Tentacle Tuesday: Return to Bizarro World!

Today’s entry is fun and light-hearted, but as this is the last week before Hallowe’en, let’s open on something with a bit more decorum!

Once upon a time, Vincent Price accorded his (paid) stamp of approval to Creamettes, a brand of elbow macaroni. You can read all about that in Vincent Price’s Supper Casserole! on the Dinosaur Dracula blog (where there are plenty of other things, too). I far prefer the version below. Who was this delightful parody created by? Is it something that would be served at The Monster Club with a nice glass of ruby red what-is-this-liquid-anyway? So many questions!

*No actual octopuses were eaten in the making of this post

And now, back to our regularly scheduled pogrom… I mean programme: Bizarro! Visit Tentacle Tuesday: Let’s Get Bizarro and Tentacle Tuesday: That Bizarro Look in Your Eye if you’ve missed previous instalments.

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 3

« Changing from the ghosts of faith to the spectres of reason is just changing cells. » — Fernando Pessoa

Today, let’s transport ourselves to the foggy, boggy British Isles, where every crumbling castle holds its lot of revenants and spectres within its mouldering walls.

The great cartoonist, tinkerer and beloved eccentric Frederick Rowland Emett (1906 – 1990) was evidently quite at ease within this spooky world, as you shall see. He first came to prominence as a prolific Punch cartoonist, beginning in the late 30s. In the 1950s, though at the height of his powers, he found himself struggling with waning eyesight (an exacting style was his!), so he brilliantly shifted his creative focus to building what he had hitherto been drawing. You may have encountered some of these creations in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Emett and Roald Dahl… fancy that!).

Scores of his cherished kinetic sculptures — trains (“Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway“), flying machines (“Featherstone-Kite Openwork Basketweave Mark Two Gentleman’s Flying Machine“), mechanical computers (“The Forget-Me-Not Computer“), musical hydraulic clocks (“Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator“), musical instruments and nonpareil assemblages… are scattered far and wide across the world’s museums, many of these works restored and in fine functioning order. For instance, Toronto’s Ontario Science Centre owns ten or so (see them in action here!), and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum possesses a choice few.

Obviously, there is much to discuss about this astonishing creative soul (watch him at work!). In the spirit of manageable narrow focus, I’ve kept it to three of his spookiest Punch cartoons from the late 40s-early 50s. Just consider it an amuse-gueule, an opening salvo. We shall return with a more panoramic view, you just wait.

« But Sir Bedivere always walks the battlements at this hour. Can’t think what’s keeping him. »
« Some say it’s haunted by the First Earl AND the Ninth Earl… I wonder how they’d get on together… ? »
In a similar mood, here’s an excerpt or, as the Brits would say, an extract, from Far Twittering or The Annals of a Branch Line, being Some Interesting and Unusual Aspects of the Far Twittering and Oysterperch Railway Presented by Emett (1949, Faber and Faber, London). The caption tells us: « Locomotive No. 3 (Hector) at Mrs. Bristow’s Folly, now used as a water-tower. »
« I TOLD you never to take the 11:50 round by the Witch Hollow loop… ! »
A portrait of the artist, circa the mid-1950’s. Oh, he’s a wily one, all right.

« It is a well known fact that all inventors get their first ideas on the back of an envelope. I take slight exception to this, I use the front so that I can include the stamp and then the design is already half done. » — Rowland Emett

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 1

« Dennis the Menace was probably the most realistic comic book ever done. No space aliens ever invaded! » — Gilbert Hernandez

Is it already October? So it is. Well, here we go again with our annual Hallowe’en Countdown. We’ll kick this edition off by featuring that pint-sized bundle of toxic toddler masculinity, Dennis the Menace (I can’t help but think that his French name, Denis la Malice, is a far more accurate description of his sociopathic essence).

