Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 8

« So, you see the little snot on the right side, move it two inches to the left and add a little bit of green gleam to it. » — Mark Newgarden, doing some art direction

I can’t help it, Wacky Packages are such a Hallowe’en-friendly endeavour that I keep returning to their fertile soil. First, during our initial edition and again in the second. Just consider some of the who’s who talent embroiled in dreaming up these humble stickers: Art Spiegelman, Norm Saunders, Bill Griffith, Jay Lynch, Mark Newgarden, John Pound, Drew Friedman, Tomas Bunk, Tom Sutton

A Norman Saunders beauty from Series 12 (1975, Topps). And just what is wrong with spinach, pray tell? 😉
If this one looks sharper than you’d expect, it’s because it’s shot from a larger version of the Wacky card that Norman Saunders (re)painted for Topps’ Wacky Posters series, circa 1973.
Ladies and gentlemen, Drew Friedman! « In 1991, I was creating many concept sketches and pencil drawings for the TOPPS company, including for their latest set of the hugely popular sticker series “Wacky Packages”. Mark Newgarden was the editor and art director for the 1991 series, and the writers for the card fronts included Newgarden, Jay Lynch, Jordan Bochanis, John Mariano and myself. I drew about 22 tight pencil images which would (with one exception) be painted by the illustrator Patrick Pigott. » If you enjoy being privy to an artist’s creative process, by all means do yourself a favour and feast your peepers on this gallery of Friedman’s roughs, finishes, used and unused pieces. In this (mummy) case, it’s Friedman pencils, finished art by Tomas Bunk.
From the 6th Series (1974, Topps). Most likely painted by Norm Saunders.
From the 8th Series (1974, Topps)… though mine’s a 1980’s reprint. Painted by Norm Saunders.
From the lucky 13th Series (1975, Topps). Another fine Saunders vintage. Topps would find Mr. Saunders most difficult to replace.
From the 1985 Series. Artist unknown.
From the 1991 Series. Painted by Patrick Pigott.

-RG

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

Odious Rumours: Arachnid-Enhanced Bubble Yum

« A kid one time fell asleep chewing Bubble Yum, and he woke up with his mouth full of spider eggs. » — Some nameless rumour-monger

The other day, a neighbour was asking me whether it was a safe for his Golden Retriever puppy to eat the worms it was digging up (I was impressed), the guy presuming that said worms were quite filthy and rife with germs. I replied that no, it’s probably all the rooting through the trash and gobbling up whatever it finds that’s giving the pup gastric distress. Worms, in fact, are considered a delicacy in many a culture, including some European ones. Not that I’ve indulged: just like The Kinks’ Apeman, I’m a strict vegetarian.

This brought to mind those 1970s rumours of earthworms serving as filler in McDonald’s burgers (never mind that worms are a far costlier ingredient than is beef). Which led in turn to the equally-outlandish notion that the secret of Bubble Yum’s softness (introduced in 1975 by Life Savers, it was the first soft bubble gum ever concocted) lay in its containing spider eggs. Again, steady procurement would have proved quite a daunting challenge.

Art by Tomm Coker, from The Big Book of Urban Legends (1994, Paradox Press/DC); edited by Bronwyn Carlton Taggart and featuring the most inconstant levels of skill and talent you’re ever likely to encounter in a professional comics publication: a couple dozen or so versatile cartoonists, and over a hundred superhero hacks and/or photo tracers utterly out of their depth, a reminder of just how shallow the talent pool is. This isn’t one of the good pieces, but it’s nowhere near the bottom.
A trade ad from 1977, the year of Bubble Yum’s national (and international, as this Canadian can attest) rollout.

But the bubble was about to burst (or at least deflate somewhat), as reported by The New York Times (March 29, 1977):

The Great Spider Egg Mystery remains unsolved but it may yet have several happy endings. The mystery concerns Bubble Yum, a popular new bubble gum that has, in a year, overtaken such symbols of earlier childhoods as Dubble Bubble and Bazooka. A few weeks ago came toil and trouble: the unexplained spread of lurid rumors among children in the New York area that, gasp!, Bubble Yum contained spider eggs (or, according to haughtier youthful accounts, caused cancer). Stores which had up to then been unable to stock enough to meet demand suddenly saw sales plummet. Last week, the manufacturer, Life Savers, Inc., took out full‐page ads in 30 area newspapers to combat the rumors.

