Tentacle Tuesday: Head Cases

Sometimes tentacles are positioned so close to the head that one gets the impression they’re sprouting directly from it. Whether accidental or not, the result is quite horrific – sometimes in a good way, if one enjoys the creepy and bizarre. In this Tentacle Tuesday, we’ll come across literal cases of octopus-instead-of-head, beard-tentacles (stylish!) and alien cepha-cerebellum-pods, which I hope will catch on as a term.

The following has been taken from The Octopeople of Ectroia, illustrated by Henry Kiefer, and published in Fantastic Comics no. 8 (July 1940, Fox Comics). If the introductory panel gives but a brief glimpse of the creature we are about to encounter…

… the splash page gives us an eyeful of her charms. Now we know what Baba Yaga would look like with tentacles instead of her usual limp grey tresses. Incidentally, a few days ago an enterprising fellow won enough support (and funding) from the Lego community to make his Lego Baba Yaga idea an (eventual) reality. She would come with her traditional hut on hen’s legs, a black cat and “everyday useful things” like horseradish drinks. Needless to say, I want one.

“Comics” McCormick has had more than just one encounter with cephalopod-headed men! The following is the cover of Fat and Slat no. 4 (Spring 1948, EC Comics), illustrated by Ed Wheelan.

And here is a page from The Octopus, printed in Terrific Comics no. 3 (May 1944, Helnit Publishing). Is it the same villain? Well, nearly: they’re Octopus-Man and Octopus, differentiated only by the costumes they sport under all those tentacles.

Edgar S. Wheelan (1888-1966) was the creator of Fat and Slat and “Comics” McCormick, and he is well remembered for his introduction of some cinematic techniques to comic strips. Of special significance is his Minute Movies, created for the George Matthew Adams Newspaper Service. This series of animated shorts not only had its stars (and continuity!), but also made full use of techniques that weren’t usually employed in comics, like close-ups, long shots and head shots with title cards.

The following sequence is an oldie-but-goodie from the oft-quoted Origin of the Species!, scripted by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, and illustrated by Feldstein. It was first published in Weird Fantasy no. 8 (July-August 1951, EC Comics). For those of you who may not have read it and are wondering whether those tentacled beasts were somehow the progenitors of the human race… no, they weren’t. As for the plot, it raises more questions than it answers, which I believe is not atypical of a Feldstein tale (from those I’ve read, they tend to be like a movie with plenty of drama and special effects, but little sense).

I recently came across a 3-part story published in Eerie numbers 91 to 93 that I quite liked: the tale of Moonshadow, the assassin who never failed, scripted by Bob Toomey and illustrated by José Ortiz. As luck would have it, two of the instalments were rife with tentacles!

The following page (and also the preceding panel) is from Suzanna Don’t You Cry, part 2 of the tale, published in Eerie no. 92 (May 1978, Warren).

Last but hardly least, a page from Kingdom of Ash, published in Eerie no. 93 (June 1978, Warren).

Fast forwarding some twenty years, we land in the middle of a pirate tale – and what suits a pirate more than a headful of tentacles (and a peg-leg)? This page is from Autopsy in B-Flat, written and illustrated by Gary Gianni and first published in Hellboy: Almost Colossus no. 1 (June 1997, Dark Horse) as a back-up feature. Gianni’s The Monstermen stories have since been collected separately.

What we gather from this dialogue is that octopus pirates like pork.

Finally, I think I promised some tentacles in lieu of beard, and the early stages of this guy’s transformation surely qualify:

This creature appears in the pages of Nocturnals: Black Planet (October 1998, Oni Press), with all plotting and art handled by auteur Dan Brereton. Actually the pages of this collection are so rife with tentacles that I’m going to force myself to be succinct.

Another instance of tentacles-as-hair:

Cover for Nocturnals: Black Planet (October 1998, Oni Press).

Thanks to friend Barney for pointing this last batch out!

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Earth in Dire Peril!

One of the oft-recurring themes of tentacles-in-comics-land is one of aggressive invasion. No, I don’t mean body cavity invasions, you creepos! I mean the large-scale kind: cephalopodian aliens who insidiously infiltrate human ranks, hypnotize or control people’s minds with all sorts of high-tech hanky panky, or just plain deploy their far-out weapons and open martial festivities without as much as a how-do-you-do. Their goal is, naturally, full dominion and control of planet Earth. Sometimes it’s because our planet has something they want (water, minerals, or just plain real estate), occasionally they want to feed on us… or they just got out on the wrong side of the bed and are cranky and territorial.

