I think the most disappointing scientific discovery of recent years is that there appears to be no octopuses on the moon. Not one teensy-weensy tentacle was spotted by the lunar rovers (that we dispatched to the Moon for that very purpose, of course). But comics had led us to expect otherwise!
The inside offers us even more tentacles:
A bit of comic relief…
And back to our scheduled program of lethal, tentacle-sprouting monsters that attack the moment anyone sets foot on the moon.
Here’s a good instance of the good folks at Marvel getting quite confused. The First Men in the Moon, published in 1901, was written by H. G. Wells. From the Earth to the Moon was written in 1865 by Jules Verne. Which one is this supposed to be an adaptation of, then? I can confirm that the vaguely ant-like creatures with tentacles are H. G. Wells’ creation. His Selenites are described as following: « They are vaguely similar to quasi-humanoid ants, about five feet tall, with a light physical constitution enclosed in an exoskeleton from which slender jointed limbs and whip-like tentacles protrude. »
However, the first page of this comic informs us that…
So I guess whoever laid out the cover screwed up. The insides, scripted by Don McGregor and drawn by Rudy Mesina, are considerably better drawn, and an unqualified tentacular treat.
Did this adaptation succeed in being faithful to and respectful of Wells’ influential novel? Well, not really, although an honest attempt was made. But I found that it focused far too much on the fight scenes, and left out quite a few complex nuances as well as skewing the philosophical underpinnings of The First Men in the Moon. That being said, if you like tentacles, I heartily recommend reading this issue. I cringe at the very idea of recommending something from the Marvel Classics line, but honestly must prevail. Really, it’s good fun. Take a look —
Did the artist go into tentacle overdrive? Oh boy, did he ever!
« What is it about me, Pops? Am I different than normal people? »
One (more) thing I’ve learned in this world is that the vast majority of people, from the man or woman in the checkout line to the hard core of comics aficionados… can’t tell Archie artists apart, let alone name any of them.
If you scratch deep enough, one name will come up, like pebbles from a fallow field: Dan DeCarlo. I’m reminded of the annual restaurant poll a local alternative weekly used to hold: McDonald’s unfailingly took its category in a landslide, because of its ubiquitous familiarity. And so it is with Archie artists: DeCarlo must be the best because… well, that’s what we’ve always been told.
If you ask me, much of his peers’ work gets attributed to him. For instance, check out our gallery of Bob White covers. That Archie’sMad House no. 27 cover, in particular…
WOT’s pick for top artist on the Archie totem is handily Samm Schwartz (1920 – 1997). He’s easily the smoothest, most inventive storyteller in the Archie universe. Despite his skill as a cover designer during Archie’s best years (1959-1965, a figure proposed by cartoonist-scholar Seth and worth carving in stone), there were no Schwartz covers chez Archie after 1965.
The likely reason? In ’65, Schwartz was hired away by Wally Wood‘s Tower Comics (by managing editor Harry Shorten, a former Archie writer-editor) to serve as their art director. While there, he conceived Tower’s relatively prolific teen humour line, featuring Tippy Teen, Go-Go and Animal, and Teen-In, often glibly dismissed as “Archie clones“, by people who clearly haven’t read the work. We’ll return to these eventually.
Now comes the clincher: Schwartz in turn hired some of his former Archie colleagues to pitch in (presumably at higher page rates); DeCarlo (a handful of stories in early issues of Tippy Teen), Harry Lucey (a decent batch, actually) and reportedly Bob White (no sign of him, though). But the bulk of the work was done by Schwartz and future Archie artist Doug Crane.
Now the Archie people didn’t like this one bit; it was a clear case of sedition, a threat to their tidy little work camp system. After the industry’s near-collapse in the mid-1950s, there weren’t a lot of options in the tight-knit little club that remained; let’s not forget that even Jack Kirby was driven to such humbling desperation in the early 1960s. It was all too easy to be blackballed. The Goldwater clan, Archie’s reigning dynasty, took careful note of Schwartz’s break for freedom and the names of his accomplices. After Tower called it a day in 1969, Schwartz went to DC for a year, but it didn’t take. He was forced to return to Archie, which certainly suited the publisher since Schwartz’s signature title, Jughead, had been wilting away in his absence.