This is not the first time the bubble gum business has been beset by evil rumor. When Jimmy Carter was a boy, youngsters in Sumter County, Georgia, were scared off by reports that bubble gum was made with snake oil —until they were reassured by an ad in the Americus Times‐Recorder. Nor is bubble gum normally regarded as the stuff of moral lessons. Its history, since it was invented by Walter Diemer in 1928, is marked by such milestones as packaging it with baseball cards (1933) or making it squeakless (1953).

But there is something more significant, and appealing, in the open way in which Life Savers has chosen to deal with its problem. We hope the spider egg rumors are expunged as successfully now as the snake oil rumors were then. And there will be a happier ending still if the subject is properly understood to be not bubble gum but canard. No consumer is too young to learn the malign effects of rumor or to understand that there will always be someone, not always in youthful innocence, eager to raise the cry—whether about Communists in government, environment, energy or bubble gum—of “spider eggs.”

From Morris County, NJ’s Daily Record, March 27, 1977 edition.

Susan M. Smith wrote, in her 1989 thesis, Consumer Rumors and
Corporate Communications
:

Whether the rumor is isolated or widespread, the company must select media that reach the rumor’s community of interest, and particularly, its influential leaders. The importance of this is shown by what happened after a rumor episode in New York City for the Life Saver’s Company. The company conducted an all-out attack to combat a rumor in 1977 that the company’s innovative, new soft chewing gum. Bubble Yum, contained spider eggs. It sought publicity, inserted full-page newspaper ads, and sent letters with a copy of the ad to the city’s PTA groups, school principals, and retail outlets.

The campaign successfully stopped the rumor, but Bubble Yum’s New York sales did not recover for many years. It turns out that even though the company had blanketed the city with its rumor denial, it never spoke directly to product users, the school-age children, to bolster confidence in the product. The selection of inappropriate media makes the refutation message miss the rumour’s public allowing the rumor to continue to spread or delaying recovery from the rumor.

Speaking of advertising: Marvel’s knockoff of Scholastic’s Dynamite, Pizzazz (1977-79), which included lots of ads, featured this piece in its 6th issue (March 1978, Marvel). This gives you a sense of Bubble Yum’s success, as the product was, in its field, what’s termed a disruptive innovation. Chewing gum no longer had to be hard.
Inevitably, the imitators came! Smooooth N’ Juicy, Hubba Bubba, Bubblicious, the oddball Freshen Up, and so on. Marvel switched its advertising allegiance to Topps. This is from Pizzazz no. 11 (Aug. 1978, Marvel). The art looks to me to be the work of Mad magazine veteran Jack Rickard (1922-1983).
A few issues later, (Pizzazz no. 14, Nov. 1978, Marvel), in a brazen display of corrupt insincerity, came this so-called Consumer Guide (note that only Topps products are pictured). Really, is Bubble Yum “the hardest, toughest gum our testers had to chew“? Surely anyone who’s ever tried to chew something from the Bazooka family knows better. My jaw aches just from the memory.
The company continued efforts to restore its reputation in the New York market, where the rumours had caused the most harm. A piece from The New York Times‘ Tuesday, July 22, 1980 edition.
This ad ran in Adventure Comics no. 487 (Nov. 1981, DC) and several other titles in the following months.
Now that’s better: in 1982, they turned to the incomparable Jack Davis to illustrate one of their print ads. Given his prodigious speed, he couldn’t have spent more than an hour on this specific piece, but it works far better than its predecessors. Incidentally, the ‘Super Yum’ thing (replacing Soft ‘n Juicy) appears to have been a move to block a competitor from using the appellation.

But I suppose all this controversy merely seems quaint now, what with all today’s heavy weaponizing of misinformation. Besides, the bubblegum market has been rather moribund in the past few decades, since apparently Nobody Likes to Chew Gum Anymore.