Let’s see a few case scenarios on this installment of Tentacle Tuesday!

Our first story doesn’t explain why the aliens want to attack the planet or capture humans, but their nefarious scheme threatens life as we know it! Jet Black and Jak Tal, patrolmen of the 21st century, encounter some space-dwelling aliens who are up no good at all. Though they’re cute as can be, it can’t be too practical to have one’s tongue hanging out all the time… The Men from Deep Space, illustrated by Fred Guardineer, was published in Manhunt no. 6 (March 1948).

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In example number two, the tentacled Organus is after humans because he has the munchies. Well, I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to propel your tongue towards somebody else’s face in the middle of a conversation. The Soul-Thief from the Stars, scripted by Paul Levitz, pencilled by Pat Broderick and inked by Bruce Patterson, was published in The Legion of Super-Heroes no. 284 (February 1982).

LegionofSuperHeroes284- The Soul-Thief from the Stars

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Get a room, you two.

Let’s move on to the next instance of grabby critters wanting supremacy over humans, shall we?

One long-winded, epic story of tentacled ones began in 1993, with Lost in Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul. The story has everything that makes one of those invasion yarns entertaining – cruel cephalopod captors, barbaric vivisection experiments, computer codes assigned to every prisoner for better monitoring…. The bulk of this happens in the pages of Lost in Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul no. 13 (August 1993) and Lost in Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul no. 14 (September 1993), scripted by Bill Mumy (the original Will Robinson himself) and illustrated by by Michal Dutkiewicz.

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Bradford, is that you?!

Oh yeah, I also mentioned insidious infiltration, a sly, Machiavellian approach to alien invasion. The Seeds of Jupiter, written and drawn by Al Feldstein and published in Weird Science no. 8 (July-August 1951), fits *that* particular bill.

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By the way, apparently the following scene inspired the “alien bursting out of some poor sod’s chest” sequence in the 1979 movie Alien.

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What? You don’t believe that it’s truly an invasion? You say the seeds ended up on earth by accident? Well, listen to the man with funny hair*. He does not lie.

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~ ds

*obviously a hairpiece.

Tentacle Tuesday: EC’s Weird Tentacles

Today’s Tentacle Tuesday delves into William Gaines’ EC and the glorious 50s (well, glorious for *some* things, at any rate). “Weird”, you say? Why, weird simply must include tentacles!

It’s a mixed bag: those of you who dislike Al Feldstein (and I know my co-admin RG would raise his hand readily) may be terribly annoyed by this post, but patience, my friends! there’s a lot of Wally Wood (a Tentacle Tuesday master, by the way!) in here, too, and who in their right mind would admit to detesting Wally Wood?

(As for myself, in case somebody is wondering, I like Feldstein’s artwork just fine.)

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Weird Science no. 6 (March-April 1951). Cover by Al Feldstein.

« EC’s flaws are pretty obvious: even when the artists were striving for greater seriousness than the ironic gore of the horror stories or the outrageous early sci-fi plots or even the clever but predictable crime and suspense stories, the writing was often overwrought, prolix, and ham-fisted, and the artists were straightjacketed by EC’s rigid visual grid. They were Entertaining Comics first and foremost, but they also seemed compelled to break out of their commercial formulas, however finely realized, and publish stories that were fiercely honest, politically adversarial, visually masterful, and occasionally formally innovative…» (source: Gary Groth’s Entertaining Comics)

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Weird Science no. 10 (November-December 1951), art by Wally Wood.

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Weird Fantasy no. 15 (Sept-Oct 1952). Cover by Al Feldstein. The best cover that Feldstein has ever drawn? Quizás, quizás, quizás! The monster is doing a traditional Slavic dance, I think.

« While [Feldstein was] freer than most writers of his era to indulge his fantasies, he was also more punitive toward the characters who acted them out. John Updike tormented adulterers with depression and guilt. Feldstein lopped off their heads or burnt them alive. If they received a scarlet letter, it was branded on their flesh. In real life, sexual misbehavior might have cost one alimony. Feldstein made Shahira law seem like Thomas Jefferson had drafted it. Feldstein reflected a society which, while fascinated by sex, was terrified or ashamed of this fascination. » (source: Bob Levin in Let Us Now Praise Al Feldstein)

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Weird Science-Fantasy Annual no. 1 (1952), art by Al Feldstein.

