Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Sergio Aragonés

I was startled to discover that after several years of WOT blogging, we still have no post dedicated to Sergio Aragonés. Perhaps this is in part because his art is ubiquitous – throughout his long career, he has contributed manifold pages to various DC publications, created an enduring barbarian parody, scripted and drawn (mostly solo but also in collaboration) an impressive number of mini-series published by Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and Bongo Comics, produced various comic-con paraphernalia, etc. And this is not to mention his lasting contributions to Mad Magazine (which I did discuss, though not at length, in A MAD dash… inside) – something in the magnitude of twelve thousand gags spread over 57 years and 491 issues of Mad.

A sequence from A Mad Look at Sharks from Mad no. 180 (January 1976, EC).

He’s also a charming, universally-liked man whose bigger-than-life persona has ensured that his participation in anything is always surrounded by fun anecdotes. It is my great pleasure to share this abridged compendium of Aragonés tentacles, of which there are many, as he enthusiastically added them into doodles and margins with great glee (and, as we know, « he has quite literally drawn more cartoons on napkins in restaurants than most cartoonists draw in their entire careers *», so just imagine how many tentacles are scattered throughout his work).

*according to Al Jaffee.

Room 13 one-pager, scripted (and edited) by Joe Orlando. This was published in House of Mystery no. 190 (Jan-Feb 1971, DC).

Incredibly, we still haven’t written a post dedicated to the great Plop! (this post is starting to sound like a to-do-in-the-nearest-future list), though Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 30 did include a story from number 1. Plop!, “The New Magazine of Weird Humor!“, certainly included a lot of cephalopods in its 24 issues and I will doubtlessly get around them one of these days. In the meantime, here’s a very appropriate page from Plop! no. 16:

This closing page of Plop! no. 16 (September 1975, DC) was scripted by Steve Skeates.

Galloping forward through some twenty years, we briefly land at Marvel, namely these two pages from Groo the Wanderer no. 98 (February 1993, Marvel), co-plotted and scripted by Mark Evanier.

Sergio Aragonés Funnies, published between 2011 and 2014 by Bongo Comics, boast 12 issues of really enjoyable, remarkably varied material. For those who may think that Aragonés is one-trick pony who can only do ‘silly’ humour, this series offers many auto-biographical stories, some of them surprisingly poignant and heart-felt. Not to say that it’s not devoid of humour – the more serious stuff (including social criticism in the form of animal parables) is nestled among pages of slap-stick humour and imaginative goofiness, from one-pagers to longer stories that take most of an issue to develop. Aragonés also shares some background on his approach to stories, allowing us to peek into his imagination and possibly answer that hackneyed question that plagues all manner of writers, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ If an anthology of Funnies is ever published, I’ll happily purchase it.

Excerpts from Kira and the Beauty Contest, published in Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 2 (August 2011, Bongo Comics):

Panels from Sergio’s Inferno, published in Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 3 (September 2011, Bongo Comics):

Finally, a panel from the back cover of Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 10 (October 2013, Bongo Comics). Nevermind what the joke is, I just really like that octopus (as well as his other sea friends).

I mentioned materials related to Comic-Cons, so I would be amiss to not include at least one image of something vaguely related!

This design was created for the ‘Free Comic Book Day Commemorative Artist T-shirt’ in 2010.

I’ll end this post with a classic Aragonés anecdote, as told by Mark Evanier. This happened while these two were participating in filming The Half-Hour Comedy Hour television show for NBC in 1983, on which the model Jayne Kennedy was a guest. [source]

« This was one of the most beautiful women in the world. And she wore this dress that was very revealing, so much so the censors wouldn’t let us put her on the air in it without adding some material. So we’re all talking to her, the writers and whoever, just in awe of this woman. And Sergio comes walking in looking like a homeless person, carrying his portfolio. And Jayne sees him and she shouts, ‘Sergio!’ and she runs over and starts kissing him passionately.

They’d worked together before, it turned out. But Johnny Carson comes walking out into the hallway and he thinks Jayne Kennedy is being sexually assaulted by a homeless person in the NBC hallways. He came over to make sure she was okay. She said it was fine, that she knew him, and I said, ‘It’s okay, he’s a cartoonist.’

So Johnny gives that classic look and he says, ‘I knew I should have taken up drawing.’ » 

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Dial T for Tentacle

Some people automatically conflate “goofy” with “childish”, but goofiness comes in many guises: from the charmingly nonsensical to the playfully quirky, from the clearly brilliant but confusing to the fucking stupid. (It’s also a snow-boarding term – How do I tell if I’m Goofy or Regular?) Today’s Tentacle Tuesday is goofy, all right, but more in the category of seemingly drug-induced codswallop. Another word for Dial H for Hero is wacky; distinctly wacky, so wacky that (as co-admin RG put it) it’s hard to really dislike it.

