Tire la chevillette: Jean Ache’s Little Red Riding Hood Variations

« … Out behind a tree
there jumped a great big hungry wolf
‘Pardon me’, he said, real cool

‘Why make the scene alone?
A crazy chick like you should have
a handsome chaperone’ » — Ridin’ Hood (The Coasters, 1962)

It could be quite convincingly claimed that Jean Ache ( Jean Huet, 1923-1985, Le Havre, France) was the most versatile, chameleonic artist of his generation. Not only was he able to accurately adopt any style he chose, “high” or “low”, but he also wielded a panoply of styles of his own devising. To support my claim, take a peek at noted historian Henri Filippini‘s comprehensive survey of Ache’s career (in French), which includes a generous gallery of his multifaceted art. [ Part One ] and [ Part Two ]

From 1971 to 1973, near the end of René Goscinny‘s enlightened regime (his Astérix compère Albert Uderzo ably serving as art director), French bédé periodical Pilote featured a high-calibre series of “high art” pastiches. It was entitled Le Musée Pilote.

The pages of 1973’s Pilote Annuel revealed an Ache tour de force, wherein he retold the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood in comics format *and* in the style of a number (seven, to be exact… but not *the* Group of Seven) of famous painters. The set bore the following cheeky introduction: « Within the scope of the Musée Pilote, we came to realise that numerous artists had never tried their hand at comics. Thanks to our friend Jean Ache, it is now a done deal, and we are pleased to present the tryout pages crafted by these illustrious beginners. It is for you to decide whether these attempts are conclusive, and if these young people’s efforts should be encouraged. »

Here we go!

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After Henri Rousseau (French, 1944-1910). Incidentally, « Tire la chevillette, la bobinette cherra » means « Pull the bobbin, and the latch will go up. »
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After Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955).
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After Bernard Buffet (French, 1928-1999).
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After Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973).
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After Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, 1888-1978).
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After Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983). My first encounter with Miró came through this item; if I’d been hipper, it might have been this instead… but I was only six years old at the time.
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After Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872-1944).
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And here’s the cover. This is Pilote Annuel 74 (no. 731 bis, Nov. 1973). It comprised, in roughly equal measure, a selection of the past year’s best work and new material.

My initial brush with Ache came in the early 1970s and his short-lived Pastec (1968-70, 9 issues, plus one album). I only ever got my hands the album (« L’Agent secret chante à minuit », 1971), but I never forgot. Like many a childhood fascination, it came out of nowhere, then vanished.

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A sample from Pastec no. 4 (January 1969, Société française de presse illustrée). The birdie is Psitti, Pastec’s loyal Ara; the Llama is Camélo; and Pastec himself is the displeased fellow with the green hat in the middle tier.

I honestly hadn’t planned to write two consecutive posts about nearly-forgotten French artists named Jean, but something else fell through… and here we are. Sorry!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday Dabblers: Gil Kane

When digging through comics in quest for tentacled material, one soon notices that Gil Kane‘s name tends to crop up again and again. Despite this seeming ubiquity, I’ve never specifically concentrated on his art, though he certainly has appeared in Tentacle Tuesdays before (quite a lot in Tentacle Tuesday: Conan-O-Rama, for instance).

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but one of the things that seems to bug me is that Kane, whose real name was Eli Katz and who was born in Latvia, threw himself with such vigour into American culture. It’s an unfair reproach, I realize – one can hardly expect a four-year old child to hang on to a quickly-receding memory of his parents’ motherland to the detriment of whatever culture he’s growing up in, not to mention that this would be unhealthy.

The crux of the matter is that I don’t grasp that je-ne-sais-quoi that people seem to find appealing about Kane’s art. Where others see “dynamic storytelling, emotionally charged characters, and innovative [sic] staged fight scenes“, I see overly busy, hard-to-parse scenes and stiff anatomy. It doesn’t help that the bulk of his oeuvre is concerned with a subgenre of comics I have strong misgivings about, namely superheroes.

To answer the question of what is it that makes Kane so special, I have naturally turned to Gary Groth:

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That is certainly well argued, but I’ve read a few Kane interviews and his intellectualism is just clearly not on my wavelength at all. There’s no doubt that he was the analytical kind (this interview with him published in Alter Ego no. 10 (1969) calls him « the comics’ most articulate artist »), but what he says often strikes me as stilted (much like his art). Take this, for instance: « Craft is merely the springboard. It’s the ability to give wings to your expression; otherwise your expression bangs around in an inarticulate way and comes out thick and untutored; you’re just throwing away range and scope. » Let’s just say that Kane was a very opinionated man, which does him credit. Yet I get the impression that his inclination to pick at himself veered towards self-destructiveness, as if he were ever striving for some lofty heights he was aware he would never reach.