Here at WOT?, we’re both (amble over to ds’ earlier DTM spotlight) huge fans of Hank Ketcham’s cartooning finesse… I mean, these are beautiful! But… drawing skill aside, the stuff is hard to take is large doses. To quote one frazzled babysitter to Dennis’ parents: « how can you stand it? »

And Dennis is still around, seemingly unchanged…

Dennis’ first Hallowe’en, from Oct. 31, 1951, the strip’s inaugural year.
October 30, 1952.
Just put yourself in Dennis’ parents’ shoes, and you get a better sense of the sheer magnitude of his malevolence. His poor folks don’t seem to have done anything to deserve being forever trapped in this relentless cycle of humiliation and injury. October 31, 1952.
The old lady didn’t think it was so silly. October 31, 1953.
This is Dennis the Menace Bonus Magazine Series no. 155 (July, 1976, Fawcett).
And a look inside…
Back in the day, you could *be* Dennis (more or less) for trick or treating, thanks to that fondly-remembered purveyor of cut-rate (but cool in their way) costumes, Ben Cooper, Inc.
A fuller look at the Dennis ensemble. And do check out this bit of Ben Cooper history!

-RG

Niso Ramponi: He’s not a Pervert, He’s… Kremos!

« 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!

From Travasissimo no. 41 (Jan. 1951).
Worry not: she’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way. From Travasissimo no. 50 (Oct. 1951). I see much kinship between Ramponi and Jack Cole‘s pinup styles, don’t you?
Ah, yes, when one ate fruit and vegetables only when they were in season. I miss that; it seems more honest, less decadent and wasteful. From Travasissimo no. 57 (May 1952). For the strangest reason, this doesn’t leave me craving peaches, but rather… aubergine.
From Il Travaso (Jan. 18, 1953).
From Travasissimo no. 76 (Dec. 1953). I do believe that this is an encore appearance from the previous cartoon’s exam taker.
From Travasissimo no. 85 (Sept. 1954); translated version from Best Cartoons From Abroad 1955, my inaugural, unforgettable brush with the Kremos aesthetic.
From Travasissimo no. 88 (Dec. 1954). The caption was completely rewritten for the cartoon’s English-language appearance in Best Cartoons From Abroad 1955, edited by Lawrence Lariar and Ben Roth. The original gag went: Husband: “You know, dear… I took some swimming lessons from the lifeguard because I wanted to surprise you…
Wife: “Now?”
Husband: “No, in April!
From Il Travaso –“The overflow” for you English speakers (May 26, 1958).
From Il Travaso, circa 1958; reprinted in Best Cartoons From Abroad 3, edited by Lariar and Roth.
From Il Travaso, circa 1958; also reprinted in Best Cartoons From Abroad 3.
From Il Travaso, circa 1958; again reprinted from Best Cartoons From Abroad 3. Those American editors loved their Kremos. I love the word “pappagallo” which, in Italian slang, means a wolf… autrement dit, a randy ragazzo.
From Il Travaso, circa 1959; reprinted in Best Cartoons From Abroad 1959, edited by Messrs. Lariar and Roth.

-RG

Jean Gourmelin: Tenants of the Void

« 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.

This one is entitled « En famille ».
Ever had one of those weeks?
This piece appeared in Les chefs-d’œuvre de l’épouvante (1965, Les éditions Planète), accompanying Claude Farrère‘s classic 1928 short-short story, Le Train perdu, which you can read here (in the original French). Gourmelin also provided the anthology’s arresting cover and frontispiece artwork. Maybe next time…

-RG

*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.

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: the Formidable Gahan Wilson

«  I will eliminate this ignominious blot on the city’s reputation. I will correct this annoying oversight. And so Ostap undertook the actions dictated to him by his reason, his sound instinct, and the situation at hand. » – the magnificent Ostap Bender, from 12 Chairs by Ilf & Petrov

With considerable dismay, I recently realized that Gahan Wilson had yet to be featured as a Tentacle Master, despite having thoroughly deserved this title not only with the sheer number of tentacles in his cartoons, but their impeccable quality as well. Co-admin RG wrote a lovely piece on this prolific artist in Gahan Paints What He Sees!, and we’ve included his work in a multitude of posts, but he certainly deserves this official TT accolade.

Without further ado… and with many thanks to co-admin RG, who figured out where these were published and on what date, as well as doing a lot of scanning and editing while I was grappling with myriad technical issues at work (instead of grappling with tentacles, he-he).

