Tentacle Tuesday: Glittering Lure of the Golden Age

The source of tentacles in Golden Age comics seems inexhaustible – every time I think I have reached the bottom of the well, I find myself awash in cephalopods. That being said, a lot of these octopusoid appearances are one-panel cameos, and even when the tentacles linger for a few pages, the shitty printing, questionable scans or bare-bones art don’t exactly incite me to use this material in a Tentacle Tuesday. Today’s crop is all Golden Age, running the gamut from 1939 to 1952, and composed of pages/covers I can enthusiastically endorse.

George (of Harry J. Tuthill’s The Bungle Family, ‘one of the most under-rated comic strips in the history of American cartoonery’ according to Art Spiegelman, one of the top hundred comics of the 20th century‘, according to The Comics Journal) may be thoroughly bundled up in tentacles, but he still keeps a sort of prosaic calm that I admire.

Feature Comics no. 23 (August 1939, Quality Comics). Cover by Ed Cronin. As for Charlie Chan, he was originally a private detective in a series of novels by Earl Derr Biggers, from which a number of movies were made. Opinions are divided about whether he was a breakthrough Asian character (tired of Yellow Peril stories, Biggers conceived him specifically as an alternative to stereotypical, ‘sinister and wicked‘ Chinese) or perpetuated a lot of the same preconceived notions that were circulating at the time (and, alas, are still with us today).

Just look at the canines the red devil is ready to plunge into Black Hood’s leg! Throw in a fanged octopus, and this cover has as much action as one would possibly want. Sadly, nothing of the sort actually goes on in this issue.

Top Notch Comics no. 16 (June 1941. Archie Comics). Cover by Al Camy.

Robotman and his Robot dog are a worthy topic of discussion in themselves, especially when Jimmy Thompson is involved (see Robotman and Jimmy Thompson: Golden Age Comics’ Best-Kept Secret), but for now these two pages will do nicely!

Page from Fisherman’s Luck, published Star-Spangled Comics no. 41 (February 1945, DC).
This page from Boy Meets Robotdog was printed in Star-Spangled Comics no. 75 (December 1947, DC). I would certainly come to this house!

We really like Howard Nostrand at WOT, though so far he has been woefully under-featured in our posts!

This page is from The Man Germ, scripted by Nan Barnett and illustrated by Howard Nostrand. This story was published in Chamber of Chills Magazine no. 13 (October 1952, Harvey Comics).

Finally, I have a soft spot for these tiered layouts that Rugged Action employs… especially when an octopus with tender, moist eyes is moonlighting in one of them.

Rugged Action no. 1 (December 1954, Marvel). Cover by Carl Burgos.

~ ds

Tony DiPreta’s Dramatic Darkness

« I don’t mind if my skull ends up on a shelf as long as it’s got my name on it. » —Debbie Harry

A couple of years back, I spotlighted a story by a neglected Golden Age favourite of mine, Anthony Lewis “Tony” DiPreta (July 9, 1921 – June 2, 2010), the wacky The Hidden Vampires! I advise reading it first for comparison (and a bit of background on the artist).

Well, this time I’ve exhumed another yarn that’s even loopier. Scripted by Stanley ‘The Man’ Lieber at his Stan Lee-est, it’s riddled with plot holes, failures of logic, displays of ignorance of basic psychology and economics… your typical 1950s Atlas horror tale, in other words. And yet, as if frequently the case with these slapdash page-fillers, it’s charming and massively entertaining, thanks to stylish artwork, breezy pacing and snappy, if absurd banter. Guess someone knew their audience well. Step right up, folks, and prepare to make the acquaintance of “Skull-Face” © ™ ®️. (what is it with the brackets?)