In that process of self-improvement (let’s call it that), he often slagged other artists who were operating on a different level from his. Even as he flattered them, his compliments felt incredibly back-handed, bringing to mind those people who never smile, trying to get their atrophied mouth muscles to do the job and achieving merely a sort of pained rictus. For instance, I’m a little sore about his description of Will Eisner, who « did little morality stories, which were very moving, but they had the quality of reading a children’s picture book; he could be quite dramatic, but always on a kind of innocent level. He never had complex, subtle characterizations…» or, again, « Eisner is a writer until you start talking about literature, and talking about the great writers of literature. Then Eisner is only a cartoonist. »

You can read the full interview over at Destination Nightmare.

All this being said, I do like *most* of today’s crop… save for the last two Kull the Destroyer covers, instances of the messy, rigid mises en scène I was carping about earlier. The two best covers here are both inked by Tom Palmer, not so coincidentally. Co-admin RG has been heard to posit that Gil Kane should never have been allowed to ink himself.

And now I’d better stop displaying my ignorance and move on to the tentacles!

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Warlock no. 3 (December 1972). Cover by Gil Kane.
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Journey into Mystery no. 3 (February 1973). Pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Tom Palmer.
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Werewolf by Night no. 27 (March 1975). Pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Tom Palmer.
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Kull the Destroyer no. 17 (October 1976). Pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Klaus Janson.
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Kull the Destroyer no. 21 (June 1977), cover by Gil Kane.

~ ds

Treasured Stories: “The Locked Door!” (1973)

« Man’s constitution is so peculiar that his health is purely a negative matter. No sooner is the rage of hunger appeased than it becomes difficult to comprehend the meaning of starvation. It is only when you suffer that you really understand. » — Jules Verne

For my final post of the year (my co-admin ds yet holds one more Tentacle Tuesday instalment), I turn to crusty Joe Gill and a surprisingly cheerful tale of elder abuse (one of his pet topics, see The Night Dancer! for another example). Herein, a quite horrifying situation is leavened by Gill and his Billy  the Kid acolyte Warren Sattler‘s graceful, humorous handling… with the moral still clear. This is one of Sattler’s few forays into the spooky at Charlton, and I hope you’ll agree it’s worth the detour.

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Despite the mere six pages allotted, The Locked Room! features a lot of story. Joe Gill typically wrote pages comprising five panels, which would translate to 30 panels for a six-pager. Sattler breaks down the script into 43 panels, so it could have been far longer. A jewel of elegant compression!
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Tom Sutton’s humdinger of a cover gives away the plot, but no matter — it’s a striking, beautifully-coloured image. The rest of the issue’s nothing special: Joe Gill, Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia’s The Truth in the Fire is yet another spin of the stale greedy-explorer-versus-native-god plot; Gill and Wayne Howard‘s Bury Me Deep! is saved by its light tone; Gill and Steve Ditko‘s Let the Buyer Beware, despite featuring Ditko in full-on goofy mode, is more-or-less standard voodoo stuff; but the humdrum outing is largely redeemed, in the end, by the cover tale. This is Ghost Manor no. 17 (January 1974, Charlton).

I love Gill’s use of the principle of communicating vessels as a means of poetic retribution. Or is it a feedback loop? I’m also very fond of Agatha’s characterization: she’s hardly the picture of evil, blandly accepting each new bend in the road as if morals never entered into the equation. But you just know that, once Jerome is laid to rest, she’ll simply find another man to feed and breezily carry on. In a sense, she’s the main character: doesn’t the whole thing hinge on her fine cooking?

-RG

A Sausage or a Can of Beer? The Goodies in Comics

« Slap him up and down upon the floor
Tickle his feet and hear him giggle
Then unzip him down the middle
Give that gibbon what he’s hollerin’ for! » — Stuff That Gibbon (words and music by Bill Oddie)

Back in the late 1970s, before I had even heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, nor even of Benny Hill, for that matter… I discovered The Goodies, thanks to the CBC’s belated programming of their exploits*. While The Goodies do share a *lot* of DNA with the Monty Python gang (they were school chums, close friends, collaborators and friendly competitors practically all along the way), this trio’s comedic format veers sharply away from the Pythons’ methods: Graeme, Bill and Tim play ‘amplified’ versions of themselves, and use the skit format sparingly, reserving it for mid-show intermission ‘blackouts‘.

