« Don’t change your tack when the timbers crack On the dark and the rolling sea… » *
I am relatively indifferent to tales of adventure, but the siren song of the ocean sometimes prompts me to venture into reading tales about ruthless pirates or valorous seafarers and the perilous voyages they undertake on ships big and small, magnificent or modest. Who hasn’t felt a thrill at spotting a handsome vessel on the water, even if that water is but a canal running through the city? The other point of interest of this discussion is that where there’s an ocean and a ship upon it, there is a (preferably) giant octopus somewhere nearby, only waiting to shred the ship’s hull to smithereens and voraciously gobble up its shipmates.
Here is a modestly-sized yet utilitarian boat with a handsome octopus in tow. Maybe he just wanted to climb on deck to rest a while, like this otter?
A similar boat (I don’t know whether it’s my profound lack of knowledge of boats that makes it seem that way) was attacked by a bigger, scarier – downright malevolent! – octopus some twenty years later. See Kyle “Ace” Morgan, Matthew “Red” Ryan, Leslie “Rocky” Davis and Walter Mark “Prof” Haley scramble for safety while an enraged octopus seeks to devour them! Oh, sorry, I’m being melodramatic.
This cover has actually been recycled from Showcase no. 12 (Jan.-Feb. 1958, DC), where the background was yellow and the water a more normal shade of blue-white. I do like how the octopus stands out against a black background, however (and the multi-coloured water really sets off his beady, evilly-glowing green eyes!)
Of course these encounters also take place within the stories, as opposed to on the cover.
Time to move underwater, a very natural setting for an octopus attack. Here we have a submarine tenderly wrapped in tentacles:
Last but not least, I’ve kept this neat little submarine until the end:
Glanzman is also a favourite of ours, though we haven’t talked about him much (yet). In case you’re wondering what the insides of one of those issues looked like – good, they looked really good! Note the octopus proudly perched in the middle of the page.
« The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. » — Confucius
To a bibliophile, shelf space is precious. In recent years, I’ve happily purged my library of many a bulky and obsolete reference tome. With the sheer mass of information that’s migrated online, it’s frequently far simpler to tap a few key words than to scan the shelves in order to pull out and peruse some quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. Frequently — but not always. One significant exception is my copy of What’s What, accurately touted as « a visual glossary of everyday objects — from paper clips to passenger ships ». Obviously, it covers the expected doohickeys and other dinguses, contraptions and doodads, esteemed constituents of our flora and fauna… but, on occasion, it drifts deep into left field, and that gives it spice. To wit, its entry on cartooning:
Cartooning: Many one-panel cartoons use captions or labels below the illustration for dialogue or explanation. Those appearing on the editorial pages of newspapers are called editorial or political cartoons and usually feature an exaggerated likeness, or caricature, of some well-known figure, as the main character. Comics, or comic books, use cartooning throughout. A complete shericasia, or shallop, is used by a cartoonist to depict a complete swing at an object, be it a golf ball or another person.
To this array of clever cartooning terms, we simply must remedy one omission, and it’s a crucial one: Kirby Krackle!
When I was a kid (of twelve or so, if memory serves), I found a muddy and mildewed copy of this issue in the woods, which tremendously added to its allure, if not its readability.
Well… little did I know what a protracted history this particular little scenario had. Let’s return to the presumed beginning, or at least the industrial age version.
Around the turn of the last century, the prolific English writer Edward Frederic Benson (1867 – 1940) wrote a story entitled The Bus Conductor [ read it here ] that saw print in Pall Mall Magazine in 1906. It was quite well-received, then began to widely make the rounds… as putative fact.
Things kicked into high gear in the mid-1940s, as the tale was recounted as an oft-heard anecdote in editor Bennett Cerf‘s 1944 short story anthology, Famous Ghost Stories, which contained a Benson contribution… but not The Bus Conductor.
That same year, Cerf shared the anecdote with the legion of readers who picked up his highly-entertaining (and still dirt-cheap and easy to find, over three-quarters of a century later, which gives you a sense of its original success and ubiquity) book of anecdotes, Try and Stop Me. The pertinent chapter was the splendidly-titledThe Trail of the Tingling Spine. As examined earlier on this blog, this chapter was used by EC Comics’ Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein as what they termed ‘springboards’ for their earliest stories.
Cerf’s version, from Try and Stop Me:
When an intelligent, comely girl of twenty-odd summers was invited for the first time to the Carolina estate of some distant relatives, their lovely plantation fulfilled her fondest expectations. She was given a room in the west wing, and prepared to retire for the night in a glow of satisfaction. Her room was drenched with the light of a full moon.
