« Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves. » — J. B. Priestley
Here at WOT central, we’re both massive Bob Oksner (1916-2007) fans, and it’s not generally for the writing. For a long time, his multi-faceted talent was used to great effect all over the DC Comics line, but he rarely received the acclaim he so richly deserved.
And then it was over, in this visual idiom anyway: with the following issue (LITB68), DC brought in well-traveled Henry Scarpelli to handle the covers and create the impression that Binky was just one more Archie clone. Over the subsequent four issues, a handful of (pretty good) new stories were mixed in with the reprints. Then came a change of title and a new logo. The book, now simply called Binky, was a full-on Archie ersatz, and lasted another ten issues into 1971… with one final special popping out of nowhere in the summer of ’77. For ol’ Binky, par for the course!
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.
DC’s Tales of the Unexpected offer quite a ménagerie of strange looking creatures! Any peculiar combination of animals you can think of, you’ll find somewhere within the pages of this series. This possibly deserves its own post, as it’s quite entertaining to see artists combining, say, an elephant with a tiger. That being said, I tend to get annoyed at artists who can’t visualize anything truly alien-looking, thus resorting to carving up earth animals and stitching different body parts together… but that’s a different conversation.
Occasionally the artists will also add tentacles, a sure shortcut to make something mundane look properly alien, and this is today’s area of interest! For more questionable monsters, have a gander at Tentacle Tuesday: Convoluted Critters.
And now, onto ‘unexpected’ tentacles, even if the result of this ends up looking like badly-made puppet with a tacked-on beak…
Of course one can’t discount the lasting power of classic vine-tentacles.
Whereas these mini-planets gone bonkers with tentacles-cum-hair bring to mind, but anticipate, something by Junji Ito.
The idea of an interplanetary veterinarian makes little sense for its assumption that life on other planets would have similar physiology to ours (even limiting the scope of action to only planet earth would be too ambitious – ask a doctor to treat a sick jellyfish and see how well he would do), but here we have the satisfaction of a sweet little scene of inter-species succor.
Some 30 issues later, we have another case of rabid tree-tentacles… this time composed of rubber (or something that behaves like rubber, at any rate).
Finally, this tentacled purple gorilla (so his tail is more dinosaur than gorilla, so what?) will no doubt please a regular reader of this blog!
I was startled to discover that after several years of WOT blogging, we still have no post dedicated to Sergio Aragonés. Perhaps this is in part because his art is ubiquitous – throughout his long career, he has contributed manifold pages to various DC publications, created an enduring barbarian parody, scripted and drawn (mostly solo but also in collaboration) an impressive number of mini-series published by Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and Bongo Comics, produced various comic-con paraphernalia, etc. And this is not to mention his lasting contributions to Mad Magazine (which I did discuss, though not at length, in A MAD dash… inside) – something in the magnitude of twelve thousand gags spread over 57 years and 491 issues of Mad.
He’s also a charming, universally-liked man whose bigger-than-life persona has ensured that his participation in anything is always surrounded by fun anecdotes. It is my great pleasure to share this abridged compendium of Aragonés tentacles, of which there are many, as he enthusiastically added them into doodles and margins with great glee (and, as we know, « he has quite literally drawn more cartoons on napkins in restaurants than most cartoonists draw in their entire careers *», so just imagine how many tentacles are scattered throughout his work).
Incredibly, we still haven’t written a post dedicated to the great Plop! (this post is starting to sound like a to-do-in-the-nearest-future list), though Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 30 did include a story from number 1. Plop!, “The New Magazine of Weird Humor!“, certainly included a lot of cephalopods in its 24 issues and I will doubtlessly get around them one of these days. In the meantime, here’s a very appropriate page from Plop! no. 16:
Galloping forward through some twenty years, we briefly land at Marvel, namely these two pages from Groo the Wanderer no. 98 (February 1993, Marvel), co-plotted and scripted by Mark Evanier.