A whole hour! People were armed with unwavering patience back in the day.
So the suits’ great flash of inspiration is not to update a fifteen-year old movie (from 1937!), nor remake it: they’ll just trot it out again. Picture doing this with 2006’s biggest horror hit, Saw III. How do you think it would fare today?
You’d think a seasoned publicist would be a savvier negotiator. I mean, all he needs is some random skeleton. Adjusted for inflation, a thousand 1952 dollars would today be worth 9,829 bucks. But that’s nothing compared to his liberal waste of electric current: the voltage used to execute a convict in the electric chair is around 2,000 volts for less than a minute… and that makes the lights dim all over the area*. Now multiply the voltage by 25,000, and the duration (let’s round it off to a minute, for simplicity’s sake) 80,640 times longer. Picture the resulting electric bill, not to mention the repercussions on the power grid, all for a stunt that could have simply been faked (i.e. just say there’s live current… no-one’s going to check). Oh, and what’s a “famous biochemist” doing on a film studio’s payroll? Come to think of it, it’s not that odd: Thornton was a cynical, opportunistic money-grubbing parasite, the Dr. Memhet Oz of his day…
Note these stellar examples of one of DiPreta’s trademark horror ambiance moves: lighting from below, projecting stark, expertly-delineated shadows.
One has to wonder why Fenton insists on addressing the resurrected ‘Demon’ (he was a demon on the sousaphone) incorrectly as “Skull-Face” (that’ll only aggravate him, you dolt!). Would it have helped if he’d added air quotes?
The ho-hum Sol Brodsky cover of Mystery Tales no. 6 (Dec. 1952, Atlas), but hey, our pal “Skull-Face” is the featured attraction!
The comics industry’s traditional garish colour and murky reproduction fail (spectacularly!) to do justice to DiPreta’s spare, confident and elegant inking line. To remedy the situation, here’s a look at a surviving piece of original art. It hails from “One Must Die” (scripted by Carl Wessler), from Crime Can’t Win no. 11 (June 1952, Atlas), the publisher’s knockoff of Lev Gleason‘s influential Crime Does Not Pay.
A slick Joe Palooka Sunday from July 24, 1966. DiPreta enjoyed quite a run on the strip, illustrating it from 1959 to its 1984 finale.

-RG

*a possibly apocryphal notion, I’ll admit.

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 29

« A face like an oyster, huh?‘ Danny Lomax repeated, and swallowed hard. ‘That’s what it’s going to look like?‘ Nick Deene chuckled and nodded. ‘If there’s anything deader-looking than a watery blue oyster that’s been open too long,‘ he said, ‘I don’t know what it is. » — Robert Arthur, The Believers (1941)

Today, we’ll peer through filmy years past at another example of cultural cross-pollination: a notion is born, seemingly out of nowhere, then it ineffably catches the collective fancy and is in some fashion absorbed into folklore, scattered like grain by wind and whisper. Then some soul, blessed with a way with words, polishes it for publication and some editor buys it for peanuts. Another wordsmith reshuffles and refines it, sprinkling some notions of his own, perhaps a glint of sardonic humour. Hungry for material, radio gets hold of the setup and reshapes it a little to fit another medium. Late one night, some comic book hack hears that presentation, and recollects its essence, some years on, in a frantic rush to fill some pages and scrape together a meagre living. Or perhaps he saw it in a competitor’s rag. Bah, no-one’ll remember… or give a toss. “I’ll give it a stab from another angle!

First, there was… well, I’m not sure. But let’s begin with Henry Russell Wakefield‘s short story Ghost Hunt (either 1938 or 1948… sources differ), in which…

A radio host broadcasts a live ghost hunt in a house in London where there have been “no less than thirty suicides”. Most have run from the house at night to throw themselves off the cliff and into the nearby river. The radio broadcaster is joined by a paranormal investigator. The investigation proves all-too successful in this chilling story.

Then appeared, a couple of years hence, Robert Arthur Jr.‘s excellent The Believers [ read it here! ], published in the venerable Weird Tales‘ July, 1941 issue.