Just as she was climbing into her bed, she was startled by the sound of horses’ hooves on the gravel roadway. Curious, she walked to the window and saw, to her astonishment, a magnificent old coach pull up to an abrupt stop directly below her. The coachman jumped from his perch, looked up and pointed a long, bony finger at her. He was hideous. His face was chalk-white. A deep scar ran the length of his left cheek. His nose was beaked. As he pointed to her, he droned in sepulchral tones, “There is room for one more!” Then, as she recoiled in terror, the coach, the horses and the ominous coachman disappeared completely.
The girl slept little, but the next day she was able to convince herself that she merely had a nightmare.
The next night, however, the horrible experience was repeated. The same coach drove up the roadway. The same coachman pointed at her and exclaimed, “There is room for one more!” Then, as before, the entire equipage disappeared.
The girl, now panic-stricken, could scarcely wait for morning. She trumped up some excuse to her hosts and left immediately for home.
Upon arrival, she taxied to her doctor from the station and told him her story in tremulous tones. The doctor persuaded her that she had been the victim of a peculiar hallucination, laughed at her terror, and dismissed her in a state of infinite relief. As she rang for the elevator, its door swung open before her.
The elevator was very crowded, but she was about to squeeze her way inside — when a familiar voice rang in her ear. “There is room for one more!” it called. In terror, she stared at the operator.
He was the coachman who had pointed at her! She saw his chalk–white face, the livid scar, the beaked nose! She drew back and screamed… the elevator door banged shut.
A moment later the building shook with a terrible crash. The elevator that had gone on without her broke loose from its cables and plunged eighteen stories to the ground. Everybody in it, of course, was crushed to a pulp.
The Twilight Zone’s continuing popularity pretty much killed the scenario’s urban legend potency (Snopes.com checked it out!) In 1999, Urban legend authority Jan Harold Brunvand wrote, in his Too Good to Be True – The Colossal Book of Urban Legends:
According to my readers when I wrote a newspaper column in 1989 about the old ‘Dream Warning’ legends, The Twilight Zone version was the only one most of them knew. After numerous reruns, the TV episode had virtually replaced the folk legend in the popular mind. Every reader who wrote me following my column mentioned this episode, with one exception, and this person mentioned that he saw the plot enacted in a mid-1940s film, called Dead of Night. I’ll bet my legend-hunting license that this film, too, borrowed from the Cerf version.
I wouldn’t make that wager if I were you, Mr. Brunvand… since Dead of Night properly credits Benson.
“Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman–a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes, and for every successful superhero remembered throughout the ages, there’s probably about a hundred forgotten characters of varying degrees of goofiness. Periodically, some artist or writer digs up one of them from the deep recesses of time, dresses him in a new frock and plugs him into the modern era of Internet and cellphones, with almost universally lacklustre results.
I like to contemplate these bold strangers in their natural habitat — Golden Age comics! And for a 40s superhero, there is simply no better way to demonstrate super powers and a nimble brain than a friendly tussle with a cephalopod.
The Black Owl, clad in a red-and-blue costume with some odd leopard-print swimming cap… oh, sorry, that’s his blond hair:
The Sandman… oh shoot, which one? Remember we have both feet firmly planted in the 40s in this post. This Sandman is Wesley Dodds, created by artist Bert Christman and writer Gardner Fox. Accompanied by his sidekick Sandy, this superhero-cum-detective wielded a special gun that could put criminals to sleep or act as a sort of truth serum.
You’re not convinced that those are tentacles? Shame on you. Take a gander at this:
The next superhero (technically with no super powers, but managing beautifully all the same thanks to his lightning-fast reflexes and superior fighting skill) is my personal favourite Green Turtle, a Chinese superhero who fought against Japanese invaders in WWII. Unfortunately, the publisher wouldn’t let creator and artist Chu Fook Hing make his creation obviously Chinese, so the Green Turtle was never seen without a mask. It’s okay, we can read between the lines!
Magno the Magnetic Man has, believe it or not, magnetic powers (though I imagine it’s not helping him much in this particular skirmish). He’s irresistible to women (maybe they have metal parts?), impervious to harm, and is accompanied by his side-kick Davey, whom he periodically magnetizes to ensure that the little whippersnapper also has access to magnetic powers.
« Challenge Merlin and be a fool! — Challenge a demon — and be destroyed! »
Suddenly having so much time on my hands (courtesy of COVID-19) is an eerie, though by no means unpleasant, experience. While I could crochet mini couches for my cats or enrol my partner’s help to re-create some favourite classic paintings, I prefer to catch up on books I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Case in point: in April, I’ve been joyously absorbing Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga, reprinted in a handsome 4-tome omnibus (and to which I have easy access, thanks to co-admin RG’s vast library). That ended all too soon, and I moved on to a collection of Etrigan the Demon. It was a somewhat underwhelming experience, especially given the epic scope of Fourth World, but of course still worth a read.