« Looks like this fellow you came across could be bigger than we thought! » (Playboy, Aug. 2007).
« Occupant, apartment 5C; Congratulations — you may have already won the all-electric Colonial split-level house of your dreams… » (Playboy, July 1974).
« Well, sir — it looks like things are getting pretty serious for Peter and Pauline. » (Playboy, July 1992).
« I think something’s wrong with the baby, dear! » (Playboy, May 1997).
« Harry, I really think you ought to go to the doctor. » (Playboy, Feb. 1968).
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From Playboy, Aug. 1973.
« Er, driver, just let me off right here, please! » (Playboy, Nov. 1981).
From Playboy, Oct. 1979.

A friend sent recently sent me an issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from November 1974 that has that characteristic, lovely aroma of aged paper. Lo and behold, some Gahan Wilson tentacles lurked within! I came for Mushroom World by Stephen Tall, and stayed for the charming doodles introducing different sections of the magazine… Here are the three together, once again scanned & processed by RG:

🐙 ds

Jean-Jacques Sempé’s Caustic Heyday

« When I grow up I would like to be an artist in France. » — Keith Haring

The other day, while weighing the idea of producing this post, I asked my wife: “Is Sempé too obvious a choice?”, to which she wisely replied: “To whom?”. To add another few grammes of perspective, I’m reminded of how, a decade-or-so ago, I was helping out a friend by manning his business phones while he took a vacation. One caller identified herself as Mme Sempé. I immediately asked whether she was related to the cartoonist. She was (they’re second cousins), but rather shockingly, this was the first time anyone had ever brought up the subject with her. Okay, so not so obvious after all.

If you only know Jean-Jacques Sempé‘s work through his cover illustrations for The New Yorker, well, you’ve missed his finest. Sempé (born August 17, 1932, in Bordeaux, France) was recruited in the late 70s, in the twilight of editor William Shawn‘s tenure (1952-87) with the magazine. To be quite frank, Sempé’s New Yorker work is his weakest, comprising almost invariably mawkish scenes of the dying arts: little girls practicing scales at grand pianos, ballet rehearsals and grand operas. And the work has only grown more anachronistic and sentimental with time; I’d say he’s the least compelling cover artist currently working for the magazine, with the exception of art director Françoise Mouly‘s little chouchou, the stiff and bland Adrian Tomine, he of the lifeless line and emetic palette. Ahem.

But there was a time…

In 1968, a decade-and-a-half into Sempé’s career, ever-lucid Belgian writer and historian Jacques Sternberg perceptively summed up the artist’s appeal:

« But Sempé’s humour has earned the favour of a very wide audience. Without a doubt because he’s able to observe with a playful — but rarely sadistic — eye the drawbacks and peculiarities of our daily lives, and that his reader feels — mistakenly — reassured by this vision.

Sempé has, in fact, a way with an impressive setting, with meticulous detail, of the mise en scène that sugarcoats the bitter pill and of the lyrical flight that dampens the ferocity of the content. The miracle occurs as if by magic: Sempé, who is rather scathing, seduces rather than worries his readers. »

A cartoon that first saw print in the pages of Ici Paris in 1958.
This cartoon appeared in France Dimanche, circa 1957.
Another one that ran in France Dimanche in 1957.
The signs say, from left to right: “They’re mocking us“; “More demagoguery“; “Freedom First!“; “End the abuse“, “Down with…” and… “We have found this glove“.
From France Dimanche (1957). This one strikes close to home for me. Makes me think of the sort of barbarians always seeking to ‘improve upon’ nature. A passage from friendly gadfly and crime writer Carl Hiassen‘s brilliantly scathing polemic, Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World (1998) comes to mind:

« Disney is so good at being good that it manifests an evil; so uniformly efficient and courteous, so dependably clean and conscientious, so unfailingly entertaining that it’s unreal, and therefore is an agent of pure wickedness. Imagine promoting a universe in which raw Nature doesn’t fit because it doesn’t measure up; isn’t safe enough, accessible enough, predictable enough, even beautiful enough for company standards. Disney isn’t in the business of exploiting Nature so much as striving to improve upon it, constantly fine-tuning God’s work.

Lakes, for instance. Florida’s heartland is dappled with lovely tree-lined lakes, but the waters are often tea-colored from cypress bark. For postcard purposes, tea-colored water was deemed unsuitable for Disney World’s centerpiece, Bay Lake, so in the early 1970s Team Rodent sprang into action—yanking out many of the cypresses, draining the lake, scraping out the bottom muck, replacing it with imported sand, then refilling the crater. All this was done to make the water bluish and therefore more inviting to tourists. For good measure, Disney even added beaches.» [ read it here ]
Naturally, I don’t dislike *all* of his New Yorker covers. This one, from the November 24, 1997 issue, is a peach.

