Into the Inky Shadows With Jerry Grandenetti

« Jerry Grandenetti started out ghosting The Spirit, and nobody… NOBODY… captured the spirit of The Spirit better. Not content to stay in Will Eisner’s shadow forever, he forged his own unique style leading to a highly successful comics career lasting decades. » — Michael T. Gilbert

Since my very first encounter with his work, Jerry Grandenetti (1926-2010; born ninety-five years ago today, another Thursday April 15th) has endured as one of my true artistic heroes. But he’s not celebrated much at all.

Though he’s worked extensively on The Spirit, he’s treated as a bit of a footnote in the Eisner hagiography. His DC war work is well-regarded, but he’s inevitably overshadowed by the Joe KubertRuss HeathJohn Severin trinity. Besides, by and large, the war comics audience doesn’t overlap much with the spandex long johns crowd. Grandenetti has only very occasionally and timidly dipped a toe into the super-heroics fray, and he was far too unusual for overwhelming mainstream acclaim.

In fact, aside from the couple of converts I’ve made over the years, I can only think of three fellow torch-bearing aficionados: Michael T. Gilbert (who digs best the early, Eisner-employed Jerry); Stephen R. Bissette (who favours the spooky 60s and 70s work); and Don Mangus, who’s most into the DC war stuff. I daresay I enjoy it all, but my taste is most closely aligned with Mr. Bissette’s on this particular point. Let’s sample a bit of everything, insofar as it’s feasible to sum up a career spread out over five decades… in a dozen-or-so images.

Opening splash from The Secret Files of Dr. Drew: Sabina the Sorceress, written by Marilyn Mercer and lettered by Abe Kanegson, from Rangers Comics no. 56 (Dec. 1950, Fiction House); this version hails from a reprint (Mr. Monster’s Super Duper Special no. 2, Aug. 1986, Eclipse) using the surviving original art; it was recoloured by Steve Oliff.
Page 3 from The Secret Files of Dr. Drew: Curse of the Mandibles!, written by Marilyn Mercer and lettered by Abe Kanegson, from Rangers Comics no. 55 (Oct. 1950, Fiction House); this version hails from a reprint (Doc Stearn… Mr. Monster no. 4, Dec. 1985, Eclipse) using the surviving original art; it was most tastefully recoloured by Steve Oliff.

In 1954, the powers-that-be at National Periodical Publications (you know, DC) gave Grandenetti some latitude to experiment with their War covers. Grandenetti produced an arresting hybrid of painted and line art. The process involved a grey wash painting that was photostatted, with flat colour laid over the resulting image. The first few attempts yielded striking, but nearly monochromatic results. A bit farther down the pike, the production department got more assured in its technical exploration.

This is G.I. Combat no. 77 (Oct. 1959, DC); wash tones and colouring by Jack Adler, who recalled, in a 1970s interview: « It was suggested that we start doing washes for covers, and we were talking about doing it for so damned long, but nobody attempted it. I think Grandenetti did the first one, an army cover with someone floating in the water. I think that was the first wash cover that was done. That one ended up looking like a full color painting. »
This is G.I. Combat no. 83 (Aug.- Sept. 1960, DC); wash tones and colouring by Jack Adler. In 1995, Robert Kanigher, Grandenetti’s editor on the DC war books and a frequent collaborator, recalled: « Jerry liked to experiment and I had to sit on him to get him to stop it. Especially in his covers, which were outstanding, when I forced him to draw as realistically as possible. »
Original art from The Wrath of Warlord Krang!, smothered in dialogue and exposition by Stan Lee, from Tales to Astonish no. 86 (Dec. 1966, Marvel); inks by Bill Everett. Namor‘s constant random shouts of ‘Imperius Rex!‘ make him sound like a sitcom character with Tourette’s. As far as I’m concerned, it’s possibly been the most annoyingly asinine slogan in comics since Stan stole ‘Excelsior!‘ from Jean Shepherd.
The opening splash from Cry Fear, Cry Phantom, written by Archie Goodwin, from Eerie no. 7 (Jan. 1967, Warren). In the mid-60s, presumably tiring of being pigeonholed as a war artist at DC, Grandenetti made the publishers’ rounds, doing a bit of work for Tower, Gold Key, Charlton, Marvel, Cracked (check it out here) and most memorably Warren where, after ghosting a few stories for Joe Orlando, he unleashed his innovative expressionistic style.

DC was generally hesitant to entrust its more established properties to the more “out there” artists. In the cases of Grandenetti and Carmine Infantino, the solution was to match them with the weirdness-dampening inks of straight-arrow artist Murphy Anderson. And you know what? It did wonders for both pencillers and inker.

