacles). ACG’s Ha Ha Comics are a riot, all right, but I have two favourites among the 88 issues released. The first is Ha Ha Comics no. 11 (August 1944), with a cover by Ken Hultgren. A joke doesn’t have to be elaborate to be funny – something about the expression of the indignant man-eating lion and his wild mop of hair cracks me up!

The second is Ha Ha Comics no. 78 (Dec-Jan 1951), cover artist unknown. I like porcupines in general, but here we are presented with a truly bizarre situation – a porcupine who tears out his sweetheart’s quills one by one to figure out whether she loves him… (unless she’s just a friend helping out, and he’s in love with some other porcupine). Kinky, whichever way you look at it.

Going a few years back, we take a little inter-planetary voyage with Coo Coo Comics no. 38 (March 1948, Pines/Standard Comics), with a cover by (possibly) Vince Fago. I am very fond of this purple-green monster who looks like he’s suffering from a bad hangover (or terminal cretinism). Coo Coo Comics is credited with having introduced the first funny animal superhero (in its very first issue, published in October 1942). That little guy was Supermouse…

The insides contain some Frank Frazetta stories, in case anybody is interested.

… but the other contender for this title was Terrytoons’ Mighty Mouse, also introduced in October 1942 (under the name of ‘Super Mouse’) in the theatrical short The Mouse of Tomorrow. That’s enough to get anybody confused in all these mice! This is Terry-Toons Comics no. 1 (October 1942), with an Ernie Hart cover that hints at the influence that funny animal comics had on the underground comix artists:

~ ds

A Most Instructive Visit to the Meyerowitz Aviary

« When birds burp, it must taste like bugs. » — Calvin

Like John James Audubon (and Roger Daltrey, in his own inimitable fashion), Rick Meyerowitz (b. 1943, The Bronx, NY) clearly loves to draw birds. Mayerowitz, among numerous other career highlights, was a prolific National Lampoon contributor (he even authored the mag’s definitive insider history, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, published in 2010). At the very least, you may be familiar with his Animal House poster [ have a gander at that portfolio! ]

In 1973, he gave us Birds of Israel (included at the end of this post); farther along, he (with his frequent collaborator, Montréal-born writer Sean Kelly) gave us a look at The Birds of Summer, (2007, The New York Times). And in 2016, these ardent but irreverent crypto-ornithologists were at it again with Odd Birds, which added in excess of one hundred and fifty fascinating new species to the tally. However, Meyerowitz only illustrated a handful (but such a handful!), which I present to you here. Still, how I would love to behold his depictions of, for instance: The Three-Day Lark; the Venomous Spite; the Oblivious Walking Jay; the Perpetual Jackhammer; the Yellow-Bellied Stool Pigeon; the Groveling Wince; the Hoodwinked Bagholder; the Celibate Tot-Fondler; Zimmerman’s Cryptic Drone; the Barecheeked Thongbird; the Bald-Faced Lyre; the Fact-Spinning Mockingbird; the Screaming Scarlet Manager; the Gulf Coast Petrel Dumper; Oscar’s Pink-Bottomed Boychick; the Crapulous Binge; the Free-Screech Owl… or the Swaggering Gut-Sucker! Man, this project needs to go the full book route.

