Tentacles have always been omnipresent in comics, but there’s been a true explosion of tentacular material in recent years. Sadly, the quantity is inversely proportional to the quality, and the comics market seems to be flooded with covers so aesthetically unappealing that I can’t bring myself to feature them. Still, I’ve been accumulating covers from 21st century – here are a few that I can get behind, albeit half-heartedly.
As any story loosely based on an H. P. Lovecraft character (in this case Herbert West) and featuring a crossover as the main point of interest (in this case, West is fighting Ash Williams from the Evil Dead series), this is, not to put too fine a point to it, crap.
Great Pacific has been lauded as an interesting comic with a powerful message of environmental preservation, but this is the only cover I kind of like, the others being distinctly on the ugly side (albeit abounding with tentacles). I see comics as a great merging of words and images, so when the pictorial side leaves so much to be desired, my interest in reading the story is nil — I’ll go read a book instead.
I had low expectations for Professor DarioBava, but this was surprisingly a rather fun read, despite its extremely derivative nature, abounding, as publicity promised, naked women, monsters, exorcisms and lesbian scenes involving a nun in lingerie.
The art is not great but quite serviceable, involving a murky but non-offensive palette with some colour pops.
I can actually say that I like Brereton’s painted and colourful style (co-admin RG demurs on that point), and as he seems to quite enjoy painting tentacles, his art will surely crop up again in one of my posts.
« … his appreciation for city life was such that when I was a little girl and we would be going on walks, he would periodically draw my attention to the colorful and interesting patterns created by garbage strewn about on the streets, or by dilapidated storefronts with their torn-off signs. » — Gina Kovarsky on her father’s perspective
Funny how history works: for every world-famous New Yorker cartoonist, there’s another who’s just about been forgotten, yet is every bit the equal of his more celebrated colleague.
Anatol Kovarsky (born in Moscow in 1919, lived and thrived to the impressive age of 97) began working for the New Yorker in 1947, who published his cartoons and cover illustrations until 1969, when the man turned his full attention to painting.
This specific piece first saw print in The New Yorker in 1956, and was collected later that year as part of the classic Kovarsky’s World (Alfred A. Knopf).
Death rat·tle (/ˈdeTH ˈˌradl/), noun: a gurgling sound heard in a dying person’s throat.
Greetings! Today we explore Kitchen Sink‘s mostly-black-and-white horror anthology (drum roll, please) Death Rattle, which ran between 1972 and 1996 in three distinct “volumes” (please don’t forget your professional spelunking gear, things might get messy). For the pedants in the audience (and let’s be honest, that’s probably the majority of us comic-loving freaks), the break-down goes like this:
Volume 1, 3 issues published between June 1972 until June 1973 under the Krupp Comic Words imprint; volume 2, 18 issues published between October 1985 and October 1988 under Kitchen Sink Comix; finally, volume 3, five issues published between December 1995 and June 1996, also under Kitchen Sink Comix. I must admit that that my favourite period is Volume 2, and it’s from these issues that most material presented below has been drawn.
The first 5 issues of Death Rattlevolume 2 appeared in glorious colour, after which the series reverted to its standard black-and-white (financial hurdles). Issue 7 came out proudly bearing the slogan “too gruesome for color!” Issue 5 gave more details of the change to come:
« It will still be printed on quality paper, so you archivists out there won’t have trouble preserving disintegrating, rotting, putrid copies that look like they’ve just risen zombified from a Graham Ingels story. We’ll still be printing atmospheric stories of the unusual, the eerie, the — dare we say it — ghastly. So let’s rejoice, not mourn. »
I remember being vaguely disappointed for just a little while (it was nice to have colour), but the high quality of (most) stories made it easy to get used to the switch, and I really liked the unapologetic way Kitchen Sink confronted their audience, making a good thing out of a bad thing.