This is The Spectre no. 6, October, 1968. A tale told by Gardner Fox (and likely heavily revised by hands-on editor Julius Schwartz, a man who loved alliterative titling) and superbly illustrated by the Grandenetti-Anderson team. Steve Ditko aside, Jerry Grandenetti had no peer in the obscure art of depicting eldritch dimensions (you’ll see!)

Page 13 from Pilgrims of Peril! written by Gardner Fox, from The Spectre no. 6 (Sept.- Oct. 1968, DC); inked by Murphy Anderson. Dig the salute to a trio of real-life spooky writers, all of whom editor Julius Schwartz knew well, having even served as Lovecraft’s literary agent late in his life. By the tail end of the 1960s, Lovecraft’s work was finally making some commercial inroads, thanks largely to Arkham House co-publisher Derleth‘s unflagging diligence.
Page 22 from Pilgrims of Peril! written by Gardner Fox, from The Spectre no. 6 (Sept.- Oct. 1968, DC); inked by Murphy Anderson.
Page 2 from Men Call Me the Phantom Stranger, written by Mike Friedrich, from Showcase no. 80 (Feb. 1969, DC); inks by Bill Draut. This story reintroduced an obscure character from the early 50s, which Grandenetti had drawn a couple of times during his six-issue run. The Phantom Stranger has remained active ever since, but most writers (save Alan Moore, wouldn’t you know it?) don’t really know what to do with him. This, however, is my very favourite PS appearance. Draut, a slightly old-fashioned penciller by this time was, as a slick inker, a wonderful fit for Grandenetti’s confidently loopy layouts.
Page 3 from The Haunting!, written by Jack Oleck, from House of Mystery no. 183 ((Nov.-Dec. 1969, DC). Grandenetti pencils and inks: undiluted!
Page 2 from Eyes of the Cat, written by Robert Kanigher, from House of Mystery no. 189 (Nov.-Dec. 1970, DC); inks by Jerry’s fellow Will Eisner ghost Wallace Wood. The inspired combination of Grandenetti’s adventurous layouts and the velvety unctuousness of Wood’s finishes are a match made in heaven, but one Woody wasn’t fond of. Oh well.

So there you are. Just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Happy birthday, Mr. Grandenetti!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Planet of Tentacles, part II

It was high time to finish what I started! Here is part two of Tentacle Tuesday: Planet of Tentacles, courtesy of Fiction House. I doubt I will exhaust Planet Comics’ source of tentacles when it comes to inside stories, but at least we’ll be able to say that we’ve completed our tour of its tentacle-bearing covers.

Planet Comics no. 2 (February 1940). Cover by, believe it or not, Will Eisner, a mere 23 at the time. If it’s meant to be scary, it is! Though perhaps the garish colours have something to do with it.
Planet Comics no. 15 (November 1941). Cover by Dan Zolnerowich, under his nom de plume Zolne Rowich.
Planet Comics no. 52 (January 1948). Cover by Joe Doolin.

Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure whether these were tentacles or what, but one look at the cover story dispelled my doubts. Does anybody care that the monsters inside look nothing like the ones on the cover? Naaah.

Mystery of the Time Chamber! was scripted by Ross Gallun and illustrated by Maurice Whitman.
Planet Comics no. 62 (September 1949). Cover pencilled by Joe Doolin and inked by John Celardo.

And, last but not least, look at these baby cephalopods! So cute.

Planet Comics no. 71 (Summer 1953). Cover by Maurice Whitman. Speaking of which, visit Ectoplasm-bedeviled pulchritude: Maurice Whitman’s Ghost Comics for more lovely art!

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Remember Those Good Old Cephalopod Forties?

My grandfather, born around 1920, used to tell me tales of what life used to be like in the 40s for a young man. He skipped the salacious adventures, of course, as that would have been inappropriate fodder for a child, but another thing he seems to have omitted is the presence of all manner of tentacles in everyday life… I cannot ask him about it, as he passed away many years ago, but I nevertheless dedicate this post to his memory.

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Famous Funnies no. 83 (June 1941, Eastern Color), artist unknown. To be attacked by a sock puppet trying to pull you into the sea is tragic, not funny!

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Planet Comics no. 22 (January 1943, Fiction House), cover by Dan Zolnerowich. I somehow completely overlooked this cover when doing Tentacle Tuesday: Planet of Tentacles, courtesy of Fiction House.

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Air Fighters Comics no. 5 (February 1943, Hillman). Cover by Charles Biro.

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The United States Marines no. 3 (1944, Magazine Enterprises). Cover by Creig Flessel. I don’t know if fighting a Japanese head caricature attached to seven tentacles qualifies as an “authentic marine corps story”.

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Famous Funnies  no. 157 (August 1947, Eastern Color). Cover by Stephen Douglas.

∼ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Tropical Foliage!