THE RAVING HOMELAND JINGO: « This recently introduced European species is often mistaken (by itself) for native American. It proudly displays its red neck, white knuckles, and bluenosed morality, kept aloft by drafts of hot air. The Jingo emits gruesome shrieks in defense of its territory against the occasional Left-Winged News Hawk. The Jingo is anatomically anomalous, in that its testicles are located in its cranium, and its brains are safely secured behind and exceptionally tight sphincter. »
« The all-too-common Back Lot Goose, with its natural prey, the Wide-eyed Chippy. »
Meet HITCHCOCK’S MacGUFFIN — « An Old World species, introduced to California: a plump, lugubrious bird given to stealthy silences, sudden shrieks, and terrifying displays. Its diet consists of red herrings and snakes in the grass. Despite its reputation, has laid the occasional egg. Sometimes mistaken for Hammett’s Maltese Falcon; not to be confused with any of Spielberg’s Mawkish Cliff Hangers. »
THE CHRISTOPHER WREN: « Like the Francis Drake, the Dean Swift and the Florence Nightingale, this bird prefers a cold, damp, dreary environment such as the city of London, England, in which the Christopher Wren constructs nests of preposterous design, monumental size, and no apparent use. (This species is not related to the similarly named Christopher Robin, native to the Hundred Acre Wood in East Sussex.) »
« A Malibu Shack-Crasher. » Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word!
« A grizzled Hoary-Headed Junk Chucker faces down a Stat-Grubbing Peckerhead. »
These cartoons appeared within the pages of The American Bystander no. 2 (Spring 2016), bearing this soothing cover by the esteemed Charles Barsotti (1933-2014). Do check out and lend your support to the Bystander, which has most deservedly been deemed “The last great humor magazine“.
Where the good Mr. Meyerowitz seems to have first hatched his theme: Birds of Israel, from The National Lampoon Encyclopedia of Humor (1973, edited by Michael O’Donoghue).

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Sergio Aragonés

I was startled to discover that after several years of WOT blogging, we still have no post dedicated to Sergio Aragonés. Perhaps this is in part because his art is ubiquitous – throughout his long career, he has contributed manifold pages to various DC publications, created an enduring barbarian parody, scripted and drawn (mostly solo but also in collaboration) an impressive number of mini-series published by Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and Bongo Comics, produced various comic-con paraphernalia, etc. And this is not to mention his lasting contributions to Mad Magazine (which I did discuss, though not at length, in A MAD dash… inside) – something in the magnitude of twelve thousand gags spread over 57 years and 491 issues of Mad.

A sequence from A Mad Look at Sharks from Mad no. 180 (January 1976, EC).

He’s also a charming, universally-liked man whose bigger-than-life persona has ensured that his participation in anything is always surrounded by fun anecdotes. It is my great pleasure to share this abridged compendium of Aragonés tentacles, of which there are many, as he enthusiastically added them into doodles and margins with great glee (and, as we know, « he has quite literally drawn more cartoons on napkins in restaurants than most cartoonists draw in their entire careers *», so just imagine how many tentacles are scattered throughout his work).

*according to Al Jaffee.

Room 13 one-pager, scripted (and edited) by Joe Orlando. This was published in House of Mystery no. 190 (Jan-Feb 1971, DC).

Incredibly, we still haven’t written a post dedicated to the great Plop! (this post is starting to sound like a to-do-in-the-nearest-future list), though Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 30 did include a story from number 1. Plop!, “The New Magazine of Weird Humor!“, certainly included a lot of cephalopods in its 24 issues and I will doubtlessly get around them one of these days. In the meantime, here’s a very appropriate page from Plop! no. 16:

This closing page of Plop! no. 16 (September 1975, DC) was scripted by Steve Skeates.

Galloping forward through some twenty years, we briefly land at Marvel, namely these two pages from Groo the Wanderer no. 98 (February 1993, Marvel), co-plotted and scripted by Mark Evanier.

Sergio Aragonés Funnies, published between 2011 and 2014 by Bongo Comics, boast 12 issues of really enjoyable, remarkably varied material. For those who may think that Aragonés is one-trick pony who can only do ‘silly’ humour, this series offers many auto-biographical stories, some of them surprisingly poignant and heart-felt. Not to say that it’s not devoid of humour – the more serious stuff (including social criticism in the form of animal parables) is nestled among pages of slap-stick humour and imaginative goofiness, from one-pagers to longer stories that take most of an issue to develop. Aragonés also shares some background on his approach to stories, allowing us to peek into his imagination and possibly answer that hackneyed question that plagues all manner of writers, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ If an anthology of Funnies is ever published, I’ll happily purchase it.

Excerpts from Kira and the Beauty Contest, published in Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 2 (August 2011, Bongo Comics):

Panels from Sergio’s Inferno, published in Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 3 (September 2011, Bongo Comics):

Finally, a panel from the back cover of Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 10 (October 2013, Bongo Comics). Nevermind what the joke is, I just really like that octopus (as well as his other sea friends).

I mentioned materials related to Comic-Cons, so I would be amiss to not include at least one image of something vaguely related!

