Sometimes I stumble upon a comic with a fight-to-the-death scene in which something-or-other- with-tentacles plays the role of a lethal enemy for our hero – but upon closer inspection, in turns out that the ferocious creature is… gosh-darned cute. I mean, how can you kill anything that has adorable whiskers, or tufted eyebrows like Oscar the Grouch?
When your attackers are carrots with tentacles, and they really get on your nerves (although I think Ann is safer with them than with Dr. Maylor), I’d suggest throwing them into a nice big pot of soup, maybe… but if you please, do consider abstaining from flinging acid at them.
While we’re on that topic: things get delightfully wacky and madcap (not much) later in the story. Namely, Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin are summoned for help against the tentacled carrot-horde.
« Apparently he had never learned that a white man’s foot, though it wabble ever so, is given him wherewith to kick natives out of the road. » — John Russell
Welcome to another installment of Treasured Stories! This one’s a bit of a sequel, or rather a companion piece to an earlier entry, August Heat (from just about a year ago) as we’re featuring two of the same creators, namely scripter E. Nelson Bridwell (1931-1987) and penciller-inker Alfredo Alcala (1925-2000).
In this instance, we can surely witness judicious editorial sense at work, in terms of matching material to talent. While Bridwell likely selected the story, and though they’d worked together before, Alcala was a flawless choice to bring it to full visual bloom. A tale of the Pacific Islands illustrated by a Pacific Islander, and a masterful one at that… on both counts. Alcala’s expertly-paced, limpid, deliberate storytelling is a natural fit.
It’s easy to underestimate how daunting a challenge, in most cases, is the effective transition of material from medium to medium. In this instance, the source is a much-anthologized short story by John Russell, originally published in Collier’s, May 20, 1916. You can judge for yourself after reading the original text here.
Russell’s stories sharply veer from the usual civilisation vs savages colonialist tripe of the era in that the natives are depicted as oft-complex but subtle beings and the whites, as often as not, as pompously delusional savages; one sees the pattern emerge upon reading a few of Russell’s South Pacific tales (collected in Where the Pavement Ends, 1921); in my own case, I found a trio of these in Dennis Wheatley‘s excellent anthology Shafts of Fear (1964), an update and expansion of his earlier A Century of Horror (1935).
Still, I strongly suspect that Bridwell’s exposure to The Price of the Head came not from books, but rather from a radio play, as all three of his DC short story adaptations (TPOTH, August Heat and The Man and the Snake had received that particular treatment. To his credit, Bridwell went back to the source for his version.
You’ll note that the racism so refreshingly absent from Russell’s story has been painstakingly restored for the radio programmes. Now that’s dedication!
Quite recently, I was delighted to hear that Mr. Bridwell has not entirely been forgotten; indeed, he is to be bestowed, though posthumously of course, the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing on Friday, July 19 2019, during the Eisner Awards ceremony at this summer’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, CA. Bravo!
Read all about it on Mark Evanier’s fine blog. And thank you, Mark!
« Neither of us had seen a ghost, but I knew what he meant. »
I had planned to feature quite another tale this week, but seeing as we are in the torrid grip of quite the heat wave, I opted in the end for something more topical I’d been saving on the back burner.
Edward Nelson Bridwell (1931–1987) is one of those scarcely-noticed but greatly accomplished figures of American comics. At DC from the mid-1960s to the end of his life, he edited, wrote, packaged and compiled his heart out. Most impressive, in my view, were his erudition and discerning eye for a fine short story.
There’s always a blessed but mostly-powerless minority of comics creators that endeavours to improve the unwashed readership’s minds… nearly never at Marvel, most often at DC. In the mid-1970s, while working as Joe Orlando‘s editorial assistant, Bridwell adapted three excellent, but highly unconventional vintage spooky tales, as far afield as imaginable from the usual EC-by-homeopathy fare his boss favoured. These were William Fryer Harvey‘s August Heat (Secrets of Sinister House no. 12, July 1973), Ambrose Bierce‘s The Man and the Snake (Secrets of Sinister House 14, October 1973) and John Russell’s The Price of the Head (Weird Mystery Tales no. 14, Oct.-Nov. 1974); all three were splendidly brought to visual glory by WOT favourite Alfredo Alcala (1925-2000). All three are moody slow burners, with much introspection and little action.