Greetings! I am on vacation this week – on vacation from work, that is, but never from tentacles! Stowed away on a tropical island (with a WiFi connection, ça va de soi),  hoping to glimpse an octopus going about his business in the ocean, enjoying the tropical foliage… Speaking of the latter, some of the plants that grow around here are distinctly tentacular in nature.

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So you see, I really had very little choice in regards to the topic of today’s Tentacle Tuesday installment! I’ve decided to stick to the 40s and 50s, as there are really many more cannibal plants out there than one could possibly shake a stick at.

Quite a few of these offerings are taken from the pages of Planet Comics, and if it rubs your fancy, our Tentacle Tuesday: Planet of Tentacles, courtesy of Fiction House post might be worth a visit.

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This installment of Red Comet is illustrated by Joe Doolin, and published in Planet Comics no. 14 (September 1941). Frankly, these things seem a little too bulky to carry about with you. Just imagine if somebody tried to walk around carrying a triffid.

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I believe the Red Comet had the ability to explode things with his mind, but clearly there were some restrictions.

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A page from an installment of Gale Allen and the Girl Squadron, illustrated by Fran Hopper. Gasp, a woman comics artist! A rare thing indeed, back in the Golden Age. Published in Planet Comics no. 28 (January 1944). Gale Allen ends up in this very position quite often, though tentacles aren’t always involved.

Incidentally, may I just point out that the Girl Squadron’s costumes (as they go on their intergalactic, dangerous missions) wouldn’t be out of place in a modern music video? Fran Hopper could draw cute girls with no trouble at all – and she also seemed aware that breasts are affected by gravity (but just a little bit, one wouldn’t want to be *too* realistic).

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The ruler of Carnivoria not only has poor taste in titles (most lands are governed by meat-eaters of one kind or another – in that sense, Canada could be called Carnivoria with the same degree of accuracy), but also poor taste in clothing: is that goofy hat supposed to be regal?

For a chuckle, visit the post about Gale Allen And Her Girl Squadron on the Stupid Comics blog, featuring fun images like this one:

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From the usual team: written by Douglas McKee and illustrated by Fran Hopper.

Eye candy for men *and* women readers! 😉

Back to tentacles… and on to Fred Guardineer, who also drew cuties of both sexes:

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The Harp of Death! is illustrated by Fred Guardineer. Printed in Manthunt no. 7 (April 1948).

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Evil Guy has the body of an eagle (with hands and feet, though), and raises deadly cannibal plants that respond to whistling. Does that seem a tad… random to you?

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A page from Appetite for Death, drawn by Henry Kiefer. Published in Beware no. 12 (November 1954).

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There’s something distinctly wrong with the guy’s anatomy.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Your Dime’s Worth of Tentacles!

Some folks seem to display a knee-jerk reaction to the legacy left behind by men and women who lived decades ago: that of condescension. Surely, if it was something that our grandparents believed in, something that made their imaginations soar or intrigued them, by now it’s no longer relevant or just utterly jejune. Frankly, I’d poo-poo this repulsive straw-man I’ve just erected, if it wasn’t for the fact that these narrow-minded airheads actually do live among us. “I’ll listen to music from before my time when today’s musicians stop releasing such excellent music”, somebody daft once opined, and the same (ahem) logic seems to be apply to other forms of culture. If TV shows from two years ago are ancient (overheard at a restaurant), what can we possibly think of comics from 70, 80 years ago?

As you probably noticed, this blog suffers from no such delusions: there’s plenty of intelligent, touching, excellent-all-around material to be dug up from (in this instance) the Golden Age.

Sorry about the varying quality of the images; some of these stories have been reprinted in recent years (and thus, thoroughly cleaned up, or even lovingly restored from original art); and some of them are only available in the original form, which is to say shoddily printed, dubiously coloured, and not all that well preserved. The Golden Age was, as I noted previously, a long time ago…

All right, let’s begin! I have a few favourites in this post, and our first story is one of them. I had access to a pristine, cleaned up, painfully white-papered version of it from Golden Age Marvel Comics Omnibus no. 1 (2009), but I by far prefer the following version, which keeps the colours, shall we say… less blinding? This is On the Planet Ligra, originally published in Marvel Mystery Comics no. 9 (Marvel, July 1940). It is  scripted by Steve Dahlman, who did a very nice job of it, too. It’s worth a read in its entirety; find it here.

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The next few pages demonstrate the dodgy printing I was referring to earlier…

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Slave Planet is scripted by Herman Bolstein (as Starr Gayza; what a nom de plume!), and illustrated by Arthur Peddy, possibly with some help by Will Eisner on inks. Published in Planet Comics no. 4 (Fiction House, April 1940). Incidentally, we have a whole bevy of Fiction House Tentacles at Tentacle Tuesday: Planet of Tentacles, courtesy of Fiction House.

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Mystery of the Vanishing Men, published in The Red Comet no. 8 (Fiction House, September 1940), is illustrated by Alex Blum.

