Tentacle Tuesday: The Kids Are Alright!

« Adults are just outdated children. » — Dr. Seuss

While some are of the opinion that children should be seen but not heard (and preferably not seen), others coo mindlessly over every mollycoddled tot. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and today I’ll concentrate on courageous, plucky children who are not afraid of diving head first into adventure.

The Magic Yarn, published in Mary Marvel no. 2 (June 1946, Fawcett), was scripted by Otto Binder and drawn by Jack Binder. This immensely entertaining story about an old bat with dreams of world domination involves an octopus, some bondage (of course!), and lots of knitting. (Read it here)

Moving on to actual (rather than knitted) octopuses, here’s the original art from On the Bottom of the Sea, published in Little Max no. 16 (Harvey, April 1952). The story artist may be uncredited on GCD, but we know that it’s Al Avison 😉

The Little Wise Guys tangle with an ornery cephalopod. Giggles ensue! This is Daredevil Comics no. 111 (June 1954, Lev Gleason), with a cover is by Charles Biro. The cover story is Scarecrow’s Lucky Blunder, scripted by Charles Biro and illustrated by Ralph Mayo.

Finally, making an epic effort to wrench myself away from the tender embrace of the Golden Age, I’ll accelerate a little too much and end up in all the way in 2015. Here’s a page from Scarlett Hart: The Tentacles of Terror by Thomas Taylor and Marcus Sedgwick.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Golden Age Superheroics

“Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman–a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes, and for every successful superhero remembered throughout the ages, there’s probably about a hundred forgotten characters of varying degrees of goofiness. Periodically, some artist or writer digs up one of them from the deep recesses of time, dresses him in a new frock and plugs him into the modern era of Internet and cellphones, with almost universally lacklustre results.

I like to contemplate these bold strangers in their natural habitat — Golden Age comics! And for a 40s superhero, there is simply no better way to demonstrate super powers and a nimble brain than a friendly tussle with a cephalopod.

The Black Owl, clad in a red-and-blue costume with some odd leopard-print swimming cap… oh, sorry, that’s his blond hair:

Prize Comics no. 18 (January 1942). Cover by Jack Binder.

The Sandmanoh shoot, which one? Remember we have both feet firmly planted in the 40s in this post. This Sandman is Wesley Dodds, created by artist Bert Christman and writer Gardner Fox. Accompanied by his sidekick Sandy, this superhero-cum-detective wielded a special gun that could put criminals to sleep or act as a sort of truth serum.

The Adventure of the Magic Forest, published in World’s Finest Comics no. 6 (Summer 1942, DC), was scripted by Jack Kirby (Tentacle Tuesday Master!), pencilled by the King and inked by Joe Simon.

You’re not convinced that those are tentacles? Shame on you. Take a gander at this:

The next superhero (technically with no super powers, but managing beautifully all the same thanks to his lightning-fast reflexes and superior fighting skill) is my personal favourite Green Turtle, a Chinese superhero who fought against Japanese invaders in WWII. Unfortunately, the publisher wouldn’t let creator and artist Chu Fook Hing make his creation obviously Chinese, so the Green Turtle was never seen without a mask. It’s okay, we can read between the lines!

This Green Turtle adventure was scripted and illustrated by Chu F. Hing and published in Blazing Comics no. 1 (June 1944, Rural Home). With apologies to our Japanese readers.

Magno the Magnetic Man has, believe it or not, magnetic powers (though I imagine it’s not helping him much in this particular skirmish). He’s irresistible to women (maybe they have metal parts?), impervious to harm, and is accompanied by his side-kick Davey, whom he periodically magnetizes to ensure that the little whippersnapper also has access to magnetic powers.

Super-Mystery Comics vol. 5 no. 4 (February 1946, Ace Magazines). Cover by the sudorific Rudy Palais.

~ ds

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Kitchen Sink (pt. 5)

« … And so Hooten Landing remained unchanged through the years… a landmark and a memorial… a colonial world that had made only one or two concessions to the march of progress. » — From Ye Olde Spirit of ’76 (July 3, 1949)

Having reached the last half of Kitchen Sink’s chronological reprinting of the Post-WWII Spirit, we come at last to the end of our own chronicle. As stated earlier, facing an inexorable dwindling of Eisner’s involvement and investment in his creation due to other commitments and an understandable sagging of his stamina, the strip slowly entered its decline. Then as now, good help was hard to find, to the point where Eisner opted to wrap up the strip rather than let it peter out completely. This sober and courageous decision most certainly contributed in preserving the feature’s solid reputation to this day.

As we embark on the inarguably lesser half of the run, we encounter fewer standout covers, which is to be expected, given the creator’s diminished affection for the contents. Nevertheless, forty-four Will Eisner covers are bound to yield some genuine sparklers. Here, then, are my picks.