Sergio Aragonés Funnies, published between 2011 and 2014 by Bongo Comics, boast 12 issues of really enjoyable, remarkably varied material. For those who may think that Aragonés is one-trick pony who can only do ‘silly’ humour, this series offers many auto-biographical stories, some of them surprisingly poignant and heart-felt. Not to say that it’s not devoid of humour – the more serious stuff (including social criticism in the form of animal parables) is nestled among pages of slap-stick humour and imaginative goofiness, from one-pagers to longer stories that take most of an issue to develop. Aragonés also shares some background on his approach to stories, allowing us to peek into his imagination and possibly answer that hackneyed question that plagues all manner of writers, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ If an anthology of Funnies is ever published, I’ll happily purchase it.
Excerpts from Kira and the Beauty Contest, published in Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 2 (August 2011, Bongo Comics):
Panels from Sergio’s Inferno, published in Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 3 (September 2011, Bongo Comics):
Finally, a panel from the back cover of Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 10 (October 2013, Bongo Comics). Nevermind what the joke is, I just really like that octopus (as well as his other sea friends).
I mentioned materials related to Comic-Cons, so I would be amiss to not include at least one image of something vaguely related!
I’ll end this post with a classic Aragonés anecdote, as told by Mark Evanier. This happened while these two were participating in filming The Half-Hour Comedy Hour television show for NBC in 1983, on which the model Jayne Kennedy was a guest. [source]
« This was one of the most beautiful women in the world. And she wore this dress that was very revealing, so much so the censors wouldn’t let us put her on the air in it without adding some material. So we’re all talking to her, the writers and whoever, just in awe of this woman. And Sergio comes walking in looking like a homeless person, carrying his portfolio. And Jayne sees him and she shouts, ‘Sergio!’ and she runs over and starts kissing him passionately.
They’d worked together before, it turned out. But Johnny Carson comes walking out into the hallway and he thinks Jayne Kennedy is being sexually assaulted by a homeless person in the NBC hallways. He came over to make sure she was okay. She said it was fine, that she knew him, and I said, ‘It’s okay, he’s a cartoonist.’
So Johnny gives that classic look and he says, ‘I knew I should have taken up drawing.’ »
« Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people. » — David Sarnoff
The other day, my partner was trying out a video game whose soundscape seemed exceptionally judicious and well-integrated to the action. At one point, she noticed that the optimal way to play was by matching one’s pace and movements to the musical rhythm. I said, “Oh, it’s just like that Star Rovers story!”
And now for a bit of context: The Star Rovers was a short-lived series that sporadically appeared in the back of DC’s Julius Schwartz-edited titles, mainly Mystery in Space, backing main feature Adam Strange.
As Michael Uslan beautifully puts it, in his introduction to Mysteries in Space: The Best of DC Science-fiction Comics (Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1980):
« The Star Rovers were a whole other category of space heroes, typical of the kind of originality demanded by Julius Schwartz. A transgalactic trio of playboy, glamor-girl and novelist-thrill-seeker, they rarely agreed about anything and were rarely right about anything even when they did agree. »
Much of the appeal of the Star Rovers is that they’re not a team: they’re friendly rivals, ‘frienemies’, as we’d call them these days. Aside from matching wits and theories, they never directly compete, as differences in their fields of endeavour would make the exercice pointless. There’s a light, jovial tone to these mysteries, yet they can still be taken seriously as intriguing puzzles.
All nine episodes were edited by Schwartz, scripted by Gardner Fox, and illustrated by Sid Greene (1906-72). The latter, a veteran of the comics industry with published work going back to 1940, arguably turned in the finest work of his busy career, and likely would have kept on doing so had it not been for… Batman’s troubles.
To make a long story short, as the Batman titles were shedding readers like there was no tomorrow (making it possible that there would, indeed, be no tomorrow), DC bigwigs opted to switch things around a bit, pulling editor (and Jack Kirby blackballer) Jack Schiff off Batman and Detective Comics and handing him the reins of Schwartz’s SF titles Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space. He ran those into the ground, but in goofily entertaining fashion, at least. Unlike the bat-books, there were expendable to DC.
As the ultimate Star Rovers tale appeared in the final issue of the Schwartz-edited Strange Adventures before the changeover, it seems likely that the series would have carried on under a Schwartz régime. But the Rovers weren’t at all in Schiff’s wheelhouse: the delicate premise called for deft, intricate plotting and wit, qualities not to be found within Schiff’s stable of writers. Gardner Fox and Greene were among Schwartz’s trusted confederates, and talent poaching was rarely allowed within DC’s editorial enclaves.