I didn’t realize it immediately, but this post ends up being some sort of cephalopod love song to Steve Stiles. Speaking of the latter, I’d like to mention that he doesn’t get enough credit for his work on Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales, even though he drew Schultz-scripted back-up stories for no fewer than 13 issues of XT – and, frankly, did an excellent job. Instead of getting interrupted smack in the middle of an intoxicating story, Xenozoic Tales could have continued to thrill us if Schultz scripted and Stiles illustrated. ‘Nuff said. Visit Stiles’ website – it has tons and tons of stuff.
If I may be allowed a slight digression, here are two examples of Stiles’ recent (and computer-coloured, I’m afraid) work taken from his Tumblr blog – I think tentacles still prey heavily upon his mind! 😉
Okay, no more distractions. Back to our regularly scheduled program:
« Yes, you may find yourself raving in the aisles when you read Death Rattle, although we sincerely hope not. We hope it will thrill, chill, slice, dice and possibly even amuse you. » (introduction from Death Rattle no. 4)
Kitchen Sink Press, a trailblazing publisher of underground comix that grew out of Denis Kitchen’s successful attempts at self-publishing, has seen its share of tentacles. (For a detailed story of how Kitchen Sink grew from a modest artists’ cooperative into a force to be reckoned with, as well as a discussion of its 30-year legacy, pay Comixjoint a visit.)
First we have a pair of entries from the Death Rattle catalogue. There were 3 “volumes” (series, if you will) published, and my favourite is volume 2, consisting of 18 issues coming out between October 1985 and October 1988, starting out in glorious colour but reverting to black-and-white with issue 6 (which was fine, actually). It’s a remarkably consistent anthology nearly devoid of clunkers, and featuring awesome stories and art by Rand Holmes, Jaxon, Tom Veitch, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, Steve Stiles, etc. It’s also where Mark Schultz’ Xenozoic Tales series was introduced (Death Rattle no. 8, December 1986)!
Speaking of Jaxon, I’d like to quote from General Jackson, a tribute written by Margaret Moser (who dated him on-and-off through the years).
« The last time I saw Jack was a humid, late summer night in 2005 at the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture. His hair was nearly white and had lost its red-brown burnish, but his mustache was bushy as ever, and he resembled God Nose himself. He was a little grumpy, probably feeling bad, and I was with my boyfriend, so I didn’t sit on his lap. I did kiss his leathery cheek and fetch him a beer. He smelled like cigarette smoke and maybe of Old Spice.
On Wednesday, June 7, just three weeks after his birthday, Jack Jackson took his life at the graves of his parents outside Stockdale. His diabetes and arthritis were getting worse, affecting his ability to draw, and he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Unwilling to face a debilitating course of chemo treatment, he put down his pen forever and made his own kind of peace with the unforgiving future. »
On to something more cheerful! Next, we have a bit of a non sequitur in this otherwise horror-centric post, although one might argue that being grabbed by an octopus is a traumatic experience. What’s The Spirit doing in here, you might ask?
« Kitchen Sink continued publishing multiple undergrounds and alternative comics through the ’80s and ’90s, but also expanded into publishing non-underground comics, graphic novels and extensive anthologies, most notably by Will Eisner, Al Capp, Milton Caniff and Harvey Kurtzman. » |source|
All rested now? Okay, back to horror.
The scientist seems to have been preparing to dissect the specimen – turnabout is fair play! This cover reminds me of this, actually:
Back on topic, another attack of the Flesh Crawlers:
My final submission for today involves a cozy family scene where Frank is peacefully having breakfast with, err… Potted turnip babies and an almost-nude greek serial killer. I think.
Occasionally, I notice a comic book cover with a tentacled monster so peculiar that one starts wondering whether the artist was on drugs or just couldn’t give a shit. That is not a criticism, however: where grabby appendages are concerned, the weirder, the better. Even if some of these guys have a face (muzzle? rictus?) even a mother couldn’t love, or their anatomy defies all laws of biology, we’ll welcome them with open arms!
As usual, in chronological order.
First in our line-up is this little fella in a hat. At least he looks like he’s wearing a cap, although perhaps he just has a square head with a skin flap hanging over the sides. At first glance, his tentacles are hollow, although their flesh is probably just a dull shade of battleship grey. So what’s this “thing that waited”? Soviet soldiers who are actually alien invaders. Duh.