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Another page from Mystery of the Vanishing Men.

This next part I like a lot, because I’m quite fond of Henry Fletcher, Barclay Flagg and perhaps even Hank Christy. These are all the same person, of course: Fletcher Hanks, The Most Bonkers Comic Book Creator of All-Time, according to Mark Peters. For now, let’s just look at some tentacles, although I will doubtlessly return to this theme at some later juncture.

Because of Fletcher Hanks’ relative cachet, comic scholars and restorers seem to have paid a little more attention to his work of late, and at a result, we can admire the two following pages in all their mighty crispness.

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A page from Stardust « featuring the Octopus of Gold!», published in Fantastic Comics no. 16 (Fox, March 1941), scripted and illustrated by Fletcher Hanks.

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The Slave Raiders is scripted and illustrated by Fletcher Hanks. It was originally published in Jungle Comics no. 1 (Fiction House, January 1940).

Getting off the Hanks bandwagon, we move into nonetheless enjoyable territory with Dynamic Man. These panels are from an unnamed story (with matching unknown artist ) published in Dynamic Comics no. 9 (Chesler/Dynamic, 1944).

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This has no tentacles, but I enjoyed these two panels far too much to not share: the guys’ New Yawk accents, and the witch’s demented rictus (not to mention that it’s all happening underwater).

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How many more rhetorical questions are you going to ask us?

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Last but not least, as boring people say, is my second favourite of today’s post, both because I love the art and because the story gave me something to sink my teeth into. .

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Super-Magician Comics vol. 5 no. 8 (Feb-March 1947), cover by Edd Cartier. Dig the guy’s dopey, sneezy expression… contrasted with the octopus’ hypnotic stare.

Twilight of the Gods, the cover story, is also illustrated by Edd Cartier. It’s surprisingly nuanced, doesn’t fall into horrible stereotypes despite the presence of several Chinese characters, and even has an interesting moral. Read it here.

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Next week, I’ll return to my usual diet of the Latest Published Thing as well as superhero crossovers! Just kiddin’.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: The Jungle Queens

« Beware, bwana — beware its tentacles! »

Cue in the taut, frantic jungle drums! Picture this: through a thick tangle of brush and tropical vegetation, prances a fair maiden who is quite unaffected by spiky plants or venomous insects. She’s the staunch defender of jungle animals, friend to jaguar or hippo (or whatever other animal the artist’s imagination conjures, even if it’s entirely inappropriate to a jungle… but who cares about zoological accuracy?) One creature this wild child is definitely not a friend to, however, is the octopus: anything with tentacles gets stabbed and killed, as expediently as possible. That’s little cause for concern, however – the real octopus, who lives only in oceans, has little use for a jungle… so whatever’s getting killed must be an impostor or a mutant.

I am amused by jungle comics, which perhaps require an even more dramatic suspension of disbelief than many an equally action-oriented genre.  The female protagonists, usually clad in some sort of leopard/jaguar skin (which makes one wonder why big felines even want to hang out with someone wearing their relatives’ pelt), are usually portrayed as guardians of the wilderness… but some of them kill an awful lot of animals for supposed protectors of the feral kingdom. The blonde Sheena (first female comic book character with her own series), equally blonde Lorna the Jungle Girl (Atlas-published, a rival to Fiction House’s Sheena), Avon’s Taanda – White Princess of the Jungle, Camilla – Wild Girl of the Congo (a case of Fiction House knocking off their own Sheena)… the list definitely goes on. That’s quite a few jungle queens bouncing around, dealing with hostile tribesmen getting uppity, lethal white hunters up to no good and would-be Romeos perpetually being held hostage. Sometimes they even have cat fights and overthrow one another. Very amusing indeed. Pepper the dialogue with lots of bwanas, toss in an epic rescue of hapless natives, and you’re all set.

To be fair, however, some Golden Age jungle comics boast fetching art and compelling stories in which natives are their own agents and her Royal Highness gets to show off her wits (and her gams) to best advantage. It’s hard to dislike stories in which a strong, clever woman gets to save the day.

Without further ado, I present Jungle Queen vs Octopus!

First up, there’s Sheena, who has struggled with quite a few tentacles in her day:

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Page from «Voodoo Treasure of Black Slave Lake», scripted by W. Morgan Thomas, pencilled by Robert Webb, and inked by David Heames, published in Jumbo Comics no. 31 (September 1941, Fiction House).

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«Sargasso of Lost Safaris», pencilled by Robert Webb and inked by Ann Brewster, published in Jumbo Comics no. 87 (May 1946, Fiction House). What the heck does the Sargasso sea have to do with a jungle? I’d like to know.

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Untitled story from Sheena, Queen of the Jungle no. 5 (Summer 1949, Fiction House). Art by Robert Webb.