This design was created for the ‘Free Comic Book Day Commemorative Artist T-shirt’ in 2010.

I’ll end this post with a classic Aragonés anecdote, as told by Mark Evanier. This happened while these two were participating in filming The Half-Hour Comedy Hour television show for NBC in 1983, on which the model Jayne Kennedy was a guest. [source]

« This was one of the most beautiful women in the world. And she wore this dress that was very revealing, so much so the censors wouldn’t let us put her on the air in it without adding some material. So we’re all talking to her, the writers and whoever, just in awe of this woman. And Sergio comes walking in looking like a homeless person, carrying his portfolio. And Jayne sees him and she shouts, ‘Sergio!’ and she runs over and starts kissing him passionately.

They’d worked together before, it turned out. But Johnny Carson comes walking out into the hallway and he thinks Jayne Kennedy is being sexually assaulted by a homeless person in the NBC hallways. He came over to make sure she was okay. She said it was fine, that she knew him, and I said, ‘It’s okay, he’s a cartoonist.’

So Johnny gives that classic look and he says, ‘I knew I should have taken up drawing.’ » 

~ ds

Basil Wolverton’s Mystic Moot and His Magic Snoot

« I think the most gruesome thing in life is people — if they let themselves go. I’ve been letting myself go for years, and I’m beginning to feel gruesome. I want to entertain and communicate. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I have to be honest — like that old baseball umpire — and call ’em like I see ’em. My drawings aren’t as bad as the models themselves. » — Basil Wolverton

Here at WOT? headquarters, we’re both card-carrying, fervent Basil Wolverton* fanatics, but we haven’t devoted the column space commensurate with our affection for his work. Why? Because Wolverton, despite toiling in underpaid obscurity for most of his career and inevitably never becoming a household name, was always a critic and historian’s darling, insofar as there was a scholarly press to express its appreciation. Things began to turn around in the early 1970s, just in time.

Whatever subject or genre he put his hand to, Wolverton’s singular style shone through, and not as a handicap: his funnies were hilarious, his horror was harrowing… but they were distinctly from that same, most gifted of hands.

The artist at work (presumably) on his caricature of Red Skelton, circa 1949.

Most of Basil’s humour work was (with the partial exception of Powerhouse Pepper, 1942-49) relegated to ‘filler’ features, generally hidden gems glittering in the mediocre midst of loads and loads of higher-profile rubbish. Don’t just take my word for it: here’s a typical example of the sorry setup.

Quite recently, I was delighted to learn of the existence of a sublime collection of vintage Wolverton humour, namely Scoop Scuttle and His Pals: The Crackpot Comics of Basil Wolverton (April 2021, Fantagraphics), assembled and restored by Mr. Greg Sadowski, a man of impeccable credentials, taste and talent, who brought to bear his usual diligent care in researching, editing, designing and producing this tome, as he has before with his two volumes of Wolverton’s biography, Creeping Death From Neptune and Brain Bats of Venus, as well as exemplary monographs of Bernard Krigstein, Alex Toth, et al.

From this thrilling new assemblage, I’ve picked a pair of short samples, both featuring my favourite Wolverton protagonist, Mystic Moot (and his Magic Snoot). Sadowski informs us that:

« In July 1945, editor Virginia Provisiero invited the artist to submit ideas for a four-page ‘magic or mystic character’. He responded with Champ Van Camp and his Magic Lamp, but the editor suggested ‘a weird magician who had hocus-pocus powers instead of this lamp and genie affair‘. Wolverton hit the bull’s-eye with his second try, Mystic Mose and his Magic Nose, though Managing Editor Will Lieberson came up with a catchier moniker. »

Historian Henry Steele, in his indispensable overview of Wolverton’s career (published in Bill Spicer‘s blandly-titled but most excellent Graphic Story Magazine‘s issues 12 and 14, circa 1970-71), eloquently describes Mystic Moot as :

« Basically a kindly and almost simple soul, he is eternally cheerful and never at a loss. He is perennially helping others, usually unfortunate nobodies liked the jobless glutton, the bankrupt small businessman, the farmer with no crop, the henpecked husband, intimidated lumberjacks and prospectors, widows, orphans and kindred down-and-outers. He uses his magic powers only in the most haphazard ways, and never relies on them on his own behalf unless it is absolutely necessary.

