Tentacle Tuesday: Literary Grapplings

Some people would shudder at the idea of having « literary » and horror and / or science-fiction within the same sentence, but I firmly believe that some of this oft-despised « genre » oeuvre is worthy of that (somewhat pompous, anyway) moniker.

To open the proceedings, here’s a page from a graphic adaptation of « Shattered Like a Glass Goblin », written by the venerable Harlan Ellison in 1968 (and first published in 1975, in Deathbird Stories: A Pantheon of Modern Gods.) One of the showier pieces featured in the anthology The Illustrated Harlan Ellison (1978), it is drawn by William Stout, who does a great job translating the story into no-longer-just-mental images – and sneaking in a tentacle or two in the process (if you think that’s just a tail, shhh, don’t ruin it for the rest of us). People who dislike a vivid palette, beware:  the bright, vivid colours just emphasize the terror felt by the main character (and the readers, if said readers have any imagination to speak of).

Apparently, poor high-school kids are often forced to analyze « Shattered Like a Glass Goblin », because upon Googling it to check the year of its creation, I stumbled upon a bevy of study resources that explain what the story is about and what techniques Ellison used to make this point. Yawn, and yuck. There’s nothing that ruins a good time like having to dissect it.

Page from the graphic adaptation of Shattered Like a Glass Goblin, written by Harlan Ellison and illustrated by William Stout, published in The Illustrated Harlan Ellison (1978). Stout cleverly refrains from showing everything, instead suggesting the unimaginably horrifying in a series of fleeting, clipped images.


Now we come to Marvel’s short-lived Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction series, which often published adaptations of short stories and novels by well-known writers into a comic format (Mostly with lacklustre results, as far as I’m concerned, but then I’ve always preferred to stick with the original medium of things.)

Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction no. 1 (Marvel, January 1975). The cover is by Frank Kelly Freas. It has nothing to do with either the Day of the Triffids nor with Ray Bradbury (is he *really* the ‘most famous SF author of all time’?) but it features aliens with stylish tentacle-hair (how much hairspray did it require to hold, I wonder?)
Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction no. 4, (Marvel, July 1975). Cover by Frank Brunner. I say the guy looks much handsomer with a mess of tentacles sprouting randomly from his torso! Bonus: a newly-materialized, huge tail that no doubt ripped his pants apart, even if the artist demurely decided not to draw attention to this fact.
Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction Giant Size Special no. 1 (Marvel, 1976). Cover by Don Newton. Number 1 it may be, but this was the final bow of Unknown Worlds. Note that the tentacles sought out the woman first! (Coincidence, you say? I think not.)


Since I’m talking about  tentacles and literature, I am contractually obliged to include  something Lovecraftian as part of this post.

My colleague R.G. has already talked about the H.P. Lovecraft edition of the anthology Graphic Classics (head over here to check it out ), but I’d like to share two illustrations from the inside. Both are by Allen Koszowski, whose work is a feast of tentacled beasts and Lovecraftian horrors.

Illustration by Allen Koszowski of « Fungi from Yuggoth ». Published in Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft, Volume 4, 2002.
A portrait of Mr. Lovecraft himself, in all his striking glory, accompanied by some of this unholy creations. Illustration (also by Allen Koszowski, which was accidental on my part) from Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft, Volume 4, 2002.

Koszowski got the similarity down pat: Lovecraft was mighty weird-looking (in a stately kind of way) – which seems quite appropriate. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but he certainly looks like he’s just seen something terrible just behind his interlocutor’s back, but he was half-expecting it, so he’s not too startled, even though someone’s probably about to get gobbled up.


(Cats have that look periodically, too, down to the dilated pupils.)



Incidentally, I said that Koszowski’s art was full of tentacles, so here’s one more taste of his proclivities:

Aliens at Stonehenge” (1984) by Allen Koszowski.

~ ds


Remembering Don Newton (1934-1984)

« Herbal tea. My own recipe.
It’s added years to my life.
May I offer you a cup? »

After producing some exceptionally solid fan art (chiefly for the long-lived Rocket’s Blast Comicollector (153 issues, 1961-1985), Arizona art teacher Don Newton made his jump into the pro leagues in 1974 with Charlton, where he got his chance to show off his considerable painting skills. After a handful of mystery stories, he took over Charlton’s version of Lee Falk and Ray Moore‘s The Phantom, which he drew for six issues (and one cover) before the title was cancelled… along with the rest of Charlton’s original comics line, really.

Newton’s original cover painting for issue 68 (December, 1975, Charlton) of The Phantom, illustrating the tale of The Beasts of Madame Kahn by Nicola Cuti and Newton.
Newton’s cover painting (in acrylics, if you must know) for the penultimate issue of The Phantom’s Charlton run, no. 73 (October, 1976), “The Torch”, written by Ben S. Parillo (alias Bill Pearson), pencilled and inked by Don Newton. The wizened mastermind is a fella who simply goes by the name of ‘Raven’.
« How could a snake be alive here, buried deep in the earth for thousands of years? » Don Newton’s painting (Ghostly Tales no. 115, May, 1975) depicts a scene from Joe Gill and Steve Ditko’s “Wings of Death!”
« Turn her loose, Pike… I want to road-test the new talent! » Mr. Newton illustrates the Unknown Scribe and Demetrio Sánchez Gómez‘s biker operetta “Running Wild!”, from Teen Confessions no. 89 (June, 1975, Charlton.)

Newton would go on to DC (and a couple of brief dalliances with Marvel), illustrating Batman, Captain Marvel (er, “Shazam!”), Aquaman, Star Hunters, and The New Gods for DC, before being, all too soon, felled by a heart attack at the age of 49. Most of the time, though, he provided great art to ho-hum stories.

Against all odds, around 1982, scripter Gerry Conway, a name synonymous with half-assed, content-free hackwork since the early ’70s, actually blossomed into a decent writer. Fortuitously, while assigned to pencil Batman’s adventures in Detective Comics, Newton was paired with prolific* Filipino legend Alfredo Alcala, and the stars were in proper alignment. You won’t have to take my word for it, however. Feast your eyes on the palpable ambiance from the Conway-Newton-Alcala trio.

Picking up strands from Steve Englehart‘s  run on the book (nos. 469–476, in 1977-78), creepy-but-buff scientist Hugo Strange returns to pester his murderer, crooked politician Rupert Thorne. Colourist Adrienne Roy’s hand is betrayed by the 100% magenta/30% black mix.
Well, I have to show Newton’s actual Batman, don’t I? His was one of the few characterizations that were physically believable. You could buy this guy as an acrobat, as a fighter *and* as detective. Alcala often overwhelms whomever he’s inking, but since Newton’s pencils were probably tight as a camel’s ass in a sand storm, both men’s contributions mesh splendidly with no loss of identity. Pages 2 and 7 from Detective no. 520 (Nov. 1982).

– RG

*How prolific was Alcala? « It is said that his fastest page rate was twelve pages in a nine-hour sitting. » And the scary thing is that it hardly ever looked rushed or less than committed, unlike the work of some other inkers we could name. What a guy.