For a bit of sugar high nostalgia, I’ll leave you with a pair of vintage Bubble Yum ads: 1976’s brand introduction, featuring The Flavor Fiend;

And 1988’s spot co-starring a young Leonardo DeCaprio, which shows us he was clearly born with that insufferable smugness, or at least had honed it to perfection by his teens.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: SpongeBob Goes Squish!

That SpongeBob would encounter a lot of tentacles in his day-to-day life is not at all surprising – he’s a sea sponge. What still surprises me, however, by is how much fun SpongeBob comics can be. Between 2011 and 2018, a respectable 85 issues were published by Stephen Hillenburg‘s production company, United Plankton Pictures (what a great title) and distributed by Bongo Comics.

No tentacles yet, but I couldn’t resist sharing this colourful, spook-tastic spread from SpongeBob Comics No. 25 (October 2013). Art by Andy Rementer.

The formula was similar to Simpsons Comics spin-off Treehouse of Horror: plenty of famous (and talented!) cartoonists having fun with the characters. Between the roster for the regular comics and the special-themed supersized issues, quite a few artists who participated are WOT favourites, and some are Tentacle Tuesday masters, to boot: Hilary Barta, Tony Millionaire, Al Jaffee, Ramona Fradon, Michael T. Gilbert… in 2017, Stephen R. Bissette even broke up out of retirement to work on a special Hallowe’en issue. I think this post is a decent sampler of the different styles and storytelling techniques involved – I’ve concentrated on prominent tentacles, and ignored all the trimmings (the recurring jellyfish tentacles, pumpkins sprouting grabby vines, etc.)

The tentacle fun starts right off with the first issue! Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy vs. the Octopus King, written by James Kochalka and illustrated by Hilary Barta, was published in SpongeBob Comics No. 1 (February 2011):

A page from Serpents & Sealords, written and illustrated by Corey Barba and published in SpongeBob Comics no. 51 (December 2015).

The following glorious illustration at the tail end of SpongeBob Comics no. 50 (November 2015) is by Jim Woodring:

Given that Stephen Hillenburg (the creator of SpongeBob) was a marine scientist and teacher, it does not come as a surprise that the recurring feature Flotsam and Jetsam was used to talk about all manner of nautical critters and their habits. Here are a few:

Flotsam and Jetsam: Ocean Facts – The Mimic Octopus, written and illustrated by Maris Wicks and published in SpongeBob Comics no. 52 (January 2016).
Flotsam Fables: Legends of the Deep – The Kraken, written by Karen Sneider and illustrated by Vanessa Davis), was published in SpongeBob Comics  no. 62 (November 2016).
Flotsam & Jetsam – Ocean Facts: Sea Stars, written by Julie Winterbottom and illustrated by Nate Neal, published in SpongeBob Comics no. 71 (August 2017).

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Treehouse of Tentacular Horror

Treehouse of Horror episodes are easily my favourite Simpsons material, and not just because Hallowe’en is the most interesting ‘holiday’ of the year (in my hardly humble opinion). Of course, abandoning the pretence of any continuity makes for entertaining, anything-goes storytelling, but what I find especially appealing is that these little gems take the Simpsons’ brand of humour, admittedly already somewhat dark, and kick it up a notch all the way into full-blown black humour and gore.

The comic books series of the same name continued this tradition, offering readers a fun grab bag of horror and science fiction film parodies, literary references and just plain madcap-yet-macabre nonsense. Not all stories are good; plots vary widely in quality, and even a good plot falls flat in the hands of an artist lacking the expertise to pull it off. However, through the years (there are 23 issues of total, published between 1995 and 2017) a number of illustrious comic artists and writers have contributed their talents to this misshapen, haphazardly hammered treehouse.

You will not be too surprised to hear that a number of stories included tentacles, be it in a secondary capacity or featured front and centre. The quotidian presence of aliens Kang and Kodos ensures that, but there are also a number of plant and chest hair tendrils, Homer-as-octopus, Cthulhu guest appearances and god knows what else. The following is by no means an exhaustive list; I have striven to include a bit of everything. Two stories have made it into previous Tentacle Tuesdays (see Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Hilary Barta and Tentacle Tuesday: tentacles, some fresh, some older than time).

We start with Treehouse of Horror number one and its parody of a Little Shop of Horrors.