This next cover is probably a little more standard for pseudo-octopus fare: a lady with huge, ahem, bazooms (Russ Heath liked ’em busty, it seems – seriously, just look at the size of those things!) threatened by some horrific monster who’s dispatching her companion as expediently as possible. Still, the somewhat Wolverton-esque, grave-dwelling aliens with pincers at the end of their tentacles are odd-looking enough to squeeze their way into this post.
This toupee-clad creature with evil gimlet eyes doesn’t look much like a pet, if you ask me. How are those grabby little arms attached to its head, anyway? Wait, who am I talking about, again? 😉
“My Greatest Adventure” was a title that promised much, and it must have been difficult to live up to it every month. Witness the following “fantastic” creature – a furry slug with disturbingly fleshy lips and tentacles. I can’t vouch for my reaction had I been an excitable ten-year old, but to this blasé adult, the poor beast summoned by some psycho witch doctor (the jungles seem to be always overrun with them) is just begging to be put out of its misery.
Our next exhibit finally features a proper alien, one who looks strange but at least makes sense as a unified, functioning creature. I love his sadly drooped whiskers, his dejected expression that’s strangely at odds with his pontifical speech.
« Make him a werewolf! But in space! And give him tentacles! » Yeah, guys, that went over really well. A Marvel Masterwork, my ass. But wait: Black Destroyer! is an adaptation of A. E. van Vogt’s short story from 1939. And did Cœurl, the black cat-like creature, have tentacles in the story? Why, yes, he did.
« His great forelegs—twice as long as his hindlegs—twitched with a shuddering movement that arched every razor-sharp claw. The thick tentacles that sprouted from his shoulders ceased their weaving undulation, and grew taut with anxious alertness. Utterly appalled, he twisted his great cat head from side to side, while the little hairlike tendrils that formed each ear vibrated frantically, testing every vagrant breeze, every throb in the ether. » (read the full story here.)
My last offering for today is the cutest, featuring an adorable blue varmint who gets my full sympathy and support. Weird? Sure, a bit – he’s got a tentacle sprouting out of his forehead – but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? This cover also proves that monsters are just as interested in tooth-whitening procedures as us humans.
I have this tendency to overlook comics published more recently than 20 years ago. It’s not a conscious bias on my part (aw, who are we kidding?), and yet… Why would I waste precious time trying to find something “modern” (which is a flexible concept, anyway) that’s half-decent instead of enjoying the bounty of excellent comics produced in the 60 (if not 70) years preceding the 2000s?
Having said that, tentacles are more popular than ever in the comics field – a panacea for a number of storytelling foibles, a piquant ingredient to offset blandness, a freaking deus ex machina. Unfortunately, almost all of the post-2000 comics graced by the appearance of tentacles are of the butt-ugly persuasion – for a number of reasons, although I could probably narrow them down to three or so (piss-poor anatomy, a cold metallic gleam over everything, terrible colours). Modern comics also have the lovely feature of having like a bazillion variant covers for each issue.
I could go on with covers like this one all day:
That’s not ugly enough for you? The pretty girl is knocking out all capacity for rational thought? Are you forgiving the artist for thinking fabric needs about a thousand crinkles and folds to look, ahem, realistic? Okay, how about something like this?
Everybody knows that if you’re going to combat tentacles, you should make sure your stance is wide enough to be completely impractical and then fight them off with your crotch. While you’re doing that, your cape will develop a mind of its own and will start lifting off your shoulders. That is normal and aids in battle. Throw some terribly witty dialogue in, triple check that the men have their hands curled up in manly fisticuffs even if they’re not really connected to their wrists, and you’re all set for an Action Scene!
Okay, okay, I’ll wrap up my rant now. Let’s look at some… decent comics.
