« I don’t know what the hell I published. I never read the things. » — Stanley P. Morse
In the sinister wake of Warren Publishing‘s success with Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, old-school fly-by-night 1950s comics publisher Stanley P. Morse (Aragon Magazines, Gillmor Magazines, Medal Comics, Media Publications, S. P. M. Publications, Stanmor Publications, and Timor Publications…) dusted off some of his old pre-Code chillers in the late 1960s and early 1970s in black and white magazines such as Shock (15 issues), Chilling Tales of Horror (11 issues), Ghoul Tales (5 issues) and Stark Terror (5 issues). It certainly wasn’t all junk: after all, Morse had published Weird Tales of the Future and Mister Mystery, with their Basil Wolverton and Bernard Baily classics…
Unlike Eerie Publications’ grey-toned and blood-and-gore-ified reprints, these are, as far as I know, unretouched, not to mention decently printed.
Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t Kurt Schaffenberger just about the unlikeliest pick of cover artist for a pre-code horror anthology? Sure, he fit in nicely with ACG’s gentle moral fable aesthetic, but aren’t you just expecting the Man of Steel or The Big Red Cheese to swiftly sweep in, catching the damsel-in-distress before the A Train smooshes her?
I really enjoy the madcap world of Golden Age funny animal comics, and they’ve often made it into various Tentacle Tuesdays. Yet not everything fits into the somewhat narrow scope of tentacles (shocking, I know!), so I am pleased to take this fun gallop through some favourite covers that are quite devoid of cephalopods. Doing so involves going back some seventy, eighty years… a difficult to grasp concept for those of us who were not around back then.
My thirty-something colleagues consider movies from the late 90s to be ‘ancient’, so I can just imagine what their reaction would be to a comic from, say, 1942! Yet I feel emotionally close to these covers (whether artistically accomplished, entertainingly weird or just plain drugged-out) – humanity has not changed nearly as much as we tend to assume, and albeit some sources of humour require an historian’s explanation, others are every bit as funny and entertaining now as they were back then. As for talking animals, that goes back to the dawn of human history (Aesop’s fables readily come to mind, and Aesop was surely not the inventor of this concept!)
One could dedicate a whole lifetime to digging through this particular slice of history – I’ve tried to go for some variety in this post, but of course I am (happily) constrained by my own tastes in the matter. Here, then, are some Golden Age covers featuring funny animals that have amused, entertained or puzzled me.
Animal Comics no. 1 (December 1942, Dell), with a cover by H.R. McBride, is an amalgam of details both adorable and creepy – the harrowing expression of the fish contrasts wildly with Madame Crocodile’s peanuts-pilfering offspring and her flirty cocktail parasol, while her crocodile-skin purse makes me think of Disney’s Three Little Pigs cartoon (1933, Silly Symphonies). In case you’ve never noticed it, the third pig, the one with the brick house, has family pictures on his wall… for example, a string of sausages labelled “Father”. Black humour, indeed. Animal funnies are often dusted with a good sprinkling of the gruesome, as when a talking duck eats chicken legs for dinner.
Fast forwarding four years, we fall into pleasantly loopy territory of Fox Features’ Nuttylife no. 2 (Summer 1946, Fox Comics). Despite it being number two, this is technically the only issue, issue number 1 having appeared as Krazy Life, and issue number 3 and onward becoming Wotalife Comics. I can’t find credits for the cover, but the insides contain Pat Adams with Ellis Chambers (“One day a little goil went to her Grandma’s joint…”), Tim Howe and Cy King. Ellis Chambers by himself definitely deserves a separate post – take a glimpse at Eddie Elephant – 1946 Hallucinogenic Funny Animal Comix by Ellis Holly Chambers, for example.
I couldn’t very well leave Felix the Cat out of this post! I won’t go into the complex history of this character, but suffice it to say that this is one gorgeous cover. Clearly I’m not the only one to admire this image, as it was used for the cover of Craig Yoe‘s wonderful anthology Felix the Cat – Greatest Comic Book Tails (2011, IDW), which I highly recommend. This is Four Color no. 135 (February 1947, Dell Comics), with a cover by Otto Messmer.