The terms of his return are unknown… but against all odds, Samm proceeded to create the finest work of his career, pencilling, inking and lettering hundreds of inspired Jughead stories until, well, until he couldn’t any more. But no covers, considered a plum job: these went exclusively to DeCarlo (with an occasional Lucey) and later to versatile mediocrity Stan Goldberg, aping DeCarlo’s style and random design sense*.
To quote his daughter, Joanne Colt, from the introduction of 2011’s The Best of Samm Schwartz (it isn’t, but it’s pretty good): « He drew for Archie until his death on November 13, 1997, my birthday. There was an unfinished story on his drawing board. »
*the way I see it, the difference between a Bob White or a Samm Schwartz cover and a DeCarlo is the difference between a considered, effective layout and the act of pointing a camera at random and snapping the shutter. To be fair to DeCarlo, his girlie cartoons for Martin Goodman’s Humorama were excellent, and his first half-decade at Archie (60-65) was fine… then the company wore him down into a sad hack and the unfortunate protagonist-victim of a cautionary tale.
« Gosh! I never knew you had a school for monsters! »
« There are a lot of things about Transylvania that you American tourists do not know! »
Archie Comics’ earliest foray into monster humour was its long-running, in one form or another*, Mad House series (1959-82).
It doesn’t get any better than Samm Schwartz‘s cover for Archie’s Mad House no. 16 (December, 1961). The early issues featured Archie and the gang in slightly more surreal settings than usual, then they were phased out, with the noteworthy exception of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who was introduced in AMH 22 (October, 1962). The title was a fine showcase for Archie’s best and most idiosyncratic stylists, Schwartz, Orlando Busino and Bob White in particular.
An idea they liked so well they used it (at least) twice. Bonus points for bothering to redraw it! This was Archie’s Mad House Annual no. 4 (1966-67), cover art by the aforementioned Bob White.
*It was called Archie’s Mad House (issues 1-60), then simply Mad House (61-65), then Madhouse Ma-ad Jokes (66-70), Mad House Ma-ad Freak-Out (71-72), The Mad House Glads (73-94), Madhouse (in a non-cartoony horror format, featuring the likes of Gray Morrow and Vicente Alcazar, 95-97), then finally Mad House Comics (95-130).
Of course, you can take that ‘forgotten artist’ notion with a grain of salt: most Archie artists aren’t forgotten, because they were rarely acknowledged in the first place. There are cases such as that of Scrooge McDuck creator Carl Barks, aka the Good Duck Artist, whose identity latterly became known through the efforts of a handful of devoted fans… but such fortuitous events are rare as Gladstone Gander’s off days.
No such luck for Robert “Bob” White (1928-2005), who got the short end of the stick despite being the Archie line’s signature artist during its peak period* (pretty squarely 1959 to 1965) and crafting uncluttered, expertly-designed covers and stories. Of course, these years coincide with most of the classic Archie bullpen hitting its stride, bookmarked at one end by the ascent of White (who’d arrived at Archie around 1954, but details are scant) and at the other by Samm Schwartz‘s departure for greener, but sadly ephemeral (1965-69) pastures, an art director post with Tower Comics.
Archie’s illiberal response to a guy simply, and wisely, trying to avoid putting all his eggs in one basket was typical of the publisher, and of the reactionary comics industry in general, but it’s to White’s credit that, unlike Dan DeCarlo and Samm Schwartz (who at least made a break for it), he didn’t just fold, kiss their ring and take their abuse. Who’s to say? Perhaps that principled departure really stuck in their craw.
There are simply too many outstanding White covers to feature in one go; I suppose I’ll have to return to the well a couple of times. Still, these ought to give you a sense of the man’s style.
*I’m in complete agreement with cartoonist-connaisseur Gregory Gallant, aka Seth, when he writes, in his introduction to John Stanley‘s Thirteen ‘Going on Eighteen’ (Drawn & Quarterly, 2009… where’s volume 2 at?) that « I like Archie comics quite a bit and own hundreds of issues of Archie and its various spin off titles. I can even tell you which years are the good years (1959 to ’65, incidentally) »