Little Shop of Homers, scripted by Mike Allred and pencilled by Luis Escobar and Bill Morrison, was published in Treehouse of Horror no. 1 (October 1995).

The cover of number two features… err, is that Kang or Kodos? with tentacles in full display. You may insert a ‘all aliens look alike’ joke here, to be fair, these two can mostly be told apart by their voice, Kang’s being deeper.

Treehouse of Horror no. 2 (September 1996). Cover by Bill Morrison, who, incidentally, is the co-founder of Bongo Comics and creator of Roswell: Little Green Man.

The insides offer us the tentacles of Sideshow Bob, whose transformation into a blob is distinctly cephalopodian in nature.

Sideshow Blob! was scripted by Paul Dini and illustrated by Bill Morrison and Tim Bavington.

Skipping over a few tentacle-less issues (for shame!), we arrive at number five, in which Mr Burns and Smithers, having been turned into Rigellians, demonstrate a proficient use of tentacles for their god-intended purpose, namely grabbing and choking.

Apu on Rigel 7, written and illustrated by Doug TenNapel, was published in Treehouse of Horror no. 5 (September 1999). I’d like to say a few words about TenNapel, here: my first encounter with his sense of humour was through the video game Earthworm Jim, which has retained a special place in my heart though I last played it some twenty years ago. I’ve read some of his graphic novels, and though I was mostly underwhelmed, TenNapel’s wild imagination was a pleasure. Having said that, his politics and beliefs have led him to gradually transforming into a judgmental asshole, which is completely at odds with the empathy he displays in his comics.

Leaving Kang and Kodos behind for now, we can play the game ‘option A or option B’: if somebody was forcing you to choose between having a third eye or tentacles instead of hands, which would you go for?

Treehouse of Horror no. 9 (September 2003); cover by Bill Morrison. Here we see how Homer has opted for the more destructive, tentacle-hands choice.

The following, incredibly boring parody of LOTR at least offers one genuine octopus, perhaps supposed to be the Watcher in the Water.

Ring Around the Simpsons, scripted by Ian Boothby and illustrated by Dan Brereton.

The following cover is Kodos (or Kang? sorry, guys) again, which I’m including because I like it…

Treehouse of Horror no. 12 (September 2006). Cover by Bill Morrison.

… and because one of its stories featured a somewhat original interpretation of tentacles: chest hair!

Willie: Portrait of a Groundskeeper was written and illustrated by Eric Powell.
Aliens’ penchant for busty human females is one of those mysteries of life…

One of my favourite tropes, octopus-in-the-library (wait… it’s not actually a trope, but it should be!), is aptly used in number thirteen:

Prop, Prop, Whiz, Whiz!, scripted by Ian Boothby and Pia Guerra, pencilled by Pia Guerra and inked by Terry Austin, was published in Treehouse of Horror no. 13 (September 2007).

Mutants with tentacles traipse on in number sixteen…

I Screwed Up Big-Time and Unleashed the Glavin on an Unsuspecting World!, scripted and illustrated by Evan Dorkin, was published in Treehouse of Horror no. 16 (September 2010).

… and plant tentacles rear their acquisitive little tendrils again in number eighteen.

Treehouse of Horror no. 18 (September 2012). Cover by Tentacle Tuesday Master Hillary Barta!

Finally, the last (alas!) cover of this series feature tentacles a’plenty! What a great note to end this on.

Treehouse of Horror no. 23 (September 2017). Cover pencilled by Jason Ho and inked by Mike Rote.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Kellie Strøm

One might call the illustrator and comics artist Kellie Strøm a bit of a cosmopolitan –  born in Denmark, he grew up in Ireland and, in adulthood, made London his place of residence. He has accomplished much, but seemingly obtained little recognition for it – his graphic novel (The Acid Bath Case, 1992, published by Kitchen Sink), a collaboration with Stephen Walsh, seems to have been lost in the rivers of time, despite being a striking showcase of Strøm’s black-and-white, precise-yet-graceful style. He also has a great eye for colour, as becomes evident from a quick glance at Star Wars comics he’s illustrated (but does anybody read Star Wars comics?), or, in a much more pleasant and hopefully longer-lasting and farther-reaching vein, his paintings for children’s books. 