On this scorching day (currently a sticky 35°F /95°F in Montréal, Canada) you’ll forgive me for not waiting until August to share this dark beauty with you.
As evidence of Mr. Bridwell’s skill as an adapter, feel free to read the full (yet quite brief) text of August Heat. Or listen to one its several fine radio adaptations, the choice is yours:
The topic of today’s Tentacle Tuesday is based on a plant-based mishap. I was walking along an alley, minding my own business, when some sort of climbing plant with especially long and vicious tentacle-vines, swinging from from a nearby fence, grabbed my arm. The result were scratches that felt like burns.*
So today’s gruesome offerings are mostly cousins of the Venus Flytrap, if the latter had tentacles to assist its quest for prey. (Let’s breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn’t.)
Midnight Tales often offer moments of “wait, how did that get through the Comics Code?” Arachne (Professor Coffin’s undeniably attractive niece) is frequently more sexually provocative than one would expect from a kid-appropriate comic, crimes committed are nastier than surmised, and the plots go from morbid to surreal… with some comedy thrown in. Oh, sure, there’s some terrible clunkers, as every issue has three or four stories linked by a common theme and illustrated by different artists, but overall the quality remains high throughout its 18-issue run.
I’ve seen people online saying that Howard shamelessly plagiarized Wally Wood’s style – perhaps people more erudite than I see that, but I don’t. “Influenced” is one thing – but one can build on those beginnings to create a recognizable style of one’s own, right? Those who like Wayne Howard frequently classify him as a “guilty pleasure”, and proceed to insult his art while they’re explaining why they like it. To quote, for instance, from Atomic Avenue,who follow the unspoken rule – just mentioning Charlton Comics warrants a condescending tone, and any acknowledgement of their quality has to be tempered by mockery.
Creator Wayne Howard blatantly imitated the style of comic art great Wally Wood right down to his gothic signature, but at least he aimed high in his plagiarism. Consequently, Midnight Tales had the look of a seedy, off-register knock-off of an EC horror comic—putting it at the top of Charlton’s quality spectrum.
In my world of geek’n out over all this great art, Wayne Howard is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. He loves to draw like Wally Wood, but he’s no Wally Wood. His females usually look like Wally’s women after a really bad day, and his males are just plain fugly. His Wood machinery is close to the background machinery behind the awesome machinery, and everything shouts fan art VS pro art, but… Luvittopieces
Ah, well. I won’t be apologetic about liking Howard’s art, and Midnight Tales will be proudly presented as a favourite series on a need-to-know basis. Fortunately, there’s some nice articles about him, too – a sort of obituary for a great African-American artist who died at only 58.
Another Flytrap for your enjoyment, in this tale of brotherly rivalry:
The cover of this issue of House of Mystery is also a good exhibit of plant tentacles, even if the children are a superfluous addition:
Here’s something more recent – published on some almost-thirty years ago, instead of forty – the tentacular adventures of Doctor Gorpon! I hope these guys count as plants (even if they’re slightly more mobile) – they’re the right shade of green!
I only finished reading this three-issue series today, and I must say, it was an exciting ride. Highly recommended (if you can find it, that is).
Today’s Tentacle Tuesday honours Filipino artists who laboured in the comics industry in the 70s. To quote from Power of Comics: Filipino Artists (read the essay here),
« The Filipino talent began to arrive in 1970, when immigrant Tony DeZuñiga began to work for National Comics. DeZuñiga began with assignments on various romance, horror, western, and war anthologies—a combination that many Filipino artists coming after him would also follow—but he made a lasting mark when he co-created Western anti-hero Jonah Hex in All-Star Western #10 (1972). By then, DeZuñiga had convinced then National Comics publisher Carmine Infantino that other talented artists were awaiting discovery back in his nation of origin. With a stable of graying veterans working for him, Infantino was faced with a paucity of new talent in the early 1970s and had trouble finding gifted artists who could work for what the going page rate in American comics would pay at the time. DeZuñiga accompanied Infantino on a recruiting trip to the Philippines in 1971.