While the trio was formed in 1970, it only made its comic strip début (and bow) in 1973**, where they held a weekly feature in the pages of Cor!!, also making an appearance in the magazine’s 1974 annual and The Goodies Annual, the whole lot hitting kiosks in ’73.

« Apparently licensed for just the one year, The Goodies were unique in the fact they were the only adapted characters featured with the comic’s pages with copyright credit being given to Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke Taylor (sans hyphen) and Graeme Garden. According to Robert Ross’ book The Complete Goodies, the strips were all authorised and approved by The Goodies prior to publication and Tim still displays an original Cor!! strip in his study. »

Scans (and detailed synopses!) of The Goodies’ Cor!! shenanigans are helpfully provided by their fan site, goodiesruleok.com.

And now, some introductions from the aforementioned The Goodies Annual 1974 (the only one of its kind, poor thing):

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The Goodies’ brainbox, Graeme Garden, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, on Feb. 18, 1943. « He lists his hobbies as painting, drawing, playing the guitar and banjo, apologising for playing the guitar and banjo, trying not to travel in cars and, of course, being a Goodie. »
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The Goodies’ resident singer-songwriter and ornithologist, Bill Oddie, born in Rochdale, Lancashire, on July 7, 1941.
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« Tim Brooke-Taylor was born very suddenly in Buxton on July 17th, 1940, among those dark, satanic hills of Derbyshire. » I like the sound of that… very Luke Haines. He’s The Goodies’ conservative type, and the one who greatly relishes essaying the cross-dressing roles. He is, after all, the fair one without any of that pesky, telltale facial hair.

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Among other, er, goodies, the annual contains a whopping 33 pages of comics. However, as it was fairly typical for UK comics of the period, no creator credits appear anywhere.
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« The comic strips form a large part of the official Goodies Annual, although “none of us had anything to do with the design or stories”, explains Graeme, “but we were very happy with the results.” »

Goodies, Goodies

Take a little good advice, try a trip to paradise
It’s not hard to find, you’ve got it on your mind
Can’t pretend it wouldn’t be nice
It’s whatever turns you on, Goodies

A circus or a seaside pier, a sausage or a can of beer
A stripper or a clown, prices going down
You can make it happen here
Fun for all the family, Goodies

Goodies, goody goody yum yum
Goodies, goody goody yum yum
Goodies, goody goody yum yum

Goodies are coming for you and you and you and you
It’s anything you want it to be, a record or an OBE
A four minute mile, a policeman with a smile
I know you won’t believe what you see.

(The first Goodies Theme; words and music by Bill Oddie.)

-RG

*« In Canada, the series was shown in on the CBC national broadcast network during the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the traditional “after school” time slot, later a Friday night 10 pm slot, and occasionally in a midnight slot. Several episodes were also shown on the CTV Television Network. In the mid-1970s it was shown on TVOntario on Saturday evenings, repeated on Thursday evenings, until being replaced by Doctor Who in 1976. » [ source ]

**I hear they’ve turned up in The Beano, circa 1994.

Charles Bronson’s Paper Doppelgängers

« I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited. » — Charles Bronson

Welcome to our 400th post! I suppose a Steve Ditko birthday post would have been more momentous, but I did that already a couple of years ago, while he still drew breath.

Today, our man Charles Dennis Buchinsky, aka Charles Bronson (1921 – 2003… he would have turned 98 today — picture that!) squeezes in a rather routine bit part (merely credited as « The Pilot ») in Joe Molloy and Mike Zeck’s nonsensical hijacking melodrama Only a Toy. Heck, read it here if you don’t believe me.

Oddly enough, this expanded cameo came about just a year after Bronson’s megahit Death Wish, as Bronson reached the pinnacle of his earning power (in inverse proportion to the quality of his output, thanks to his long association with the shady Cannon Group). Presumably, he was just doing a favour for his old pal Zeck.

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« Like an unpalatable salad » indeed; a word salad. Published in Charlton’s Scary Tales no. 2 (October, 1975). Edited by George Wildman.