A panel from The Acid Bath Case (1992, Kitchen Sink). These may not be tentacles per se, but as far as I’m concerned, they qualify!

Personally, I have a soft spot for his illustrations in glorious full colour – I believe that it’s a rare skill to be able to use a full rainbow palette and not end up with gaudy or downright ugly results. Let’s have a look!

That thing is soon growing up to be a tentacled monstrosity, but right now it’s all pretty colours!

The following are pages from Fortune, Fate, and the Natural History of the Sarlacc, written by Mark Schultz and published in Star Wars Tales no. 6 (2000, Dark Horse). Watch an unfortunate victim plunge into the gullet of a merciless tentacled beast!

For comparison purposes: this is the original art…

And the following are pages from the printed comic:

I also mentioned Strøm’s career as an illustrator in children books. The results are beautiful, and, I sincerely hope, well-remunerated.

Panels from Het Zeemans – ABC (2008, Rubinstein Publishing) – or, in other words, Sailors’ ABC:

I didn’t have the heart to remove the copyright from this image! Visit Strøm’s website here. Look how many delightful tentacles one can squish into one panel!

2014 saw the release of the tentacle-wealthy Worse Things Happen at Sea (Nobrow Press), in which « historical ships are attacked, enveloped and engorged by monstrous sea creatures surfacing from the deepest depths of the darkest oceans. » Must be Strøm’s Nordic roots re-surfacing, though apparently he cannot swim!

~ ds

Treasured Stories: “Don’t Play That Ukelele!” (1975) and “Tender Feelings” (1974)

« There’s something about guitars, they’re just so big, you know what I mean? You’re just like, ‘Ugh!’ It just seems so overwhelming. And the ukulele is, like, the opposite of overwhelming. » — Zooey Deschanel

It’s no big secret: the chief asset of Gold Key’s line of mystery comics (The Twilight Zone, Thriller / Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Dark Shadows, Grimm’s Ghost Stories and The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor) was its (generally) painted covers, the bulk of the work handled by the prolific George Wilson, with occasional contributions by Luis Dominguez and Jesse Santos.

While the inside artwork also had its charms, the weak link in the chain was the writing. Pedestrian and formulaic, most of its anonymous load was borne by Paul S. Newman, one of the comics industry’s great cranker-outers. And so things ran their humdrum course, even with the arrival of talented DC expatriate Arnold Drake in the early 1970s. I strongly suspect rampant conservatism on the part of the editors, as even normally-compelling authors produced the same generic plots, ground out like under-seasoned sausage.

Then occurred a curious bump in the road: the unheralded, near-anonymous arrival of future Clown College alumnus*Connor Freff Cochran (1954-), who scripted (as Freff, when credited — a rarity at GK) a number of short tales for Gold Key’s anthology titles for a few years (1974-1977). Of those I’ve read, most docilely follow the publisher’s tame editorial formula. But there are exceptions, and they really do stand out. Here’s such a pair, which I’m boldly attributing to Mr. Cochran.

Interesting that writer Freff opted here for the obscure, alternate spelling of ukulele. Speaking of which, how do you think ‘ukelele‘ is pronounced? You might be surprised. Check here for the answer. And, er… 1907? “One of the earliest appearances of the word ukulele in print (in the sense of a stringed instrument) is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Catalogue of the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments of All Nations published in 1907.” [ source ]
Man, that lake monster looks familiar. I smell a swipe.
And for the full multimedia experience, you can sing and strum along with George!

Ahem — sloppy research on Freff’s part:

The ukulele was popularized for a stateside audience during the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, held from spring to autumn of 1915 in San Francisco.

[ source ]

It is therefore highly unlikely that anyone on the American continent would have been plucking a uke, let alone that two random Missouri farmboys would spot a specimen from a distance. Not to mention the fact that the uncredited and unknown artist (no, it’s not Bill Molno, dear ignoramuses at the GCD) drew… a plain old guitar. Let’s face it, a banjo or even a mandolin would have made more sense.