The Believers is a classic horror story by Robert Arthur. It’s about a radio host who decides to broadcast a live show from a haunted house. This story is also known as “Do You Believe in Ghosts?” and it was based on an older story by H. Russell Wakefield called “Ghost Hunt”. It also inspired a horror comic story and an episode of Tales From The Crypt, both of which were called “Television Terror”.

The Believers was featured in this 1963 Random House collection (which Robert Arthur himself edited as well as authored), under its alternate title of Do You Believe in Ghosts?. The splendiferous wraparound cover is by Arthur Shilstone (1922-2020).

In 1949 came a successful radio adaptation, courtesy of the popular Suspense show. This was likely the most influential iteration of the tale, the super-spreader, if you will.

And more that just the one ‘horror comic story’ was inspired by this singular scenario. In 1952, The Unknown (or at least uncredited, which amounts to the same thing) Writer came up with The Walking Ghost, which will now break up the tedium of text, text, text, and provide you with some welcome visuals by Messrs. Mike Sekowsky on pencils and Bill Walton on inks.

This adaptation (if you will) strikes a middle ground between the Wakefield and the Arthur approaches.

The Walking Ghost was reprinted decades later in Crypt of Shadows no. 3 (May, 1973, Marvel), where I first encountered this tale, and this bit of dialogue was modified to better (but not by much) fit the times:

And what exactly was the matter with “Uncle Miltie“? Doesn’t having the biggest schlong in Hollywood buy you any respect anymore? The Twilight Zone wasn’t even a radio show!
The Walking Ghost first saw print in Strange Tales no. 11 (Oct. 1952, Atlas); cover by Bill Everett. It didn’t even rate the cover.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Grabbery Through the Ages

It occurs to me that I haven’t focused on the good old mademoiselle-embraced-by-tentacles cliché in a while. If today has a further theme, it’s of women (both human and alien) being grabbed by the midriff. Polka-dotted tentacles in a swamp and furry tentacles on Venus, whether they’re latching on to a humanoid woman with four breasts or a blue-skinned Talokian, all basically behave the same way.

As usual, this is a chronological progression that takes us from early Golden Age days all the way to mid flamboyant 80s.

The Robot Masters of Venus, illustrated by Max Plaisted (of Spicy Mystery fame!), was published in Exciting Comics v. 1 no. 3 (June 1940, Pines).
The Vengeance of the Space Monster!, pencilled by Ken Bald and inked by Syd Shores (both names are, however, guesses), was published in Marvel Mystery Comics no. 90 (February 1949, Atlas).

I agree that having one’s ribcage crushed does not help with breathing, but still, I am not sure why Shadow Lass is choking on the panel on the right when the vege-demon has her by the midriff.

War of the Wraith-Mates!, scripted by Cary Bates, pencilled by George Tuska and inked by Vince Colletta, was published in Superboy no. 183 (May 1972, DC).

For a little variety, I’m also including the following warrior vixen as a pleasant exception to the rule – she is not only not being grabbed, but also has an octopus for an obedient pet.

Girl on Octopus by Brian Lewis, painted sometime in the mid 1970s.

Our next stop is a proposed illustration for the 1984 movie The Warrior and the Sorceress, painted by Bob Larkin. The movie in question (which I have never seen) is apparently “noted chiefly for containing extensive nudity and violence and for being one of the more extreme examples of the sword-and-sorcery genre. It is also considered by some to be a cult classic.

The sorceress has 4 breasts – a logistical nightmare when selecting a bikini, no doubt.

As… questionable… as this is, the illustration that was chosen in the end is in a whole other class of cheesiness. The sorceress has also died her hair blonde, presumably because she wants to have (even more) fun! We also lost the cephalopod, unfortunately, but the maxim “one can’t have everything” comes to mind – and David Carradine in a pearly loincloth is plenty.

Art by Joanne Daley, who at least makes some sort of attempt at designing a functional four-breast-bra.

After *that*, the following cover looks quite humdrum by comparison. It’s difficult to imagine how Red Sonja will extricate herself from this situation…

Red Sonja no. 5 (January 1985, Marvel). The cover is by Pat Broderick.