After this editorial switch, Greene was, with few exceptions, put to work inking the pencils of Schwartz’s big three: Carmine Infantino on Batman and The Elongated Man, Gil Kane on Green Lantern and The Atom, and Mike Sekowsky on Justice League of America. The problem, at least as I see it: Greene’s inks didn’t mesh well with any of these pencillers’ styles. Oh well — it’s a living. At least Greene was able to return to full pencil and ink duties on a handful of short stories for editor Murray Boltinoff, mostly in the pages of The Unexpected. Better late than never.
Finally, for your edification and amusement, here’s a Star Rovers checklist:
Who Caught the Loborilla? (Mystery in Space no. 66, Mar. 1961) What Happened on Sirius-4? (Mystery in Space no. 69, Aug. 1961) Where Is the Paradise of Space? (Mystery in Space no. 74, Mar. 1962) Where Was I Born– Venus? Mars? Jupiter? (Mystery in Space no. 77, Aug. 1962) Who Saved the Earth? (Mystery in Space no. 80, Dec. 1962) Who Went Where– and Why? (Mystery in Space no. 83, May 1963) When Did Earth Vanish? (Mystery in Space no. 86, Sept. 1963) Will the Star Rovers Abandon Earth? (Strange Adventures no. 159, Dec. 1963) How Can Time Be Stopped? (Strange Adventures no. 163, Apr. 1964).
All pages are scripted by Robert Kanigher, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by Mike Esposito, except for the first page from Stamps Of Doom!, which was scripted by Bill Finger.
I bitched about Kanigher WW in Tentacle Tuesday: Wonder Girl in the Silver Age, Part I and Don’t Let a Mysogynist Plan Your Wedding: Robert Kanigher and Wonder Woman’s Utterly Unsuitable Suitors. I’m starting to feel like my needle is stuck in the groove, but I will however note one more thing: in my righteous anger about Kanigher’s preposterous depiction of women, I’ve been ignoring that he’s not great at writing men, either. That is… he can write wonderful male characters (see Enemy Ace, for instance), as long as romance is totally off the menu. It’s as if he is saying that romance transforms intelligent, capable men into utter, snivelling dolts (a point of view that one could defend, but within limits). Take a look at what kind of suitors poor Wonder Woman gets saddled with (perhaps their stupidity is one more way of spiting her?) in these panels from Wonder Woman’s Impossible Decision, published in Wonder Woman no. 118 (November 1960):
Allow me to drive one more nail into that coffin, and after this I shall forever hold my peace. I stumbled upon this rather entertaining quote, taken from an interview with Kanigher conducted by Tim Bateman and Steve Whitaker in 1989 (read the full thing here). Here it is, with no further comments from me:
« So Ditko […] tried to force meanings where meanings did not exist. But he tried to tell me that I knew nothing about romance, because his idea of romance was professorial, pedantic. I know what romance is, I’ve written more romance probably than anyone alive. Romance is an excess of passion, and I don’t care if there’re a thousand books that says romance is not that, romance is a time period. Tchaikovsky is a romantic. Excessive, that’s what romance is. So to say that my idea of excessive emotion is not romantic…»
And now, I shall remain mum, and let you savour these tentacles in peace!
Sometimes I stumble upon these comics I’d never previously heard of (or if I had, I had clearly promptly forgotten in a merciful fit of amnesia) but that have a hundred-something issue runs. For instance, I don’t remember this… sophisticated, steel-torso-ed and silver-haired fox at all. How poor my life must have been!
Created by Mike Grell, sword-and-sorcery champion Travis Morgan (actually an American pilot who accidentally discovers a new world in Earth’s hollow core) fights for the freedom of people from Skartaris – and also looks really good in a loincloth. Grell based Morgan on himself, using his experience as a former member of the Air Force (as an illustrator) and his own goatee* as a starting point, though hopefully the loincloth was an improvisation.
That Grell freely borrowed from Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughset al. and peppered this regurgitation with Greek-mythology creatures (harpies, unicorns, a Pegasus, minotaurs, the Atlanteans…) is not by itself enough to condemn this comic, because I’m trying very hard to be fair about it. However, given the stilted dialogue, ridiculous costumes and dubious anatomy, it is distinctly starting to look like Warlord is a chapter of comic book history that’s best forgotten.