Perhaps because of the passive Eastern philosophy of its subject, Mystic Moot strikes one as being the most minor key of all Wolverton’s features — which, while it implies difference, does not mean inferiority in any sense. »

Originally published in Comic Comics no. 2 (May 1946, Fawcett).

Here’s one for my fellow animal lovers out there!

Originally published in Comic Comics no. 7 (Oct. 1946, Fawcett).

-RG

*He’s a Tentacle Tuesday Master, I’ll have you know!

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Mal Eaton — Peter Piltdown Goes Fishing!

It’s time for a Peter Piltdown Tentacle Tuesday! We have previously written about Peter Piltdown, Mal Eaton’s nearly forgotten strip, but a few Sundays were kept in reserve for very obvious (tentacular!) reasons. Given the paucity of these strips, I am truly amazed that the original art of four octopus strips is available online. Eaton has a great ease with depicting flexible, expressive tentacles, so I am very pleased to be able to raise him to the rank of a 🐙Tentacle Master🐙!

Without further ado (just a little side note: these images were found on Heritage Auctions – I am not lucky enough to own any Mal Eaton art, or at least not yet!) …

May 31st, 1942. I didn’t know that whales ate octopus, but apparently they do – ‘the majority of toothed whales will eat whale food species such as squid, octopus, crustaceans and fish.
August 30th, 1942. This octopus knows how to live it up! This strip makes up for the unfortunate end of the member of his species in the previous one.
May 5th, 1946. I don’t know what the octopus wanted the man’s leg for in the first place, but he sure looks peeved by this whole interaction. These fishing bouts are just fraught with octopus danger…
… even if the danger is sometimes imaginary. August 18th, 1946.

Speaking of day-dreaming, I like to fantasize that Mal Eaton had a whole octopus-centric strip, and that one day somebody is going to unearth it and publish a beautiful collection. In the meantime, I’d happily settle for another volume of Jack Kent’s King Aroo

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Welcome to Bermuda Square!

Greetings, tentacle aficionados! First of all, I’d like welcome this new octopus into our household, courtesy of a gift from my mom:

Isn’t he cute?

I felt like going with something more modern this week, though given that the last TT was set in the 60s, that still leaves a healthy 40-50 years to choose from.

Ali Fitzgerald’s Bermuda Square waved its first ‘hi there!’ on May 16th, 2016 in the The Cut, one of New York Magazine‘s website-only divisions describing itself as ‘a site for women who want to view the latest fashion trends; read provocative takes on issues that matter, from politics to relationships; follow celebrity style icons; and preview new products.‘ I don’t believe Bermuda Square fits that neatly into any of these categories, though Iris the octopus is unarguably stylish, and politics and relationships are definitely involved. Does she and her siren friends ever try out some new face cream, or weighs the pros and cons of that foundation one sees ads for absolutely everywhere? Who knows – Bermuda Square strips only live behind The Cut’s pretty rigid paywall (not that I object to writers and illustrators actually being paid, but I would much rather buy a collection of strips than a subscription to an online-only lifestyle magazine – call me old-fashioned).

Fitzgerald describes the world her comics are set in as “a feminist enclave where everyone can co-exist” and a “delicate ecosystem”. It’s a fully fleshed world, with intricate plot lines tracking relationships between characters and some class warfare, since underwater denizens aren’t at all immune from pettiness or envy. « It’s segmented like New York: There is Astora, a Manhattanite underwater mer-city where Margox imagines building a life, and Orchid Island, which resembles a not entirely gentrified Brooklyn or Queens. Solanas Village is a ‘70s-style, separatist female commune on a rocky shore, while the social, watery Tidelands are like a club where everyone mingles. If a sailor stays too long in Bermuda Square, he goes to (and dies in) the Ghost Vortex… » 

The following excerpts have been lovingly coloured by co-admin RG.

First-ever strip, with a lovely abundance of tentacles!

Iris the sex-positive octopus gives tips for using Tinder.

Ali Fitzgerald, who currently lives in Germany, has also worked for The New Yorker, and in 2018 Fantagraphics published her memoir, Drawn to Berlin: Comic Workshops in Refugee Shelters and Other Stories From a New Europe.