Incidentally, there are tons of Red Sonja cover with tentacles, mostly of recent vintage, and most of them are ugly as sin. This one is decent:

The cover art for Red Sonja no. 21 (April 2007, Dynamite). This is a variant cover by Roberto Castro.

✭ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 3

« I’ve never gone to bed with an ugly woman… but I’ve sure woke up with a few » — Royal C. Bannon

Clearly, some cravings die awfully hard. This is Strange Tales no. 28 (May, 1954, Atlas), featuring a most claustrophobic… cuddle. The rest of this scarce issue contains artwork by Pete Tumlinson, Jack Katz (who recently — just last week! — turned 93), Bob Forgione, Don Perlin (who recently turned 90) and Tony DiPreta.

Cover by by Harry Anderson (1911-1970), not to be confused with his namesake, alias Judge
Harry T. Stone.
*Ken* Grimm, eh? Speaking of horror, they sure didn’t mince words to reel in the rubes, did they? This gentle, understated pitch appeared on the inside back cover of this issue of Strange Tales. « Mail the damn coupon with your shekels already, you bloodless, pitiful, skinny shrimp! », bellowed the bellicose drill sergeant.

[ psst! you can read the issue here! ]

-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

Odd Pairings: Lieber & Fox

« Matt Fox drew comics like they were carved out of stone. » — Dan Nadel, Art in Time (2010)

As far back as I can recall, I’ve been intrigued by the tremendous latitude to be found in specific penciller-inker pairings. Depending on who’s at the helm, things can go anywhere from manna to mud.

No need to dwell on the damage a bad or lazy inker can inflict, and we’ve all witnessed the magic of inkers that elevate any pencils they’re called upon to finish.

It’s of yet greater interest, I believe, to delve into the rare and mystifying alchemy worked by two flavours you’d never dream of commingling in the same dish… like anchovies and ice cream, or perhaps Nutella and caviar.

One such audacious mixture was given a go in the transitional post-Atlas days of Marvel comics, as the publisher’s long-running anthologies were shedding their mostly-standalone short story format in favour of the resurgent superheroes.

First, though, a bit about our performers:

Recently-retired (in 2018) writer-artist Larry Lieber (born October 26, 1931, and still with us), is Stan Lee’s younger brother (who didn’t anglicise his name nor wear a toupee) and publisher Martin Goodman‘s nephew. From day one (he got his start in comics with Atlas in 1951), Larry toiled on the family farm, so to speak, his entire career (including a chaotic editorial stint with Martin and Chip Goodman’s ill-conceived Atlas-Seaboard company in 1974-75). His most notable work at Marvel was his run as writer-artist on Rawhide Kid (1964-1973); after Atlas-Seaboard, he worked for Marvel-related newspaper strips, frequently with brother Stan (first The Incredible Hulk, 1978-79, then The Amazing Spider-Man, 1986-2018). He did co-create Iron Man, Ant-Man and Thor… but hasn’t seen a dime for it beyond his measly page rate back in the 60s. Once more, that’s the American comic book industry for you, particularly if you’re a bit of a milquetoast.

The mysterious Matt Fox (1906-1988) was one of the stars in the fabled Weird Tales (“The Unique Magazine”) artistic stable, which notably comprised, let’s not forget, Virgil Finlay, Lee Brown Coye, Hannes Bok and Margaret Brundage… all singular stylists. On the evidence of his eleven WT covers, one might argue that Fox was the oddest of the bunch.

In the 1950s, he drew a handful of short stories for Atlas, as well as a single story and a trio of covers for Youthful’s Chilling Tales… upon which largely rest his reputation in comics. Peter Normanton, in The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics, wrote: « There is an air of disquiet to his vision, yet it charms through a surreptitious blending of the primitive with the mockingly insane. His characters border on the lunatic seemingly at home in his landscapes, concealing a darkness corruptive of the soul. »

This is Beware — the Machine!!! from Strange Tales no.111 (Aug. 1963, Marvel). Lieber, while he’d never be called (or claim to be, to his credit) a master draughtsman, did possess one irrefutable and priceless artistic quality: he could tell a story clearly, smoothly, without undue fuss.