Maybe I should backtrack for those in the audience who are not familiar with the concept of Dial H for Hero. Robby Reed, a lucky (?), plucky teenager with a propensity to shout “Sockamagee!” in moments of excitement, stumbles upon some sort of magical thingamajig in a cave that enables him to become a superhero at the drop of hat (well, a turn of a dial). The process has unpredictable and uncontrollable results, in the sense that Robby has no idea who he will become, or what powers will be at his fingertips.

I have nothing against the idea of a rotary phone cum magical dial – that idea is rather interesting, given that rotary phones are indeed mysterious objects to the current generation – but I find the stories a tad too random to be enjoyable. Yet that’s the aspect that some readers clearly relished. To quote a letter from House of Mystery no. 172 (January-February 1968) from Bethesda, MD’s Irene Vartanoff.

« One of the best things about DIAL H FOR HERO is the huge amount of imagination put into each story. When at least two new heroes with new powers, costumes, weaknesses, bodies, etc. have to appear in each story, it may make your writers rack their brains and work overtime, but the results are fantastic. »

Given all the transformations Robby has gone through and the many bad guys he has had the pleasure of defeating, it is unavoidable that he would 1) encounter some villains with tentacles 2) acquire some tentacles himself. Dial H for Highball on *your* old-fashioned phone, if you still have one gathering dust in the attic, and enjoy this gallery of fun nonsense.

The very first appearance of Robby Reed and his magical dial, and already we have tentacles:

HouseofMystery156
House of Mystery no. 156 (January 1966), cover by Jim Mooney. This is a good demonstration of how random some of the superheroes generated by the machine are.

HouseofMystery156- The Marauders from Thunderbolt Island
This is the first Dial H for Hero story, and as such it has no other title. Scripted by Dave Wood, drawn by Jim Mooney. [RG: panel three looks suspiciously like the work of George Tuska. Ghosting… or swiping? Hmm…]
I mentioned that Robby himself sometimes sprouts tentacles. Here’s a good example:

HouseofMystery159-NickCardy
House of Mystery no. 159 (June 1966), cover by Jim Mooney. Another issue, another gallery of improbable heroes and villains

HouseofMystery159-TheClayCreepClan2
Human Starfish Robby Reed conveniently improves upon the concept of a normal starfish, developing prehensile appendages to capture a very stretchy criminal. The Clay-Creep Clan is written by Dave Wood, and drawn by Jim Mooney.

HouseofMystery159-TheClayCreepClan3

Jim Mooney was responsible for Dial H for Hero‘s art for many issues, from the onset of the series with House of Mystery no. 156 (January 1966) to House of Mystery no. 170 (October 1967). Dial H for Hero lasted three more issues after Mooney’s departure. As luck would have it, no. 171 and no. 172 bring our most striking examples of tentacles yet. (The final DHFH issue, House of Mystery no. 173, features a cover by Jack Sparling, with insides by Charles Nicholas and Sal Trapani.)

Arguably the prettiest cover of this post (my favourite, at any rate):

HouseofMystery171-NickCardy
Back to fighting tentacles! House of Mystery no. 171 (December 1967), cover by Nick Cardy.

HouseofMystery171- The Micro-Monsters-2
The Micro-Monsters! is written by Dick Wood and illustrated by Frank Springer.

HouseofMystery171- The Micro-Monsters-3

SpringerHOM172A
House of Mystery no. 172 (January-February 1668), cover by Frank Springer.

HouseofMystery172-TheMonstersfromtheH-Dial
The Monsters From the H-Dial! is written by Dick Wood and illustrated by Frank Springer.

HouseofMystery172-TheMonstersfromtheH-Dial2
How does Chief Mighty Arrow defeat the flying octopus? Why, by shooting jet-propelled feathers from his headdress, of course.

The last thing I’d like to mention is that my favourite Robby Reed appearance was in an issue of Plastic Man, of all places – to be more precise, in Plastic Man no. 13 (June-July 1976). In If I Kill Me, Will I Die? (read it here!), scripted by Steve Skeates, pencilled by Ramona Fradon and inked by Bob Smith, Reed not only gets to take on Plas (in more ways than one), but also falls deeply and magically in love with a professional hog-caller. Also, tentacles. Adorable *and* exciting!

