Odious Rumours: Arachnid-Enhanced Bubble Yum

« A kid one time fell asleep chewing Bubble Yum, and he woke up with his mouth full of spider eggs. » — Some nameless rumour-monger

The other day, a neighbour was asking me whether it was a safe for his Golden Retriever puppy to eat the worms it was digging up (I was impressed), the guy presuming that said worms were quite filthy and rife with germs. I replied that no, it’s probably all the rooting through the trash and gobbling up whatever it finds that’s giving the pup gastric distress. Worms, in fact, are considered a delicacy in many a culture, including some European ones. Not that I’ve indulged: just like The Kinks’ Apeman, I’m a strict vegetarian.

This brought to mind those 1970s rumours of earthworms serving as filler in McDonald’s burgers (never mind that worms are a far costlier ingredient than is beef). Which led in turn to the equally-outlandish notion that the secret of Bubble Yum’s softness (introduced in 1975 by Life Savers, it was the first soft bubble gum ever concocted) lay in its containing spider eggs. Again, steady procurement would have proved quite a daunting challenge.

Art by Tomm Coker, from The Big Book of Urban Legends (1994, Paradox Press/DC); edited by Bronwyn Carlton Taggart and featuring the most inconstant levels of skill and talent you’re ever likely to encounter in a professional comics publication: a couple dozen or so versatile cartoonists, and over a hundred superhero hacks and/or photo tracers utterly out of their depth, a reminder of just how shallow the talent pool is. This isn’t one of the good pieces, but it’s nowhere near the bottom.
A trade ad from 1977, the year of Bubble Yum’s national (and international, as this Canadian can attest) rollout.

But the bubble was about to burst (or at least deflate somewhat), as reported by The New York Times (March 29, 1977):

The Great Spider Egg Mystery remains unsolved but it may yet have several happy endings. The mystery concerns Bubble Yum, a popular new bubble gum that has, in a year, overtaken such symbols of earlier childhoods as Dubble Bubble and Bazooka. A few weeks ago came toil and trouble: the unexplained spread of lurid rumors among children in the New York area that, gasp!, Bubble Yum contained spider eggs (or, according to haughtier youthful accounts, caused cancer). Stores which had up to then been unable to stock enough to meet demand suddenly saw sales plummet. Last week, the manufacturer, Life Savers, Inc., took out full‐page ads in 30 area newspapers to combat the rumors.

This is not the first time the bubble gum business has been beset by evil rumor. When Jimmy Carter was a boy, youngsters in Sumter County, Georgia, were scared off by reports that bubble gum was made with snake oil —until they were reassured by an ad in the Americus Times‐Recorder. Nor is bubble gum normally regarded as the stuff of moral lessons. Its history, since it was invented by Walter Diemer in 1928, is marked by such milestones as packaging it with baseball cards (1933) or making it squeakless (1953).

But there is something more significant, and appealing, in the open way in which Life Savers has chosen to deal with its problem. We hope the spider egg rumors are expunged as successfully now as the snake oil rumors were then. And there will be a happier ending still if the subject is properly understood to be not bubble gum but canard. No consumer is too young to learn the malign effects of rumor or to understand that there will always be someone, not always in youthful innocence, eager to raise the cry—whether about Communists in government, environment, energy or bubble gum—of “spider eggs.”

From Morris County, NJ’s Daily Record, March 27, 1977 edition.

Susan M. Smith wrote, in her 1989 thesis, Consumer Rumors and
Corporate Communications
:

Whether the rumor is isolated or widespread, the company must select media that reach the rumor’s community of interest, and particularly, its influential leaders. The importance of this is shown by what happened after a rumor episode in New York City for the Life Saver’s Company. The company conducted an all-out attack to combat a rumor in 1977 that the company’s innovative, new soft chewing gum. Bubble Yum, contained spider eggs. It sought publicity, inserted full-page newspaper ads, and sent letters with a copy of the ad to the city’s PTA groups, school principals, and retail outlets.

The campaign successfully stopped the rumor, but Bubble Yum’s New York sales did not recover for many years. It turns out that even though the company had blanketed the city with its rumor denial, it never spoke directly to product users, the school-age children, to bolster confidence in the product. The selection of inappropriate media makes the refutation message miss the rumour’s public allowing the rumor to continue to spread or delaying recovery from the rumor.