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« Without conscience, compassion, or any other behavioral safeguards that humans possess… » I can certainly think of some exceptions, can you?

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Uh, guys, monkeys are hardly low on the intelligence totem pole. Now if the X-200 had been brought down by, say, a slime mould, you’d be closer to the facts.

Now, you may ask, did Lieber appreciate Fox’s stellar efforts? Short answer: nope. In this chat with Roy ‘Houseroy’ Thomas, he lets it all hang out. [ source ]

Roy Thomas: One of the strangest inkers you had was Matt Fox.

Larry Lieber: I hated that stuff! Oh, God, and years later, I learned that Matt Fox is considered one of the greats by some people, and his artwork brings a buck or two.

RTYeah, but not in comics.*

LL: I hated his stuff because I struggled with drawing, and I was trying to make the drawings look as real as humanly possible, and I had a tough time. I remember I once had Don Heck inking me on a five-page western, and I remember saying, “My God, he’s good at making my stuff look better than it is,” and he was. Matt Fox – if my stuff was a little stiff, he made it even stiffer; he made it look like wood cuttings!

RTFox had been in advertising. He’d done lithographs, pulp illustrations; evidently he did some covers for Weird Tales, the magazine that published H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, including Conan, back in the ’30s. Fox did color wood cuts; he was a real artist, but his comic inking was so strange – his line just deadened everything.

LLOne of my traits was that I was reluctant to say anything bad about anybody, because everybody has to earn a living. I wouldn’t complain, no matter who they put on. But one day I was working in the office penciling a western, and Stan walked by. He saw my pencils and he said, “This is your penciling?” And I said, “Yeah.” Stan said, “This is pretty good. I’ve been looking at the finished stuff, and that looks terrible.” And he removed that inker – it wasn’t Matt Fox – and gave me a better one. But I, of my own volition, wouldn’t say a word about it.

RTFox obviously had a style that just didn’t translate well into comics.

No, Roy: Fox had a style that just didn’t translate into your own, extremely limited idea of comics. This is, after all, the guy who assigned Vince Colletta to ink Frank Robbins, as well as the single individual most responsible for infecting US comics with the dread malady of “continuity“.

It must be said, however, that Fox’s meticulous line work is not particularly suited to the lousy colouring and printing found in comic books of that vintage. So… let’s look at some original art!

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Page two of I Was a Victim of Venus!, from Tales of Suspense no. 43 (July 1963, Marvel).

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« Camoflauging », Larry? Page five of The Search for Shanng!, from Strange Tales no. 113 (Oct. 1963, Marvel).

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Page three of The Enemies! from Journey into Mystery no.101 (Feb. 1964).

Here’s a chronological Lieber-Fox bibliography, comprising 17 stories:

Escape into Space (Tales of Suspense no. 42, June 1963)
The Man Who Wouldn’t Die! (Journey into Mystery no. 93, June 1963)
We Search the Stars! (Strange Tales no. 110, July 1963)
I Was a Victim of Venus! (Tales of Suspense no. 43, July 1963)
Beware — the Machine!!! (Strange Tales no. 111, August 1963)
I Come From Far Centaurus! (Tales of Suspense no. 45, September 1963)
The Smiling Gods! (Tales to Astonish no. 47, September 1963)
The Search for Shanng! (Strange Tales no. 113, October 1963)
Grayson’s Gorilla! (Tales to Astonish no. 48, October 1963)
The Purple Planet! (Journey into Mystery no. 98, November 1963)
The Secret of Sagattus! (Tales to Astonish no. 50, December 1963)
Stroom’s Strange Solution! (Journey into Mystery no. 99, December 1963)
No Place to Turn! (Tales to Astonish no. 51, January 1964)
The Unreal! (Journey into Mystery no. 100, January 1964)
The Enemies! (Journey into Mystery no. 101, February 1964)
The Menace! (Journey into Mystery no. 102, March 1964)
The Green Thing! (Tales of Suspense no. 51, March 1964)

Larry! sure! loved! his! exclamation! marks!!!