PlasticMan13p13APlasticMan13p14A~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 29

« Here it is, Halloween again, and all the ghouls, goblins and other beasties are coming out of their secret lairs to frighten little kiddies… who are also emerging in weird, wild costumes to frighten the grown-ups, the stay-at-homes who hand over candy or whatever ransom is demanded in the traditional Halloween challenge! » — Joe Gill, « Trick or Treat »

It was the early 1980s, and DC’s mystery books, in decline since the mid-70s, were running their final mile. They’d hardly ever risen to greatness, writing-wise, and the visuals had, for too long, borne far more of their share of the pact. And when you switch art directors from Nick Cardy to Vince Colletta, it’s got to hurt *bad*. By 1980, the strongest stylists had moved on, replaced for the most part by bland youngsters champing at the bit to move on to superhero work. The farm league, basically.

So the vultures were circling. In the midst of all the bad or lazy decisions, the most heartening exception was the frequent use of Joe Kubert‘s all-but-boundless skills on the covers. I suspect they gave him free rein… it certainly appears that way. Technical skill, thematic originality, « mysterioso », even a deftly humorous touch… it’s all there. Bravo.

Ghosts108AKubert285HOMAUnexpected204AGhosts105AUnexpected214AGhosts111AUnexpected215A

As even most comics fans of the period might be surprised that the mystery books were still around, I think it safe to assume that these pieces may be unfamiliar even to devoted Kubert fans. Enjoy!

– RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Plants Sometimes Have Tentacles, Too

The topic of today’s Tentacle Tuesday is based on a plant-based mishap. I was walking along an alley, minding my own business, when some sort of climbing plant with especially long and vicious tentacle-vines, swinging from from a nearby fence,  grabbed my arm. The result were scratches that felt like burns.*

So today’s gruesome offerings are mostly cousins of the Venus Flytrap, if the latter had tentacles to assist its quest for prey. (Let’s breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn’t.)

MidnightTales6-HowardWayne
Midnight Tales no. 6 (November 1973), cover by Wayne Howard. I am a big fan of Midnight Tales and its blend of humour and adventure. Note the “created by Wayne Howard” announcement on the cover, which wasn’t exactly typical for its time – comic book companies didn’t use to acknowledge the creators of their “content” so openly and insistently.

Midnight Tales often offer moments of “wait, how did that get through the Comics Code?” Arachne (Professor Coffin’s undeniably attractive niece) is frequently more sexually provocative than one would expect from a kid-appropriate comic, crimes committed are nastier than surmised, and the plots go from morbid to surreal… with some comedy thrown in. Oh, sure, there’s some terrible clunkers, as every issue has three or four stories linked by a common theme and illustrated by different artists, but overall the quality remains high throughout its 18-issue run.

I’ve seen people online saying that Howard shamelessly plagiarized Wally Wood’s style – perhaps people more erudite than I see that, but I don’t. “Influenced” is one thing – but one can build on those beginnings to create a recognizable style of one’s own, right? Those who like Wayne Howard frequently classify him as a “guilty pleasure”, and proceed to insult his art while they’re explaining why they like it. To quote, for instance, from Atomic Avenue, who follow the unspoken rule – just mentioning Charlton Comics warrants a condescending tone, and any acknowledgement of their quality has to be tempered by mockery. 

Creator Wayne Howard blatantly imitated the style of comic art great Wally Wood right down to his gothic signature, but at least he aimed high in his plagiarism. Consequently, Midnight Tales had the look of a seedy, off-register knock-off of an EC horror comic—putting it at the top of Charlton’s quality spectrum.

Another opinion from Cap’n’s Comics:

In my world of geek’n out over all this great art, Wayne Howard is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. He loves to draw like Wally Wood, but he’s no Wally Wood. His females usually look like Wally’s women after a really bad day, and his males are just plain fugly. His Wood machinery is close to the background machinery behind the awesome machinery, and everything shouts fan art VS pro art, but… Luvittopieces

Ah, well. I won’t be apologetic about liking Howard’s art, and Midnight Tales will be proudly presented as a favourite series on a need-to-know basis. Fortunately, there’s some nice articles about him, too – a sort of obituary for a great African-American artist who died at only 58.

TentacleTuesdayIcon

Another Flytrap for your enjoyment, in this tale of brotherly rivalry:

HouseofMystery251-HarvestofHate1
“Harvest of Hate” was scripted by Jack Oleck and drawn by Alfredo Alcala (speaking of whom, I still can’t get over how beautiful his signature is.) Page scanned from House of Mystery no. 251 (March-April 1977).

HouseofMystery251-HarvestofHate2
Don’t worry, the “gardener” who fed his brother to this man-devouring monstrosity gets his comeuppance, all right.