Speaking of advertising: Marvel’s knockoff of Scholastic’s Dynamite, Pizzazz (1977-79), which included lots of ads, featured this piece in its 6th issue (March 1978, Marvel). This gives you a sense of Bubble Yum’s success, as the product was, in its field, what’s termed a disruptive innovation. Chewing gum no longer had to be hard.
Inevitably, the imitators came! Smooooth N’ Juicy, Hubba Bubba, Bubblicious, the oddball Freshen Up, and so on. Marvel switched its advertising allegiance to Topps. This is from Pizzazz no. 11 (Aug. 1978, Marvel). The art looks to me to be the work of Mad magazine veteran Jack Rickard (1922-1983).
A few issues later, (Pizzazz no. 14, Nov. 1978, Marvel), in a brazen display of corrupt insincerity, came this so-called Consumer Guide (note that only Topps products are pictured). Really, is Bubble Yum “the hardest, toughest gum our testers had to chew“? Surely anyone who’s ever tried to chew something from the Bazooka family knows better. My jaw aches just from the memory.
The company continued efforts to restore its reputation in the New York market, where the rumours had caused the most harm. A piece from The New York Times‘ Tuesday, July 22, 1980 edition.
This ad ran in Adventure Comics no. 487 (Nov. 1981, DC) and several other titles in the following months.
Now that’s better: in 1982, they turned to the incomparable Jack Davis to illustrate one of their print ads. Given his prodigious speed, he couldn’t have spent more than an hour on this specific piece, but it works far better than its predecessors. Incidentally, the ‘Super Yum’ thing (replacing Soft ‘n Juicy) appears to have been a move to block a competitor from using the appellation.

But I suppose all this controversy merely seems quaint now, what with all today’s heavy weaponizing of misinformation. Besides, the bubblegum market has been rather moribund in the past few decades, since apparently Nobody Likes to Chew Gum Anymore.

For a bit of sugar high nostalgia, I’ll leave you with a pair of vintage Bubble Yum ads: 1976’s brand introduction, featuring The Flavor Fiend;

And 1988’s spot co-starring a young Leonardo DeCaprio, which shows us he was clearly born with that insufferable smugness, or at least had honed it to perfection by his teens.

-RG

Sweepin’ the clouds away: Jack Davis’ Sesame Street

« Until now Mr. Cookie Monster refused to talk about the matter because his mouth was full, and it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full. » — Guest Star Robert McNeil

With the venerable MAD Magazine (1952-2019) bowing out after sixty-seven years, and kid’s educational show Sesame Street (singalong time!) about to hit the half-century mark, it seems à propos to salute one of the geniuses their respective histories share, Jack Davis (1924 – 2016)… rather than mire ourselves in the inevitable stack of lachrymose paeans to Harvey Kurtzman’s long-lost progeny.

So, are you in need of a bit of cheering up after a down-in-the-dumps day? Take a stroll down friendly Sesame Street with sweet Mr. Davis! Now isn’t this a place where you’d care to linger a spell?

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A lovely excerpt from the Sesame Street Annual (1972, Dell); according to the table of contents, it teaches ‘Planning’. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you in the lurch: the answers are at the end of this post. You’re welcome!

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It’s a sunny day indeed when genial Jack Davis’ long legs come striding down Sesame Street! The series was called Sherlock Hemlock’s Hidden Answer Jigsaw Puzzles, and this is number one, The Puzzle of the Hidden C’s. Well, don’t just stand there gaping, how many can *you* spot, wise guy?

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Spaghetti and chaos are on the menu in this scene that Davis was commissioned to create in 1971, early in the rise of the Muppet empire. This is number 2, The Puzzle of the Hidden S’s.

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This is number 3, The Puzzle of the Hidden Numbers. Each puzzle was packaged with a blue transparency “looking glass”, which could be used to discover hidden shapes in the picture. I’m afraid I don’t have one to spare, so you’ll have to procure your own.

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And here’s number four of the puzzle illustrations Mr. Davis created for Educational Toys’ Sherlock Hemlock’s Hidden Answer Puzzle series. This is número 4, The Puzzle of the Hidden Shapes… you know what to do next!