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Kitchen Sink Press’ The Spirit no. 46 (July 1988) cover-features Satin, originally published on June 12, 1949. Also in this issue: the clever and entertaining The Prediction (June 19, 1949); The Elevator (June 26, 1949); and Ye Olde Spirit of ’76 (July 3, 1949). Cover by Eisner, with colours by Ray Fehrenbach. Obviously, we’re still in classic territory.

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This is The Spirit no. 46 (Aug. 1988), which, over six instalments, « takes The Spirit to the Peligros, a fictional group of South Pacific islands, where he interacts with an entirely new set of characters, cultures and adventures. » The issue opens with Lilly Lotus (July 10, 1949); then follows with Sally of the Islands (July 17, 1949); The Masked Man (July 24, 1949); and The Ball Game (July 31, 1949), introducing latter-day sidekick and comic foil Sammy. Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach.

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This is The Spirit no. 47 (Sept. 1988), which wraps up the masked man’s Pacific Island with the cover-featured Matua (Aug. 7, 1949), followed naturally by The Return (Aug. 14, 1949); then it’s back to Central City business with The Candidate (Aug. 21, 1949) and White Cloud (Aug. 28, 1949). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach.

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This is The Spirit no. 49 (Nov. 1988), presenting Crime (Oct. 2, 1949); Death of Autumn Mews (Oct. 9, 1949) partly a retelling of the former Denny Colt’s origin, and boasting a true-blue classic splash pageThe Curse (Oct. 16, 1949); and Fox at Bay (Oct. 23, 1949). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach. Incidentally, The Spirit was the 1988 Harvey Awards laureate in the category of “Best Reprint Project”.

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This is The Spirit no. 50 (Dec. 1988). Gathered therein are the Hallowe’en tale of Elect Miss Rhinemaiden of 1950 (Oct. 30, 1949), featuring the return of the sorcerous Hazel P. Macbeth; The eerie The Inner Voice (Nov. 6, 1949); Surgery… (Nov. 13, 1949); and The Thanksgiving Spirit (Nov. 20, 1949). And yes, The Spirit spends the entire issue on crutches. Eisner was ever the innovator! Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach.

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This is The Spirit no. 52 (Feb. 1989), and it cover-features the classic Bring in Sand Saref  (Jan. 15, 1950); also in this issue: The Christmas Spirit (Dec. 25, 1949); Fan Mail (Jan. 1, 1950); and part one of the cover story, Sand Saref (Jan. 8, 1950); this cover bears some outstanding colour work by Mr. Fehrenbach, if I may say so.

Some background about the classic Sand Saref two-parter, from Tom HeintjesStage Settings column:

« The final two stories form one longer tale, and they’ve earned a place in comics history. Eisner’s work and film noir have been mentioned in the same breath for decades, and you hold in your hands one of the best reasons why. »

« The story’s history is unorthodox. Sand Saref and Bring in Sand Saref had their origins in Eisner’s shop, which had been producing various comic books and pieces of commercial art with growing frequency. The two stories were originally done as a single 11-page feature, but it didn’t star The Spirit. The lead character was John Law, a character Eisner intended to launch independently of The Spirit feature.

When the John Law project was shelved due to the often poor newsstand distribution of many comic books, Eisner later saw an opportunity, and seized it by breaking the 11-page John Law feature into a two-part Spirit story. Astute readers are now saying: ‘But Spirit stories are seven pages long, requiring fourteen pages of art.‘ Well, there are no flies on Will Eisner. He created the first three pages of ‘Sand Saref’ to bring up the page count.

Eisner said breaking the John Law story into two halves, eliminating all traces of the intended hero, and inking in the faces of The Spirit’s cast of characters wasn’t simple. “The characters were different people, so considerable dialogue had to be rewritten,” he said. “John Law was a policeman and The Spirit wasn’t. Merely because they both fought on the side of law and order didn’t make them the same character.” In fact, Eisner has Sand Saref tell The Spirit ‘you’re a cop’ in the climax of the 14-page story. »

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This is The Spirit no. 66 (Apr. 1990), and the issue reprints Future Death (Jan. 21, 1951); The Meanest Man in the World (Jan. 28, 1951); the shadowy, ultra-violent Showdown (Feb. 4, 1951); and its cover-featured conclusion, The Octopus Is Back (Feb. 11, 1951). Cover hues by none other than Joe Matt!

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The Spirit no. 69 (July 1990) reprints Time Bomb (Apr. 15, 1951); Hobart (April 22, 1951); Help Wanted (April 29, 1951); and cover-featured The Facts (May 6, 1951); Ray Fehrenbach is back on colours.

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The Spirit no. 70 (Aug. 1990) reprints The Hero (May 13, 1951); The 7th Husband (May 20, 1951); King Wang (May 27, 1951); and The Thing in the Jungle (June 3, 1951); Eisner’s cover illustration mixes elements of the second and fourth stories, and it is ably coloured by Ray Fehrenbach, comme d’habitude.