You can also have a look at her Hungover Bear strip, created for McSweeney’s.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Tentacles Aren’t So Bad, My Old Fruit*

« The land of embarrassment and breakfast. » Julian Barnes

Ah, yes, it’s time to paddle once again to British shores, after fortifying myself with a few dainty tea sandwiches. In rough chronological order…

Here is a Dr What and His Time Clock strip I found on the excellent Blimey! The Blog of British Comics. I’ll quote Lew Stringer, its author, who is a lot more knowledgeable about British comics than I’ll ever be: «... a weekly humour-adventure serial that ran in Boys’ World in 1964, published by Odhams. The hairstyle and clothing of the character is obviously based on that of the first Doctor as portrayed by William Hartnell. Here’s the episode from Boys’ World Vol. 2 No. 33, dated 15th August 1964. The art is by Artie Jackson, who later drew Danger Mouse (preceding the TV cartoon of the same name/concept) for Smash! in 1966. Jackson also drew many of the Danny Dare strips for Wham! »

Dr What and His Time Clock strip from August 1964, drawn by Artie Jackson.

In case you didn’t know, a beano is British slang for a noisy festive celebration, or, in other words, some sort of a party. Biffo the Bear is not my favourite character from this very long-running publication (started in 1938, still ongoing), but I really like the way this octopus is drawn.

Beano no. 1435 (January 17th, 1970, D.C. Thomson). Cover by David Sutherland.
Chips from March 10th, 1973. The cover is drawn by Mike Lacey, son of adventure strip artist Bill Lacey.

Scream Inn, written and illustrated by Brian Walker, was a beautifully-drawn strip published in Shiver and Shake (and, later, Whoopee!). The location: a hotel run by ghosts. The premise: these ghosts delighted in playing pranks on humans, and offered a million pounds to anybody who would manage to stay at their hotel for an entire night. Readers were invited to suggest what type of person could make it through the night (and were granted a one quid reward if their suggestion made it into a story).

In this one, a friendly octopus is borrowed to terrify a clown:

Scream Inn page published in Whoopee! from June 4th, 1977.

Cookie’s many-tentacled friend Olly makes another appearance a month later, this time used to spook “Jake the Peg with an extra leg”.

Scream Inn detail published in Whoopee! from July 16th, 1977.

Incidentally, isn’t this a nice header?

Elephant on the Run ran in Cheekly Weekly and was drawn mostly by Robert Nixon, with some other artists occasionally filling in. This strip boasted a pleasantly surreal premise: the elephant, Walter, is being relentlessly pursued by a mysterious man in a plastic mac… and suffering from a bad case of amnesia after an unfortunate circus act mishap, he has no idea why he’s being hunted, or what the man wants from him. Still, he runs! Both of them donning a range of improbable costumes to fake each other out – as in the following strip, in which Walter dresses, among other things, as a one legged pirate to elude detection. This sort of wackiness is why I love British comics.

This instalment of Elephant on the Run was published in Cheeky Weekly of November 25th, 1978 and is drawn by Robert Nixon. Look inside this issue here.

I hope you enjoyed this foray into British tentacles! There are plenty more of that stuff in our archives – or go rummaging through the whole British category in THE SUN NEVER SETS ON THE BRITISH EMPIRE!

~ ds

*paraphrasing from ‘Pimlico’ by David Devant & His Spirit Wife. Here are these joyous goofballs:

Q: What’s Michael? A: Kobayashi’s Most Special Cat

« Michael is, simply put, Japan’s version of Garfield, Heathcliff and Krazy Kat all rolled into one. » — Wizard: The Guide to Comics*

* I actually disagree with all three comparisons, aside from the fact that the first two comics are also about orange cats, but this is the review Dark Horse used to promote the series.

What’s Michael? (ホワッツマイケル? in Japanese) is a comic series by Makoto Kobayashi about a cat named Michael who goes about his cat life in a pretty standard way. He spends most of the day snoozing, has distinct food preferences, and likes to meow loudly at night while courting his favourite cat lady. One would not be entirely unjustified in thinking that cat lovers will read any old comic that prominently features felines (I have occasionally been guilty of that myself!), but I am convinced that there’s something special about this series.