The red-eyed, yellow-skinned creature called Etrigan came into existence in 1972. Mark Evanier, in his introduction to Jack Kirby’s The Demon, explains: « There was, at the time, a feeling around DC that perhaps superheroes were on the way out again. Ghost and mystery comics like House of Mystery and Phantom Stranger seemed to be selling, and some in the office felt the next trend was what Joe Orlando, who edited most of them, dubbed “weird adventure” comics. A few weeks later, [Carmine] Infantino asked Jack to whip up something in that category… »
Kirby accepted the challenge and, despite his lack of interest in horror, created The Demon, patterning his face on a a detail from Hal Foster‘s Prince Valiant strip as an inside joke.
As great a storyteller Kirby is, I think being asked to write about a subject he wasn’t particularly into had its repercussions. Although he clearly tried to give Etrigan a stimulating playground of supernatural rogues of varying degrees of viciousness to bat around, the overall result is rather underwhelming by Kirby standards. I’ve seen quite a few people in comic forums expressing their undying love for the Demon – if you’re one of them, I’m open to being convinced!
I actually first encountered Etrigan the Demon in a Swamp Thing issue written by Alan Moore. He first made an appearance in Swamp Thing no. 26 (July 1984) and then came back for the 14-issue storyline American Gothic that ran from June 1985 to July 1986. In Moore’s hands, Etrigan cut a dashing, mysterious figure, and he spoke in rhyme, which was a really nice touch. I admit I was disheartened to find out that he really wasn’t that exciting in his original form.
However, he *did* encounter tentacles, and more than once!
The three pages above are Etrigan’s encounters with actual tentacles, but we have an honorary mention of almost-tentacles-but-not-quite, which I wanted to include in the spirit of thoroughness.
Can the following creature’s beard tentacles be used to grab anything? We never learn if they’re prehensile or not, because the fear-monster doesn’t stick around long enough.
« Morticoccus is overpoweringly large and sinister! In this new world he can live — only if he destroys all other life around him — kingdoms and empires would crumble to dust at his deadly touch! Morticoccus waits in his prison — he waits to get out — and breed!! »
I apologize, but according to co-admin RG (whose sense of humour is apparently more morbid than mine) this is Contagion Week on Who’s Out There? Well, I suppose tentacled microbes and germs are as good a topic as any right now…
Our first foray into germs is This Beachhead Earth, scripted by Roy Thomas, penciled by Neal Adams and inked by Tom Palmer, published in The Avengers no. 93 (November 1971). The Vision collapses, the Avengers send Ant-Man into his body to figure out what’s amiss. I made an earnest attempt at following the plot, but the bad dialogue made my head hurt. Did you know that the scream of an ant « is like the wailing of a forsaken child »? The story includes gems like « frankly, my dear, I don’t give an hydroelectric dam» and « therein lies the only true superiority of the educated man — that he analyzes — dissects — probes — reconstructs ». Oh, the glorious mix of bad puns and pompous lines!
You can read this « paltry prologue to the most portentous Avengers saga of all! », the work of a fellow who’s just a little too fond of calembours and his thesaurus, here.
Continuing on a grand scale – this time, it’s the grandest scale there is! – we pay a visit to the aforementioned Morticoccus (sinister a’plenty, you shall surely agree), arguably the most fatal disease known to mankind, or at least the deadliest to spring from Jack Kirby‘s fertile mind (ouch) . As for me, I really like the giant, lethal bats.
Our third medical study is a little case of fungoid infection that even boasts a name. M’Nagalah had a rather complicated birth. Created by British horror writer Ramsey Campbell for his cycle of H.P. Lovecraft pastiches (to be more precise, the creature first appeared in the short story The Inhabitant in the Lake in 1964), it was soon adopted by DC Comics, after doubtlessly being bowled over by its puppy eyes while visiting a no-kill shelter of the Great Old Ones. It was first borrowed for Swamp Thing no. 8 (1974) and afterwards used as per the Russian idiom “a plug for every barrel“. Just look at this mess.
Challengers of the Unknown no. 82(August-September 1977), scripted by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Michael Netzer, and inked by Joe Rubinstein, starts off with a just mild (if disgusting) contamination…
That fast progresses to the old “unspeakable, indescribable horror” (yawn).
Swamp Thing gets dragged in, and professor Mark Haley blooms prettily in the beginning of Challengers of the Unknown no. 82 (October-November 1977), also scripted by Gerry Conway, but this time pencilled by Keith Giffen and inked by John Celardo…
It is soon explained that this is actually some Elder God trying, as usual, to take over the planet, blah blah blah.
Wishing everyone health and bon courage in these trying times, especially to our poor American friends who seem to be caught in the middle of the virus vortex… And a last strip to end on a more positive note:
« Silence at the proper season is wisdom, and better than any speech. » — Plutarch
When I think of cover layouts, I always recall the sage advice of my art school book design teacher, who posited that « a poster should be One Angry Fist », as you only have a second or two to make your point to the undecided consumer. That knuckle sandwich is what gets your message across, not a bunch of clichés and slogans; these only detract from the power of your image.