Ah, but this wasn’t the first time cartoonists had paid such tribute to Bronson: in 1971, writer Jean-Marie Brouyère and artist William Tai (aka Malik) created the South-America set Archie Cash series for Belgian bédé weekly Spirou. The series had a healthy run of 15 albums (what one would call a graphic novel over in North America) between 1973 and 1988.

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Front and back covers of Archie’s début, Le maître de l’épouvante (1973).
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And to give you a sense of the series’ narrative texture, page five from Le maître de l’épouvante; when it debuted in the fall of 1971, the series brought a welcome griminess and ethno-social realism to the squeaky-pristine pages of Spirou.

The Italians would then follow suit, “borrowing” Jean-Paul Belmondo‘s likeness for their Goldrake series around 1972, followed by Alain Delon‘s looks for Playcolt, and more exploitively, Ornella Muti‘s charms for Sukia. Mind you, all these liberties with celebrity likenesses don’t make Brian Hitch‘s laziness and lack of imagination any less reprehensible.

Anyway, back to our birthday boy: if you want to see Bronson at his finest, I recommend his early, pre-moustache TV showcase Man With a Camera (1958)… the 29-episode boxed set’ll cost you peanuts and it’s great value. Then, from his European period, you can’t go wrong with 1968’s Adieu l’ami (Farewell, Friend), co-starring the aforementioned Mr. Delon; 1970’s gloriously weird Le passager de la pluie (Rider on the Rain), 1971 winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and co-starring creepy Eva Green‘s mom (or should that be “mum”?) Marlène Jobert. And of course 1971’s Soleil rouge (Red Sun), co-starring, this time not only Delon, but none other than Toshirô Mifune!

Happy birthday, Mr. Buchinsky!

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 31

« Our dried voices, when we whisper together are quiet and meaningless as wind in dry grass or rats’ feet over broken glass in our dry cellar. » — T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925)

It’s with a bittersweet little shiver that I wrap up this year’s WOT Hallowe’en countdown. In light of my fond feelings for the holiday, I didn’t want to go out with a massive fireworks display of a post, but opted instead for a quiet, succinct coda.

Nick Cardy‘s illustration impeccably epitomizes the spirit of Hallowe’en. No, it’s not about the candy collection ritual nor about the motley, garish masquerade… truly, it’s much as Ray Bradbury summed it up in his preface to his The October Country, « … that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain… »

You can practically hear the echoes of sinister cackling drifting on the chill October breeze.

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How’s this for perfectly-composed, uncluttered graphic majesty? A wisely understated palette, from top-to-bottom, holds it all together. One has to understand that this sort of soft-sell, muted grace could not make it to market without a tremendous amount of trust, cooperation and… no second-guessing. This is It’s Midnight… The Witching Hour! no. 33 (Aug. 1973, DC), edited by Murray Boltinoff. That lead witch looks quite… lusty. Where’s she off to, and why is the Comics Code Authority not stepping in?

This seldom-seen Nick Cardy cover graces quite an issue, by my reckoning: the blackly ironic Four Funerals, drawn by Ruben Yandoc and probably written by editor Boltinoff; George Kashdan‘s cynical Cold Ashes — Hot Rage, drawn by Alfredo Alcala (what, him again?); and Carl Wessler‘s convoluted A Choice Seat for… Doomsday!, illustrated by the mighty Jerry Grandenetti. Read it right here!

… and Happy Hallowe’en, one and all!

-RG

p.s. before I forget: how cool is it that the witches exit through the chimney?

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 30

« If it wasn’t for baseball, I’d be in either the penitentiary or the cemetery. » — Babe Ruth

Since the (so-called) World Series is still going on, this seems all the more appropriate.

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It was with this piece that I first began to grasp just how gifted and versatile Filipino giant Alfredo P. Alcala (1925-2000) was. He’s inarguably a grandmaster of eerie moods, but hardly bereft of a fun side. This brief piece, a dream collaboration between Sheldon Mayer and Alcala, was published in Plop! no. 1 (Sept-Oct 1973, DC). And what an issue that was, gathering such talents as Basil Wolverton, Sergio Aragonés, Mayer and Alcala, Frank Robbins, George Evans, John Albano, Stephen Skeates and Berni Wrightson… yikes! (read it here!)