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Here’s the aforementioned [Yves Klein] blue looking glass you’ll need.
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Another Davis-illustrated exercise in fun from the 1972 Sesame Street Annual, which also features some gorgeous contributions from Mel Crawford and Davis’ fellow Usual Gang of Idiots member, Al Jaffee. This one teaches, again according to the “Parents’ Guide to Contents”, “Pre-reading skills”.

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As one of America’s most distinctive and deservedly successful illustrators, Davis created scores of splendid TV Guide covers, and he was uniquely well suited for this one. This is the July 10, 1971 issue. I never would have figured the mag’s logo to be edible, but then the Cookie Monster’s idea what’s fit to eat is pretty liberal.

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A very early Davis Sesame Street illustration initially used in The Sesame Street Learning Kit (Children’s Television Workshop, 1969); the show made its début on November 10, 1969, on the about-to-expire National Educational Television network. A merger soon turned the NET into the Public Broadcasting Service, which Sesame Street, now in its 49th season, calls home to this day.

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And here’s your answer. Thanks for playing along!

In case one of you experts is wondering, I did leave out, deliberately, Davis’ single meatiest contribution to the show’s canon: The 1972 Sesame Street Calendar (which I look forward to reusing in 2028), twenty-five pages of pure Davis, including thirteen particularly lush watercolours. In order to do it justice, it’ll require at least one post of its own.

And as we’re on the topic of Sesame Street’s seemingly boundless creativity, I can’t recommend enough this recent profile of the enduring friendship of a pair of the show’s most pivotal songwriters.

« Never refer to me as an item. I’m a bird. » — Big Bird

– RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Cephalopods in Suburbia

There are places and situations where one definitely expects to run into octopuses – in seas and oceans, on other planets, in brothels and harems (much like one can put a box in the middle of the room and a cat will suddenly appear to sit in it, even when one does not own a cat, a nearly-naked woman is almost guaranteed to summon an octopus). But sometimes the presence of tentacles is quite unexpected. Just when you think you’re safe – no, oops, a touch of the cephalopod springs abruptly into your life.

Tentacles at the cinema? No way. What would they be doing there?

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« He turns into a monster at the touch of a pretty girl! » Say, that sounds familiar… This is Gross Point no. 11 (May 1998), cover by Roger Langridge. This nearly-forgotten comic (so forgotten, in fact, that Google will try to correct you if you look its title up) is a delight for those of us who like to bask in a Halloween mood year-round. The plot is not exactly original, yet beautiful art by Roger Langridge makes it a very enjoyable read, especially given the latter’s propensity to add little jokes to the script. Unfortunately, too many issues are sloppily pencilled by Joe Staton, whose art cannot be entirely redeemed, even by Langridge inking it.

Because I’m nice and this January 1st, here’s a link to all the issues of Gross Point, to save you the trouble of hunting them down.

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A page from “Welcome to Gross Point”, pencilled by S.M. Taggart and inked by Roger Langridge.

Or you purchase a box of doughnuts and then…

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Wacky Packages no. 17 (All-new Series 7), 2010. Art by David Gross, I believe.

How would you feel about going back to the office after the holidays and finding a multi-tasking octopus taking over your duties?

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Hogan’s Alley no. 21, February 2017. The hard-working octopus (it must have been hard to find pants that fit him, but octopuses are dedicated workers!) is drawn by Jack Davis, of course.

I’d say the most unexpected tentacles of all would be found in a For Better or For Worse strip. There’s no way that would happen.

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Panel from “Comic Strip Previews for 2007“, a Richard’s Poor Almanack (sic) by Richard Thompson.

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 31

« Here, plainly, was a guy for whom cartooning held no mysteries. He was more than a master; he was a virtuoso, a source, an innovator whose style was completely natural and original and flexible enough to embrace dashed-off vulgarity and painstaking elegance, often in the same panel. » — Jim Woodring on Jack Davis

Here we are, coming to the end of our countdown (or count-up, depending on your point of view), and who better to convey the magic of Hallowe’en than the late, great Jack Davis (1924-2016)? Don’t answer that. 😉

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Detail from Monster Rally (1959).