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Panels from «The Beasts That Dawn Begot!» drawn by Robert Webb, published in Sheena, Queen of the Jungle no. 12 (Summer 1951, Fiction House).

Time for other queens to borrow Sheena’s spotlight:

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«The Red Witch of Ubangi-Shan», with art by John Celardo, published in Jungle Comics no. 105 (September 1948, Fiction House). Technically, this inclusion goes against my main theme – for Käanga has a very stupid mate who has to be rescued at every turn. She may wear a leopard bikini, but she’s nothing but a Damsel in Distress. Boo.

This Camilla story was scripted by Victor Ibsen and drawn by Ralph Mayo, and was published in Jungle Comics no. 144 (1951, Fiction House):

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A raft full of musclebound men and Camilla has to be the one to stab the octopus. Her contempt is well justified, as Asheley is clearly a loser.

We’ve had a lot of blondes so far, how about a redhead?

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White Princess of the Jungle no. 4 (August 1952, Avon), cover by Everett Raymond Kinstler.

The cover story, «Fangs of the Swamp Beast»:

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Back to our regularly scheduled blonde heroine! This is «The Devil’s Lagoon», scripted by Don Rico and drawn by Werner Roth, published in Lorna the Jungle Queen no. 4 (December 1953, Atlas):

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Lorna has the talent of plunging into water boobs first, and using them to optimize buoyancy.

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Again with the bust-ridiculously-stuck-out pose in the first panel.

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For a chuckle, read Stupid Comics‘ critique of Devil’s Lagoon here. Moving on, I have no wish to be unfair to brunettes, especially given that I generally prefer them:

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All Top Comics no. 16 (March 1949, Fox). Cover by Matt Baker. Sure features plenty of top, doesn’t it? That’s Rulah, by the way – you guessed it, Rulah, the Jungle Goddess (well, at least she’s not a queen), one of those run-amok women who has no qualms killing animal or human.

Here’s a rather amusing explanation for Rulah’s raison d’être from Toonopedia: «One day, while piloting a small plane across Darkest Africa, she crash-landed where civilization had scarcely been heard of. Her clothes were damaged to the point of leaving her butt naked (“like Eve in the Garden,” she mused), modesty preserved only by shadows and strategically-placed vegetation — yet, her skin wasn’t noticeably scratched or abraded. Fortunately, her plane had whacked a giraffe on the way down, so she skinned it and skillfully fashioned a fetching bikini from the raw, uncured pelt. Her uncovered parts were no more bothered by thorns, rough bark, poison ivy and the like, than were her bare feet. Next, she saved a tribe from the local tyrant, a white jungle queen much like herself, and was proclaimed its ruler — provided she could prove herself by killing a starving leopard with nothing but a dagger, which she did.»

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Another brunette! Vooda no. 22 (August 1955, Farrell). Note that Jungle Queens are only allowed to have hoop earrings, preferably gold.

Phew, that tromp through the jungle wore me out! Until next Tentacle Tuesday…

~ ds

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Fiction House

« Our story opens on a rainy night on Central City’s waterfront… »

Continuing our chronicle of The Spirit’s wanderings from harbour to harbour over the decades, we make land today at pulp and comic book producer Fiction House, whose “Big Six” were the blandly-named but action-packed Fight Comics (86 issues, 1940–1954), Jumbo Comics (167 issues, 1938–1953), Jungle Comics (163 issues, 1940–1954), Planet Comics (73 issues, 1940–1953), Rangers Comics* (69 issues, 1941–1953) and Wings Comics (124 issues, 1940–1954). Compared to these, The Spirit’s five-issue stay was but a blip. Still, since FH’s art director was none other than Eisner’s old partner Samuel Maxwell “Jerry” Iger (1903-1990), this particular match is unsurprising.

Of course, it wasn’t common knowledge at the time, but these issues comprise little else but what came to be known as “the post-Eisner Spirit”, inarguably inferior work with the occasional highlight, generally a Jules Feiffer script let down by the visuals.

According to Eisner, interviewed in 1990 by Tom Heintjes: « Looking back, I have to say that it’s a blemish on my career that I allowed The Spirit to continue through this period, because I compromised the character just because I was busy with other things. That’s not to say that these are all bad stories, but they just don’t have the consistent outlook they had when I was directly involved. » « I look at these stories and I want to cringe – again, not because they’re bad, but because only the merest essence of the character is retained. »

If such is the case,  then it’s no small mercy that Will didn’t live to witness Frank Miller‘s masterwork of desecration.

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This is The Spirit no. 1 (Spring, 1952), featuring The Case of the Counterfeit Killer (Sept. 16, 1951), cover-featured The Curse of Claymore Castle (Nov. 4, 1951), The Plot of the Perfect Crime (Oct. 28, 1951), and Panic on Pier 8 (Aug. 19, 1951), each scripted by Feiffer. Cover artist unknown, but it’s a considerable improvement over the actual story.