The cover of this issue of House of Mystery is also a good exhibit of plant tentacles, even if the children are a superfluous addition:

HouseofMystery251-NealAdams
House of Mystery no. 251 (March-April 1977), cover by Neal Adams.

TentacleTuesdayIcon

Here’s something more recent – published on some almost-thirty years ago, instead of forty – the tentacular adventures of Doctor Gorpon! I hope these guys count as plants (even if they’re slightly more mobile) – they’re the right shade of green!

DoctorGorpon#2-MarcHansen
Doctor Gorpon no. 2 (July 1991) by Marc Hansen. The little guy in the right bottom corner is extra-cute – if only all children looked at their parents with the same sense of admiration and awe! It’s “Ooze Me, Baby!”

I only finished reading this three-issue series today, and I must say, it was an exciting ride. Highly recommended (if you can find it, that is).

DoctorGorpon3-MarcHansen-Splash
A panel from the aptly-titled “Big Eyeballs!”, published in Doctor Gorpon no. 3 (August 1991).

Gorpon2-MarcHansen-Doofus
A page from “Big Eyeballs!”, published in Doctor Gorpon #3 (August 1991).

~ ds

*
Plantburns

Tentacle Tuesday: a visit to the House of Mystery

Welcome to the entertaining world of science-fiction/fantasy of the 60s! If you’re an admirer of extravagant creatures with improbable anatomy, or a fan of twisted stories that take questionable leaps of logic to arrive to an implausible conclusion, willkommen.

However, if, like me, you tend to root for strange creatures (most of which didn’t want to be discovered in the first place), tread gently.  If there’s one pattern in House of Mystery stories, it’s that the “monsters” (that fly in from space/emerge from the sea/crawl out of the depths of the earth/are born in fire/whatever else we can think of) get slain, more often than not, by well-meaning people… or not-so-well-meaning people who are afraid of anything that looks different. If they somehow manage to escape getting shot or bombed out of existence, they’re buried under a convenient avalanche or volcanic eruption.

HouseOfMystery99
House of Mystery no. 99, June 1960. Art by Bernard Baily. Yep, the Beast gets killed by the military.  It’s sad to think that our reaction to a friendly shape-shifting alien would be “kill first, ask questions later”… but it sadly rings true.

TentacleTuesdayIcon

I know that it’s Tentacle Tuesday and everything’s possible, but… this? An octopus with spines on his tentacles (very conveniently placed, I might add) and the puffy eyes of a career alcoholic? A parrot-dragon with opposable thumbs?

HouseofMystery113
House of Mystery no. 113 (1961), pencils by Dick Dillin, inks by Sheldon Moldoff and letters by Ira Schnapp. Err, guys… I don’t think either of these two monsters is all that interested in you, seeing as they both seem to be screaming in horror/pain. If the octopus is Water-Beast, the parrot must be Land-Beast – such wit! I would have gone with “pink thing” and “green bird thing”.

TentacleTuesdayIcon

As Tentacle Tuesday continues, we are once again confronted with a situation where misunderstanding between species leads to needless conflict. Shoot first, sort it out later, is the mantra of any red-blooded man! I’m sorry, am I being a tad unsubtle?

HouseofMystery130
House of Mystery no. 130, January 1963. Cover by George Roussos.

TentacleTuesdayIcon

Some guys land on an island patrolled by creatures controlled by a beautiful woman. Well, there’s no need to quarrel, they can talk it out, right?

HouseOfMystery133
House of Mystery no. 133, April 1963. Pencils by Dick Dillin, inks by Sheldon Moldoff, letters by Ira Schnapp.

Okay, the woman seems to be friendly. So far, so good.

HouseofMystery133TheCaptiveQueenofBeastIsland
Art by Howard Sherman.

So perhaps everyone can go on their merry way and leave the island and its creatures alone? No, it’s not enough to just kill them. Oops! The whole fucking island explodes to smithereens when the guys detonate some explosives in a cavern and thus trigger an underwater eruption.  I mean, the real threat to these “nice” people was the evil guy trying to gain control of the beasts, but do they try to attack *him*? Nah, they focus on killing the octopus, instead! And the giant armadillo! And the furry rhinoceros!

« And soon, Beast Island sinks beneath boiling, steaming waters… », the omniscient narrator tells us. « The island is gone now – and so are the terrible things that walked on it, flew over it — and swam around it! » The power-grabbing asshole is okay, though – he escaped just fine!

There’s plenty more tentacles in House of Mystery – to which we will no doubt return.