A 1959 collection of humorous horror songs by Alice Pearce and Hans Conried, Monster Rally (LPM/LSP-1923) sports a classic Davis painting – blending horror and humor into what amounts to a cutely-weird piece of art. Davis has mentioned that this scene is one he really enjoying doing and that he was quite pleased with. An ad for this album in issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland from back then read:

An insane and fantastically entertaining album featuring Hans Conried and Alice Pearce, singing and screaming ghoulish new songs like ‘Monster Rally’, ‘The Thing‘, ‘The Invisible Man‘, ‘Not of This Earth‘ and others. The album cover by Jack Davis is a masterpiece – suitable for framing.

[ Excerpted from Dick Voll‘s article Just for the Record: The LP Cover Art of Jack Davis (Fanfare no. 5, Summer 1983; edited and published by Bill Spicer). ]

And here are a mittful of extras, since I’m more inclined to treat than to trick on this special day.

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« From approximately ’59, Davis did a huge quantity of work for Topps Gum Co. Over the years, he did ‘Funny Monster Cards’, ‘Wanted Posters’, ‘Funny Valentines’, ‘Batty Book Covers’, ‘Wacky Packs’, ‘Silly Stickers’ as well as standard baseball and football tradings cards. » — Hank Harrison, The Art of Jack Davis (1986, Stabur Press). This, incidentally, is one of the ‘Funny Valentines’.

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Davis’ classic Slim Jim commercials of the late 1970s. Of course. Can you believe they ran these earlier… with the bold-type, all-caps slogan of WHAT TO SINK YOUR TEETH INTO WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY AND YOU’RE NOT A WEREWOLF… but sans Davis art? Thankfully, some bright kid at the ad agency saw the opportunity and managed to be convincing enough.

In closing, thanks for bearing with all my divagations through this second edition of WOT’s Hallowe’en Countdown, and let me wish you a most spooky Hallowe’en, one and all!

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 16

« When the dark mists rise up from the graveyard, and shutters bang in the windows of old abandoned houses, and the lights burn late in the back rooms of funeral parlors, the hour has struck for the Autumn People. » — anonymous back cover blurb

Frank Frazetta‘s cover for Ballantine Books’ October 1965 collection of EC adaptations of Ray Bradbury short stories (such a string of possessives!), namely « There Was an Old Woman » (art by Graham Ingels) « The Screaming Woman » (Jack Kamen), « Touch and Go », aka  « The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl » (Johnny Craig), « The Small Assassin » (George Evans), « The Handler » (Ingels), « The Lake » (Joe Orlando, some of the finest, most sensitive work of his incredibly-brief peak, which he would coast on for the rest of his career), « The Coffin » and « Let’s Play Poison » (Both Jack Davis).

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I’m feeling foolishly generous, so here’s a panel from each story. Owing to personal bias, Mr. Craig is the only one who gets a full page to show off. Seriously, though, scripting his own stuff afforded him greater latitude in storyboarding his work… and how it shows!

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« Ghastly » Graham Ingels.

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Jack Kamen.

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Johnny Craig.

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Mr. Ingels again.

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George Evans.

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Joe Orlando.

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Jack Davis once…

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… and Jack Davis twice.

I first encountered Bradbury through « The October Country » (1955), which turned out, I was to discover later, to be a heavily-revised version of his initial, Arkham House-issued collection, « Dark Carnival ».

« When given the chance to rerelease the out-of-print collection in 1955, Bradbury seized the opportunity to revisit his first book and correct the things he deemed inadequate. (Ever the perfectionist, Bradbury was, throughout his career, often discontent with calling a book done, even after its publication.) He rewrote a number of stories, made light revisions on others, cut twelve tales altogether, and added four new ones to round out the collection. The stories Bradbury discarded he thought too weak, too violent, or too primitive, and not representative of where he was as a writer at that moment. »

As it happens, several of the stories that caught Gaines & Feldstein’s fancy were the very ones that Bradbury was in the process of disowning. Ditching « The Coffin » or « Let’s Play Poison » or, for different reasons, « The Black Ferris » (as he was to expand it into « Something Wicked This Way Comes » a few years down the line) I can understand, but losing the incredible « The October Game »? Especially since he was making (lots of) room for his most plodding story, the seemingly-interminable (at 44 pages) « The Next in Line ».