Most of these have never been reprinted until recently, and since they appeared in key early issues of Silver Age Marvel superhero titles… they’ve largely languished in obscurity. Writing-wise, they deserve it. But the artwork is what we’re interested in.

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And on that point, it would be fair to feature a solo piece from Fox and Lieber, for a bit of perspective on each man’s respective strengths and peccadillos.

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Astonishingly, Terrance Lindall denies any Fox influence on his work. This is Weird Tales Vol. 41 no. 5 (July, 1949); Dorothy McIlwraith, editor. Cover art by Matt Fox. Oh, and look: here’s the bulk of his known œuvre!

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This is Rawhide Kid no. 66 (Oct. 1968, Marvel); pencils by Larry Lieber, surprisingly solid inks by Vince Colletta.

In closing, here’s a bittersweet excerpt from Bhob Stewart‘s vivid recollections of his meetings with Fox in the mid-60s, during Stewart’s time as editor (and just about everything else) of Castle of Frankenstein, when Fox dropped by to place an ad in the magazine.

« Fox came across as a straight-arrow, no-nonsense sort of a guy, and after a brief conversation about Weird Tales, he quickly got to the point. He was selling glow-in-the-dark posters, and he wanted to run an ad in Castle of Frankenstein. With that, he unfurled his glowing poster depicting demons and banshees dancing in the pale moonlight. We took it into a dark corner of the room, and yes, indeed, it did emit an eerie green glow.

He next produced an ad for the posters. He had made a negative photostat of his ink drawing, so the reversal of black to white simulated glowing monsters coming out of the darkness toward the reader. Clever hand-lettering effects added a subtle suggestion of glowing letters seen at night, not unlike the moment when Marion Crane first spots the Bates Motel sign through her car’s rain-covered windshield. »

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The advert in question, from Castle of Frankenstein no. 8 (1966).

« … it was the second time I saw him. I admired his tight rendering in ink and crayon on pebbleboard. Then I casually asked, “So how many orders did you get for the glow-in-the-dark posters?” He responded bitterly, “None.” After that day, I never saw him and his demonic entourage again. He became the Phantom Artist, whereabouts unknown. Fox died in 1988… » [ source ]

-RG

*utter half-baked, speculative claptrap from Rascally Roy. The fact is that very little of Fox’s original comics artwork survives. For instance, Heritage Auctions has never sold a single Matt Fox solo page. If anything still exists, it’s been in private hands for a long, long time. Furthermore, the comic books in which Fox’s work saw print do ‘bring a buck or two‘, particularly the issues of Chilling Tales featuring his covers (numbers 13, 15 and 17). Read these sinister beauties here

(In fact, to fill that gap in demand, renowned fantasy painter Ken Kelly has even produced recreations of Matt Fox covers. Here’s a sample.)

 

What! You Call This Cold Weather?

« Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised. » ― Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World (1922)

Here’s what happened: I was leafing through Paul C. Tumey‘s splendid comics anthology Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny (2019, The Library of American Comics/IDW) when I came across a wonderful sample of Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (1936-58) wherein the strip’s central figure, Judge Homer Puffle, feeds another boarder a steady line of bull in that grand, booming Baron Munchausen — Captain Geoffrey Spicer-SimsonColonel Heeza Liar Commander McBragg tradition.

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Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (March 17, 1937, King Features).