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This is The Spirit no. 85 (Nov. 1991), featuring The Ballad of Greenly Sleeve (July 6, 1952); Matt Slugg (July 13, 1952); Marry the Spirit (July 20, 1952) and of course, the sadly tantalizing cul-de-sac that was Jules Feiffer and Wally Wood‘s Outer Space (July 27, 1952). Cover by Eisner and colours by Fehrenbach.

A word or two about The Outer Space Spirit, as it’s come to be called: Eisner, looking for a worthy successor to bequeath the strip to, found young Wally Wood. Talented as he was, Wood’s tragic character flaws were already well established: unlike Eisner, he couldn’t pace himself and he couldn’t stay the course, two qualities essential to the steady production of a comic strip. But for the couple of weeks before Wood started missing deadlines, such lush, interstellar beauty! Feast your peepers here.

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Finally, as a bonus: detail from a Kitchen Sink house ad devoted to the publisher’s more-than-fine assortment of Eisnerania; it first appeared on the back cover of The Spirit no. 45 (July, 1988).

Well, that’s it! Thanks for tagging along on Will Eisner and his most famous creation’s tireless peregrinations.

If you’ve missed the earlier entries in the series (punctuality is not one of your strong suits, is it?), all is not lost. In fact, it’s all handily archived within easy reach :

… or if single-clicking is more your speed (takes all kinds!), there’s always our general category, That’s THE SPIRIT!, which will bring up everything at once… but in chronologically inverse order.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Sea Breezes

« Il vente — C’est le vent de la mer qui nous tourmente… »

Yesterday, I finished reading an excellent book by French author Pierre Mac Orlan, best known for Quai des brumes (Port of Shadows), written in 1927 and transformed into a movie in 1938. In other words, a while ago! The title of the novel I joyously devoured is Le chant de l’équipage (1918), and it’s a grand tale of swashbuckling adventure on the high seas. Well, actually it’s a lot more complex than that, and it’s beautifully written. As it’s in the public domain, you can read it online here (but in French only, I’m afraid). As I’m still digesting scenes from the novel, so to speak (no, the équipage did not encounter an octopus on its journey), my mind’s eye is focused on the far-away sea… so today’s Tentacle Tuesday has been rerouted from its original concept into everything nautical. Let’s spend a little time inhaling the healthy sea-breeze, in a world of handsome ships and the people who make them sail.

Perhaps the following story does not depict your standard encounter with an octopus… but it’s indubitably a seafaring tale. The Eyes, illustrated by Pete Tumlinson, was published in Astonishing no. 30 (February 1954, Atlas):

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In the next page, the octopus-balls steal a lot of sunglasses (their discovery that ears are needed to wear glasses is off-panel, though).

Monsters from a Thousand Fathoms, scripted by Carl Wessler and illustrated by the Redondo Studio (RG: with a heavy dose of E.R. Cruz), was published in The Unexpected no. 185 (May-June 1978, DC):

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Ads endeavouring to put the viewer into the shoes of an action-type he-man to sell some nonsense is nothing new. And yet, through this hackneyed jungle, sometimes a glimmer of real excitement comes through:

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An ad published in The Marvel Family no. 60 (June 1951, Fawcett). Never mind the Cola (it’s still around, incidentally), but that fight scene was pretty well orchestrated, if you ask me!

Those of us who like to dream of adventure, but preferably from the comfort of our own homes, I have this strip:

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You can read all about the comic strip The Tracy Twins by Dik Browne in a lovely article from Hogan’s Alley.

Since the aforementioned The Tracy Twins got its wings in a colour supplement of monthly scouting magazine Boys’ Life in 1952, I will now smoothly segue into a related topic, or a bit of warning, if you like.

If you start out as a wide-eyed kid in search of sea-faring thrills, and meet an octopus, just like this:

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An issue of Adventures for Boys (December 1954, Bailey Enterprises).

You might end up, many years down the road, growing up to be, well… a little peculiar, shall we say.

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I’m sure several parts of that 25-point check-list for sexual normalcy involves cephalopods. This is Men vol. 2 no. 8 (Aug. 1953, Atlas). Cover by Robert Emil Schulz.

And if that wasn’t sufficient, the same doctor has further advice for his readers in this slightly subsequent issue:

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Men vol. 2 no. 11 (Nov. 1953, Atlas). Cover by Robert Emil Schulz.

∼ ds

Birthday Boy Bernard Baily

« … drawn by a terrible hypnotic fascination, the gangster peers deep into Jim’s dark eyes and glimpses — DEATH! » — “The Spectre”, More Fun Comics no. 52 (Feb. 1940)

Today, we salute Bernard Baily (April 5, 1916 – January 19, 1996), recalled nowadays as co-creator of The Spectre (with Jerry Siegel) and Hourman (with Ken Fitch) and conjurer of many of the 1950s most notorious comics covers… but there’s much more. Let’s take a look, shall we?

