« Ghost stories … tell us about things that lie hidden within all of us, and which lurk outside all around us. » — Susan Hill
We’ve once before turned our attention upon Dell’s Ghost Stories, an anthology title with such an incredible first issue (written and directed by John Stanley) that all the subsequent ones whither in the long shadow it casts. In recent years, I’ve somewhat softened my stance on these sequels, taking into account that nothing could measure up to Stanley’s work on numero uno — and accordingly judging them on their own merits.
As a kid, I didn’t think too highly of Frank Springer (1929-2009), being primarily familiar with his inks over Frank Robbins on The Invaders (too sloppy, and no substitute for Robbins inking himself, which never happened at Marvel anyhow). Down the line, I ran into some of his earlier work (Phoebe Zeit-Geist, The Secret Six, The National Lampoon, Dial H for Hero and sundry items for Dell) and grew to appreciate his strengths.
Now, Ghost stories was interesting as a ‘horror’ (in the very limited Silver Age/Comics Code in full force sense) anthology, in that the vast majority of the stories were, after that peerless first issue, the work of one single artist (Gerald McCann, after contributing a couple of page to number one, handled issues 2-5, with a couple of filler pages thereafter, then Springer took over for 6-20, the rest of the run consisting of reprints, with the unexpected exception of no. 35).
Here then is what’s likely my favourite Springer Ghost Story: A Room with a Dreadful Secret.
I really enjoy the madcap world of Golden Age funny animal comics, and they’ve often made it into various Tentacle Tuesdays. Yet not everything fits into the somewhat narrow scope of tentacles (shocking, I know!), so I am pleased to take this fun gallop through some favourite covers that are quite devoid of cephalopods. Doing so involves going back some seventy, eighty years… a difficult to grasp concept for those of us who were not around back then.
My thirty-something colleagues consider movies from the late 90s to be ‘ancient’, so I can just imagine what their reaction would be to a comic from, say, 1942! Yet I feel emotionally close to these covers (whether artistically accomplished, entertainingly weird or just plain drugged-out) – humanity has not changed nearly as much as we tend to assume, and albeit some sources of humour require an historian’s explanation, others are every bit as funny and entertaining now as they were back then. As for talking animals, that goes back to the dawn of human history (Aesop’s fables readily come to mind, and Aesop was surely not the inventor of this concept!)
One could dedicate a whole lifetime to digging through this particular slice of history – I’ve tried to go for some variety in this post, but of course I am (happily) constrained by my own tastes in the matter. Here, then, are some Golden Age covers featuring funny animals that have amused, entertained or puzzled me.
Animal Comics no. 1 (December 1942, Dell), with a cover by H.R. McBride, is an amalgam of details both adorable and creepy – the harrowing expression of the fish contrasts wildly with Madame Crocodile’s peanuts-pilfering offspring and her flirty cocktail parasol, while her crocodile-skin purse makes me think of Disney’s Three Little Pigs cartoon (1933, Silly Symphonies). In case you’ve never noticed it, the third pig, the one with the brick house, has family pictures on his wall… for example, a string of sausages labelled “Father”. Black humour, indeed. Animal funnies are often dusted with a good sprinkling of the gruesome, as when a talking duck eats chicken legs for dinner.
Fast forwarding four years, we fall into pleasantly loopy territory of Fox Features’ Nuttylife no. 2 (Summer 1946, Fox Comics). Despite it being number two, this is technically the only issue, issue number 1 having appeared as Krazy Life, and issue number 3 and onward becoming Wotalife Comics. I can’t find credits for the cover, but the insides contain Pat Adams with Ellis Chambers (“One day a little goil went to her Grandma’s joint…”), Tim Howe and Cy King. Ellis Chambers by himself definitely deserves a separate post – take a glimpse at Eddie Elephant – 1946 Hallucinogenic Funny Animal Comix by Ellis Holly Chambers, for example.