-RG

Henri Gerbault, Leading Light of la Belle époque

« It took me some years to clear my head of what Paris wanted me to admire about it, and to notice what I preferred instead. Not power-ridden monuments, but individual buildings which tell a quieter story: the artist’s studio, or the Belle Époque house built by a forgotten financier for a just-remembered courtesan. » — Julian Barnes

Depending on where and when you are, this post will take you far away and to long ago.

Having failed to launch a career as a painter after his studies at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, Henri Gerbault (1863 – 1930) tried his hand at satirical cartooning, and succeeded brilliantly, appearing in all the important magazines of the day, among them La Vie Parisienne, Le Rire, Le Bon Vivant, Le Frou-Frou, L’Art et la Mode, Fantasio, La Vie Moderne, Lectures pour tous… for France, it truly was a golden era for satirical, literary and cultural periodicals.

For instance, during the storied humour magazine Le Rire’s prime years (roughly the first quarter of the 20th century), Gerbault was featured in most issues, often on the front or back cover, and generally in sumptuous colour. Well, you’ll see what I mean. Clearly not one to rest on his laurels, he somehow found time to lend his sundry gifts to the theatrical, advertising, etching, and fine art fields.

Here’s a bit of context if you don’t know who Saint Denis was. Love his interaction with the initially skeptical doggo! Originally published in La Vie Parisienne, and collected in Parisiennettes (1897), with colours by J. Chauvet.
There’s the lad, Paris’s first Bishop, at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Hope he wasn’t damaged in the blaze.
Gage d’amour (“Token of Love”), originally published in La Vie Parisienne, and collected in Parisiennettes (1897), with colours by J. Chauvet.
Les Coulisses de l’Amour is a collection of cartoons published between 1893 and 1895 in La Vie Parisienne. Racist caricatures abound but, to be fair, everybody gets it in the neck.
“Entre la croupe et les lièvres” is a play on “Il y a loin de la coupe aux lèvres” (English equivalent: “there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip”), with ‘coupe’ replaced by ‘croupe’ (rump) and ‘lèvres’ by ‘lièvres’ (hares) — It was featured on the cover of Le Rire no. 261, (Nov. 4, 1899), eloquently demonstrating the vast cultural gulf between Edwardian England and Belle Époque France… not to mention the United States!
From Le Rire no. 7, (March 21, 1903). In French, the Roman God of war and the year’s third month are both “Mars”. Why is it even “March” in English?
Taking the piss out of that old English discretion (some might call it hypocrisy); from Le Rire no. 18 (June 6, 1903).
From Le Rire no. 59, (March 19, 1904).
From Le Rire no. 160 (Feb. 21, 1906).
From Le Rire no. 380 (May 14, 1910). Missals are also known as ‘prayer books’.
Despite being quite amusing, this one loses it all in translation. Still, “contremaître” is a foreman; its feminine form is “contremaîtresse”, which combines foreman and “mistress”; you’ll hopefully get the idea. This piece appeared in Le Rire rouge (as Le Rire was called during The Great War) no. 179 (Apr. 20, 1918). Note the beautifully understated colour work.
From Le Rire no. 189 (Sept. 10, 1922). « Je m’fiche à poil, rien que pour l’embêter! » in the original; sometimes it’s mighty hard to do proper justice to the source text.
The master’s self-portrait, circa 1904.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: That Bizarro Look in Your Eye

Today’s Tentacle Tuesday is a continuation of previous post that’s close to my heart. In a little less than a year, I have accumulated a new batch of tantalizing tentacles from the pens and minds of that intrepid team, Wayno and Dan Piraro. The initial post can be found here: Tentacle Tuesday: Let’s Get Bizarro. The loveliest thing is that some of these are from 2021 – I am not taking for granted the fact that these guys just keep going on, with no loss in quality, year after year. Without further delay…

First, some Dan Piraro Sundays – Wayno has been part of the team since 2018, but only on the dailies.

And now, on to the aforementioned dailies! Wayno straddles the line between continuing the Bizarro aesthetic and keeping his own drawing style beautifully, I think.

