Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 18

« La matière en était gélatineuse et peu consistante; elle se décomposa, au bout de quelques heures, en un liquide rose et gluant, d’une odeur insupportable.* » — Jean Ray, Dans les marais du Fenn

Aw, good old muck monsters…

Perhaps the first to emerge, at least in the English language, was Theodore Sturgeon’s “It”, published in Unknown’s August, 1940 issue, whose title page warned: “IT wasn’t vicious, IT was simply curious — and very horribly deadly!

But IT was preceded, by some years, by Raymond Marie de Kremer alias Jean Ray’s superb Dans les marais du Fenn (« In the Fenn Marshes »), first published in the Belgian literary magazine L’ami du livre’s issue of November 1st, 1923! A handful of Ray stories (often published under his alternate nom de plume, “John Flanders”) were published in US pulps, including the legendary Weird Tales, but “Dans les marais…” appears to have somehow, to this day, remained untranslated to English.

This is Supernatural Thrillers no. 1 (December, 1972, Marvel), an adaptation by Roy Thomas, Marie Severin and Frank Giacoia. Cover by Jimmy “Profa” Steranko.

The opening — and best — page from Marvel’s IT adaptation, which fails, imho, because Rascally Roy, overly attached to the original text, doesn’t let the visuals breathe. The mediocre results, at once too pedantically faithful and well off the mark, are no substitute for Sturgeon’s original.
IT originally saw print in this issue of Street & Smith’s Unknown, which had, just one month earlier, abandoned its striking painted covers for this money-saving but comparatively stodgy, ‘dignified’, Reader’s Digest-style design. It looks like there’s a page missing — the best one!
And they were soon at it again. How did they manage to convince themselves that this was going to succeed as an adaptation? This is Worlds Unknown no. 6 (Apr. 1974, Marvel). Pencils by Gil Kane and inks by Ernie Chan, with extensive alterations by John “Heavy Hand” Romita. This has been bestowed the impressive (if true) honour of being called The Lyingest Cover in Marvel Comics History.

-RG

Its matter was gelatinous and insubstantial; it decomposed, within a few hours, into a viscous pink liquid of unbearable odour. »

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 4

« She’s a haunted house / and her windows are broken. » — Scott Walker, “Big Louise” (1969)

I’ve been wanting to share one of the all-time most beautiful art jobs Steve Ditko ever wittled, 1960’s The Ghost of Grismore Castle! (published in Strange Tales no. 79), but I don’t have that book. I do, however, own a 70’s reprint of it, in Vault of Evil no. 14 (October 1974), but the colouring and reproduction were so bland and washed-out that I knew that justice wouldn’t be done to this meritorious piece.

Then it hit me: I *had* seen a lovingly reconstructed presentation of the tale — has it nearly been… 30 years ago? Yikes!

It was reprinted with brio in the redoubtable Mort Todd‘s Curse of the Weird (no. 2, January 1994), a flawlessly-assembled anthology title he somehow conned Marvel into publishing in the early 90s.

So my gratitude goes out to Mr. Todd and, once more, my admiration to Mr. Ditko.

« We shot it from the original stats I dug out of the Marvel vault, rather than reprint VoE #14, and lovingly recolored it! Thanks for noticing! »

Oh, and as bonus, here’s the cover, one of those absurdly lush Kirby-Ditko collaborations. As usual with Marvel, all captions are de trop.

This is Strange Tales no. 79 (Dec. 1960, Marvel), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Steve Ditko. And duh, *obviously*, “The Thing” is here, Stan. Show, don’t tell.
The very 70’s update. This is Vault of Evil no. 14 (Oct. 1974, Marvel); cover pencils by Larry Lieber, inks by Frank Giacoia.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Hand Me My Helmet, Harry

The first helmets were used by Assyrian soldiers in 900 B.C., and they were made of thick leather and bronze to protect the head from blunt objects, swords and arrows during combat. Research shows that helmets can significantly reduce the severity of injuries sustained from head trauma. That’s why it’s so important to always wear a helmet when taking part in a potentially dangerous activity.

You may argue that helmets are just a way to be able to breath underwater, a compromise between the bulky scaphandre (less elegantly ‘diving suit’ in English) and the scuba diving mask. Breathing, ha, that’s just a distraction to the real purpose of a helmet during an octopus encounter: it makes the diver’s head look a little like an octopus’ head, thus confusing him and giving a much necessary advantage.

Install yourself comfortably following the example of this happy family of cephalopods, and let’s have a look…

I first encountered David Wiesner when I bought his Mr. Wuffles! book on a whim (it had cats!), but Flotsam, a collection of underwater life illustrations published in 2006, is also clearly of some interest.

Out first helmet of the day is a reasonable imitation of a diving suit! The following page is from Prisoner of the Undersea World!, scripted by Gardner Fox, illustrated by Sid Greene, and published in Strange Adventures no. 155 (August 1963, DC).

I am not sure how he could drink and eat without taking his helmet off, and taking it off would surely mean drowning – luckily, the frogs were smarter than him!