I’m going to throw a spoiler your way with the following splash. It’s from the same issue as the previous page, so guess who gets to be bride of Cthulhu. (A more-than-slightly absurd thought. What would a Great Old One want with a human female, even if she’s a witch?) For more spoilers, head over to the Afterlife with Archie: the 13 Scariest Moments. I am aaalmost considering picking up the series. Maybe. As soon as I’m done with the piles of comics covering pretty much every surface of my office.
Moving on: I never thought I’d be posting *anything* from My Little Pony franchise, but the “pastels” of this scene are rather well done. Also, these freaking ponies are annoying, so seeing them strangled is somewhat satisfying.
It’s even more preposterous that I should be sharing a Star Wars page, for fuck’s sake, but I like the art (pray note: more blue and orange!).
Finally, Tentacle Tuesday is here, and the tentacles are back with a vengeance! I’ve been waiting all week to spring ’em on you.
This cutie, the Triclopus, kindly agreed to let us use his, err, face to kick off the Tentacle Tuesday festivities.
The Triclopus is a Ken Reid creation from August 31st, 1974. There’s a full list of Creepy Creations (published in the British Shiver and Shake) – with pictures! – over at Kazoop!, a great blog about British humour comics of the 60s and 70s. Go check it out. As for Ken Reid, we’ve previously talked about him here.
Chris Riddell is a British illustrator, writer of children’s books, acclaimed political cartoonist, talented doodler, etc. His hand-lettering (not at all on display in Alienography, I admit) is sort of Richard Sala, Edward Gorey-ish, as is his somewhat macabre sense of humour. Visit Riddell’s blog here.
This splendid illustration by Roger Langridge (tentacle artist par excellence) was published in Doctor Who Magazine no. 300 (February, 2001) to accompany some-article-or-other about “Spearhead from Space” (a Doctor Who episode, the seventh season opener, if you really must know).
A bit more information about the cool Dr. Langridge-and-Dr. Who pairing:
“Within Doctor Who comics, he can be regarded as effectively the current Doctor Who Magazine “house letterer”, having lettered the overwhelming majority of comics since his debut on DWM 272’s Happy Deathday in late 1998. Almost every issue of DWM published in the 21st century was lettered by Langridge.
He has also occasionally pencilled, inked and even coloured some stories along the way. Deathday, for example, was also his Doctor Who pencil and ink debut, and was followed by artistic duties on TV Action!, the back half of The Glorious Dead (where he was co-credited as penciller with Martin Geraghty), The Autonomy Bug, Where Nobody Knows Your Name, The Green-Eyed Monster, Death to the Doctor!, and Planet Bollywood. He is thus perhaps the only artist to professionally draw all eleven incarnations of the Doctor, even though many of his renderings were obvious parodic in Death. Finally, he coloured Me and My Shadow and Where Nobody Knows Your Name.” [source]
The Wizard, a weekly British publication put out by D.C. Thomson (without a P, though it’s tempting), was created in 1922 and lasted all the way until the late seventies (with periodic interruptions for a merger and several title changes, from “Wizard” to “Rover and Wizard” to “Rover” and then again back to “Wizard” in 1970 until its final demise in 1978).
Between WWI and WWII (and sometimes beyond), D.C. Thomson published a number of weekly magazines/papers aimed at boys between 8 and 16. They cost 2 pence, and were thus known as “Tuppenny Bloods”, or the Big Five: Adventure, Rover, Skipper, Hotspur and the aforementioned Wizard. What could one hope to find in a Tuppenny? Short stories with illustrations, some comics, some non-fiction articles…. pretty much everything a growing boy (and girl!) with a lively mind would want.
Since Popeye’s a sailor, one would expect him to run into a lot of octopuses during his adventures. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as one would think, actually, but there’s still enough encounters for a decent-sized tentacle journey. Here we go!
It stands to reason that there are tons of spiffy-yet-unheralded material out there, most of it slowly mouldering away in obscurity. You may count on us to do some foraging and to showcase some of the spoils here… with proper attribution.
Our image: Artwork by Ed Robbins, from Cemetery Scene, writer unknown (The Twilight Zone no. 36, March 1971, Gold Key).