I couldn’t very well leave Felix the Cat out of this post! I won’t go into the complex history of this character, but suffice it to say that this is one gorgeous cover. Clearly I’m not the only one to admire this image, as it was used for the cover of Craig Yoe‘s wonderful anthology Felix the Cat – Greatest Comic Book Tails (2011, IDW), which I highly recommend. This is Four Color no. 135 (February 1947, Dell Comics), with a cover by Otto Messmer.
The American Comics Group is responsible for many a goofy plot, source of my long-lasting affection for some of their titles (see Tentacle Tuesday: ACG’s Adventures Into the Tentacles). ACG’s Ha Ha Comics are a riot, all right, but I have two favourites among the 88 issues released. The first is Ha Ha Comics no. 11 (August 1944), with a cover by Ken Hultgren. A joke doesn’t have to be elaborate to be funny – something about the expression of the indignant man-eating lion and his wild mop of hair cracks me up!
The second is Ha Ha Comics no. 78 (Dec-Jan 1951), cover artist unknown. I like porcupines in general, but here we are presented with a truly bizarre situation – a porcupine who tears out his sweetheart’s quills one by one to figure out whether she loves him… (unless she’s just a friend helping out, and he’s in love with some other porcupine). Kinky, whichever way you look at it.
Going a few years back, we take a little inter-planetary voyage with Coo Coo Comics no. 38 (March 1948, Pines/Standard Comics), with a cover by (possibly)Vince Fago. I am very fond of this purple-green monster who looks like he’s suffering from a bad hangover (or terminal cretinism). Coo Coo Comics is credited with having introduced the first funny animal superhero (in its very first issue, published in October 1942). That little guy was Supermouse…
… but the other contender for this title was Terrytoons’ Mighty Mouse, also introduced in October 1942 (under the name of ‘Super Mouse’) in the theatrical short The Mouse of Tomorrow. That’s enough to get anybody confused in all these mice! This is Terry-Toons Comics no. 1 (October 1942), with an Ernie Hart cover that hints at the influence that funny animal comics had on the underground comix artists:
« Is the spring coming? » he said. « What is it like?» «It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…»| Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Having been meaning for a while now to concentrate on tentacled plant life, I was hitherto stopped by the idea that it’s somewhat unseemly to talk about flora when most of our readership is buried in snow and ice. But now, well! – today was the first day of the year suitable for wearing shorts, and green shoots are popping up wherever one’s gaze happens to land.
We have waited for quite a long time before co-admin RG managed to get his hands on this issue… and it turned out that the insides vary from ‘lacklustre’ to ‘wow, that’s ugly!’ Still, the wonderful, striking cover makes it worth owning, I believe.
Speaking of adventures, let’s delve into Strange Adventures for a bit. The following story has a rather peculiar plot – « Star Hawkins is down on his luck and has to pawn Ilda, his robot secretary. Luckily, Star is hired to locate a fugitive who’s thought to be hiding on Vesta, an asteroid mining settlement, in the Red Jungle. But with a little tracking skill and the help of the creepy vegetation of the Red Jungle, he nabs the fugitive, gets his prisoner, and gets Ilda back from the pawn shop, promising never to pawn her again. »
Here’s another Earthman (who has dreamed of this moment, by his own admission!) struggling with some coquettish plant tentacles that just want to be friends.
The next thing after adventures is, naturally, mysteries. If they’re strange, puzzling mysteries, even better… what’s that word I’m looking for… ah, yes: baffling! Another day, yet another ravenous man-eating plant.
One more happy tromp through the jungle? Sure, why not!
The following image was originally created as a cover for House of Mystery no. 251 (1977, DC), but was nixed in favour of another, Neal Adams-penned illustration, which we’ve already featured in a previous post (Tentacle Tuesday: Plants Sometimes Have Tentacles, Too). I prefer this gruesome version (complete with skeleton being digested!… also more detail, more dynamic layout and better anatomy of all involved), pencilled by José Luis García-López and inked by Bernie Wrightson.
