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
« We see light, not dark. But it is in the dark that we feel goblins and ghosts. » — Rex Brandt
The ever-creative Tom Eaton‘s Oliver Cool (1975-79) always reserved a special treat for Hallowe’en. In past countdowns, I’ve shared the first (1975) and second (1976) entries devoted to the beloved occasion, and here is the final pair.
« 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? »
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!) …
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…
« 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. »
« I used to be Snow White, but I drifted. » — Mae West
Spring has most definitely arrived, even up here in the Northern latitudes.
Last week, while wandering the neighbourhood on a gorgeous, inviting day, we roamed farther afield than usual, and happened upon a mostly-deserted parking lot flanked by a humongous pile of sooty snow. I’ve always been fascinated by these filthy behemoths; where I grew up, increasingly crusty and grotesque snowbanks would endure midway through June each year.
It always made sense to me that, being dark, these mounds would absorb more heat from the spring sunlight and melt faster than pristine snow. Counterintuitively, they just stuck around. As it usually turns out, there are more factors at play than one might initially suspect. Here’s a handy scientific explanation.
Another individual who shared my bemused interest in the phenomenon was incredibly-gifted cartoonist Richard Church Thompson (1957-2016), who bestowed upon the unsightly obsidian lumps some intriguing bits of mythology, as he so often and compellingly did to the base materials of the everyday.
Greetings, tentacle aficionados! Phew, this post started out as just a couple of images and spun somewhat out of control. My thanks to co-admin RG for cleaning up, re-arranging and even colourizing the following scans and photographs. Today we gaze at cephalopod apparitions in newspapers strips from the 40s and 50s. There are actually few things I like better: there is something comforting about the smell of an old newspaper (even if we have to imagine it!), the aesthetic appeal of yellowed paper, the concerns of imaginary characters who lived so long ago and yet who seem so close to us. Irrelevant to the modern age? Not at all. Look past the technological trimmings and you’ll find people who have lived and loved and struggled much like we do today. On a lighter note, the techniques of fighting off tentacles haven’t changed much, either!
Flash Gordon, created in 1934 by Alex Raymond for King Features Syndicate to compete with the Buck Rogers newspaper strip, was immensely popular, witnessed by both its longevity – the strip continued all the way into 2003 – and multiple licensed products on offer for starry-eyed kids who wanted a spaceship or ray gun to call their own. Raymond left in 1944 to join the US Marines, and Austin Briggs, who up to that point was drawing the Flash Gordon dailies (introduced in 1941 to capitalize on the popularity of Raymond’s Sunday strips), switched to drawing Sundays, the dailies now cancelled. The following is from August 18th, 1946, art by Austin Briggs.
In 1951, King Features reinstated the Flash Gordon dailies and put Dan Barry in charge, famously assisted by Harvey Kurtzman and Harry Harrison on scripts, and a bevy of ghost-drawing writers.
The following are two Flash Gordon dailies from 1954. These reprints hail from Flash Gordon: Dan Barry Vol. 2: The Lost Continent, which collects dailies from October 26th 1953 to October 29th 1955.
Frank Robbins created Johnny Hazard for King Features Syndicate in 1944. What I find impressive is that the strip continued, with no other writers or artists involved, all the way until 1977 – contrast that with other newspaper adventure strips from around that time. Robbins must have been a powerhouse. To quote from the no-longer-updated (its creator, Donald Markstein, died in 2012), but still kindly maintained by relatives Toonopedia, « … Unlike many fictional two-fisted adventurers, [Johnny Hazard] matured — not as quickly as real people, but after a third of a century or so, he was quite gray at the temples. And a third of a century was as long as the strip ran. It was popular enough at first, and ran far longer than most post-war adventure strips, but the times were against it. Newspaper editors were more interested in daily gags than continuous stories, and Johnny Hazard succumbed to the trend in 1977. Robbins went to work for DC Comics, where he drew Batman, and Marvel, where he drew The Invaders, and never again created his own feature. » Eventually, Robbins is said to have retired, moved to Mexico, and devoted himself to painting – where he remained his death in 1994. This daily is from July 1951.
Prince Valiant is one of those newspaper strips institutions that most readers will have heard of, though some, kind of like me, may be uncertain about about the who, the when, and the hows of it. It was created by Canadian Hal Foster (1892-1982) – who, while illustrating the Tarzan newspaper strip (more about this a little further down!), developed a craving to work on his own oeuvre. He pitched his medieval adventure idea to William Randolph Hearst, who was so impressed that he even gave Foster ownership of the strip. It’s still ongoing (after a little more than 4000 Sundays!) This magnum opus has been credited with plenty, as the « greatest contribution to English literature in the past hundred years », « the pinnacle of comic strip adventure storytelling », and so on. I feel a little bad for being bored to tears by it, but as the Russians say, ‘и на старуху бывает проруха‘, more-or-less directly translated ‘even a crone can blunder’, or in other words, even Homer nods. The following Sundays are from April-May 1941 – spending two nights in a well, instead of trying to fight off the octopus, is an interesting approach, and I’m sure both man and animal were immensely frustrated.