In his defense, Freff recalled:

« I absolutely did write “Don’t Play That Ukulele!” But I don’t deserve the ding for the misspelling — that was the letterer’s error, which no one fixed. I will cop to not knowing (in 1975) that the ukulele wasn’t introduced stateside until 1915…but even there the story is a bit more complicated than it appears on the surface. When I pitched the idea it was a guitar that brought doom down on our unfortunate swain, same as it wound up being drawn. But editor Paul Kuhn thought a ukulele was intrinsically funnier than a guitar, and he’s absolutely right about that. I remember us both giggling over the title when we came up with it. »

Oh, I fully agree. A pox on that sloppy letterer.

So, who is this Freff guy? Here’s a bit of self-provided biography:

At fourteen, he and his family moved to Placentia, California, east of Los Angeles, where he graduated from El Dorado High School a year ahead of the normal schedule. One of his fellow students had combined the words “friend” and “Jeff ” to coin the name “Freff ”— and while at first this remained only a nickname, by 1970 he had started signing his artwork that way, as well. Like many artists, Cochran entered the science fiction field doing “freebie” drawings for fanzines. His first paid job were pen and ink drawings for Andrew Porter’s semi-prozine Algol, done in 1972. In the same year he dropped out of Fullerton Junior College after two months of art classes to live on his own. He worked in various fields to make a living and “The rest was all just self-directed study and experimentation,” he says, adding “as a young pro, just starting out, I was lucky enough to be mentored ever-so-slightly by two of my early faves in the field: Kelly Freas and Jack Gaughan. At Kelly Freas’s suggestion Cochran moved to New York in September 1973 and started looking for work as an illustrator.

When that was not forthcoming, Cochran attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College — class of 1974.

In that year he got his first big break from Jim Baen, the new editor of Galaxy and If. Baen needed people who would work fast and cheap and put up with being paid late — in other words, the perfect opportunity for beginning artists like Cochran. By this time he was aware that other professional artists and cartoonists were named “Cochran”— and feeling that using his initials “JC” would be presumptuous — the artist in 1976 went to court and legally adopted “Freff ” as his professional nom de brush, and kept it during his years of magazine illustrating. Baen was so taken with the name that he put it on the cover of Cochran’s first cover for IF, as if Cochran was an author with a story in the magazine. After that “Freff ” did a lot of work for Baen, primarily interiors in black-and-white. He also did drawings for Cosmos, Isaac Asimov’s SF, and did cover work for publishers such as Dell, Berkley, and Doubleday. Cochran was selected to be one the artists in the special 1975 NASA/Smithsonian Artists Tour. After early success illustrating Zelazny’s “Amber” novels for Galaxy, followed by cover art and interior illustrations for a set of hardcover novels by Zelazny for Gregg Press in the early 1980s, Cochran became disgruntled over nonpayment for the use of his art in foreign editions of John Varley’s novel Titan, for which he had done a frontispiece and 16 illustrations—and the argument led to the end of Cochran’s illustrating in the field.

He turned to other endeavors, but briefly “dipped a toe back into the waters by collaborating on the first (and only) issue of an SF comic book called D’Arc Tangent” in 1982–1983. He did inking and penciling for DC and Marvel comics: Star Trek** and Tomb of Dracula***.

This is Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 64 (Oct. 1975, Gold Key), featuring a painted cover by Argentine master Luis Dominguez. Don’t Play That Ukelele! isn’t even the cover story… there’s just a lot of aquatic peril in this particular issue.

And here’s the uncredited, utterly batty Tender Feelings, recognizably illustrated by another hardworking Argentine, José Delbo. It saw print in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 53 (Apr. 1974, Gold Key).

Part of my reasoning for attributing authorship of Tender Feelings to Freff is his penchant for light, deftly humorous tales that conclude with several characters meeting dismal ends. Churrr...

But… nope. The mystery of this mordant little tale remains whole. Freff helpfully eliminated himself as a suspect, and proposed some intriguing leads:

« I can’t take credit for “Tender Feelings.” I certainly wish I could, since it’s a delightful mashup/piss-take on DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Man-Thing. But nope — not me.