Of course, it’s all piffle and bunk, but it brought to mind a passage from a favourite article on weather peculiarities in Siberia, Marcel Theroux‘s The Very, Very, Very Big Chill (published in Travel & Leisure in 2000):

« Local people told me that at minus 60 and below, a dense fog settles in the streets, and pedestrians leave recognizable outlines bored into the mist behind them. A drunkard’s tunnel will meander and then end abruptly over a prone body. At minus 72, the vapor in your breath freezes instantly and makes a tinkling sound called ‘the whisper of angels.’ »

Then I thought: « all very nice, but that makes for a rather meagre post »… so I decided to toss in a few bonus images featuring that venerable recurring motif… and got carried away.

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This is Astonishing no. 36 (Dec. 1954, Atlas), the title’s penultimate pre-Code issue… not that Atlas ever crossed the line into gruesome. The cover-featured yarn is The Man Who Melted!, an amusing load of utter rubbish you can read here. Cover art by Carl Burgos.

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This is Chamber of Chills no. 10 (May, 1974, Marvel), and most everything’s the same, save for the colour palette and the now-hostile expression on the caveman’s mug.

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And this is also Chamber of Chills no. 10 (July, 1952, Harvey)… the original, whose title Harvey Comics left curbside for Marvel to recycle when they went all kid-friendly in the Comics-code-ruled Silver Age. Cover designed and art-directed by Warren Kremer and illustrated by Lee Elias. For some insight into these collaborators’ working methods on the horror titles, here’s our post on that very topic. Incidentally, what’s up with the hifalutin Lord Byron quote, Harvey folks? This wacky fare is quite plainly fiction… what’s your point? [Read it here.]

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This is Tales of The Unexpected no. 101 (June-July 1968, DC). Layout and pencils by Carmine Infantino, inks by George Roussos. Infantino, promoted the previous year to editorial director (he would soon rise to the rank of publisher), brought in the versatile Nick Cardy to serve as his right-hand man on the artistic front; together, they designed all of DC’s covers until both men stepped down in 1975.

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This is House of Mystery no. 199 (February, 1972, DC), illustrating Sno’ Fun! a rare (possibly unique, really) collaboration between Sergio Aragonés (script) and Wally Wood (pencils and inks). Cover designed by Infantino and Nick Cardy, pencilled and inked by Neal Adams and coloured by Jack Adler.

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This is Unexpected no. 142 (Dec. 1972, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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This is Unexpected no. 147 (June, 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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This is Unexpected no. 150 (Sept., 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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« Hey, look! The critter is frozen whole… it’s in pretty good shape! » Tom Sutton vibrantly sells Joe Gill and Steve Ditko‘s cautionary tale of arctic drilling gone awry, The Ancient Mine. Also in this issue: Steve and Pete Morisi‘s Surprise!, and Gill and Fred Himes’ touching Pipe Dream. This is Haunted no. 37, (Jan., 1974, Charlton), presented by the publisher’s blue-skinned, green-haired answer to Nana Mouskouri, Winnie the Witch.

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« … that face haunts me… was it a man or a beast? » Ah, the Seventies. Left dazed and frazzled by his whirlwind life of slow-mo violence, glamorous excess and substance abuse, not to mention radiation poisoning, the inevitable occurs: The Hulk wanders onto the wrong set, as well as the wrong publisher’s! Against all odds, he handles the rôle with aplomb and commendable gravitas. A page from Gill and Ditko’s The Ancient Mine. Read it here!

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This is Ghosts no. 37 (April, 1975, DC), featuring Luis Dominguez‘s first (or many) cover for the title, a passing of the torch from Nick Cardy, who’d handled every one of the preceding three dozen…. minus one: number 7’s cover was the work of Michael Kaluta.

Oh, and since I wouldn’t want any of you superhero aficionados to think I’m freezing you out, here’s another demonstration of Mr. Infantino‘s “encased in ice” idée fixe.

