Tentacle Tuesday: We’re Off to the Moon!

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!
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 Mystery in Space no. 51 (May 1959), cover by Gil Kane.
The inside offers us even more tentacles:
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Battle of the Moon Monsters! was scripted by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Carmine Infantino and inked by Joe Giella.
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In the end, our protagonists realize that the tentacled monster is actually a spaceship, and one manned by humans, at that… after which both parties have a good laugh about having almost annihilated one another. A peculiar sense of humour, those astronauts.
A bit of comic relief…
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Panels from the one-pager Outer Space with art by Bob White, printed in Archie’s Madhouse no. 21 (September 1962)
And back to our scheduled program of lethal, tentacle-sprouting monsters that attack the moment anyone sets foot on the moon.
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« Traveling at an incredible speed, the rocket reaches the moon in twenty three hours and lands in the gigantic crater… » And what is waiting for our hero, freshly stepped from his rocket? Funny you should ask… Page from Rocket to the Moon (1951 one-shot, Avon) scripted by Walter Gibson and illustrated by Joe Orlando.
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. »
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Marvel Classics Comics no. 31 (1978), cover by Alan Weiss.
However, the first page of this comic informs us that…
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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.
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I think the artist just wanted to draw tentacles, and this post is clearly not the place where he is likely to be judged for that little peccadillo.

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 —

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Did the artist go into tentacle overdrive? Oh boy, did he ever!
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Thanks for traveling with us today! If you want more tentacles in space, visit Tentacle Tuesday: Have Tentacles, Will Space Travel, or perhaps Tentacle Tuesday: Entangled in Tentacles with Adam Strange. As for me, I’m waving my tentacle (I do have one on a bookshelf) and bidding you adieu until next Tentacle Tuesday!
~ ds
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Jughead’s Pal, Samm Schwartz

« 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’s Mad 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*.

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Jughead’s Fantasy no. 2 (Oct. 1960); a parody of the excellent 1958-61 detective show… and yes, Peter Gunn did get conked on the head an awful lot.
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Archie’s Pal Jughead no. 78 (Nov. 1961)
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Archie’s Pal Jughead no. 81 (Feb. 1962). Check out Reggie’s body language, in particular.
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Archie Giant Series Magazine no. 17 (Archie’s Jokes, Summer 1962). There goes Archie, into the next county.
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Laugh Comics no. 136 (July 1962)
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Archie’s Pal Jughead no. 86 (July 1962)
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Archie’s Pal Jughead no. 89 (Oct. 1962)
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Er, interesting choice of space pioneers, USAF. Could this mission be some sort of tax dodge? Perhaps Mr. Lodge has a financial stake in it, and gently “suggested” Archie for the possibly one-way trip. Archie Giant Series Magazine no. 19 (World of Jughead, Dec. 1962)
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Pep no. 165 (Sept. 1963). My college graphic design teacher told our class that a poster should be “One Angry Fist”, which certainly applies to comic book covers, and this is a fine, fine example of making the most of a format.
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Archie’s Mad House no. 33 (June 1964)
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Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica no. 102 (June 1964). The new, definitely not improved cover layout of the Archie line rears its homely head.
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Mr. Samm Schwartz, date unknown, though the cars should certainly serve as a clue.

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. »

-RG

*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.

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 6

« 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).

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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.

WhiteMad-House-Ann4AAn 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.

-RG

*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).

Bob White, Forgotten Archie Artist

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.

According to The Comics Reporter, writing on the occasion of White’s passing, « He was let go by Archie after working on Tippy Teen for Tower, at which point he moved into other lines of work, including a stint as an artist at United Artists. »

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.

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Before Afterlife With Archie, there was… Life With Archie, which « was a comic book published from 1958 to 1991. It featured Archie Andrews in adventure stories that were more dramatic than the standard Archie tales. » This is Life With Archie no. 5 (November, 1960.)
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« As I looked there came, I thought a change – he seemed to swell – his face became suddenly black and the features seemed to melt and alter… » ― Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
‘Delicious’ is a good start, but what about the side effects? This is Archie’s Mad House no. 15 (Oct. 1961).
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Hey, the Macabre Trio’s in town! This is Laugh no. 129 (December 1961). Cool ghoul Bob White is truly in his element here. Also, do bear in mind that the word “Horror” was banned by the Comics Code Authority, yet they approved this cover. Asleep at the switch!
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This is Life With Archie no. 12 (January, 1962.) Correctly acknowledging the facts of evolution? Obviously, Al Hartley hadn’t made the scene yet.
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I’m especially fond of the period when you get a sense from the covers (chiefly those produced by White and Schwartz) that Riverdale was built over the Hellmouth or an ancient burial ground, as monsters and aliens routinely ask for directions or take Betty out for a soda. This is Pep no. 153 (March, 1962).
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Ah, there’s some of that “more dramatic” stuff. Life With Archie no. 16 (September, 1962.)
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« So don’t be persistent / Please keep your distance / You know my resistance is low »
It would appear that Madison Avenue’s brand of wizardry is more than a match for Sabrina’s. This is Archie’s Mad House no. 27 (August, 1963).

– RG

*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) »