One of the things that makes it so endearing is that Kobayashi has a very good grip on feline body language, making it fun to follow even the poorest excuse for a plot, like for instance Michael contemplating which cozy enough spot to select for a nap. That being said, he doesn’t limit himself to realistic cat situations, often featuring cats acting like (very goofy) people, parodying human and feline at the same time.

Natural cat body language… and different ways in which cats just can’t bend, cheerfully pointed out.

Some readers are more interested in the outlandish stories, of which there are many (ranging from cat parodies of various movies to plain weirdness), some develop a soft spot for the recurring human (or semi-human) characters. Michael himself switches owners like switching gloves, depending on the needs of the story, and there is not much continuity. Kobayashi’s ideas can be a little hiss or miss, but there’s something here for everyone… provided you like felines, of course… adventures of a vampire count who is scared of cats are side-by-side with wacky cat food commercials, depictions of everyday life of various cat-besieged country bumpkins alternate with cat street gang rumbles, and all of that is sprinkled with humans-as-pets interludes. And, naturally, our ordinary yet handsome tabby Michael drinks, sleeps and plays alongside Popo, his wife, their kittens, and a rotating cast of other cats (Catzilla comes to mind!) and the poor, often put-upon dog nicknamed Bear.

The Count’s quest for a pretty neck to bite is, as always, thwarted by Michael or one of his relatives.
Michael, Popo and their kittens on the prowl for a soft spot for a snooze.
One of the strip’s running jokes is that Michael passionately hates Morning Cat canned food, and will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid eating it.

The following sequence illustrates one of Kobayashi’s favourite tricks, namely to start off with more-or-less normal cat behaviour and veer off into an unexpected direction:

As you have probably noticed, Kobayashi often opts for exaggeration when it comes to people’s facial expressions, which sometimes leads to results that are more grotesque than funny. He also enjoys drawing pretty women, but that is more obvious elsewhere, for instance in his series Club 9 (Dark Horse has published 3 volumes of that and abandoned the project before the story’s end, much to my annoyance).

In Japan, What’s Michael? was published in the weekly magazine Morning starting in 1984, and it even won the Kodansha Manga Award in 1986. There seems to also have been quite a few collections released.

One of the Japanese editions of volume 1 and 2.
Cover of another collection from 1987; Bear likes to sit and watch cats playing.

In 1988, its popularity was also rewarded with a 45-episode anime which was also broadcast in Italy and Spain (at least according to a Russian article I found). The following is the cover of a collection of these episodes, as far as I could ascertain:

In the US, it was published by Dark Horse‘s manga imprint. I am not entirely sold on the translation (the aforementioned country bumpkins, for instance, talk as if they were in a cheesy would-be Western written by somebody who has no understanding of the genre), and it also bothers me that the comics were published in the standard American left-to-right reading direction. I think it is a relatively recent phenomenon to leave manga as it was drawn when translating it into European languages – audiences have become more refined.

An example of the story going interestingly off the rails, in the proper right-to-left format.

Apparently there are stories that have never been translated, as they were deemed unfit for Western audiences (those intrigue me, yet my knowledge of Japanese is nil!), but those that were selected by whomever is in charge of these decisions have been collected in 11 volumes, published between 1997 and 2006. Most of them are quite out of print by now; I managed to gather all eleven over the years, though while writing this post I discovered that Dark Horse has decided to rescue this series out of its out-of-print-darkness and re-publish the works in two 500-page volumes. Am I going to purchase those? Yes, of course, as there is bonus material involved! Though the wrong reading direction remains wrong, alas.

Volume 8 of Dark Horse’s initial What’s Michael? run.

I enjoyed reading a review of the first volume of the reissue on Al’s Manga Blog, and maybe you will, too: What’s Michael? Fatcat Collection Vol 1.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: The Whole Merry Menagerie

The tentacled well of funny animal insanity from the Golden Age is nearly bottomless. Just when I think I’ve more or less covered it all, some new goofy octopus cover that I have never seen before pops up, or an unhinged inside story swims by and waves a cheerful ‘hi there!’ with a free tentacle.