As noted, first among the Filipino artists to make a move were Redondo and Alcala. Among his works, Redondo turned in a memorable run on Swamp Thing, and the prolific Alcala picked up a considerable fan following for his work on series like Batman and Arak. Other Filipinos followed. Alex Niño brought a distinct style to Warren Publishing’s 1984 and 1994 series. Ernie Chan’s talent for composition led to his becoming National’s principal cover artist between 1975 and 1977. Gerry Talaoc enjoyed an extended run on The Unknown Soldier. »
Without further ado, let’s have a look at some of the tentacles the artists mentioned above have dreamed up. In no particular order…
I like the styles of all the artists mentioned in this post, but a couple of these names will make me do a little dance of joy when I encounter their art. Alfredo Alcala (b. 1925, d. 2000) is a definite favourite. He could draw anything he wanted, convincingly… at an amazing speed, and with the sort of detail that other artists would kill for.
Alcala drew for all genres in the early portion of his career, and developed the speed and work ethic for which he later become known amongst his fellow professionals. His fastest page rate was 12 pages in a nine-hour sitting, while in one 96-hour marathon he produced 18 pages, three wrap-around covers and several color guides. During the portion of his career where he worked solely for Filipino publishers, Alcala worked without assistants and did his own inking and lettering. “I somehow always felt that the minute you let someone else have a hand in your work, no matter what, it’s not you anymore. It’s like riding a bicycle built for two…” (source)
Here’s a gorgeous sequence from « The Night of the Nebish! », scripted by Arnold Drake and illustrated by Alfredo Alcala, published in House of Secrets #107 (April 1973).
Ruben Yandoc (also known as Rubeny, 1927-1992) isn’t nearly as well-known as Alcala, yet he has a beautiful, half-decorative, half-sketchy style. He excelled at horror stories (published in DC’s Witching Hour, House of Mystery, Ghosts, House of Secrets..), and was a master at creating mood. His perfect grasp of architecture and anatomy enabled him to draw believable characters in incredible settings – none of this “figures floating about aimlessly” shit that you sometimes get from artists who can’t imbue their objects and subjects with mass. When Stefan gets grabbed by tentacles, you can feel their weight on his torso and feel the heat and painful brightness of the torch he’s holding, dammit!
Alex Niño’s art doesn’t give me butterflies. His stuff is quite weird, sometimes far too detailed, but his talent is nevertheless undeniable. For a good appreciation of his style (and more examples of it), go to this entry from Wizard’s Keep. As for me, I’ll limit myself to this humble, one-panel mass of tentacles, eyes, teeth, spikes, and god knows what else.
Redondo’s “memorable run on Swamp Thing” was mentioned at the beginning of this post. Well, we’ve already featured the tentacled robot who tries to finish Alec Holland off here, but rest assured – there’s more tentacles than just that in the career of Nestor Purugganan Redondo (1928-1995)! For example, this:
By the way, he’s most assuredly another favourite in this household. His women are believably sexy, his monsters inventive and scary, his animals pitch-perfect… His style is realistic but lush, his nature almost prettier than in real life. And I like him much, much better than Bernie Wrightson, as far as Swamp Thing is concerned 😉
A perfect fit for any Tentacle Tuesday, here’s the requisite damsel-in-distress-with-tentacles:
We shouldn’t forget Tony DeZuñiga (1932-2012), who after all started all this. Among other accomplishments, he co-created Jonah Hex and Black Orchid, two pretty damn cool characters.
I hope you enjoyed this (non-exhaustive) romp through Filipino-American tentacles! As historian Chris Knowles (1999) has noted about Filipino artists, « Here was a group of immensely talented and hard-working draftsmen who could draw absolutely anything and draw it well. They set a standard that the younger artists would have to live up to and that the older ones would have to compete with. » Amen to that!
Let’s start with something hair-raising. Well, not really – we’re a blasé audience, and it takes something special to truly scare us. Yet can you deny the foul-smelling, palpable sense of foreboding, the billowing and swirling nightmare that beckons from the elegant inks of this page?
Gravesend is an ancient town in northwest Kent, England; as for the gorgon part, it’s not entirely accurate, but it’s clear that comic writers cannot resist an alliteration.
On a slightly more humorous front (unless one is directly involved with this green monstrosity, in which case the situation would quickly lose its humour), here’s a page that hails from Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such no. 4, (June 1995). The story features the half-worm, half-human albino Autumn Brothers, whom you can see here greeting the big worm-momma. Texas blues rockers Johnny and Edgar Winter attempted to sue, but the suit was dismissed after a judge begrudgingly ruled that « the First Amendment dictates that the right to parody, lampoon and make other expressive uses of the celebrity image must be given broad scope. » Thank you, Los Angeles court. Frankly, it seems that the brothers are more remembered for the lawsuit than their music.