But one thing I can say about him is that in his many (MANY) fight scenes, he often struggles against tentacles, whether they belong to an amœba, an actual octopus, a plant, or a dinosaur-thing.
Let’s have a look at those tentacles I was promising.
After the Tower of Fear, we get the Citadel of Death – a perfectly logical transition.
Skipping ahead a few issues, we find that Morgan added some nice billowing sleeves to his outfit.
And now we go into non-Grell territory. Does this make the art or the scripting a little better? Yes, actually, for a little while. The Jurgens-Adkins team, for one thing, can draw horses that actually look like horses (okay, unicorns, whatever). They also do some fun stuff with panel transitions. Witness these two, admittedly fun, pages, taken from Curse of the Unicorn, scripted by Cary Burkett, pencilled by Dan Jurgens and inked by Dan Adkins. This was published in Warlord no. 72 (August 1983).
Here is the same team working on the next issue’s continuation, Cry Plague, scripted by Cary Burkett and Jennifer Reinhold, pencilled by Dan Jurgens and inked by Dan Adkins. It was published in Warlord no. 73 (September 1983).
Warlord lasted 133 issues, all the way until winter, 1988. The last couple of years also involved tentacles. For instance, this page from The Kraken Pentacle, scripted by Michael Fleisher, pencilled by Ron Randall and inked by Pablo Marcos. This story was published in Warlord no. 119 (July 1987). Morgan has a bad case of ugly horse teeth in this issue, but thankfully they’re not too visible on this page.
There are tentacles on 120’s cover, too, but it’s just too ugly to share here. The inside stories, alas, just get worse and worse (and they were none too hot to start with), dragging in characters from Jack Kirby‘s New Gods, to add insult to injury.
And so a comic that was never great to begin with – but had its readable moments, somewhere in the middle – finished as a steaming pile of shit. I can go back to pretending it never existed 😉
Admire the dashing near-nudity of jewel-loving Travis Morgan and go on to greener pastures…
*Now if Grell based Travis Morgan upon himself, and since Travis Morgan is just Grell’s Green Arrow stripped naked and with white instead of blond hair, and given that Grell’s GA is a continuation of Neal Adams’ GA, does it follow that Adams begat, or at least designed, Mike Grell?
JLA’s roster has rotated throughout the years, but for the sake of this post, only the seven original members will get cephalopod tussling privileges! Here they are, with the conspicuous absence of Batman and Superman who are no doubt rushing behind the scenes to rescue everybody (but don’t worry, we’ll get to them as well):
I’ll start with Superman, otherwise he’ll get offended – you know how susceptible he can be. Rather, a double whammy of Superman and Flash, who stumble upon some rather adorable (aside from their propensity to eating people) tentacled aliens. Of course our superheroes decide to make a race out of it, because concentrating on saving some planet or other is clearly not exciting enough – and Batman just happened to be hanging around to give the starting signal. Some afternoons are just that quiet. Race to Save the Universe!, scripted by Denny O’Neil, pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Joe Giella, was published in World’s Finest Comics no. 198 (November 1970, DC).
Nevertheless, this dynamic duo does allow itself to get distracted from its marathon, just long enough to defeat this green cutie:
Incidentally, Superman already has a Tentacle Tuesday all to himself (Tentacle Tuesday: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Tentacle!) Still, here he is collaborating (more like ‘rescuing’) Jimmy Olsen from an intriguing green (why must they always be green?) monstrosity with worm-like tentacles. Ugh, not the most appealing. These pages are from The Voyage of the Mary Celeste II!, scripted by Jerry Siegel, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein and published in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen no. 75 (March 1964, DC).
The cover story is The Alien Who Doomed Robin, scripted by Jerry Coleman and inked by Sheldon Moldoff.
Our next JLA member is the Martian Manhunter, whom I have a strange soft spot for. It’s well known that girls just can’t resist green skin! In honour of this bias, here are not one, but two excerpts from stories featuring tentacles front and centre.
First, two pages from The Beings in the Color Rings, scripted by Dave Wood and illustrated by Joe Certa, published in House of Mystery no. 148 (January 1965, DC).
And for dessert, a page from The Supernatural Masterpieces!, scripted by Dave Wood and illustrated by Joe Certa, published in House of Mystery no. 150 (April 1965, DC).