The American Comics Group is responsible for many a goofy plot, source of my long-lasting affection for some of their titles (see Tentacle Tuesday: ACG’s Adventures Into the Tentacles). ACG’s Ha Ha Comics are a riot, all right, but I have two favourites among the 88 issues released. The first is Ha Ha Comics no. 11 (August 1944), with a cover by Ken Hultgren. A joke doesn’t have to be elaborate to be funny – something about the expression of the indignant man-eating lion and his wild mop of hair cracks me up!
The second is Ha Ha Comics no. 78 (Dec-Jan 1951), cover artist unknown. I like porcupines in general, but here we are presented with a truly bizarre situation – a porcupine who tears out his sweetheart’s quills one by one to figure out whether she loves him… (unless she’s just a friend helping out, and he’s in love with some other porcupine). Kinky, whichever way you look at it.
Going a few years back, we take a little inter-planetary voyage with Coo Coo Comics no. 38 (March 1948, Pines/Standard Comics), with a cover by (possibly)Vince Fago. I am very fond of this purple-green monster who looks like he’s suffering from a bad hangover (or terminal cretinism). Coo Coo Comics is credited with having introduced the first funny animal superhero (in its very first issue, published in October 1942). That little guy was Supermouse…
… but the other contender for this title was Terrytoons’ Mighty Mouse, also introduced in October 1942 (under the name of ‘Super Mouse’) in the theatrical short The Mouse of Tomorrow. That’s enough to get anybody confused in all these mice! This is Terry-Toons Comics no. 1 (October 1942), with an Ernie Hart cover that hints at the influence that funny animal comics had on the underground comix artists:
This year, since I am currently working from home and spending a lot of time on the balcony, I decided to take another crack at planting a few things in containers and taking a chance with the local squirrels’ tendency to root through soil and munch on whatever’s planted. Still, for all my adorable-yet-annoying rodent problems, I have to admit that I have it much better than some folks: there are no tentacles in this garden, thank you very much.
ACG’s Adventures into the Unknown can always be relied upon for an octopus or two (or ten) – just see Tentacle Tuesday: ACG’s Adventures Into the Tentacles, for example. Tentacles of the plant variety also make a frequent appearance, of all shapes and sizes and degrees of grabbiness.
The Plant That Lived, illustrated by Harry Lazarus, was published in Adventures into the Unknown no. 38 (December 1952, KenACG). What happens when a young woman is forced to tend to a plant’s roots against her will?
An interesting plot point, revealed at the end of the story, is that the plant’s fervent desire to become human is explained by his love for Phil Benson, the young botanist. I kind of want to see a follow-up story about that couple and the problems a plant-man pairing would be confronted with. And the classy blonde? She can find somebody else to hang out with.
A very similar blonde in a red dress was featured on the cover of an earlier issue, Adventures into the Unknown no. 32 (June 1952, ACG). It may not explicitly feature tentacles, but it is close enough in spirit for me to happily welcome it to the fold!
Another plant-tentacle offering from ACG comes from The Garden of Horror, illustrated by Lin Streeter, published in Adventures into the Unknown no. 48 (October 1953, ACG). This somewhat wordytale concerns itself with an archeologist who comes upon some strange seeds in a ruined temple in an unspecified ‘remote corner of Africa’. Arriving home, he plants them, and – surprise, surprise! – gets a little more than he bargained for. A dog is also involved, though this time it does not escape unscathed.
Carla gives her unscientifically-minded beau (strangely unconcerned with the killed dog, and later in the story, a similarly-dispatched burglar) an ultimatum: either he destroys this evil plant, or it’s all over between them! He chooses the plant – what the hell, she was a nag, anyway.
Continuing the theme of the strangulated man and the tentacle-throttled dog, we have two pages from a The Vision story (without a title) published in Marvel Mystery Comics no. 26 (December 1941, Marvel). A scientist finds some strange seeds and plants them. Does that sound familiar?
Fortunately, the brave doggo that gets trapped by tentacles is saved in the nick of time by the Vision. Aarkus, aka The Vision, was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (much like all roads once led to Rome, sometimes it seems that the latter has had a hand in creating nearly everything), as an alien enforcement officer from a dimension called Smokeworld. I stand by the side of any alien who saves braves doggos from a ‘horrible fate’!