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Mr. Freeze, who first popped up in Batman no. 121 in 1959, initially known as, er… Mr. Zero (Celsius, Fahrenheit or Kelvin?) before being revamped and renamed for the mid-60s Batman TV show, a makeover that carried over to the comics, but tragically didn’t include his outfit. This is Detective Comics no. 373 (March, 1968, DC); layout by Infantino, finishes by Irv Novick. [ read it here!]
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…

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Namor goes all First Commandment on some poor Inuits (surely they’ve seen frozen bodies before?), displaying an unseemly level of insecurity for someone of his standing. This recap hails from King Kirby’s sensational feat of deadline rescue on the behalf of a tardy Jim Steranko (to be fair, it was worth the wait). George Tuska‘s inks are a surprisingly good fit! This is Captain America no. 112, Lest We Forget! (April 1969, Marvel). [ read it here!]
My co-admin ds was just telling me yesterday about a client who, upon remarking to a succession of winter-kvetchers that actually, we’d had a pretty mild January, was invariably met with goggling bafflement, as if he’d just then grown a second head. In related news, it was just announced that said month of January was, indeed, the planet’s warmest on record. There is, naturally, an xkcd strip about this sort of circular denialism.

-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:

« A bump in the garage floor turned into a half meter of mushrooms in little more than three days. It crushed its way through five centimetres of asphalt in Åge Reppes garage in Stord, western Norway. It is the water pressure in the cells of the fungus that makes it able to crack the asphalt, says a biologist at the local university. » [ source ]. These are inky caps. Edible, but some species are toxic when consumed with alcohol. These are commonly known as ‘tippler’s bane‘.

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 23

« A knot you are of damned bloodsuckers. » — William Shakespeare

One of my favourite Atlas mood-masters was Anthony Lewis “Tony” DiPreta (July 9, 1921 – June 2, 2010); it appears Mr. DiPreta and his colleague Murphy Anderson share not merely a birthday, but a day of birth as well.

Tony DiPreta’s long career in comics began with his arrival at the “Busy” Arnold studio, with his first credits appearing in early 1942. He worked extensively for Hillman Periodicals, handling such features as Airboy (yay!), Skinny McGinty, Flying Dutchman and Stupid Manny; Lev Gleason Publications (various crime stories and The Little Wise Guys); and of course Atlas Comics, where he chiefly, but not exclusively, cut loose on moody-but-not-gory horror stories, often with a finely-turned streak of gallows’ humour.

Tony survived the post-Code near-collapse of the comics industry when he succeeded Moe Leff on Ham Fisher‘s Joe Palooka strip, which he carried until the feature’s final curtain in 1984. In the 1970s, he also did a bit of moonlighting for Charlton, contributing to a couple of issues of The Flintstones spin-off The Great Gazoo. In 1994, DiPreta took on another venerable, long-running newspaper strip, medical soap opera Rex Morgan, M.D., until his well-earned retirement (DiPreta’s, not Morgan’s) in 2000.

For your reading pleasure and mine, I’ve selected this adorably wacky tale from Atlas’ Journey Into Mystery no. 11 (August, 1953). Writer unknown, which is a shame.

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Well, I suppose it might have been simpler to see who wasn’t around in the daytime, but let’s face it, Mazerok’s method is far more entertaining and original.

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The story was reprinted in Where Monsters Dwell no. 17 (Sept. 1972, Marvel); though cover-featured, the cover itself was a lacklustre job by an overworked and uninspired Gil Kane, stuck here with Vinnie Colletta, though to be fair, there’s nothing here to ruin. Beyond the cover, the insides are great: two Ditko stories (« I Opened the Door to… Nowhere! » and « The World Beyond », a low-key Russ Heath (« If the Coat Fits », also from JIM 11), and our featured yarn.

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Now that’s more like it! The Hidden Vampires‘ original place of appearance, Journey Into Mystery no. 11 (Aug. 1952, Atlas), boasts a just-about-classic cover by Russ Heath, with a fine colouring job by Stan Goldberg.

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Heath did a lovely job with the small space allotted to preview the other stories. Pre-Code Atlas books were graced with a clever and attractive cover grid.

– RG