« Drosera’s snap tentacles — which can sense moving prey — catapult insects directly onto the glue tentacles at the plant’s center, where the prey is digested. What’s more, the catapult system is very effective—the insect almost never escapes. » (source)
Which child hasn’t passed through a temporary fascination with Venus flytraps in particular, and carnivorous plants in general? From there it only takes a tiny shift of the imagination to arrive at man-eating plants, which grab their victims with murderous tentacle-like tendrils, crawling vines and grabby creepers. Today we delve into one of my favourite sub-categories of tentacle obsession: plant tentacles.
This spine-chilling greenery often deploys its lethal vines in some remote corner of the Earth (well, in comics, at any rate). This, I firmly believe, is far scarier than the idea of other planets harbouring these carnivorous forms of life. After all, our chances of landing on Mars or somesuch are slim, and we’re a lot more (though not very) likely to wind up in some mysterious jungle.
But first, we deal with that old trope about a power-mad scientist breeding some man-devouring monstrosity in a pot, garden or greenhouse.
When I was a wee girl, my dad would give me piles of adventure books to read. Quite a few of them involved some intrepid explorers discovering (or literally falling into) a jungle (often hidden in some volcanic crater) in which prehistoric creatures had somehow survived (among the novels I remember reading were Sannikov Land and Plutonia by Vladimir Obruchev, The Lost Worldby Conan Doyle,Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc.) Cue dinosaurs and woolly mammoths! As I loved dinosaurs, I didn’t mind this recurring theme, which by now seems a little, shall we say, hackneyed.
The cover story, The Deadly Jungle, is scripted by Paul S. Newman, penciled by Giovanni Ticci and inked by Alberto Giolitti.
« Since man cannot live without miracles, he will provide himself with miracles of his own making. He will believe in witchcraft and sorcery, even though he may otherwise be a heretic, an atheist, and a rebel. » — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Here’s the earliest recorded appearance of Futurama’s Phillip J. Fry, and it would appear that he’s in for a heap of trouble… voodoo trouble! Fortunately, world-class sleuth Ellery Queen is on the case and on his side. That’s him discreetly crouching behind a gravestone.
This once-upon-a-midnight-dreary George Wilson beauty served as the cover of Dell’s Four Color no. 1243 (Nov. ’61 – Jan. ’62), the tale of The Witch’s Victim, featuring interior art by Mike Sekowsky, with inks by, from the look of it, George Roussos.
I wonder what Fry had done to get a coven so howling mad at him? I mean, just look at that innocent face…
Pete was born in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 1942, which makes him the doyen of the group. Like Mike “Wool Hat” Nesmith, he was a musician first, likely the group’s most instrumentally proficient. Peter wound up auditioning for the tv show after his name was suggested by Stephen Stills, who wasn’t quite right for the part… but definitely a good sport.
Peter and his fellow Monkees were featured in their own Dell comic book (is there any greater honour?), which lasted from March, 1967 to October, 1969, seventeen issues in all (with some reprinting.) That was one of Dell’s few savvy moves in their waning days, and one of their few readable titles outside John Stanley‘s output.
Update: Peter Tork passed away on Thursday, February 21, 2019, barely a week beyond his 77th birthday. Au revoir, Peter!
« Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas makes me happy I love Christmas cold and grey, I love it sweet and sappy Says crazy kissin’ Cousin Flo: ‘Let’s break out the mistletoe’ »
« Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas out the waz Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas up the schnozz Come all ye faithful, don’t be slow It’s Christmas time, you can’t say no»
« Momma wants a kitchen sink And daddy wants a stiffer drink Grandma wants us to cut the crap Grandpa wants a nice long nap »
« Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas everywhere Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas pullin’ out my hair Shoppers lined up out the door Traffic backed up miles and more It’s Christmas time, so what the heck Let’s go spend the whole paycheck »
« Deck the halls, it is the season We don’t need no rhyme or reason It’s Christmas time, go spread the cheer Pretty soon gonna be next year»
Dunc and Loo (which was called « Around the Block with Dunc & Loo » for the first three issues) was a comic written and story-boarded by John Stanley. (See our initial post about John Stanley, including more D&C covers.) The finished art for the series was provided by Bill Williams. This combination worked perfectly to provide readers with (only eight, alas) hilarious issues of teenage high-jinks and other silliness.