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Weird Fantasy no. 21 (Sept-Oct 1953). Cover by Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta.

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Weird Science no. 22 (November-December 1953), cover by Wally Wood.

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Detail from the title story, “My World”, scripted by Al Feldstein and drawn by Wally Wood. You can read the story over at Mars Will Send No More.

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Weird Science-Fantasy no. 27 (January-February 1955), art by Wally Wood.

~ ds

The Overwrought Allure of Golden Age Romance Comics

I’m reading a play by Anton Chekhov these days. What relevance does this have to comics? Let me explain. I don’t know about the so-called « mysterious Russian soul », but this particular play is histrionic. And the chief cause of drama, of course, is love. One woman tries to poison herself upon discovering her husband has a mistress and is preparing to run off with yet another man’s wife; others literally crawl around while trying to convince the rascal they’ve fallen in love with to condescend to granting them a small sign of affection; small children are threatened with deadly diseases; men launch into hair-tearing monologues, intermittently planning suicide or murder but never actually getting around to it; money is borrowed, and is immediately tossed in the air, friendships are shattered, insults are hurled and then profuse apologies proffered… and everybody, and I do mean everybody, goes hysterical.

Which brings us to Golden Age romance comics. Ha!

I’m not intending to suggest that *all* of them are ridiculously over the top. However, a lot of them are plotted like your average soaper – understandably, as these stories were written with a drama-hungry, lovelorn audience in mind. « Boy meets girl, everything goes well, they’re happy together » is not the kind of thing that moves copies.

Here’s a selection of covers I really like (for various reasons), depicting some common situations in a young woman’s life – like getting back-stabbed or pawed or pregnant while dreaming of some Perfect Love.

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Some gals don’t merely have to contend with vigilantes, but also wolves (of the animal *and* human varieties).

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Cowgirl Romances no. 10 (1950, Fiction House). Cowgirl Romances lasted for 12 issues, and usually featured strong heroines capable of defending themselves… although this one looks like she might need a bit of help. Read it here.

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Oh, never mind – she doesn’t need help after all. It’s a refreshing change from women who stand by doing nothing while their loved one gets pummelled… or try to help and end up conking the wrong man.

Speaking of wolves, we have this cozy scene with distinctly creepy overtones. Anytime someone mentions an “experienced man”, run the other way.

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A Moon, a Girl…Romance no. 11 (January-February 1950, EC). Cover by Al Feldstein.

Julie fought, but now she fought as much against her own hungry response as against his muscles. Try as she would, she could not keep herself from returning that kiss with all the fiery ardor of her wild loneliness.” Untamed Love is quite racy, as the title promises, and as much over-the-top as one could wish for. The cover story is about an evil seductress, but the rest of the tales all concern themselves with a love triangle of another kind, one in which a girl has to choose between two guys. This one’s for the ladies – it’s hunks galore!

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Untamed Love no. 1 (January 1950, Quality Comics). Cover by Bill Ward. “Scary” comes to mind more than “ravishing”! Read the issue here.

Here’s the “ravishing creature” in action, in case you’re interested:

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UntamedLove1-RealRoadtoLove

 

 

Alaskan beauties don’t understand English grammar, but they dig the language of love! Panel from “The Wrong Road to Love”: “Julie falls in love with truck driver Steve, but he moves to Alaska to become a fisherman. She follows him there, only to discover local resident Becky considers Steve “her man.” Julie is consoled by Steve’s partner Hank. Steve and Becky run off, taking all the money Steve and Hank have earned. Julie decides to go home, but Hank says she can stay — as his wife.

 

 

Another sentimental overload (though one would think that being at war was dramatic enough)? The redhead in the square on the right is in love with a gay man! (She was in love with a man’s fiancé, after all.) The girl at the dance is struggling to get away from a grabby asshole! (Unfortunately, all-too-common even today.) The girl in the green dress is faking it because she’s too polite to say no! (Ditto.)

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Wartime Romances no. 10 (October 1952, cover by Matt Baker).