The publication date I find online for that story is April 1974. But Gold Key titles usually hit the stands a month ahead of the printed date, and editors Wally Green and Paul Kuhn liked to have a solid backlog of finished stories on hand. That puts the likely writing window for “Tender Feelings” somewhere around August 1973, which means there’s a chance that “Tender Feelings” was written by Len Wein himself. Len did a lot of uncredited Gold Key stories, starting around 1969, but he stopped in late summer 1973. It would have been absolutely in keeping with his sense of humor to write something like “Tender Feelings” as a happy sendoff for himself.

My best second guess after that would be John David Warner…though if I really had to bet, I’d bet on Len. In any case, whoever did it was lightyears better than the usual Gold Key writer. Glad to see them get this recognition. »

-RG

*Class of ’74. As Freff himself stated: « The Really Famous Guy from our session was Bill Irwin, who went on to a great stage, TV, and film career, and was the first performer to win a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation.) I did originally intend to apply for the ’73 class, but I learned about it too late to make that year’s deadline. So I went to NYC instead to pursue art, while waiting for my next chance to roll around.. »

**he inked two drawings (one of them a double-paged splash) in Who’s Who’s in Star Trek (1987). That seems to be all.

***a pair of frontispiece illustrations in Tomb of Dracula (the magazine, that is: six issues, published Oct. 1979 – Aug. 1980); he also conducted a fine interview with Stephen King, published in issues 4 and 5 of TOD. Freff provides some illumination: « plus the framing graphics for the magazine’s title/table of contents page, plus I got to ink a bunch of ads for the magazine. The one I know they used involved inking Gene Colan’s pencils, which was hella fun and a childhood dream come true. I grew up on Gene’s work in DAREDEVIL, DOCTOR STRANGE, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN MARVEL, etc, and he was easily as big an influence on my visual thinking as people like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, or Jim Steranko. (I got to achieve another childhood comics dream when I got to re-pencil, ink, and color a Curt Swan drawing for the October 1988 cover of KEYBOARD magazine.)

I did a lot more writing than artwork at Marvel, but most of it was nonfiction material in their b&w magazines — 100+ articles for PLANET OF THE APES, DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG-FU, CELEBRITY, NOSTALGIA ILLUSTRATED, THE TOMB OF DRACULA, etc. »

Tentacle Tuesday: Dark Horse, Pt. 2

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).

You decide for yourself which James Bond this is .

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.

Dark Horse’s revival of the classic Warren magazine is a mixed bag – this issue for instance, features several new stories and a reprint from 1970 (Life Species by Bill DuBay). This is Eerie no. 1 (July 2012). Cover by Jim Pavelec.

Incidentally, if you’re a Warren fan, we’ve covered a lot of tentacled ground with Tentacle Tuesday: Warren and Its Many Tentacles, Part I and Tentacle Tuesday: Warren and Its Many Tentacles, Part II.

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.

Not everybody can boast to such a classy octopus hat!

Last but not least… Scarlet Traces is a sort of sequel to Ian Edginton and D’Israeli‘s adaptation of H. G. WellsThe War of the Worlds, with heavy Dan Dare and Doctor Who references. This story wears its Englishness on its sleeve!

Scarlet Traces: the Great Game no. 4 (October 2006). Art by British artist D’Israeli, whose real name is actually Matt Brooker.

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 30

« The world will come to an end, but the monster models will still be around. » — James Bama, who went on to paint artwork for over twenty of Aurora’s kit boxes.

Well-executed comic book ads were often just as enticing (and sometimes more, depending on the title) as the contents proper. A prime example, this lovely Aurora Monster Kit campaign, announcing the epochal model maker’s forays out of the Universal ménagerie of misunderstood fiends with Toho’s Godzilla and RKO’s King Kong.

The first Aurora monster model advertisement, it appeared in various DC Comics titles dated November and December, 1963.
The ad ran on the back cover of various DC titles in late 1964. In this case, House of Secrets no. 69 (Dec. 1964). The artwork is almost certainly that of Mr. Murphy Anderson, who goes uncredited, but is betrayed by the characteristic finesse of his inking.
A couple of the models that usually received considerably less attention got their turn in the spotlight in this ad that appeared on the back cover of select DC titles cover-dated October, 1965.

Incidentally, if you were wondering, indeed, the giant monsters cost more… 50 cents more. A bunch more empty bottles to collect, son.