I am pleased to report that not only did the octopus come out of that encounter in one piece, no frog denizens were seriously harmed, either (which makes this tale pretty special, since human heroes tend to go and annihilate anything they don’t understand).

Actual attempts at establishing communication? Colour me impressed!

Our second is a helmeted beauty (albeit twisting in a way that isn’t anatomically feasible) and some of her teammates from U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A. (or United Nations Department of Experiment and Research Systems Established at Atlantis).

Undersea Agent no. 2 (April 1966, Tower Comics), pencilled by Mike Sekowsky and inked by Frank Giacoia.

The cover story is rife with tentacles, but unfortunately doesn’t feature the scene depicted above at all.

Panel from The Return of Dr Fang, scripted by D. J. Arneson, pencilled by Ray Bailey and inked by Sheldon Moldoff.

On the other hand, Buried Under the Sea, a fun read nicely illustrated by Mike Sekowsky on pencils and Joe Giella and Frank Giacoia on inks, has plenty of sea-helmets… but no cephalopods. One can’t have everything, alas!

One easily understands why she made it onto the cover of the comic!

From helmets that are actually connecting to some diving equipment and oxygen canisters, we move on to ones which are just like an upside-down fish bowl somehow magically sitting on the wearer’s shoulders. Style always takes priority over silly things like actually being able to breathe. For more Adam Strange, scoot over to Tentacle Tuesday: Tangles with Adam Strange!

DC Super Stars no. 8 (October 1976, DC), cover by Ernie Chan (signing as Ernie Chua). This issue features a bunch of reprints, mainly reprinted stories from Mystery in Space.

Speaking of Mystery in Space, no. 21 (August-September 1954) has a very appropriate story… proving that the ol’ anti-cephalopod helmet can be used out of water. This is a page from Interplanetary Merry-Go-Round, scripted by Otto Binder and illustrated by Sy Barry… who’s still with us and about to celebrate his 93rd birthday!

Maybe the Martian monster is going ‘beserk’ (sic) because it’s a sentient creature who’s been chained and used for the amusement of stupid crowds?

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: « There I was, just minding my own business… »

« It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude. » ― H.P. Lovecraft

I’ve actually had a friend tell me that he sees tentacles wherever he goes because of my Tentacle Tuesdays. Hey, I’m not making this up – tentacles *are* everywhere. Whether you’re in a well-lit room, with reassuring noises of the city filtering through the windows, or in a city centre, cushioned from harm by the comforting presence of a crowd… repairing a TV set, kissing a date, heading over to the pub for a well-deserved drink… some cephalopod horror is but a blink away. Fie, fie, foul apparition!

What better beginning to this post than… TERROR VISION!!! (“Aiiieeee!“, to quote the man.)

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A page from Terrorvision, with very nice art (and possibly plot) by Howard Nostrand, printed in Chamber of Chills Magazine no. 19 (September 1953, Harvey).

Things go from bad to worse for our repairman…

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Normally I wouldn’t post yet another page from the same story, but I like the art so much that I have to share.

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I’ve already mentioned German horror comics in the shape Spuk Geschichten (see Tentacle Tuesday: A Torrent of Teutonic Tentacles). Its mother publication, Gespenster Geschichten, also has its share of tentacles. For now, I will limit myself to this one cover:

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It’s a cruel thing to do to a man who was just thirsting for one piddling stein of cool beer. I hope they all got better acquainted and are clinking glasses together in the next scene… but I doubt it. Gespenster Geschichten no. 545.

One would be justified in thinking that roofs are generally quite octopus-proof, but nope, this one is either a talented climber or just unimaginably huge.

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Chamber of Chills no. 3 (March 1973), pencilled by Alan Weiss and inked by Frank Giacoia.

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A street may look peaceful and quiet, but that doesn’t mean a shag rug tentacle isn’t stealthily creeping towards your leg. Far Frontier no. 1 (1984), drawn by Lee Carlson.

As a bit of an aside, there’s a really fun account of one collector’s quest for John Jacobs stories written for Madison Comics over at Kirby Your Enthusiasm (link: Finding John Jacobs). Far Frontier no. 1 has a few of those, and apparently they’re quite perverse and brain-melting. An excerpt of the essay in question to whet your appetite:

« I first became aware of [John Jacobs] through a review by noted comics writer Jan Strnad in The Comics Journal #94 of Dr Peculiar #1. I read and re-read it dozens of times and marveled at the samples of his primitive pencilled art. My mind tried to absorb a comic that had heavy religious overtones plus a healthy dose of T&A (with a monster rape/cannibal fetish). The reviewer theorized that John Jacobs’ mind must be like a bowl of maggots. »

As an editorial aside, I am inclined to trust Strnad on this, both because I really like his writing and because Kirby Your Enthusiasm‘s summary of Jacobs’ plots confirms the maggots theory.