“They were like two jailers, my pa and my brother Bill! At 18, I hadn’t tasted the sweetness of courtin’! And I was hungry for it… bitter hungry…” Things quickly get out of hand in this issue of First Love – a young maiden meets a charming young man who kills her brother (by accident), after which she gets shot by her dad (also by accident). The story concludes with the two lovebirds reuniting while the father realizes that “his soul is black with sin“. Geez, the things some people have to go through to reach a happy ending in a comic story.

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First Love Illustrated no. 34, 1953. Read the issue here.

This issue has plenty more “man-starved” maidens up for grabs…

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Panel from “Bad Girl”, illustrated by John Prentice.

… and one memorable male character, Alan, “the gay, vital, gloriously-alive lover”.

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Page from “My Heart Cried Out”, pencils by John Giunta, inks by Manny Stallman.

The next cover reminds us to never send our dates for refreshments (punch, you say? looks more like something out of a witch’s cauldron), for this is where femmes fatales lurk in hopes of snaring fresh prey.

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My Own Romance no. 26 (January 1953, Marvel). The irresistible team-up of two comic-field professionals who would later become terrible Archie artists: Al Hartley (art) and Stan Goldberg (colours). Is that teacup floating in her hand or what?

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Pictorial Romances no. 19 (May 1953, St. John). Cover by Matt Baker. Read the issue here. If I had to recommend only one issue out of today’s roster, it would be this one: there’s nice art, and the stories are actually detailed and interesting, and even boast a certain internal logic.

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It’s important to know the difference in different tinned meats. Art by Matt Baker.

If you want a lover who doesn’t resist, put her in a trance, first, and then Miss Smith won’t be able to help but say “yes!”

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Lovers no. 50 (June 1953, Atlas). This, again, is the handiwork of those two buffoons, Hartley and Goldberg. Look, she’s still holding the chloroform-dosed handkerchief he used to knock her out!

Romance comics love to pit a woman’s career against everything a female should strive for (i.e. marriage). Am I carping that romance comics weren’t very progressive in the 1950s? Ah, I wouldn’t be, if I didn’t know for a fact that Silver Age romance comics often don’t do that much better in that department.

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Romantic Marriage no. 23 (July 1954, St. John), cover by Matt Baker. “Companionship”, eh? Read the issue here.

What do we have here? Despite what one would tend to think, this necklace was stolen, not given as a romantic offering. Such are true life secrets: kleptomania, clandestine children, and double-crossed partners.

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True Life Secrets no. 25 (March 1955, Charlton). Read the issue here.

For an excellently written romp through the history of romance comics, read Tales From the Code: You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 22

« Newly dead, the gases of decomposition moving in the stomach… moving the body like a rag doll whose lips flutter and belch… »

Atlas anthology Men’s Adventures (25 issues, 1950-54) was a pretty schizoid entity, with an editorial emphasis waffling from your typical would-be rugged he-man stuff (issues 4* to 8) to battle action (9 to 20) to mild horror (21-26) to, as a last resort, superheroes (27-28).

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Russ Heath delivers his usual fine job for Men’s Adventure no. 26 (March 1954, Atlas). I like the matching green outfits on the cadavers. Yay, team!

In the mid-1970s you could tell that Marvel was running low on reprintable pre-Code material when items from Men’s Adventure began to pop up in its mystery anthologies.

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Our cover story turned up then in Chamber of Chills no. 20 (Jan. 1976) announced by this ridiculous Ron Wilson/Dan Atkins cover.  There’s a Broadway musical in there, I swear.

Since this was 1970s Marvel, the corpse is not only well-preserved, he’s buff as it gets. For comparison, read “Midnight in the Morgue” (writer unknown, art by Dick Ayers), with our thanks and a fond tip of the hat to The Horrors of It All blog.

A more haunting variation on the “trapped in the morgue with the not-quite-dead” theme is Nostalgia Press’ historically significant Horror Comics of the 1950’s (1971, edited by Bhob Stewart, Ron Barlow and original publisher Bill Gaines), which gathered, in full colour, 23 EC classics, including one previously unpublished story, An Eye for an Eye. The cover revives (ha!) Al Feldstein’s Tales From the Crypt no. 23 art from 1951.

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Like many fellow modern-day EC Fan-Addicts, this book first came to my attention through the Captain Company catalogue that occupied the back pages of Warren Magazines. So many elusive, haunting grails… many of them turning out to be great beyond all reasonable expectations.

*the actual first issue… typical 1950s comics numbering scheme.

– RG