There was a companion volume devoted to EC’s adaptations of Bradbury science-fiction tales, « Tomorrow Midnight », also boasting a Frazetta cover.

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 8

« The other three players dropped out… I could feel the tension buzzing right out of their twisted bodies… »

Poor, naïve Lou Beltram!

I first laid eyes on this one when I visited, in the fall of 1976, a tabagie (a tobacco shop) at a recently-opened shopping mall. For some reason, they had a batch of comics dating from 1973. This was one*.

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The cover feature, « The Strange Game », is a typical product of the early 1950’s horror boom: it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it is fairly irresistible stuff, at least from the perspective of an 11-year-old. This wacky cover art, from this May 1973 issue, is the work of company man supreme John Romita Sr., Marvel’s heavy-handed art director of the period.

This time (sorry!) you’re getting the story right here, since… who else would get interested in such a boneheaded piece of claptrap, badly drawn to boot? (technically speaking… I do, however, find its primitive ineptitude quite charming). Suspend all disbelief and critical sense, and enjoy!

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The tale in question, scripted by an unknown writer and illustrated by Marty Elkin (reportedly Gil Kane‘s cousin!), was reprinted from Atlas’ (what Marvel Comics were called back in the day) Strange Tales #9 (August, 1952).

Oh, and something was nagging at me about a particular panel… so I did a little digging, here’s what I found: while swiping from Jack Davis has long been a national pastime, here’s one of the earliest infractions not perpetrated by Howard Nostrand (who’s fine in his own right, but he did have that singular, corner-cutting vice).

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It’s a flipped (how devious!) steal from page 2, panel 6 of « Drawn and Quartered! » (script by Al Feldstein, art by Jack Davis), Tales from the Crypt no.26 (Oct.-Nov. 1951, EC Comics). Marty seems a bit hazy on the general concept of hands.

I also suspect page 2’s second panel to be an early EC Joe Orlando or Wally Wood swipe, but I can’t quite nail it down… yet.

-RG

*The Unexpected 146 and The Demon 8 (both cover-dated April 1973) were the others I picked up. What else was there? An issue of The Cat I didn’t buy, but otherwise, I’m drawing a blank. 😉

Tentacle Tuesday: Pleasantly Goofy

I’d like to interrupt the regularly scheduled Tentacle Tuesday with the double whammy of tentacles and kiss-me-I’m-Irish:

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It’s Grip Glutz and Shamrock Squid! Originally published in Eightball no. 10 (February 1993.) Story and art by Daniel Clowes, of course. I love stories with no moral.

Shamrock Squid, created by Clowes, is an “open source” character, which is to say that other cartoonists have official permission to use him in their work.

« While Shamrock Squid was originally featured in Clowes’s comic book Eightball as a comic companion to “Grip Glutz” in a one-page ‘gag’, he has also made surprise or cameo appearances in other alternative comics such as Peter Bagge’s Hate and Rick Altergott’s Doofus. The most detailed, epic and perhaps final use of Shamrock Squid was done by Adrian Tomine and Peter Bagge in a 7 page piece in Hate #28 entitled “Shamrock Squid: Autobiographical Cartoonist”, which lampooned autobiographical alternative comics, teen angst, and fandom. It would seem that the gag has gone as far as it can. » (source)

I’m not sure what is implied by “the gag has gone as far as it can”, but since Adrian Tomine is involved, I’ll happily agree that enough is enough.

So if you’re planning to booze your woes away this Saturday on St-Patrick’s, happy drinking!

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Moving on to the goofiness promised, here’s Tentacle Tuesday in all its glory.

Many women get killed. Their corpses are covered in doughnut-shaped marks. A killer in a trench-coat sporting a wide-brimmed hat has been spotted retreating into the city’s aquarium after his crime. “Who Doughnut?”, the story’s title asks, and it is indeed a stumper.

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The intrepid detective follows the killer! His mind struggles with the vital question of who or what could have possibly left such bizarre marks on his victims…

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… and comes up with the answer! It’s…. (drumroll, please)…

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Well, duh. Everyone knows octopuses suck blood (and have a weakness for stylish hats).  « Who Doughnut? », written by Al Feldstein and drawn by Jack Davis, was published in Vault of Horror no. 30, April-May 1953. The art is glorious, and the story – while preposterous – is moody as hell, so do yourself a favour and read it here. As a matter of fact, it’s so well drawn that one forgets the farcical plot and shudders along with the protagonist.