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Pucker up, darling, for your goodnight kiss. Kid Eternity no. 13 (June 1994), cover by Sean Phillips.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Jack Kirby, Part 2

« Though the refined eyes of the aesthete may consider Kirby’s work crude, ornery, and anti-intellectual, the fact remains that he combined the virtues and limitations of his class with a stubborn genius to produce a body of comics work that has remained consistently true to its source and is unparalleled both in quantity and quality. » (Gary Groth)

Strike while the iron is hot, it is said, and thus part II of our celebration of Jack Kirby‘s tentacle prowess comes hard on the heels of Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Jack Kirby, Part 1. I’d like to thank co-admin RG for his vast knowledge of Kirby comics, as well as his suggestions and scans – that’s what (among other things) partners are for. Whereas part 1 focused on Kirby’s 70’s work for DC, today’s post (also firmly entrenched in the 1970s) is a celebration of his brief but intense return to Marvel Comics.

All art is scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Mike Royer, unless otherwise indicated.

We start with the somewhat less interesting, but nevertheless tentacular, Hercules.

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Marvel Premiere no. 26 (November 1975), penciled by Kirby and inked by Vince Colletta. Only the cover is by Kirby, the inside story being a collaboration between Bill Mantlo, George Tuska and Vince Colletta.

Now that we have the boring stuff over with, we move on to the spacey part of this post: epic voyages into the cosmos, mind-shattering encounters with Gods and fights to the death with unthinkable monsters of fearsome power! As usual, in chronological order: one must respect tradition.

In 1976, Kirby was chosen to adapt Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey into a Marvel Treasury Edition.

« To make his comic, Kirby watched 2001 again, referenced a stack of stills, and pulled from the screenplay and Arthur C. Clarke’s novelization. The illustrations were instantly recognizable to anyone who’d seen the film, but the characters were uniquely his: beefy and emotive with a touch of uncanny. There are also moments of pure Kirby: a splash page of a spacesuit-clad astronaut gaping at an exploding cosmic sky, an acid-trip interpretation of the climatic Star Gate sequence. »

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Pages from Beast-Killer! (read the full story on Diversions of a Groovy Kind) published in 2001, A Space Odyssey no. 1 (December 1976).

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Panel from Wheels of Death (again, read the story on Diversions of a Groovy Kind) published in 2001: A Space Odyssey no. 4 (March 1977). *My* question is, does anybody remember any tentacles in the film? I know, I really have a one-track mind.

« Kirby was the right choice for the assignment, but, Mark Evanier (a comic book writer, Kirby friend and colleague, and author of the biography Kirby: King of Comics) says, he was wary of taking on someone else’s story, especially one as iconic as Kubrick’s vision of 2001. “He didn’t feel he had a lot of wiggle room to expand or inject himself into it,” Evanier says. “He had to keep reminding himself, ‘That’s my viewpoint, that’s not Stanley Kubrick’s,’ and adjusting.”»  (source: The Crazy Legacy of Jack Kirby’s Forgotten 2001: A Space Odyssey)

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I wanted to find a good overview of The Eternals, and thought I had found it (plenty of pictures, an overall idea of the leitmotifs driving the series – and importantly, NO MENTION OF THE MOVIE)… until I came to the end of the article in question and saw that the author was next going to read Neil Gaiman‘s take on The Eternals* to see if the latter had fixed some of Kirby’s plot flaws, at which point I choked on the water I was sipping. But, but! the author repented, and so I give you Review: The Eternals by Jack Kirby from the blog Giant Size Marvel.

*Would anybody expect Terry Moore to correct Jaime Hernandez plots?

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Panels from God and Men at City College published in The Eternals no. 6 (December 1976).

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Panel from Disaster Area, published in The Eternals no. 15 (September 1977).

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The Eternals no. 18 (December 1977), penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Frank Giacoia.

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Panels from To Kill a Space God, published in The Eternals no. 18 (December 1977).

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Panels from To Kill a Space God, published in The Eternals no. 18 (December 1977).

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Surely everyone knows Captain America already, but here are his 7 Most Awesome Moments (arguable, but a good starting point) by the good folks at Comic Alliance.

Here we have energetic tentacles, free-flowing-energy cephalopods…

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Captain America no. 205 (January 1977), penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Sinnott. The thing with the tentacles is Agron, who (which?) will eventually learn to animate a corpse, but for now he’s just in his energy form.

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Page from Agron Walks the Earth!, scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by John Verpoorten, published in Captain America no. 205 (January 1977). I *told* you Agron would animate a corpse, but did you listen?

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Double splash from Arnim Zola — The Bio-Fanatic!!, scripted and penciled by Kirby and inked by Frank Giacoia and John Verpoorten, published in Captain America no. 209 (May 1977).

You asked for it (right?): Doughboy in action! Technically, those are rubbery arms, not tentacles, but as someone who regularly makes sourdough bread, I assure you, dough *does* sprout tentacles and will latch onto your hands and arms with them.

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Page from Arnim Zola — The Bio-Fanatic!!, scripted and penciled by Kirby and inked by Frank Giacoia and John Verpoorten, published in Captain America no. 209 (May 1977).

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Captain America no. 210 (June 1977), penciled by Kirby and inked by John Verpoorten. The Red Skull taking a leaf out of Medusa’s book? Seriously, those have *got* to be hair extensions.

To wrap up, read Gary Groth‘s epochal – not to say definitive – interview with the King of Comics.

~ ds