While we’re obviously dealing, in comics, with a commercial medium, it’s hard to not view it as creative interference, a lack of confidence**. While all publishers indulged in cover overhyping to some degree, Marvel and DC were the main offenders, and DC at least had superior title and logo designers***.
In the 60s, Jack Kirby created a massive amount of stunning cover art for Marvel… which editor Stan “Ne’er ’nuff Said” Lee buried, as often as not, under his trademark wiseass hyperbole. One might argue that this hardsell approach worked, commercially speaking. Artistically, on the other hand… well, the debate lingers on.
One could counter that cover hype only increased in the subsequent decades (imitated, amplified and distorted), and that stands to reason. That trend is pretty universal, since everything is getting louder, literally and figuratively: commercials, recordings, everyday life. Indeed: louder, sweeter, saltier, faster, meatier and of course cheesier.
Ah, but for what seems like a mere blip in its history, which is to say around ’68-’69*, Marvel somewhat dialled down the verbiage and let some prime Kirby compositions enjoy a bit of breathing room (at least on Fantastic Four, the company’s second-best seller — and number 16 overall for 1968).
This particular streak is circumscribed by two ho-hum (by lofty Kirby standards) covers: flat FF 81 and messy FF 88 (featured here)… which leaves us with plenty of goodies in the middle. Let’s take the tour, shall we?
In the face of all this, is it any wonder I found so refreshing the design quietude and purity of some recent comic books covers, such as the Chris Samnee creations we recently spotlighted? There’s hope, thanks to some enlightened folks out there.
« Somehow, this thing had caught the spark of life! And, anything that lives will fight to stay alive… even if it’s just a Rag-a Bone and a Hank of Hair! »
Ah, Brother Power, the Geek. A notorious flop for DC in 1968… or was it? At the time, it took several months for a book’s initial sales reports to make their way back to the publisher. Axing a title after two measly issues is quite a preemptive and premature strike against it. I suspect a case of toxic in-house politics. From the onset, editorial cold feet had the suits meddling with the project: the character of the animated rag doll was to be called The Freak, which was nixed in favour of the less druggy but more chicken-head-bite-y TheGeek.
Brother Power the Geek, despite its commercial failure and infamy, offered a good-natured, unpretentious romp, even if didn’t quite show us « The Real-Life Scene of the Dangers of Hippie-Land! » You can’t always get what you want.
Brother Power was brought back under DC’s Vertigo imprint in 1993, but as with the revival of its fellow Joe Simon creation, Prez, it received a « groovy » and « ironic » hipster treatment. Bah.
« He’s back from the dead / the telegram read / If you get on a flight / You could catch him tonight / You’ll find Commissar / He’s at the Munich Hilton Bar » — B.A. Robertson
In 1958, Classics Illustrated publisher Gilberton tried something a bit different: a mostly non-fiction documentary title on various topics entitled The World Around Us, and featuring The Illustrated History of… Dogs, Space, Pirates, Great Explorers… depending on your area of interest, these could mean unrelenting tedium or sheer bliss. I haven’t encountered many issues, but the two I own, Ghosts and Spies, count among my prized paper possessions.
This is The World Around Us no. 35 (August, 1961), featuring this lovely mixed media piece by The Unknown Artist, whose cover remains defiantly unblown. On the inside, some fine company: George Evans, Norman Nodel, Edd Ashe, Jo Albistur… and Jack Kirby (inked by Dick Ayers)… the most beaten-down, anonymous, excitement-dialed-down-to-one Kirby you’re ever likely to see. Oh, he could do the job just fine, but the job, and the publisher, were not making anything of his regal strengths*. He would recall that this was « … the worst paying job of my entire life, including times I worked for free. »
Those early post-Code years were difficult ones for the diminished comics industry, and Kirby’s situation wasn’t exactly rosy: he’d been blacklisted at DC, thanks to the Jack Schiff / Sky Masters imbroglio, and his work at Harvey Comics had dried up. So what was a prolific artist to do, but pick up whatever bits of freelancing were available, here and there…
Quoting from Paul Gravett‘s review of Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, we find this telling statement: « The most demanding editor was Roberta Strauss, a stickler for detail, who would count soldiers’ buttons or pleats in skirts and even called an editorial meeting in her hospital room only days after her son’s birth. » Give me Harvey Kurtzman‘s editorship** any old day!
**« Kurtzman’s editing approach to Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat was a stark contrast to EC editor Al Feldstein‘s style. Whereas Feldstein allowed his artists to draw the story in any manner they desired, Kurtzman developed detailed layouts for each story and required his artists to follow them exactly. »
« 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.
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.
« 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. »
« 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)
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.
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…
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.