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More Fun Comics no. 64 (Feb.1941, DC); It’s curious that the Golden Age’s arguably most merciless avenger would wind up in the pages of “More Fun”. « The Spectre… was notable in the character’s original run for imposing violent retribution against evildoers. In Siegel and Baily’s first story, Jim Corrigan, upon being introduced, is immediately killed by being encased in cement and thrown into a river. A God-like figure intervenes and returns Corrigan to Earth to combat evil as The Spectre. In that first outing, The Spectre uses the power of his mind to skin an assassin alive, leaving only a skeleton. » [ source ] Read The Spectre’s nasty origin tale!
To my knowledge, there aren’t a lot of Golden Age superheroes whose costumes were so perfectly designed in the first place that no change whatsoever has been required over time. The Spectre has to be exhibit number one in that case.

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This is Weird Mysteries no. 2 (Dec. 1952, Stanley Morse); Read it here!

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« Be assured that the death certificate will read… death from natural causes! Yes — hah hah, natural causes! » Baily provides a strikingly modern cover for the final issue of Fawcett’s Suspense Detective, no. 5 (March, 1953). The insides are also top-notch, with thrillers by Baily and Mike Sekowsky. Read it here!

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Here’s Weird Tales of the Future no. 7 (May 1953, Stanley Morse); The stench is palpable, Bernie.

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One of the images that most undermined the comics industry’s case during the 1950’s furor over horror comics, this is Baily’s eye-searing cover for Mister Mystery no. 12 (July 1953, Stanley Morse). Injury-to-eye motif, the censors (or was it the collectors?) termed it. « Don’t worry, Mac, the sharp stick’s hot to make sure yer peeper don’t get infected. Now hold still! »

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Behold Mister Mystery no. 14 (Nov. 1953, Stanley Morse); this one rarely turns up in any condition. Hey, tentacles!

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In the Silver Age, Baily was back at DC, but straight superheroics weren’t his thing; here’s a rare exception. I must say, his Flash looks great, with the appropriate runner’s physique. This is The Brave and the Bold no. 56 (Oct.-Nov. 1964, DC), featuring Raid of the Mutant Marauders, scripted by Bob Haney and illustrated by Baily. George Kashdan, editor.

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Baily’s bread-and-butter during the Silver Age was SF and fantasy stories for DC’s anthology titles. Utter balderdash, but often highly entertaining, thanks to that very ‘anything goes’ approach and a solid cadre of artists. This is Strange Adventures no. 186 (Mar. 1966, DC); read it here, you’ll see what I mean.

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Whither National Brotherhood Week? Baily was also editor Jack Schiff‘s go-to guy for a series of public service ads that ran throughout the DC line during the Silver Age. This one, What’s Your B. Q.*? (*Brotherhood Quotient) appeared in books dated April and May 1966); Love those control questions.

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By the 1970’s, Baily’s work was seen as quaint and outmoded. Editors sometimes experimented with inkers, in this case Bill Draut, whose own style, while out of vogue, produced interesting results when paired with DC’s most outré pencillers (e.g. Jerry Grandenetti, Ric Estrada…) This Baily-Draut splash appeared in Secrets of Sinister House no. 8 (Dec. 1972, DC); lettering by Ben Oda, ‘Auntie’ Eve and her birdie by Michael Kaluta.

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« Lousy, filthy, stinking hobo! He’s no better than
the rats themselves! He’s in a class with them! » Grizzled Baily showed fine form in this late-career corker published in House of Secrets no. 107 (April, 1973, DC). Evidently inspired by Stephen Skeates‘ squalid tale of a rising flood, greed, murder and musophobia, the veteran artist lovingly rendered the precarious, musty milieu of Winner Take All!. In fact, the entire issue sets a high water mark for HOS: beyond a so-so Berni Wrightson cover, the book unusually contains two Alfredo Alcala yarns, one rendered in his realistic style and written by Jack Oleck, the other drawn in his delicious cartoony fashion and scripted by Arnold Drake. Read the issue here! « Whew! A lot more going on back then than even I realized! », commented Mr. Skeates upon being reminded of this story, a few years ago.

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Another lovely late-period job was A Night in a Madhouse; it appeared in The Unexpected no. 148 (July 1973, DC), scripted by Carl Wessler. Read it here!

-RG

A Hot Batch of Dan Gordon’s Cookies

« Take it easy, Shakespeare — TA-AKE it easy! Ya’ll dislocate an iambic, an’ THEN where’ll ya be? » — Cookie raises a fair point

It’s one of the field’s small, fortuitous victories that monumentally multi-faceted animator Dan Gordon (Superman, Popeye, The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound…) happened to drift into comics from 1943 to the early ’50s, and his output from that period demonstrates he was having a ball as a solo performer, surely a break from the often frustrating assembly-line constraints of the animation world. While it certainly wasn’t the money that lured him to funny books (and his books *were* funny), this is no mere case of slumming or professional doldrums.