Naturally, Aquaman has encountered more than a handful of octopuses in his long undersea career – I went on about that in some length in Tentacle Tuesday: Aquaman and his Octopus Sidekicks. I have plenty more where that came from, so there surely be a part II to that particular tale… in the meantime, here is a rather striking cover that didn’t make it into that post.
The cover story is Glag the Destroyer, scripted by Bob Haney, pencilled by Howard Purcell and inked by Sal Trapani.
Last… and maybe least, because I could never warm up to him… is Green Lantern. The following pages are from a story pencilled by Gil Kane, who doesn’t generally get glowing reviews from WOT. Nevertheless co-admin RG wrote an ingenious post combining our common dubiousness about Kane and percolated it through specifically Green Lantern covers – the result is Hot Streak: Gil Kane’s Green Lantern, which impressed, if not quite convinced, me.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of the Justice League of America as filtered through the rather eccentric lens of tentacles.
« Moonshiners put more time, energy, thought, and love into their cars than any racer ever will. Lose on the track, and you go home. Lose with a load of whiskey, and you go to jail. » — Junior Johnson
Lee Marrs (b. 1945) is not your typical « underground » cartoonist, though to be fair — what would a typical undergrounder be? The movement’s whole raison d’être was ‘vive la différence‘, wouldn’t you say?
Hers is not a prolific career, perhaps, but look at the gloriously idiosyncratic path she followed: newspaper comic strip assistant (Hi & Lois, Prince Valiant, Little Orphan Annie…), underground (Wimmen’s Comix, Pudge, Girl Blimp, The Compleat Fart and Other Body Emissions), and mainstream cartoonist — well, even better: she was a regular contributor to DC’s justly-fabled (but yet to be reprinted, ahem) Plop!; she appeared in Marvel’s Mad knock-off Crazy; she even scripted, in the early 90s, a Viking Prince (yes, Kanigher and Kubert’s 1955 creation) epic, illustrated by Bo Hampton, and even a bit of Batman (‘Stalking‘, with Eddy Newell, in 1998). But that’s merely scratching the surface: here’s a more comprehensive rundown of her captivating journey.
And I’m delighted to report that the scintillating Ms. Marrs is still active today, her verve and talent undimmed and undiluted. By all means, check out her website for the undeniable evidence!
« Don’t change your tack when the timbers crack On the dark and the rolling sea… » *
I am relatively indifferent to tales of adventure, but the siren song of the ocean sometimes prompts me to venture into reading tales about ruthless pirates or valorous seafarers and the perilous voyages they undertake on ships big and small, magnificent or modest. Who hasn’t felt a thrill at spotting a handsome vessel on the water, even if that water is but a canal running through the city? The other point of interest of this discussion is that where there’s an ocean and a ship upon it, there is a (preferably) giant octopus somewhere nearby, only waiting to shred the ship’s hull to smithereens and voraciously gobble up its shipmates.
Here is a modestly-sized yet utilitarian boat with a handsome octopus in tow. Maybe he just wanted to climb on deck to rest a while, like this otter?
A similar boat (I don’t know whether it’s my profound lack of knowledge of boats that makes it seem that way) was attacked by a bigger, scarier – downright malevolent! – octopus some twenty years later. See Kyle “Ace” Morgan, Matthew “Red” Ryan, Leslie “Rocky” Davis and Walter Mark “Prof” Haley scramble for safety while an enraged octopus seeks to devour them! Oh, sorry, I’m being melodramatic.
This cover has actually been recycled from Showcase no. 12 (Jan.-Feb. 1958, DC), where the background was yellow and the water a more normal shade of blue-white. I do like how the octopus stands out against a black background, however (and the multi-coloured water really sets off his beady, evilly-glowing green eyes!)
Of course these encounters also take place within the stories, as opposed to on the cover.
Time to move underwater, a very natural setting for an octopus attack. Here we have a submarine tenderly wrapped in tentacles:
Last but not least, I’ve kept this neat little submarine until the end:
Glanzman is also a favourite of ours, though we haven’t talked about him much (yet). In case you’re wondering what the insides of one of those issues looked like – good, they looked really good! Note the octopus proudly perched in the middle of the page.