Never mind Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, or Bugs Bunny. We have Supermouse, Dizzy Duck, and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny! Oh, and also the absurdly (even by funny animal standards) named Peter Porkchops.

This page from a Supermouse story was published in Coo Coo Comics no. 41 (September 1948, Pines Publishing); artist unfortunately unknown. For more (perfectly aptly titled) Coo Coo Comics, visit Tentacle Tuesday: Ha-Ha and Coo-Coo With Frolicsome Animals.

Next up, two pages from The Daffy Diver, published in Dizzy Duck no. 32 (November 1950, Standard Comics), artist once again unknown:

I promised some bunny action – but not the kind that springs immediately to mind! Enjoy this 2-page tentacled tussle in this Hoppy the Marvel Bunny story illustrated by Chad Grothkopf and published in Fawcett’s Funny Animals no. 5 (April 7th, 1943, Fawcett).

For dessert, two covers, because a man does not live on inside pages alone!

National Comics no. 70 (February 1949, Quality Comics). Cover by Gill Fox.
Peter Porkchops no. 14 (February-March 1952, DC); cover by Otto Feuer.

~ ds

Off to the Isle of Cats — and Back by Teatime!

« It’s no good trying to teach people who need to be taught. » — Aleister Crowley

You may have happened across our earlier post on that astounding but tragically short-lived touche-à-tout, Gerard Hoffnung (1925-59). Well, here’s a look at another facet of the man’s work, crafted this time in tandem with, of all people, the definitive-but ambivalent biographer of opprobrious occultist and Ozzy song subject Aleister Crowley, namely the intriguing John Symonds (1914-2006). Come to think of it, the affiliation makes impeccable sense, and it proceeds swimmingly.

In an era where it often seems that those rare adults who yet read do so at toddler-ish levels, it’s easy to forget how many so-called children’s books of yore had plenty to offer the refined adult mind. Here, then, are some highlights from Messrs. Hoffnung and Symonds’ 1955 opus, The Isle of Cats.

« He closed his eyes, yawned, arched his back and began to dig his claws in and out of the sofa. Uncle Tom was no ordinary cat, for he could tell the time, look through a telescope (keeping one paw over the other eye, of course), beat up an egg, steer a raft, smoke a pipe and do many other things. »
« He’s the Mayor, » whispered Uncle Tom to Gabby, « so be nice to him. »
« He was still saying thank you as he and Uncle Tom were being driven away in the Mayor’s car, followed by various cats on bicycles, tricycles and penny-farthings. »
The wrestling bout pitting Tim the Terror (left) against The Furry Fury (right). Things end with a crash when Tim lets go.
« The Hall of Fame contained the portraits of the island’s most celebrated cats. »
« There were portraits of lots of other famous cats, including Martha who had seven hundred and forty nine children, six hundred and eighty three of whom survived, and were now working hard as tram-drivers, crossing-sweepers, lamp-lighters, pastry-cooks and so forth, with the exception of three who simply won’t work at all. »
« At the Orphanage, all the kittens were lined up on either side of the Great Hall, looking as good as gold, their hankerchiefs sewn to their shirts, close enough to their noses to blow into them. »
« Just then they sailed over the madhouse and saw some cats standing on their heads, waving their legs in the air. »
The book’s endpapers illustration, granting the reader a lofty view from the Mayor’s hot air (of course) balloon.

As a bonus, for the finale, here’s the poster Hoffnung was commissioned to illustrate for the classic, Brexit-anticipating 1949 Ealing Studios comedy Passport to Pimlico. [ watch the trailer! ]

Hoffnung’s loving widow, Annetta, wrote, in her 1988 biography of Gerard: « As he sat at his drawing board, increasingly involved and complicated fantasies tumbled from Gerard’s pen onto the paper. In 1949 came perhaps the most intricate of all, a drawing for the poster advertising a popular film of the day, Passport to Pimlico. I do not have the original design but it is unlikely to have been larger than 12″ x 15″, and to squeeze so much into so little space is no mean achievement. » I couldn’t find a trace of this image online, so I’m providing a nice ‘n’ large scan for you. Eat your heart out, Will Elder!

-RG