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As a bonus, here’s the *back* cover of Plop! no. 1, featuring Wolverton’s cover boy “Arms” Armstrong. Which provides me with the opportunity to inform you that this very week has seen the long-delayed publication of Greg Sadowsky’s Brain Bats of Venus: The Life and Comics of Basil Wolverton Vol. 2 (1942–1952), his definitive biography of that singular and fascinating man. Read all about it here!

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 28

« As worthless a collection of crackpot notions and harebrained theories as I’ve ever seen in print! » — Graymatter McCogitator III, Chairman, National Academy of Very Smart Persons

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This Oliver Cool strip (we featured another one a couple years back) saw print in the October 1976 issue of Young World. While both strip and publication are just about forgotten, they’re worth a look… but then I have a soft spot for comics produced outside the comics industry proper (if you can call it that); in many cases the ‘product’ reaches a wider audience, but the tradeoff is that it’s a far more casual public.

I’ll readily concede that I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to the scripting of strips aimed at young readers, as the authors are forced to navigate a myriad of oft-needless and downright asinine hurdles in their efforts to amuse, entertain and, yes… even enlighten.

Oliver Cool’s creator and delineator, cartoonist Tom Eaton (1940-2016), as he was born in Wichita, Kansas, inevitably passed through greeting card maven Hallmark‘s art department (as did Brad Holland, Robert Crumb and Russell Myers), going on to work as an art editor for Scholastic Book Services, who issued several of his books in the 70s.

Apparently, though, if he’s to be remembered for anything, it may be for his extended stint as resident cartoonist of scouting magazine Boys’ Life (1984-2015), most significantly on The Wacky Adventures of Pedro, featuring the mag’s ‘mail burro‘, introduced in the 1950s. Take a gander at this (naturally) eye-opening article by R.C. Harvey on the subject.

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This is Young World Vol. 13, no. 8 (Oct. 1976). Speaking of the Winchester Mystery House, you owe it to yourself to read Alan Moore‘s tour-de-force Ghost Dance (Swamp Thing no. 45, Feb. 1986, DC), illustrated by Stan Woch and Alfredo Alcala, the definitive WMH spooky tale. In the context of Moore’s American Gothic cycle, it felt a bit incidental, practically a non sequitur, but it’s damn powerful stuff. Psst: check it out here.

Bonus-wise, here’s a pair of recent-ish Pedro strips. At this point, Eaton’s crisp line and meticulous layout bring to my mind the qualities of another Midwestern cartooning wunderkind, Rick Geary.

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Here’s a moving obituary for this fine man.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 25

« You’re sure you want to spend the night out there? »

As an avid backyard camper, this effectively chilling cover by the versatile Argentine Luis Dominguez never failed to bring a pleasant tingle of dread. It has that quality of a silent, slow-motion nightmare. Barely-glimpsed but eerily tangible horrors shambling your way… and you can hardly move, helpless but with all senses on edge. Eek.

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Though it came late in Carmine Infantino‘s tenure, one can safely assume that DC’s publisher and his adjutant, art director Nick Cardy, had a hand in the cover’s layout. It certainly does tick Carmine’s boxes of « Leave Room for the Kids » and « Make It More Mysterioso. »

DC’s The Unexpected no. 166, (July 1975). The moody featured story, The Evil Eyes of Night, scripted by Al Case (one of editor Murray Boltinoff‘s several noms de plume) and illustrated by an inspired Ruben Yandoc, doesn’t betray or squander the promise proffered by the cover, though it hardly proceeds as one might presume. This isn’t The Expected, after all…

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I do believe that Yandoc did his own lettering, as it’s a consistent element across his American output. That’s always a plus, an added touch of personality. Love those sinister onomatopoeia!

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– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 12

« Egad! This looks like it’s straight out of a horror movie! »

How deep and searing a trace the Universal Monsters cycle has left on popular culture: you see its mark on everything from literature to breakfast cereal. It’s nothing new in the cartoons, of course: Warner Bros, with the Looney Tunes, had their lugubrious fun with, for instance, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre archetypes. So it’s no great shock to eventually witness DePatie-Freleng‘s The Pink Panther getting in on the monstrous act.

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Nice bit of mood setting, isn’t it? This hails from The Pink Panther no. 31 (January, 1976). This being Gold Key, writer and artist uncredited and unknown. Any ideas?
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The issue in question… interesting colouring touch, most likely accidental: the only white space on the entire cover is the “PINK POWER” title.

Incidentally, we’ve checked out The Inspector in an earlier post.

– RG