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The composition just pulls you in, doesn’t it? Although you might wanna watch that… lest you come face-to-face with a vampire octopus.

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Quite on a different note, meet an alien lifeform with an appetite for self-destruction. Which is to say: it likes to be eaten.

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« The CXL spice paste is made up of millions of hive-minded micro-organisms whose sole purpose in life is to be eaten in a delicious meal. If the lettuce is too thick and chunky, the CXL will realise they are being prepared wrong and will strangle the chef responsible. »
Snippet from James Stokoe’s Wonton Soup, published by Oni Press in 2014. Thanks to RG for putting together my hasty photographs of this page from a completely unscannable, thick and tightly-bound book.

Canadian Stokoe is probably best known for his take on Godzilla, which comic left me frankly underwhelmed. However, I heartily recommend the unfortunately unfinished Orc Stain. As for Wonton Soup, it was loads of fun to read. Here’s a summary from Publisher’s Weekly: « Stokoe’s wittily vulgar debut graphic novel follows former-cook–turned–space trucker Johnny Boyo as he fights off space ninjas, returns to the planet of his ex-girlfriend Citrus Watts, and finally faces a cook-off duel with a pair of alien twins who’ll stop at nothing to achieve culinary victory. » That covers the gist of part 1; to which I’ll add that part 2 of Wonton Soup concerns itself largely with Johnny’s buddy Deac’s reminiscences about his mad escapades with a sex bear, which are not for the squeamish.

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Let’s end this cephalopod festival not with a bang but with a whimper… the whimper of a wife who’s getting carried off by tentacles, that is.

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“Sorry, dear.” Cartoon by Gahan Wilson, who can always be relied on to resort to tentacles whenever possible.

~ ds

Did you write a letter to Davy, Peter, Micky or Mike?

« If you did, you may find your letter printed in this book… If you haven’t written The Monkees yet, join the fun that’s going on inside this crazy, lovin’ book. »

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In 1967, the phenomenal Jack Davis (1924-2016), as prolific and versatile as an artist can get, provided twenty-one original cartoons and the cover to this snazzy little tome issued by the Popular Library.

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Dear Davy — I am one of your greatest fans. I have all the Monkees records that have been released so far. But I have one problem. I played your first record so much that it began to melt, and now it wobbles so much that I can’t play it anymore. I know it’s not your fault, but I don’t think it’s fair that I should be punished for being such a Monkee-lover. I think the record company ought to give me my money back so I can buy a new album. You could even think of it as a kind of award for loyalty or something. Please, Davy, talk to the record company and make them send me the money? Yours truly, Diana V., Charleston, SC

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Dear Mike — You know your record ‘Gonna Buy Me a Dog’? Well, if you really want a dog, I have a three-month-old Great Dane that a friend gave me six weeks ago that I have to get rid of. He’s a little too playful. Last week he knocked over my mom’s favorite vase and my kid brother. His name is Linus, but he’s not too attached to it.
Your fan, Steve R., Coral Gables, Fla.

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Dear Monkees — I like your group very, very much. You probably never heard of Varna. It’s a little town near Ithaca. I wrote a poem for you:
I think the Rolling Stones are great,
I think the Beatles are fine,
On the other hand,
I think the Monkees are DIVINE.
Your fan, Jeannie G.

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Dear Monkees — My name is Wendy. I like your records. Please send me a picture of you. I forgot all your names so please put your autographs on the pictures.
Sincerely, Wendy K., Butte, MT

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Dear Davy Jones — I like your shows very much. I like all your songs too. I like all your clothes and your hair. You are very very cute. You better come to Wichita or I’ll smash you one.
Lover, Carol K., Wichita

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Dear Monkees — Please send me Davy Jones in the mail. Send it to Cindy L, Louisville, Kentucky.

In closing, I see Micky Dolenz (b. March 8, 1945) turned seventy-three… yesterday. Happy belated birthday, Corky!

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-RG