He mostly worked for Ben W. Sangor‘s American Comics Group (aka ACG), first on a profusion of ‘funny animals‘ features (Superkatt, Anthony the Rogue, Hubert Hound, Squirmy, Chickie, Scallawag Scottie, Huey Longears…) for such ACG anthologies as Giggle Comics and Ha-Ha Comics, but then…

« Gordon soon expanded his work with human characters when he created high school student Cookie O’ Toole. Marking his debut in the April 1945 issue of Topsy-Turvy Comics, Cookie received his own series of magazines the following year. Unlike the Archie comics that typified the teen humor genre in comics, Gordon’s Cookie stories possessed a strong vitality with a satirical edge. » [ source ]

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Cookie’s introduction in the one-shot Topsy-Turvy no. 1 (Apr. 1945, R. B. Leffingwell and Co.) Read it here!

Gordon’s Cookie stories are full of vitality and knockabout visual effervescence. The very colloquial dialogue’s pretty titter-worthy also. And you know, you can read each and every issue of Cookie right here, thanks to the assiduous efforts of the kind folks at comicbookplus.com.

Today, however, I really wanted to salute Gordon’s Cookie cover art, which first drew my attention to his comics work. Here, then, is a gallery of my picks.

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This is Cookie no. 4 (Dec. 1946-Jan. 1947, American Comics Group). Cover by Dan Gordon. The entertained birdie is a lovely touch.

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I’ve always loved that joke, even if it makes very little sense. Here’s where I first encountered it, through Wesley Morse‘s 1962 version.

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This is Cookie no. 5 (Feb.-Mar. 1947, American Comics Group). Cover by Dan Gordon. Incidentally, Cookie’s sweetheart is Angelpuss. With a name like that…

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« Aw, ma! » This is Cookie no. 6 (Apr.-May 1947, American Comics Group). Cover by Dan Gordon.

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This is Cookie no. 7 (June-July 1947, American Comics Group). Cover by Dan Gordon. « Well, I looked for support from the rest of my friends / For their vanishing trick they get ten out of ten. »

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This is Cookie no. 8 (Aug.-Sept. 1947, American Comics Group). Cover by Dan Gordon.

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This is Cookie no. 9 (Oct.-Nov. 1947, American Comics Group). Cover by Dan Gordon. Angelpuss is a singularly understanding lass, bless her heart.

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This is Cookie no. 12 (Apr.-May 1948, American Comics Group). Cover by Dan Gordon. Design-wise, this one’s a particular standout. The totem gets a real workout!

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This is Cookie no. 20 (Aug.-Sept. 1949, American Comics Group). Cover by Dan Gordon.

… and before you go, check out Gordon’s action-packed cover for Ha Ha Comics no. 66, which my partner ds featured one bright Tentacle Tuesday last year. « They say he can cook too! »

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Tropical Foliage!

Greetings! I am on vacation this week – on vacation from work, that is, but never from tentacles! Stowed away on a tropical island (with a WiFi connection, ça va de soi),  hoping to glimpse an octopus going about his business in the ocean, enjoying the tropical foliage… Speaking of the latter, some of the plants that grow around here are distinctly tentacular in nature.

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So you see, I really had very little choice in regards to the topic of today’s Tentacle Tuesday installment! I’ve decided to stick to the 40s and 50s, as there are really many more cannibal plants out there than one could possibly shake a stick at.

Quite a few of these offerings are taken from the pages of Planet Comics, and if it rubs your fancy, our Tentacle Tuesday: Planet of Tentacles, courtesy of Fiction House post might be worth a visit.

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This installment of Red Comet is illustrated by Joe Doolin, and published in Planet Comics no. 14 (September 1941). Frankly, these things seem a little too bulky to carry about with you. Just imagine if somebody tried to walk around carrying a triffid.

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I believe the Red Comet had the ability to explode things with his mind, but clearly there were some restrictions.

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A page from an installment of Gale Allen and the Girl Squadron, illustrated by Fran Hopper. Gasp, a woman comics artist! A rare thing indeed, back in the Golden Age. Published in Planet Comics no. 28 (January 1944). Gale Allen ends up in this very position quite often, though tentacles aren’t always involved.

Incidentally, may I just point out that the Girl Squadron’s costumes (as they go on their intergalactic, dangerous missions) wouldn’t be out of place in a modern music video? Fran Hopper could draw cute girls with no trouble at all – and she also seemed aware that breasts are affected by gravity (but just a little bit, one wouldn’t want to be *too* realistic).

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The ruler of Carnivoria not only has poor taste in titles (most lands are governed by meat-eaters of one kind or another – in that sense, Canada could be called Carnivoria with the same degree of accuracy), but also poor taste in clothing: is that goofy hat supposed to be regal?

For a chuckle, visit the post about Gale Allen And Her Girl Squadron on the Stupid Comics blog, featuring fun images like this one:

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From the usual team: written by Douglas McKee and illustrated by Fran Hopper.