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 26

« I’m doing some new phony ghost effects and these hicks just eat it up! Show ‘em a ghost and they’ll swear they recognize it! »

Is it just me, or are horror covers more effective when they’re basically wordless? EC and DC and Charlton got it, but Marvel never did, with its protagonists/victims standing around uselessly pointing out the obvious: “Oh no! We’re trapped with… the Thing that walks!” “Uh, honey, I think it’s more of a Thing that shambles!”

HOM236A
This is House of Mystery no. 236 (October, 1975, DC) and it’s quite an issue on the inside too: Steve Ditko with Mike Royer inks (“Death Played a Sideshow“), and Paul Kirshner with Neal Adams inks (“Deep Sleep“.) Lest we forget: this fine cover palette brought to you by Tatjana Wood.

… and since this is our first, sadder Hallowe’en without the macabre Bernie Wrightson  (1948-2017) to inspire us, let’s have one more shot, shall we?

HOM219Intro
This is the frontispiece ushering us into issue 219 (Nov. 1973) of DC’s House of Mystery.

Interestingly, BW’s signature (at bottom, on the spine of a book in the centre) is reversed, which makes one wonder whether the image was flipped before dialogue was added. On the other hand, perhaps it made for better arcane lettering for a dusty grimoire.

– RG

Return of the Tentacles

Once upon a time (or, more precisely, a handful of years ago), we started a little weekly celebration of tentacle glory in comics and called it Tentacle Tuesday. (My husband came up with that alliteration; I hope he’s willing to share the credit for this pithy little phrase with others, as I honestly don’t know whether he was first to dream it up. By now, #tentacletuesday is a hashtag and there’s a Facebook page with that title). Yet “real life” (read: “a sad existence tragically devoid of octopuses”) got in the way, and although we’ve often thought about Tentacle Tuesday, no offerings were made at the Octopoda altar. We’d spot some glorious tentacles while reading comics, and wistfully dream of sharing them with a like-minded audience, but the impulse would pass, leaving behind vague but lingering regrets.

Well, we are back. Let’s keep Tentacle Tuesday going strong, for after all, comics and tentacles are among the universe’s greatest achievements. Let the cephalopod fiesta begin – we welcome you to this blog’s first-ever installment of Tentacle Tuesday!

Our first offering features, quite naturally, a Welcome Mat leading to a trapped, angry octopus, who seems to be indignant about being stuck in a pit with a bunch of uncouth, plebeian imaginary monsters. Claws, pincers, and talons, razor-sharp teeth and dendritic horns? Ha, *he* has tentacles! And if the other denizens of this trap are purely monster-under-the-bed material and act as if they’re drunks at a party, Mr. Octopus here is a professional who takes his job of being terrifying seriously.

CainTentaclesA

This is a pin-up, if I may call it that, by the easily identifiable Sergio Aragonés, scanned from DC’s House of Mystery no. 189 (Nov./Dec. 1970). The giggling guy is Cain, the so-called host of the House of Mystery, and is every bit inclined to betray and double-cross as his Biblical namesake. Incidentally, number 189 is an excellent issue: Eyes of the Cat, with art by Jerry Grandenetti and Wally Wood, is both gorgeous and scary, with bonus points for prominently featuring a black cat (which Neal Adams made look like a rat on the cover – if you don’t believe me, try http://pencilink.blogspot.ca/2008/05/house-of-mystery-189-neal-adams-cover.html ) It is followed by The Deadly Game of G-H-O-S-T by Leonard Starr, and the issue wraps up elegantly with The Thing in the Chair with art by Tom Sutton.

In a slightly different vein, but equally lighthearted, is this cover of Abbott & Costello no. 16 (Aug. 1970, Charlton). I hope our readers shall be too polite to point out that Tony Tallarico, the artist, made tentacles look more like elephant trunks, or that this… creature… has but four of them, which would make him probably the only quadripartite octopus in existence (they’re supposed to have 8, for those of us who are a little hazy on the specifics). Now, if only Charlton paid by the tentacle rather than by the page…

AbbottCostello16A

This comics series was of course based on the American comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, of early 40s and 50s fame. Fast-forward to 1967, and with Costello having long passed on (in 1959), the pair was miraculously given a new, two-dimensional lease on life (hey, you take what you can get… comedy’s a vicious game!) through the auspices of Hanna-Barbera Productions, and Charlton landed the comics licence and ran with it… for a healthy twenty-two issues. The first eight or nine of these, featuring the madcap talents of artist Henry Scarpelli and (especially) scripter Steve Skeates, are the ones to seek out. You have been warned!

~ ds