In the late ’60s, a new twist was added: phosphorescence! A cool idea, it however made painting the models, a tricky task to begin with, even less rewarding, as opacity was a bitch to achieve. It worked okay if you had mostly light-coloured The Mummy, but otherwise… This advert appeared on the back cover of DC Comics dated October, 1969… and thereabouts.
The Spring, 1970 collection.
Here’s where Aurora’s close business relationship with Warren Magazines became most evident, with the appearance of a Vampirella model kit. Controversy ensued, once moms caught a glimpse of Junior’s new model kit, the heirloom of his bedroom. Speaking of controversy, Vampirella’s quip about New York was likely a barb about the infamous Kitty Genovese case. This pitch showed up in various DC titles, again, in and around June, 1971.

Warren sold a lot of Aurora kits via his mail order business, and a decision was made to include his character in the line rather than risk dissolving a partnership. Unpainted, she appeared to be virtually naked. Her counterpart, the Victim, sported hot pants and a halter top; a dress or flowing skirt was deemed impractical in order to have her fit on the torture rack. [ source ]

This beautifully-designed ad showed up in October, 1971 DC titles.
At this point, the diluted message is a hint that the bloom is off the rose. An ad from November, 1971.
As a bonus, here’s Big Frankie, the seldom-seen, long-unavailable Aurora grail (until its relatively recent reissue). As the largest Aurora model of all, BF fetched, at the time, an astronomical $4.98; now it goes for a hundred smackers, so don’t complain. Take a look at the big fella!

Though the original Aurora issues of these classic kits are mostly rare as hen’s teeth, enterprising contemporary kit companies have reissued these babies, and you now can actually afford to free the monsters from the confines of their box and assemble and paint ‘em. Mint in Box? Pfui!

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 26

« … a radical series of crappy jokes & trashy art mopped out of the Bowery’s least washed lavatories. Fueled on bologna sandwiches, black coffee & cheap cigarettes, these are the ugly buttons that scream ‘America‘ to an America that has forgotten itself. » — a tasty bit of hype from Goblinko

Fabled pulp illustrator Norman Saunders (a definite favourite around these parts) is legitimately appreciated for his body of work, but I do believe he isn’t sufficiently lauded for his humorous work. After all, he could hold his own against the likes of Basil Wolverton and Wally Wood, and how many of his peers could lay claim to such a lofty achievement?

A passage from his son David’s definitive monograph, the simply and fittingly titled Norman Saunders:

Ugly Buttons came out in 1967 to exploit the popular trend of protest buttons with witty sayings. The macabre humor of Ugly Buttons reflects their Halloween release date as well as the morbid comedy of popular TV shows like The Addams Family and The Munsters. Norm Saunders created half [ eleven, actually ] of the twenty-four images in this set, while Wally Wood created the other half.

A sample of the original packaging…
I’m sorry… but that bat is just so adorable…
You can see why these are perfect Hallowe’en fodder!
Macabre, and with a tidy moral to boot! At a nickel apiece, an undeniably excellent value.
Well, perhaps not *strictly* altogether moral.
The final Saunders button, shot from the original art. This looker was entitled Peek-a-Boo.
One of the original boxes, which held 24 packs. Featured buttons Here’s Looking at You and I’m a Cool Ghoul were designed by Wally Wood.

Collectors find this set very difficult to complete. Although the series was a popular success in 1967, the buttons appear to have rarely survived. This is perhaps attributable to the design of the tin back pin, which was made in Japan with a hair-trigger clasp that instantly popped open and fell off.

Here’s one of the underperforming bad boys in question. To be fair, this one’s still holding together, which surely has earned it some kind of goodwill, a half-century hence. Those old enough (enough, enough!) will recall when ‘Made in Japan’ was an indicator of shoddy goods. All that’s been turned on its head since, interestingly. The Japanese people have admirably overcome much adversity, that’s evident.

By the way, I don’t know just how sanctioned these reissues are, but the cool cats at Goblinko have made these lovely buttons available once more, presumably sturdier and certainly at a perfectly reasonable price (forty times the original, I’ll grant you… but you do get to pick).

-RG