Eye candy for men *and* women readers! 😉

Back to tentacles… and on to Fred Guardineer, who also drew cuties of both sexes:

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The Harp of Death! is illustrated by Fred Guardineer. Printed in Manthunt no. 7 (April 1948).

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Evil Guy has the body of an eagle (with hands and feet, though), and raises deadly cannibal plants that respond to whistling. Does that seem a tad… random to you?

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A page from Appetite for Death, drawn by Henry Kiefer. Published in Beware no. 12 (November 1954).

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There’s something distinctly wrong with the guy’s anatomy.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Your Dime’s Worth of Tentacles!

Some folks seem to display a knee-jerk reaction to the legacy left behind by men and women who lived decades ago: that of condescension. Surely, if it was something that our grandparents believed in, something that made their imaginations soar or intrigued them, by now it’s no longer relevant or just utterly jejune. Frankly, I’d poo-poo this repulsive straw-man I’ve just erected, if it wasn’t for the fact that these narrow-minded airheads actually do live among us. “I’ll listen to music from before my time when today’s musicians stop releasing such excellent music”, somebody daft once opined, and the same (ahem) logic seems to be apply to other forms of culture. If TV shows from two years ago are ancient (overheard at a restaurant), what can we possibly think of comics from 70, 80 years ago?

As you probably noticed, this blog suffers from no such delusions: there’s plenty of intelligent, touching, excellent-all-around material to be dug up from (in this instance) the Golden Age.

Sorry about the varying quality of the images; some of these stories have been reprinted in recent years (and thus, thoroughly cleaned up, or even lovingly restored from original art); and some of them are only available in the original form, which is to say shoddily printed, dubiously coloured, and not all that well preserved. The Golden Age was, as I noted previously, a long time ago…

All right, let’s begin! I have a few favourites in this post, and our first story is one of them. I had access to a pristine, cleaned up, painfully white-papered version of it from Golden Age Marvel Comics Omnibus no. 1 (2009), but I by far prefer the following version, which keeps the colours, shall we say… less blinding? This is On the Planet Ligra, originally published in Marvel Mystery Comics no. 9 (Marvel, July 1940). It is  scripted by Steve Dahlman, who did a very nice job of it, too. It’s worth a read in its entirety; find it here.

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The next few pages demonstrate the dodgy printing I was referring to earlier…

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Slave Planet is scripted by Herman Bolstein (as Starr Gayza; what a nom de plume!), and illustrated by Arthur Peddy, possibly with some help by Will Eisner on inks. Published in Planet Comics no. 4 (Fiction House, April 1940). Incidentally, we have a whole bevy of Fiction House Tentacles at Tentacle Tuesday: Planet of Tentacles, courtesy of Fiction House.

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Mystery of the Vanishing Men, published in The Red Comet no. 8 (Fiction House, September 1940), is illustrated by Alex Blum.

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Another page from Mystery of the Vanishing Men.

This next part I like a lot, because I’m quite fond of Henry Fletcher, Barclay Flagg and perhaps even Hank Christy. These are all the same person, of course: Fletcher Hanks, The Most Bonkers Comic Book Creator of All-Time, according to Mark Peters. For now, let’s just look at some tentacles, although I will doubtlessly return to this theme at some later juncture.

Because of Fletcher Hanks’ relative cachet, comic scholars and restorers seem to have paid a little more attention to his work of late, and at a result, we can admire the two following pages in all their mighty crispness.

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A page from Stardust « featuring the Octopus of Gold!», published in Fantastic Comics no. 16 (Fox, March 1941), scripted and illustrated by Fletcher Hanks.

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The Slave Raiders is scripted and illustrated by Fletcher Hanks. It was originally published in Jungle Comics no. 1 (Fiction House, January 1940).

Getting off the Hanks bandwagon, we move into nonetheless enjoyable territory with Dynamic Man. These panels are from an unnamed story (with matching unknown artist ) published in Dynamic Comics no. 9 (Chesler/Dynamic, 1944).

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This has no tentacles, but I enjoyed these two panels far too much to not share: the guys’ New Yawk accents, and the witch’s demented rictus (not to mention that it’s all happening underwater).

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How many more rhetorical questions are you going to ask us?

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Last but not least, as boring people say, is my second favourite of today’s post, both because I love the art and because the story gave me something to sink my teeth into. .

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Super-Magician Comics vol. 5 no. 8 (Feb-March 1947), cover by Edd Cartier. Dig the guy’s dopey, sneezy expression… contrasted with the octopus’ hypnotic stare.

Twilight of the Gods, the cover story, is also illustrated by Edd Cartier. It’s surprisingly nuanced, doesn’t fall into horrible stereotypes despite the presence of several Chinese characters, and even has an interesting moral. Read it here.

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Next week, I’ll return to my usual diet of the Latest Published Thing as well as superhero crossovers! Just kiddin’.