This is neither here nor there, but The Vision has been repurposed by Roy Thomas in the late 1970s as part of the Avengers. I quote: « A great fan of Golden Age heroes, [Roy Thomas] first thought to bring back Aarkus, a 1940s hero who had been called the Vision due to his spectral appearance and smoke-based abilities. He discussed the matter with Marvel editor Stan Lee, who enjoyed the idea of a new member, but didn’t want it to be an alien or visitor from another dimension. After he suggested creating a new character entirely and that it could be an android instead, Thomas compromised by creating a new android character who resembled Aarkus and also called himself Vision. » Err, how is using the same name/moniker and a differently-coloured, but otherwise very similar costume considered “creating a new character”?
Glancing at some previous Tentacle Tuesdays, I realize I’ve actually built up a healthy nursery of plant instalments. If you’re still in a horticultural mood, here are some of them:
« Is the spring coming? » he said. « What is it like?» «It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…»| Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Having been meaning for a while now to concentrate on tentacled plant life, I was hitherto stopped by the idea that it’s somewhat unseemly to talk about flora when most of our readership is buried in snow and ice. But now, well! – today was the first day of the year suitable for wearing shorts, and green shoots are popping up wherever one’s gaze happens to land.
We have waited for quite a long time before co-admin RG managed to get his hands on this issue… and it turned out that the insides vary from ‘lacklustre’ to ‘wow, that’s ugly!’ Still, the wonderful, striking cover makes it worth owning, I believe.
Speaking of adventures, let’s delve into Strange Adventures for a bit. The following story has a rather peculiar plot – « Star Hawkins is down on his luck and has to pawn Ilda, his robot secretary. Luckily, Star is hired to locate a fugitive who’s thought to be hiding on Vesta, an asteroid mining settlement, in the Red Jungle. But with a little tracking skill and the help of the creepy vegetation of the Red Jungle, he nabs the fugitive, gets his prisoner, and gets Ilda back from the pawn shop, promising never to pawn her again. »
Here’s another Earthman (who has dreamed of this moment, by his own admission!) struggling with some coquettish plant tentacles that just want to be friends.
The next thing after adventures is, naturally, mysteries. If they’re strange, puzzling mysteries, even better… what’s that word I’m looking for… ah, yes: baffling! Another day, yet another ravenous man-eating plant.
One more happy tromp through the jungle? Sure, why not!
The following image was originally created as a cover for House of Mystery no. 251 (1977, DC), but was nixed in favour of another, Neal Adams-penned illustration, which we’ve already featured in a previous post (Tentacle Tuesday: Plants Sometimes Have Tentacles, Too). I prefer this gruesome version (complete with skeleton being digested!… also more detail, more dynamic layout and better anatomy of all involved), pencilled by José Luis García-López and inked by Bernie Wrightson.
« 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.
« 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 ]
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.
… 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! »
« Spine-chilling tales of suspense, horror, and the supernatural—prepare yourself for Adventures into the Unknown! »
This American Comics Group (ACG) entry is generally considered the first title fully committed to the supernatural genre in the history of US comics. And this arresting, Isle of the Dead-styled tableau graces the cover of the title’s second issue (December, 1948). Art by Edvard Moritz. Most of the stories were scripted by horror legend and H.P. Lovecraft disciple Frank Belknap Long (read his The Hounds of Tindalos and forfeit your soul!) Speaking of which, the entire issue’s contingent of chills and thrills is available right here for your pleasure and leisure.
«Men!! They are a worse menace than any octupus [sic] or shark that ever swam…»
Oh, poor octopuses. Authors use them as a (not very original) symbol of a terrifying, all-powerful force, and then get them (not very creatively) destroyed. An octopus is lucky to “just” get stabbed; everything seems to be fair play in this violent spree – dynamite, torpedoes, even freakin’ nuclear weapons. In most cases, the problem is definitely Man: man who enslaves sea creatures and makes them do his bidding with varied gadgets, man who intrudes on the octopus’ territory, man who sticks his nose where only tentacles should be.
« I only have to give him the claws of the killer lobster… the teeth of the tiger shark… and the heart of the barracuda! That is all! » Because any normal doctor has this stuff just lying around his operating theatre, obviously.
Spectacular, deadly monster created? Next thing to do is to rip an octopus to shreds, in a particularly gory eyeball-wrenching, tentacle-mincing scene.
