Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Michael T. Gilbert and the Flamboyant Mr. Monster

« Yet another bloodthirsty alien invasion, led by a mad dictator with a brain harvested from a 60 year-old corpse. I get one of those every third Thursday… »

D’you know what today is? Well, Tentacle Tuesday, obviously. It’s also Radio Day. More relevantly to this post, however, May 7th is also the birthday of one Michael Terry Gilbert, confidant to the formidable Mr. Monster (a.k.a. Strongfort “Doc” Stearn) and fellow tentacle lover (at least judging from how many cephalopod-shaped creatures appear in his stories).

We’ve briefly mentioned Mr. Monster in Tentacle Tuesday: Superheroes Redux; now is the time to joyfully gallop through some more tentacle offerings from the merry crew of psychotic artists led by that sagacious shepherd, Michael T. Gilbert. Many happy returns, Sir!

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Doc Stearn… Mr. Monster no. 1 (Eclipse, January 1985). Cover by Michael T. Gilbert.
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Doc Stearn… Mr. Monster no. 5 (Eclipse, February 1986), cover by Michael T. Gilbert. The unwritten rules dictates that Mars inhabitants *must* have tentacles, and Gilbert clearly has respect for venerable traditions. Plus, they’re much cuter this way. Coochie-coochie-coo…

« The original Doc Stearne was a two-fisted adventurer along the lines of pulp hero Doc Savage, of whom he may have been intended as a knock-off. He was created by cartoonist Fred Kelly, whose other known credits are somewhere between sparse and nonexistent. Kelly did him for a small, virtually unremembered Canadian publisher called Bell Features (probably not related to Bell Syndicate, distributor of Mutt & Jeff, Don Winslow of the Navy and more). When Gilbert was asked to contribute to Vanguard Illustrated, the apparent purpose of which was to develop new properties for Pacific Comics to exploit, he drew on Kelly’s character as inspiration. The first new Mr. Monster story appeared in the seventh issue, which came out in 1984 without a specific cover date. Gilbert’s version was a fanatical monster hater, extreme not only in his attitude, but in his design and in every move he made. » |from Don Markstein’s Toonopedia|

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« The Demon of Destiny Drive », art by Michael T. Gilbert, published in Doc Stearn… Mr. Monster no. 5 (Eclipse, February 1986).
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« Mr. Monster’s Atomic Condenser » by Michael T. Gilbert was published in Doc Stearn…Mr. Monster no. 10 (Eclipse, June 1987).
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Is that an Oculothorax, by any chance? « Terror in 6-D », with script and layouts by Michael T. Gilbert and pencils and inks by Don Simpson, was published in Doc Stearn…Mr. Monster no. 10 (Eclipse, June 1987). Read the issue here.

As you’ve probably surmised, Mr. Monster cycled through quite a few publishers, from Pacific Comics to the aforementioned Eclipse Comics to Dark Horse passing through Fantagraphics, Image Comics and  Tundra publications. Some Tundra-published material for your pleasure, as always rife with tentacles:

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« Wish You Were Here »,  script and layout by Michael T. Gilbert,  inks by Dave Gibbons, was printed in Mr. Monster Attacks! no. 1 (Tundra, August 1992).
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Want to know whether Mr. Bulletproof Monster ever gets back with Rosie? Read Mr. Monster Attacks! no. 1 (Tundra, August 1992) here.
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Mr. Monster Attacks no. 2 (Tundra, September 1992), cover pencilled by Michael T. Gilbert, and painted by Dave Dorman.
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Back cover of Mr. Monster Attacks no. 2 (Tundra, September 1992), drawn by Bernie Wrightson and Michael T. Gilbert. Read the issue here.
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« Lair of the Lizard Ladies », written and laid out by Michael T. Gilbert, and pencilled, inked and coloured by Simon Bisley, was printed in Mr. Monster Attacks! no. 3 (October 1992).
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Kelly, Mr. Monster’s Girl Friday, has been touched by his noodly appendage in this story featuring murderous tentacle spaghetti. « Just Desserts », scripted by Janet Gilbert (wife of Michael T. Gilbert) and drawn by Tom Buss, was printed in Mr. Monster Attacks! no. 3 (Tundra, October 1992). Read the full issue here.

« Ulp! That reminds me. I’m late for my 4:00! There’s a giant man-eating eyeball about to devour Cleveland! So if you’ll excuse me… »

~ ds

Treasured Stories: “American Squalor” (1988)

« People think the show gave Letterman an opportunity, but they don’t see the table with 10 guys in shorts wearing baseball caps pitching jokes for things for him to say. They don’t see the index cards that say: ‘Ask this first.’ It’s all spelled out for him, and everything is pre-interviews. He’s basically had to be this hand puppet, with everybody’s hands up his butt to tell him what to say and do. » — Joyce Brabner on David Letterman

We already snuck a peek at the darker side of DC Comics’ short-lived ’80 mirage Wasteland (18 issues, 1987-89), but the title’s modus operandi was variety… within a set format. Here’s another highlight from one of the earliest and strongest issues, before its co-authors The Second City comedy legend Del Close and Grimjack co-creator John Ostrander lost the plot, interest, or both. This is American Squalor (Wasteland no. 3, Feb. 1988, DC Comics). The underrated Don Simpson, the Wasteland bullpen’s utility player, its most versatile and loyal member, gets to strut his stuff, albeit in a lovely Crumb ersatz, down to the lettering.

« Our next guest works as a file clerk at a Cleveland hospital… »

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What I find so impressive about this story is the scope of its ambition, fulfilled on several unlikely levels: it achieves success as a parody, a pastiche, a tribute, and as its own, standalone bit of workaday folk philosophy. Clearly, calling upon the trappings and rhythms of Crumb and Pekar’s American Splendor was just the starting point.

I’d love to track down (Close’s old Second City colleague) the Severn Darden monologue Close claims to have used as a springboard, but not everything was dutifully recorded for “posterity” in those days…

« I loved Harvey. He was a wonderful guest. The kind you don’t see anymore. The only real problem with Harvey was my immaturity. » — David Letterman

-RG