As a bonus, 3 older Piraro dailies, artfully collated by co-admin RG. Wouldn’t you like to hang this in your home? I know I would.

~ ds

Take Ten With Shel Silverstein

« Join the army and see the next world. » — Dylan Thomas

A couple of eternities ago, in Shel Silverstein: Without Borders, we profiled you-know-who and showcased the travel cartoons he produced for Hugh Hefner and Playboy Magazine. Now, we reach back even earlier, to his first stirrings as a professional cartoonist… and a lifelong rover. As it would turn out, Shel truly was a free spirit.

A little bit of biography to set the stage… circa 1955. I can just about hear him, in that distinctive voice of his, hawking hot dogs at Comiskey Park!
« In 1955, Stars and Stripes published Take Ten, a book collection of his cartoons that was sold through military PXs et commissaries. » And also by mail!
« Here they are… the Centaurs and Bird men… the Geniis and Cobras… the fifteen-foot PFC’s and two-inch E-1’s. Here is TAKE TEN, the first collection of Shel Silverstein’s cartoons, taken from Pacific Stars and Stripes, Army Times and his untapped top drawer. Here is a pocket-full of cartoons that will make you smile and chuckle and laugh out loud. »

Lisa Rogak writes, in her A Boy Named Shel (2007, St. Martin’s Press):

Once he arrived in Tokyo, Shel was assigned to the Pacific Stars and Stripes to past up stories and photo features for the paper. When his work was done — which he performed as quickly as possible — he turned his attention to drawing cartoons using the material that was right in front of him: the military. Shel roamed the streets of Shinbashi, a neighborhood that GIs frequented that once served as the end of the line of Japan’s first railroad. He spent hours each day wandering the streets taking note of the activities of his fellow soldiers, which would invariably end up in one of his cartoons.

He initially did it for his own amusement, through within a few weeks, the paper began to print his work. After spending six months juggling newspaper paste-up with cartooning, he convinced his editors to take him off layout duties and allow him to wander the Far East and send back reports in the form of one-panel cartoons. They agreed.

Evidently, Mrs. Silverstein’s boy was a most charming and persuasive fellow. He would soon pull the same stunt on Hugh Hefner… but none can claim, in either case, that he failed to deliver on his lofty promises!

Here’s a little bit of background on that famous old General, should you need it.
Here’s a helpful guide to US Military acronyms. Who knows, it might spare you some confusion one day.

Even with his freedom, Shel had a hard time dealing with the restraints of army protocol. Corky Alexander, the late editor of the English language Tokyo Weekender, first met Shel at Stars and Stripes. “He was an army corporal and was perhaps the worst soldier in the history of armed might, down through the ages,” he said.

His technique followed a simple pattern. First he thought of an object — say, his first sergeant. He’d concentrate until he would come up with 20 or 30 gags on the one subject. Out of it came situations peopled by his long-nosed characters, his little men, his giants, the animals and the strange creatures for which he has a special affection.

His favorite overall targets were the officers. “They even made zebras off-limits to me because they had stripes,” Shel said.

Old habits die hard. An occupational hazard, you might say.
This, er.. pet might be an early prototype of Shel’s mythic Floobie Doobie Doo.
Now what is that?
It ain’t no dog and it ain’t no cat.
It’s nine feet tall with eyes of blue.
I never seen such a thing
As a thing called a Floobie Doobie Doo.
« Shel’s humor had struck such a nerve, and soldiers based in the Pacific shared his cartoons with their families and other civilians to show them what life in the military was really like, that a larger audience for his work was a natural consequence. In 1956, Ballantine Books published a thirty-five-cent mass market paperback edition of Take Ten called Grab Your Socks! »

In his foreword to Take Ten, Shel’s good buddy and PS&S colleague Bob Sweeney recounts:

In a letter to the home office, Bob Brown of the S&S Seoul Bureau wrote:
He stays up all night chewing pencils, drawing cartoons and writing ideas on little scraps of paper he never finds again. In the first twenty minutes he was here he had our little office more cluttered than the convention hall in his native Chicago.”

But,” added Brown, “he knows the people he draws. He’s lived through the same experiences and heard the same lines.

Here then are the simplicities as well as the subtleties — the obvious and the obtuse — the wonderful conglomerate of a man who loves to write, to draw, to create — and best of all — who loves to laugh.

-RG