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’sThe 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.
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.
« 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).
« ‘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.
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”.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.“
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.
After *that*, the following cover looks quite humdrum by comparison. It’s difficult to imagine how Red Sonja will extricate herself from this situation…
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:
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.
« 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):
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):
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:
Those of us who like to dream of adventure, but preferably from the comfort of our own homes, I have this strip:
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:
You might end up, many years down the road, growing up to be, well… a little peculiar, shall we say.
And if that wasn’t sufficient, the same doctor has further advice for his readers in this slightly subsequent issue:
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.
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.
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.
RT: Yeah, 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!
RT: Fox 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.
LL: One 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.
RT: Fox 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!
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.
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.
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. »
« … 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 ]
*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.)
« 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.
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.
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…
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.
« 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.
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.
« 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.