Next up, your standard slashing-at-tentacles-with-a-kitchen-cleaver. The guy must have been stashing it in his swimming trunks; there’s really no need for wearing an actual diving suit. That sap getting squeezed by a tentacle wore one… and look at all the good it did him.
I love the idea of an eight tentacled obstacle, and shall aspire to insert that phrase into completely irrelevant conversations.
I have to admit that Don Winslow (not the author) is the kindest octopus handler we’ve seen today. It must be part of those Naval traditions and courage Martinek insisted on. (He was quoted as saying “Since Don Winslow of the Navy is approved by the Navy Department, I cannot allow him to do anything that is contrary to the ideals, traditions or motives of the Navy.“)
“It takes cold, raw courage to step up to… This is the grandfather of all octopus… or is it octopi…?” Only a true hero starts fretting about the properness of his English while in proximity to a giant octopus. Are you wondering why that octopus looks distinctly fake? He’s actually made out of rubber, as Don Wallace, a.k.a. Torpedo Man discovers when he punctures the counterfeit cephalopod.
In the 1950s, “atomic” was distinctly a cool word, which clearly inspired the creation of this Atomic Submarine (nuclear powered, that is) and its Atomic Commandos… a crew of, like, four people. To quote Toonopedia, “The real atomic sub was apparently a bit more complex and challenging to deal with than the comic book one. Commander Battle’s got along with only four men aboard — Bill Battle (the boss), Champ Ruggles (“the most powerful man on the American continent”, and maybe even the other American continent as well), Doc Blake (the scientific genius) and Tony Gardello (only mildly ethnic).”
“The atomic commandos didn’t know that the way to the island was barred by an awful defender… by a gigantic nightmare creature that staggered the imagination! They didn’t see it as it rose from the depths behind them, flaring tentacles ready to pounce, clutch…” The octopus went from red to green – is that for better camouflage?
The weird threat from the center of the earth is actually a nation of sea-dwellers who demand humans cease using atomic weapons, threatening to burn Earth’s surface if this is not done (and unleashing their almost-indestructible octopus, as well). When Commander Battle triumphs at the end of the story, all the “giant attackers” die from a radioactive cloud. “And so it came to an end, this civilization of titans at the center of the earth… for now, not a single on was left alive! Let it be said that they were not evil! Destiny had willed it that they cross man’s path...” In today’s Tentacle Tuesday, this story takes the cake for its number of gratuitous deaths.
The Golden Age of comics proffered quite a lot of anthropomorphic animals to its readers. The stuff on offer ran the gamut of different definitions of humour, from inane slapstick to pleasant goofiness, all the way to batshit surrealism. There’s at least one common streak running through this zoological revelry – tentacles!
Our first exhibit is a charming comic from the 40s. Land of the Lost was a radio series broadcast from 1943 to 1948 on Mutual Broadcasting System and ABC, written, produced and narrated by Isabel Manning Hewson. Each episode started with the line « In that wonderful kingdom at the bottom of the sea… », and presented a new under-the-sea adventure of Isabel and Billy, two kids lucky enough to have an adorable avuncular fish for an underwater guide. (The fish was called Red Lantern, and was most notably voiced by Art Carney.) You can listen to an episode from 1945 here.
Coming back to our beloved cartoons: in 1946, EC Comics started publishing Land of the Lost Comics, a series that lasted for 9 issues. Hewson remained the writer, and the art was handled by Olive Bailey (not the Olive Bailey who helped crack Germans’ Enigma cipher machine in WWII.) The result was impressive: these comics are delectable, combining beautiful art with inventive plots that may be goofy, but have a solid internal logic. Hewson gave her sea-creatures vibrant personalities, and it’s so much fun to dive (not pun intended) into this world.
The following panels are from “Jack Frost“, scripted by Isabel Manning Hewson and drawn by Olive Bailey, published in Land of the Lost Comics no. 3.
Thank you, cool ladies, for all the fun!
Land of the Lost also became an animated cartoon as part of Famous Production Studios‘ Noveltoon series: Land of the Lost (1948), Land of the Lost Jewels (1950) and Land of Lost Watches (1951). I find the animation to be definitely subpar to the comics or the radio show, but I’ll let you judge for yourselves. (Jack Mercer is in it, albeit briefly!)