I promised to say more about Tarzan – ah, the very, very long-running Tarzan strip. Started in 1929 with an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ Tarzan of the Apes illustrated by the aforementioned Hal Foster, syndicated by the United Feature Syndicate, it went on (and on…) all the way until 1995, with quite the cast of different artists over the years. The following Sunday is from the Burne Hogarth years, and is part of a story cycle called Tarzan and N’ani, which was published between December 14th 1947 and May 9, 1948. As for Hogarth, he seemed to hold the distinction of being the only artist with two runs on Tarzan: he drew the strip from 1937 to 1945, and again from 1947 to 1950.
The Adventures of Smilin’ Jack, distributed by the Chicago Tribune Syndicate, ran from 1933 to 1973. I know that doesn’t sound as impressive because all strips discussed so far had crazily long runs, and yet: Smilin’ Jack, as it came to be called a little later on, lasted a good fifty years, which is partially explained by this strip’s motley cast of endearing supporting characters, but also by the realism with which Jack’s flying adventures were depicted – Zack Mosley, the creator, was an aviation enthusiast and licensed pilot with a true love of everything aeroplane. The following three dailies are from November 1956. You’ll be happy to learn that Mosley, upon retiring at 67, spent the rest of his days flying his own plane.
Created by George Shedd, a former Al Capp assistant, for the Post-Hall Syndicate, Marlin Keel ran between 1953 and 1954. Very little information about it survives – from what I understood, Shedd first wrote and drew this newspaper strip by himself, and later relinquished the illustration to assistants. Most notable (and what seems to be motivating rare collectors) is the involvement of Alvin Carl Hollingsworth (1928-2000), one of the few African-Americans working in the field at the time, who started by helping out (not sure to what degree) and became the official illustrator of Markin Keel towards the end of its run. Hollingsworth, who’s often mentioned as Joe Kubert‘s classmate at NYC’s High School of Music & Art – a fact that, albeit cool, underplays Hollingsworth’s talent and career – seems to have always maintained an interest in painting. Later in life, in the 1970s, he abandoned the comics field in favour of becoming a (fine) painter – you can see some of his paintings here. This is the original art for a 1954 Sunday strip.
The octopus may be off-camera, but my appreciation of Bob Montana made me include this strip in today’s roster. That’s right, it’s not my fault! This is an Archie daily from July 24th, 1953.
I hope you enjoyed this walk down history’s lanes and byways!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
« I have stuck to my simple art style while the smart illustrative men were snapping in their shadows all around me, because I believe that my story is more clearly told with a minimum of picture distraction. » — the wise, but absurdly humble Frank King (1959)
Gasoline Alley (1918-) is the second longest-running comic strip of them all. The Katzenjammer Kids (1897-2006) still tenuously clings to first place, but Gasoline Alley, boasting the advantage of still being around, should overtake it by 2027. Of course, that’s all academic and fairly irrelevant to us, because the strip’s originator, Frank Oscar King (1883-1969), is no longer guiding its destiny.
The collective memory being woefully short, if Gasoline Alley is likely to be remembered, it will be for its central innovation: characters age in real time, growing up and old and passing away, its cast and its world ever changing and evolving, in a small-town America sort of fashion. However, the strip’s original star, Walt Wallet, is still around, well into his second century.
Today, we’re digging deep, returning to those long-ago dinosaur days when newspapers were gigantic and so were the comic strips they featured, particularly on Sundays. And the Sunday Gasoline Alley was indeed something special.
I couldn’t possibly put it better than Chris Ware did in 2000, in tribute to King:
Reserving his five daily strips for more complicated storylines, King’s full-color Sunday pages often presented Walt and Skeezix simply wandering the countryside of America, idly remarking about natural landmarks, the quality of the sky, or the colors of the seasons.
Frequently, these pages were richly-textured experiments in form and style, often having no joke or ‘punchline’ at all, only a quiet, sustained tone of serenity and gentleness.
And you know, since these are so gorgeous and just as seasonal, let’s be indulgent, broaden our scope the tiniest bit and take in some of King’s paeans to sweetest Autumn.
Incidentally, a lovely collection (designed by Mr. Ware!) of King’s finest Gasoline Alley Sundays from the strip’s first fifteen years was published a couple of decades ago: Sundays with Walt and Skeezix (2000, Sunday Press)… and, wonder of wonders, it’s still available from the publisher.