~ ds

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Kitchen Sink (pt. 4)

« Some men are like flies… without a plan – without direction… they flit restlessly about the world… escaping one danger… and another… only to fall into the spider’s web… » — Bleak’s prospects are grim (Jan. 4, 1948)

Here we are, making our way through Kitchen Sink’s valiant chronological reprinting of Eisner’s post-WWII The Spirit, namely strips from December 1947 to December 1948; still at the peak, with a bit of fatigue on the horizon. At any rate, this particular vintage inspired a score of the master cartoonist’s most sublime new covers… as you’ll witness.

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Kitchen Sink Press’ The Spirit no. 25 (Nov. 1986) cover-features Eisner’s famous and much-reprinted jailbreak saga, Slippery Eall (aka A River of Crime), originally published on November 30, 1947. The story features inmates bearing the mugs of Eisner studio contributors: letterer Abe Kanegson is Bellows; penciller-inker Jerry Grandenetti is Dapperish; and Eisner himself is Slippery Eall. Also in this issue: Death of Hugo (Dec. 7, 1947), Snow (Dec. 14) and Christmas Spirit of 1947: Joy (Dec. 21). Cover by Will Eisner. Cover colouring by Pete Poplaski.

Speaking of the slammer, Eisner muses sardonically on the cartooning life: « Working in this field is a very, not lonely, but solitary life. All of us come to realize how many hours we’ve been chained to the drawing board. We used to talk in the studio about how if we were sent to jail, it wouldn’t make any difference. We could still turn out comics and our lives would not be a hell of a lot different. »

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Here’s that celebrated opening splash, from its appearance in Will Eisner’s 3-D Classics featuring The Spirit no. 1 (Dec. 1985, Kitchen Sink); get those glasses out!

From Dave Shreiner’s ongoing talk with Eisner, published in The Spirit no. 26‘s Stage Settings column: “Eisner has always been a functionalist, rarely a decorative artist producing something for its beauty alone. He is a powerful artist in that nearly every device he uses serves more than one purpose. With a bit of prodding, he took issue with the seemingly prevalent attitude among comic book artists that splash pages serve as a second cover to a story: there for decoration and enticement, but redundant to the story.”

Eisner: « A lot of the artwork done in this field is for a kind of personal satisfaction. It’s used to display artistic muscle, rather than confining itself to an artistic purpose. I believe a lot of artists fear addressing themselves to a purpose because they’re afraid that the showiness, or dazzle dazzle of their artwork, will probably be diminished. 

Consequently, they feel the approval level, the applause meter, will fall off somewhat. We’ve talked before about one of the problems facing artists in the comic book field being that their work is judged essentially on the physical appearance of it. It’s the artwork, rather than the content. That fact contributes to comic books being looked down upon. »

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This is The Spirit no. 26 (Dec. 1986), and it brings us ‘Umbrella Handles’ (Dec. 28, 1947); The Name Is ‘Powder’ (Jan. 4, 1948); The Fallen Sparrow (Jan. 11, 1948); and Just One Word Made Me a Man (Jan. 18, 1948). Colours by Pete Poplaski, grey toning by Ray Fehrenbach.

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This is The Spirit no. 28 (Feb. 1987), and it features Life Below (Feb. 22, 1948); The Return of Roger (Feb. 29, 1948, evidently, like 2020, a leap year); The Strange Case of Mrs. Paraffin (Mar. 7, 1948); and War Brides (Mar. 14, 1948). Colours by Pete Poplaski, grey toning by Ray Fehrenbach.

On the subject of the inspiration behind cover-featured Life Below, Eisner explains: « I was trying to find a unique, or exciting and startling setting within a normal situation. It always intrigued me that cities, particularly New York City, had miles and miles of catacombs under the streets. People doing city stories frequently overlook the potential of them. Underneath the city are layer after layer of story material. »

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This is The Spirit no. 31 (May 1987), featuring The Last Hand (May 16, 1948); Assignment: Paris (May 23, 1948); The Emerald of Rajahpur (May 30, 1948); and The Guilty Gun (June 6, 1948). Colours by Pete Poplaski, grey toning by Ray Fehrenbach.

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This is The Spirit no. 33 (July 1987), featuring The Springtime of Dolan (July 11, 1948); Barkarolle (July 18 1948); cover-featured The Thing (July 25th, 1948), an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce‘s short story The Damned Thing and quite the Jerry Grandenetti showcase; and The Eisner Travel Agency (Aug. 1st, 1948). Cover colours by Dave Schreiner.

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This is The Spirit no. 35 (Sept. 1987), comprising cover-featured The Story of Gerhard Shnobble (Sept. 5, 1948); Cache McStash (Sept. 12, 1948); Lorelei Rox (Sept. 19, 1948); and Ace McCase (Sept. 26, 1948). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach. That poor Mr. Schnobble (the little flying guy with the grin and the bowler hat)… his is among the most tragic fates in comics.