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This is The Spirit no. 2 (Summer, 1952), reprinting The Amazing Affair of the First Man on Mars (Jan. 27, 1952), Contraband Queen (May 20, 1951), The Case of the Baleful Buddha (Nov. 18, 1951), and The $50,000 Flim-Flam (Apr. 15, 1951), the final three benefiting from some Eisner involvement. Again, cover artist unknown., but isn’t that gorgeously coloured?

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Ah, we’re getting more Eisner-ish, though not quite all the way. This is The Spirit no. 3 (1952), featuring The Walking Corpse (Mar. 9, 1952), It Kills by Dark (Feb. 24, 1952), The League of Liars (Nov. 25, 1951), and A Man Named Nero (Feb. 3, 1952). The first three are scripted by Feiffer, and the fourth is undermined; I wouldn’t brag about that one either.

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This is The Spirit no. 4 (1953), featuring The Last Prowl of Mephisto (Apr. 1, 1951), scripted and illustrated by a heavily-assisted and pressed for time Eisner; Design For Doomsday (Jan. 13, 1952), The Sword and the Savage (Sept. 2, 1951), and The Great Galactic Mystery (Apr. 20, 1952), these last three scripted by Feiffer. And another nearly-Eisner cover… he never would have made it this busy, I think.

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This is The Spirit no. 5 (1954), cover-featuring Dragnet for Johnny Buffalo (Apr. 8, 1951), and also The Target-Man in 16-A (July 22, 1951), Damsels in Distress (a relative oldie from August 3, 1947), and The Loot of Robinson Crusoe (July 8, 1951), scripts a toss-up or a collaboration between Feiffer and Eisner. Now this cover I can buy as the genuine Eisner article: it’s a characteristic composition for him, and it’s sloppy in all the right places. The Spirit’s sidekick in this instance is Walkalong Haggerty, who saves his hide in “Dragnet..

So concludes our masked crimefighter’s passage at Fiction House. Fortunately, the publisher’s art department and production values were top-notch, so accommodations were quite cozy. Next time out, we’ll see how The Spirit would fare at the hands of Harvey Comics and (separately) at those of that nefarious rascal, Israel Waldman, in the swinging Sixties.

-RG

*Fiction House’s Rangers Comics featured the excellent “The Secret Files of Dr. Drew“, which ran in issues 47 to 60 (1949-51); the feature was the combined work of several of Eisner’s top Spirit alumni, namely writer Marilyn Mercer, penciller-inker Jerry Grandenetti, and letterer Abe Kanegson. The first ten (of fourteen) episodes just about out-Eisnered Eisner, until he protested and put an end to that gorgeous nonsense. This lot was lovingly restored and collected by Michael “Mr. Monster” Terry Gilbert (2014, Dark Horse). If you ask me, it’s the sole reprint of vintage colour material bearing the Dark Horse brand worth a damn… because Gilbert handled the work himself.

Tentacle Tuesday: Planet of Tentacles, courtesy of Fiction House

In today’s Tentacle Tuesday, I’d like to demonstrate that Planet Comics, a sci-fi comic series published by Fiction House from 1940 to 1953, liked to tantalize its rapt audience by featuring tentacled monsters as often as basic decency permitted. Not to say that they limited their cheap pandering to tentacles; other tropes reared their ugly head, too. Faithful to its pulp magazine roots (Planet Comics was a Planet Stories’ spinoff), there’s always some stunning damsel in distress on the cover, and often some dashing muscle-head to rescue her. Mike Benton summarized Planet Comics’ raison d’être beautifully, if somewhat cruelly, in his Science Fiction Comics: The Illustrated History (1992) as «the barest smattering of sense and substance».

In its defence, P.C. also often ran stories in which female protagonists saved their friends’ bacon. How oddly progressive: the gals were clearly dressed to impress, but their skills and smarts repeatedly allowed them to overcome the odds while the big hunks stood helpless. Between that and all the tentacles, there’s a warm spot in my heart for Planet Comics.

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Let’s start with no. 42, which features Gale Allen, a Venusian princess with a knack for getting into trouble and the courage for getting herself out of it. Her Girl Squadron, comprised of female pilots and soldiers, may have been an excuse for drawing yet more pretty girls, yet in the stories the squadron was still a force to be reckoned with, by friend or foe.

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Planet Comics no. 42, May 1946. Cover by Joe Doolin, adept at depicting the female form in an aesthetically pleasing way. Here Gale is being rescued by some dark-haired stud with a laser gun (who cares about him?), but let’s peek inside…

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This is what Gale has to deal with in « Slave of the Hydra », also drawn by Doolin. This toothy beast is supposed to be a Hydra. Hydra of the Hydridae family, or the Greek many-headed serpent? Neither supposition makes sense.