Jonah Woodson Hex, created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga in 1971, curmudgeonly and disfigured but bound by a personal code of honour, is a favourite character of mine, although I only like the way he is written for DC’s Weird Western Tales. Well, with one exception, this one! I most tentacularily recommend Jonah Hex: Shadows West, a collection of the three Vertigo-published mini-series scripted by Lansdale and illustrated by Tim Truman and Sam Glanzman, containing the stories Two-Gun Mojo, Shadows West and Riders of The Worm and Such.
And to wrap this up, on an even goofier note, here’s Jughead getting into yet another weird situation, which is pretty standard for him.
« I’m usedta dealin’ with stiffs! I spotted the maggots crawlin’ outta yer mouth the minute you opened it! »
Just another Friday night happy hour at Ginger’s Joint, watering hole of Duke “Destroyer” Duck and his put-upon pal, the Little Guy.
The local fauna is gathered in this splash from Destroyer Duck #1 (Eclipse, 1982). In case you didn’t know, “the book was published as a way to help [Steve] Gerber raise funds for a lawsuit he was embroiled in at the time, in which he was battling industry giant Marvel Comics over the ownership of the character Howard the Duck, which Gerber created for the company in 1973.” It was an alarming account of the (not-fictional-enough) Godcorp conglomerate’s incalculable greed, its unchecked power, and how « It’s Got the Whole World… in Its Hand! », which, as true as it was then, is discouragingly even truer now.
« Herbal tea. My own recipe. It’s added years to my life. May I offer you a cup? »
After producing some exceptionally solid fan art (chiefly for the long-lived Rocket’s Blast Comicollector (153 issues, 1961-1985), Arizona art teacher Don Newton made his jump into the pro leagues in 1974 with Charlton, where he got his chance to show off his considerable painting skills. After a handful of mystery stories, he took over Charlton’s version of Lee Falk and Ray Moore‘s The Phantom, which he drew for six issues (and one cover) before the title was cancelled… along with the rest of Charlton’s original comics line, really.
Newton would go on to DC (and a couple of brief dalliances with Marvel), illustrating Batman, Captain Marvel (er, “Shazam!”), Aquaman, Star Hunters, and The New Gods for DC, before being, all too soon, felled by a heart attack at the age of 49. Most of the time, though, he provided great art to ho-hum stories.
Against all odds, around 1982, scripter Gerry Conway, a name synonymous with half-assed, content-free hackwork since the early ’70s, actually blossomed into a decent writer. Fortuitously, while assigned to pencil Batman’s adventures in Detective Comics, Newton was paired with prolific* Filipino legend Alfredo Alcala, and the stars were in proper alignment. You won’t have to take my word for it, however. Feast your eyes on the palpable ambiance from the Conway-Newton-Alcala trio.
*How prolific was Alcala? « It is said that his fastest page rate was twelve pages in a nine-hour sitting. » And the scary thing is that it hardly ever looked rushed or less than committed, unlike the work of some other inkers we could name. What a guy.
« Do not come to Transylvania unless you are prepared for the gravest of terror! »
Always one of DC’s underdog mystery titles, Weird Mystery Tales was actually more consistent than its sister titles. Its relative lack of success was perhaps due to its original host, Destiny, being a bit of a flat tire. He was replaced with Eve (you know, Cain, Abel…) with this issue.
Still, the entire run is worth seeking out, thanks to contributions from Jack Kirby (okay, leftovers, but delicious leftovers from the unpublished second issue of his Spirit World magazine), Sheldon Mayer, Robert Kanigher, Steve Skeates, Alfredo Alcala (his and E. Nelson Bridwell’s adaptation of John Russell’s The Price of the Head is my pick for the title’s finest moment; it appears in this issue), Frank Robbins, Ruben Nunag Yandoc, Michael Wm. Kaluta… hey, it’s an anthology: you *know* the list goes on and on.
This is Weird Mystery Tales no. 14 (October-November, 1974). Cover by Luis Dominguez. Mute terror… isn’t it more effective?