You can read the whole issue over at Comic Book Plus – no tentacles, I’m afraid, but some gorgeous art and zany stories. It’s well worth the detour!
Hey, octopuses like surfing, too. Or maybe this one just wanted the blonde for himself…
The Adventures of Bob Hope were published by National Periodical Publications from 1950 to 1968, for a total of 109 issues. The main stories centred around comedian Bob Hope (or his misadventures, rather); the cover stories often featured some other film-related characters. The original artist of the series was Owen Fitzgerald, with Cal Howard as the writer. Official credits aren’t really available, but these two seemed to provide much of the content for the first 60 issues. In #61, however, Mort Drucker (on main stories) and Bob Oksner (on back-ups) made their debut, and continued on their merry way until, oh, 1967 or so. In case you’re interested, Neal Adams did the last 4 covers for the series (eek).
Here’s another series that followed a pretty similar path (unsurprisingly – same publishing house, comparable years, same subject matter): The Adventures of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis (July-August 1952 – October 1957) that became The Adventures of Jerry Lewis with #41 (November 1957). The art, handled mostly by Owen Fitzgerald in the beginning, gradually landed increasingly into the more-than-capable hands of Bob Oksner, who stayed around until the end with issue #124 (June 1971). Here, also, Neal Adams stuck his nose in, this time for three issues (covers of #102 through to #104).
« No matter what scientists say, lumbermen of the West insist that the monster exists… Believe it or Not! » — the standard Ripley’s line, from The Beast of the Humboldt
In the early 1960s, former industry leader Dell Publishing suffered a crushing blow when Western Publishing, who had been producing Dell’s comics for them since 1938, decided to handle their own distribution, which left Dell with, well… just about zilch*. But that’s neither here nor there.
Dell had opted out of the Comics Code Authority, and Western’s subsequent comics, under the Gold Key banner, also enjoyed that advantage, not that they abused the privilege much, though the exceptions are among the finest comic books ever issued: Ghost Stories No.1 and the one-shot giant Tales From the Tomb, both from the phenomenal mind of John Stanley and published by Dell in the fall of 1962.
By the mid-1960s, Warren Magazines had pounced through the loophole of the magazine format, unregulated by the Code, to bring back monsters forbidden under the CCA’s rule. Gold Key required no such stratagem.
At first, GK’s long-running (1965-1980, 94 issues) Ripley’s Believe It or Not! * couldn’t decide on a focus: 14 of its initial 26 issues were devoted to « True Ghost Stories », two related « True War Stories », two shared « True Weird Stories », and six tackled « True Demons and Monsters ». With issue 27, the title stuck to ghosts, if not to the strict truth.
This is an excerpt from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 4 (April, 1967), featuring the work of the much underrated Joe Certa (1919-1986), who began his comics career in the mid-1940s, working in just about every genre for a score of publishers, settling with Gold Key in the mid-60s and staying on until his retirement in 1980. He’s most remembered for his co-creation (with writer Joseph Samachson) of, and lengthy stint on J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter (1955-68), as well as for drawing every single issue of Gold Key’s loose adaptation of television’s first supernatural soap, Dark Shadows (35 issues, 1969-76). By this time, Certa’s style had evolved from a fairly mainstream style to a wonderfully blocky, angular and shadowy style that left him ill-suited to the depiction of standard superheroics… but prepared him well for moodier fare.
*the one priceless creative asset that Dell managed to hold onto was John Stanley, not that they appreciated him. When he left the industry, it wasn’t with a carefree grin and a spring in his step.
** « Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is a franchise, founded by Robert Ripley, which deals in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims. The Believe It or Not panel proved popular and was later adapted into a wide variety of formats, including radio, television, comic books, a chain of museums and a book series. »