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Our plucky heroine manages to save the day by escaping a certain drowning! It’s a little known fact that girls can actually store extra oxygen in their boobs. Kidding aside, I can understand why Planet Comics had a female readership that must have enjoyed reading about women who don’t crumble under pressure, and sometimes even kick monster tush.

Moving on to the next cover, an odd one even by Golden Age sci-fi standards:

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Planet Comics no. 44 (September 1946), cover by Joe Doolin. She’s a generic damsel-in-distress, I get that, but the alien is strange – even for an alien. I imagine that the artist’s internal conversation went something like this: “okay, I’ll give him arms that double as tentacled snouts, and snail eyeball stalks. Oh, and I’ll make him a cyclops while I’m at it. And he’ll be drooling. And I’ll make him look black because that’s more exotic.” Yikes.

A glimpse at the stories inside quickly proves that the cover has nothing to do with Mysta of the Moon, or any of the “many others” advertised on the cover. There is, however, an octopus in the Futura story. Futura was another recurring heroine, an ordinary girl abducted by Brain-Lords of Cymradia and “improved” into a stronger, smarter version of her old self. Smart, resourceful and a damn good fighter, Futura is fun to watch in action. Especially when tentacles are involved! Take a look:

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Officially signed by John Douglas; pencils and inks by Chester Martin. I feel oddly sorry for the crocodile.

Let’s have a look at several covers where tentacles are actually used as the good lord has intended, i.e. for grabbing pretty girls:

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Ah, yes, the old “reptiles with tentacles” scare. Planet Comics no. 51, November 1947. Cover by Joe Doolin (again). Man, his girls are pretty delectable.

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Planet Comics no. 67, summer 1952. Cover by Maurice Whitman. There are absolutely no tentacles in any of the stories. Boo, I say.

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Planet Comics no. 70 (spring 1953), cover by Maurice Whitman. I like the alien’s get-up in general: his flappy ears, the motorcycle helmet, the hip lip piercings… He’s one cool cat. I am equally impressed by how he’s managing to fire a gun when he doesn’t have opposable thumbs (maybe the pistol is specially tentacle-adapted; instead of a trigger, some sort of squeeze sensor). Disappointingly, the insides of this issue don’t have any tentacles whatsoever, although there are some dinosaurs and giant man-eating spiders (and most of us will be happy to settle for that).

Oh, perhaps I have been neglecting burly heroes a tad. Those of us who prefer muscle to curve deserve some eye candy, too! So here’s good old Reef – and some green men in Speedos.

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Planet Comics no. 17, March 1942. A Reef Ryan story, possibly pencilled by George Appel and inked by Al Gabriele, though it’s credited to Hugh Fitzhugh, a funky nom-de-plume for parties unknown.

And men get grabbed by tentacles, too:

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Planet Comics no. 32, September 1944. Art by Lee Elias.

There’s about 10 more Planet Comics covers with tentacles left, and quite a few more interior pages showcasing the beauty of the octopus, or tentacled alien, or cephalopod reptile, or whatever else the kooky minds writing and drawing for Fiction House have dreamed up… but that’s enough for now. There’s only so much probing appendage the human mind can take in one go, so I’ll say Auf Wiedersehen.

Until the next time our paths (and tentacles) cross again!

~ ds

 

“He sure is my heap hep dream beam!”* In praise of Bob Lubbers (1922-2017)

Mr. Lubbers (pronounced LEW-bers) , born January 10, 1922, left us last summer at the venerable age of ninety-five. As it happens, he also left us some fine, fine artwork.

My initial encounter with Bob Lubbers‘ work came in 1978, when he provided a handful of covers and a couple of issues to Marvel’s Human Fly, a book about masked Canadian stuntman Rick Rojatt, whose real-life, non-funnybook story is a gripping read**. Anyway, the series was usually pencilled either by Lee Elias*** or by the mighty Frank Robbins; by the time Lubbers came along, Robbins had rightly had his fill, given the comics industry the one-finger salute and decamped to México to retire and paint in peace. Wise man.

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Lubbers’ fourth and final The Human Fly cover (no. 16, Dec. 1978, Marvel). Inks by Bob McLeod. Inside, “Niagara Nightmare!” is written by Bill Mantlo, with art by Lubbers and Ricardo Villamonte.

I then became aware of Mr. Lubbers as one of the Golden Age’s primo ‘good girl’ cover artists, with Fiction House, no less. That’s what I’ll chiefly focus on here. Can you honestly blame me? Unlike some of his peers (hello, Bill Ward), he wasn’t just good at, and interested in, the saucy depiction of lightly-clad sirens: he could draw anything with finesse and brio.