Did you know octopuses love to box? This implausible situation is definitely part of the lazy artist’s roster. To wit:
Ha Ha Comics, a sister anthology of Giggle Comics, was published by ACG. (With issue #100, Ha Ha became Teepee Tim, going from animal hijinks to young Indian shenanigans for all of… three issues.) It’s quite a the playground of anything goes, but upon careful inspection, one easily finds good art shining among the dirt-pile of mediocrity, and diverting storytelling among hackneyed yarns.
How many arms does the fellow up above have, nine? I suppose that’s why he’s the champ!
Comic Cavalcade went all funny-animals only with issue 30 (Dec-Jan 1948), when superheroes faded from popularity (oh man, that’s hard to imagine now, isn’t it?) It lasted until 1954, by which time it shrank from its original 96 pages to 76, however retaining its 15-cent cover price.
« I hate war, Steve! I hate the people who cause it and I hate them with very atom of my being! So I pretend to respect the enemy, even like him. I try to minimize him with love! » — Gen. Maximillian R. Hart, The Zanti Misfits
Feast your rheumy peepers on Bernard Baily‘s (co-creator, with Jerry Siegel, of The Spectre) famous cover for issue 4 of Gilmore Publications’ Weird Mysteries, April 1953. The cover’s creepy promise was squandered, since Baily’s friendly lil’ fella never appears within the issue.
Rogers was a right mother from the start, but when his captain had his fill of his homicidal shenanigans, dropping him off on a remote island to cool him off, a funny thing happened. He found nothing in the place save ants, which had made short work of the unlucky goat population and the local flora. So what did the crazy bastard do? He gobbled ants. For weeks. And became a giant ant himself, it follows. You are what you eat, right?
Anyway, Rogers has got to be the most pragmatic villain ever, quite content, in the end, to be The Thing on the Beach!
Which brings me back to where I started: some say (okay, well, I do) that Baily’s WM4 cover may have inspired The Outer Limits’ ultra creepy The Zanti Misfits. Or maybe they’re just oddball products of the same era.
Today’s Tentacle Tuesday comes courtesy of American Comics Group, which delighted its readers with horror, satire and other strange offerings between 1943 to 1967.
ACG’s Adventures into the Unknown is now recognized as comics’ first continuing horror title. A good variety of horror tropes (though I imagine that back then, the clichés we’re painfully familiar with today weren’t quite as clichéd) , from the amusingly bizarre to the genuinely scary, could be found within its pages: killer puppets, homicidal ghosts, murderous mummies, vicious dinosaur relics, spooky skeletons… and tentacles, of course. Unlike many of its brethren, the series survived the fall-out of the 1954 comic book hearings that were started by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, but the title did drop its creepier storylines in favour of goofiness. Not a bad way to go, really, as long as the result is entertaining!
I’d like to welcome you to Tentacle Tuesday by kicking things off with this unnecessarily graphic cover in which somebody’s tentacle is getting lopped off. Note that the she-octopus also has vampire fangs. Beautiful? I wouldn’t go that far… or anywhere near it.
There are five Adventures in the Unknown covers that feature octopuses (or someone’s nightmarish and anatomically ridiculous idea of an octopus, at any rate). We’ve already featured no. 157 (revisit the past here – Nemesis is waiting for you!); the remaining four were published between August and November of 1953 and illustrated by Ken Bald (who drew the covers for issues 21 through to 50). Didn’t he get tired of drawing tentacles? Was it his idea? Did he have nightmares afterwards?
(A little aside: speaking of Mr. Bald, he’s been in the Guinness book of records for a couple of years now, for being the “oldest artist to illustrate a comic book cover”. The comic in question is Contest of Champions no. 2 (2015, Marvel Comics), which he drew at the age of 95.)
I’ll skip no. 48 for now, as its tentacles are plant-like in nature, but onward with the other two!
“Breakthrough!”, the title story, is beautifully illustrated by Harry Lazarus and brimming over with tentacles. Take a peek:
Naturally, there is some tentacle goodness *inside* some issues of Adventures into the Unknown, despite an utter lack of cephalopods on the cover. I’ll give two examples (gracefully scanned by co-admin RG from the collected Adventures into the Unknown: Volume 8, published by PS Artbooks in 2014).