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This is The Spirit no. 36 (Oct. 1987), and it brings cover-featured Tooty Compote (Oct. 3, 1948); Gold (Oct. 10, 1948); Nazel B. Twitch (Oct. 17, 1948); and Pancho de Bool (Oct. 23, 1948). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach. Striking shadow effects: the KS production team sure knew how to make the most of the relatively primitive mechanical means at its disposal.

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This is The Spirit no. 37 (Nov. 1987), and it hits us with Halloween (Oct. 31, 1948); cover-featured Plaster of Paris (Nov. 7, 1948); The Chapparell Lode (Nov. 14, 1948); and Quirte (Nov. 21, 1948). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach. Note the witty symmetry of the matching KS logo, top left.

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This is The Spirit no. 38 (Dec. 1987), which lands expertly and rolls with The Amulet of Osiris (Nov. 28, 1948); cover-featured The Coin (aka Stop the Plot!, Dec. 5, 1948), an action-packed humdinger featuring the return of The Octopus; Two Lives (Dec. 12, 1948); and Christmas Spirit of 1948 (Dec. 19, 1948). Cover colours by Ray Fehrenbach. A dizzying honey of a cover.

Past this juncture, the strip’s slow, inexorable decline commences, and the covers reflect that fact. But not to worry: Eisner was a consummate pro, and the rest of the run is not without its gems. Besides, I’ll be cherry-picking ’em for you.

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If you’ve just arrived at the intermission, fret not: take your seat and relax, here’s what you missed so far :

… or point your clicker on our general category, That’s THE SPIRIT!, and summon the lot at once… but in reverse chronological order; that’s the minute toll this dab of convenience exacts.

-RG

Hot Streak: Bill Everett’s Menace

« I have learned to live each day as it comes, and not to borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow. It is the dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us. » — Dorothy Dix

Menace was a short-lived (11 issues, 1953-54, Atlas) horror anthology title that’s mostly remembered*, if at all, for its one-shot introduction of a zombi by the name of Simon Garth. Because Atlas never really played the gore card, its successor Marvel was able to mine most of its Pre-code material as cheap filler in their 1970s bid to flood the market. Don’t get me wrong, though; these titles were still a lot of primitive fun, and in most cases, I’d pick an issue of Weird Wonder Tales, Where Monsters Dwell or Uncanny Tales From the Grave over the latest Fantastic Four or Spider-Man.

The writing was by no means daring or even coherent, but the artwork was frequently rather fine, with none quite finer than Bill Everett‘s, particularly his covers, which elegantly straddled the line between fearsome and goofy.

I’d be tempted to say that Everett (1917-1973) was at his peak when he created these, but the bittersweet fact of it is that Everett was still at the height of his artistic powers, even as he was slowly dying in the early 1970s.

This particular hot streak ends not because Everett turned in a lesser job, but because other hands provided covers for the rest of the run. Talented hands, at that (Carl Burgos, Gene Colan, Russ Heath, Harry Anderson), but none of the other Menace covers are a patch on Everett’s mighty half-dozen.

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These monsters look kind of playful and kooky, don’t they? This is Menace no. 1 (March 1953, Atlas). Inside we find Everett, George Tuska, Russ Heath and Werner Roth art. Oh, and Stan Lee stories. Colours by Stan Goldberg.

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This is Menace no. 2 (April 1953, Atlas). Colours by Stan Goldberg.

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This is Menace no. 3 (May 1953, Atlas). Colours by Stan Goldberg. Was the title’s monthly schedule truly supposed to be a selling point?

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This is Menace no. 4 (June 1953, Atlas). Colours by Stan Goldberg.

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If you think that’s impressive, you should see what mushrooms can do to asphalt!** This is Menace no. 5 (July 1953, Atlas). Simon Garth was dug up (sorry) in 1973, likely at the behest of continuity addict Roy Thomas, to star (if you can call it that) in his own black & white magazine, Tales of the Zombie (10 issues, 1973-75). Like The Man-Thing, he was essentially mindless and shambling, and so mostly a pawn or an uncomprehending witness to others’ tragedies. The best of the mangy lot is, imho, The Blood-Testament of Brian Collier (TotZ no.7… read it here.) It’s not great, but it sure looks pretty, thanks to the sublime Alfredo Alcala, who’s quite in his element here.

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Don and Warren also met Simon. Read Lee and Everett’s 1953 Zombie!

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This is Menace no. 6 (August 1953, Atlas). Colours by Stan Goldberg.

That strange compulsion that’s creeping over you, that ungodly craving for more Bill Everett, cannot quite be slaked without incurring a terrible cost, be it in human lives, the forfeiting of your immortal soul, or both. But do check out my co-admin ds’ earlier tribute to Mr. Everett’s nightmares, Bill Everett’s Restless Nights of Dread, it might tide you over until dawn.

-RG

*these babies are rare, in any condition.

**Here’s an example:

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