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Mouth-breathing, slope-browed… I guess he’s not the hero in this one. Wings Comics no. 82 (June 1947, Fiction House.)

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Arguably the most (in)famous of Lubbers’ Wings covers. “Classic bondage and headlights cover!”, cry the ancient fanboys. Wings Comics no. 90 (Feb. 1948, Fiction House.)

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If our man of the hour had rescue in mind for the imperilled damsel, dropping a payload (you heard me!) a hundred feet away from her is likely to… make the situation a bit messy. Wings Comics no. 91 (March 1948, Fiction House.)

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« Seriously? The engine is on fire, we’re being strafed, I’m hogtied and helpless, and he’s still going to threaten me with a gun? » Wings Comics no. 94 (June 1948, Fiction House.)

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The life of a crocodile dentist isn’t an easy one, but the satisfaction of a job well done is its own reward. Wings Comics no. 98 (Oct. 1948, Fiction House.)

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Here comes the mother of all rope burns, sister. You’re supposed to grab the loop! Wings Comics no. 100 (Dec. 1948, Fiction House.)

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The exception to the Fiction House Wings set: Authentic Police Cases no. 5 (Oct. 1948, St. John.) The babes never could resist a bad boy.

Yet farther along, I would learn of his large and distinguished body of comic strip work: Long Sam, Secret Agent X-9, Tarzan, The Saint, Lil’ Abner, and best of all, his most personal work, Robin Malone (1967-70). On the latter, I can’t praise enough Tom Heintjes‘ definitive article (Hogan’s Alley no. 19, 2014), here’s a version of it: www.hoganmag.com/blog/the-life-and-death-of-robin-bob-lubbers-robin-malone

… and don’t forget to scroll down, down, down so you can sample (though it’s never enough!) the article’s lavish bounty Robin Malone Sunday strips.

*From the Captain Wings adventure « The Spider and the Fly-Guy » (Wings Comics no. 82) Read it right here (or pick from a generous selection of Wings Comics issues at Comicbookplus.com)

**speaking of which, check out this fine piece about The Human Fly’s rocket bike and the stunt that ended his career: http://kymichaelson.us/human-fly. You have to admit that jumping over 27 buses is a tad ambitious… and he was originally going to try for 36!

***likely picked for the job due to his fine work on another masked stuntperson character, Harvey’s The Black Cat.

– RG

… in which a carnivorous reptile fights a man masquerading as a T-Rex

Yes, I’m sure that jungle inhabitants had to fight off vicious, anatomically impossible pterodactyls all the freaking time. Man, has John Celardo, the artist of this cover, ever seen a pterodactyl? … Oh, right, I guess he hasn’t. That still doesn’t justify this monstrosity, though.

Mark Twain comes to mind:

« The less said about the pterodactyl the better. It was a spectacle, that beast! a mixture of buzzard and alligator, a sarcasm, an affront to all animated nature, a butt for the ribald jests of an unfeeling world. »

*This* pterodactyl certainly looks like a butt for jests, given that its spine is twisted like a strand of DNA, and that its head has been put on backwards.

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Jungle Comics no. 17 (May 1941). Cover by John Celardo.

The premise of Valley of the Killer-Birds is exactly the same as the raison d’être of all the other ‘Jungle Lord’ comics: Kaänga (who, judging from the umlaut, is probably Danish, just like Häagen-Dazs) has to rescue his damsel-in-distress yet again. I’m sure you are dying to know what the plot is like, so here it is in more detail:

Ann, Kaänga’s mate, is “blown off her perch” (where she was roosting, presumably) by a strong wind, and is carried off by a pterodactyl that just happens to be passing by at the moment, probably on its way to the grocery store. Kaänga tries to follow, but falls off a cliff, is carried (unconscious) through a watery tunnel, and lands in “a weird prehistoric valley”. He then effortlessly kills a a dinosaur that looks like a slightly smaller-than-average T-Rex and climbs into its skin (that somehow fits him perfectly), plays dead, gets carried off by another pterodactyl and dropped off at some random cave, miraculously the same cave where Ann is captive, and even more preposterously just a few meters away from her standing coyly by in a typical “just look at my bikini!” pose.  Then he waves at her with his paw (understandably, she doesn’t understand why a dinosaur is waving at her – it’s those super-short front paws, you know), then she gets carried off (again) by a giant ape that shows up from nowhere, and Kaänga, still in T-Rex form, hotly pursues them and kills the ape. Then the hero of our tale, as clean and Arian as he can possibly be (nevermind that he just climbed from the bloody insides of an animal corpse), takes Ann’s hand and leads her out from the tunneled cave, reasoning at some point that if there’s human skulls in the passage, there must be a way out of those tunnels. (Um, no, it just means the pterodactyls and/or giant ape have had a lot of silly little humans for supper that they’ve brought in from elsewhere.)

~ ds