« When I was a young writer if you went to a party and told somebody you were a science-fiction writer you would be insulted. They would call you Flash Gordon all evening, or Buck Rogers. » —Ray Bradbury
We’ve talked about newspaper strip Flash Gordon in Tentacle Tuesday: Lurkers in the Newsprint, and now it’s time for its comic book version! Although I normally have very little interest in FG, this is no second-rate Tentacle Tuesday: there is some prime tentacular material to be enjoyed.
We first concern ourselves with the Flash Gordon Charlton Comics run, which picked up the count where King Comics had left it in 1967. From 1969 until 1970, Charlton published issues 12 to 18, all of which but the first had glorious covers and cover stories by Pat Boyette, an absolute WOT favourite ( you can visit co-admin RG’s Pat Boyette — Hillbilly Makes Good* for a deeper exploration of his career).
The cover of issue 14 has an octopus shortage (a serious flaw affecting many, many comic book covers!), but the monster o’nine-tentacled-tails the ’emotionless killers’ encounter is a beauty. The following page is also a good example of Boyette’s imaginative page layouts, in which things are kept dynamic, but never engender confusion about who is doing what and to whom.
Then we come to a real bevy of Boyette tentacles a few issues later –
The Creeping Menace, the cover story, is scripted by Joe Gill and illustrated by Pat Boyette. I am including two pages (and a panel) because it’s too difficult to choose between them – all boast the aforementioned dynamic layouts and striking tentacles.
The publishing history of comic-book Flash Gordon was an interesting relay race: Gold Key Comics resumed the run with issue 19 (1978), and kept it up until issue 27 (1979); finally, issues 28 to 37 were published under its Whitman imprint between 1980 and 1982. The latter category offers two tentacled covers, and some inside goodies.
The cover story The Deadly Depths is scripted by John Warner and illustrated by Carlos Garzón. Oh, this thing is not hostile… just hungry.
The last Whitman issue also is of some interest, though on the cover Flash looks like he’s fighting caterpillars with an martini olive for a head.
Cover story My Friend, My Killer! is scripted by George Kashdan and illustrated by Gene Fawcette and features cute serpent plants that look like they’re wearing little hula skirts.
And that concludes our tour of Flash Gordon tentacles in the Silver Age (and with some forays into Bronze).
The thing kept coming. “Die, die!” Parke screamed, his nerves breaking. But the thing came on, grinning broadly. “I like quiet protoplasm,” the thing said as its gigantic mouth converged on Parke. “But I also like lively protoplasm.” It gulped once, then drifted out the other side of the field. — excerpt from The Last Weapon by Robert Sheckley
Call it goo, label it as a giant amoeba, christen it ectoplasm or protoplasm, but when it starts crawling your way, do remember to beat a hasty retreat.
Coo! this page has everything: a prehensile amoeba, tentacled plants, aliens with cephalopod appendages…
… but it’s the amoeba that’s of current interest to us (yes, the one devouring everything in its path, including dawdling professors).
Continuing our literary delusions, a peek at the adventures of a ‘star vampire’, from a (somewhat lackluster) comic book adaptation of a Robert Bloch short story:
If a tentacled amoeba is scary, just think of how startling it is to run into an amoeba with a single bloodshot eyeball (that feeds on soap, among other things).
Not only does this monstrosity go after the scientist, instead of pursuing his absurdly attractive assistant…
But she’s also the one who saves the situation. Joe Gill, ladies and gentlemen!
« You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep. » — Navajo saying (attributed)
I’ve written before of my appreciation of Joe Gill‘s long-running yet consistent ‘good guy with an edge‘ characterization of Billy Bonney, but I had stuck to the book’s exteriors, namely Warren Sattler’s watercolour covers from the final stage of the series’ original run. I’ve also — twice! (first here, then there) drawn attention to John Severin (1921-2012) and his colossal powers as a cover artist. Today, at long last, we dare to peer inside.
Some may wonder at the up-to-date slickness of our current selection. Bear with me. Sure, it’s old, sure, it’s obscure, and the original comic book it saw print in is on the pricey side… but it’s work that’s found some resolute champions in the intervening sixty years.
After the Charlton comics line made the switch to a mostly-reprints mode (circa 1977-78), executive editor (and cartoonist) George Wildman, possibly nudged along by his colleague Bill Pearson, endeavoured to harvest some dusty gems from the vast archives at his disposal. In this case, six consecutive issues (nos. 124-129) of the long-running Billy the Kid were aimed squarely at the discerning fans with a bold ‘All Severin Art‘ label.
Fast forward to just a couple of years ago. As the nefarious, multifarious Mort Todd* tells it: « I had the extreme honor of working with John for many years as a writer, penciller and editor. When comics creator Bill Black told me he had a complete run of John’s work on Billy the Kid in the form of Charlton’s original photostats, we decided to recolor the work and release it in two volumes. Since the original artwork is lost to history, these photostats are the closest things to the originals to reproduce from. »
When I approached him, Mr. Todd most graciously granted me permission to showcase an excerpt from his restoration of Messrs Gill and Severin’s efforts. If you enjoy this one, do check out morttodd.com for more goodies!
You may have noticed that this Billy the Kid fella displays some awfully progressive attitudes for 1959… and, some might say, even for today. And if you surmised that the story’s writer, Joe Gill, was a card-carrying liberal, you’d be way off the mark. He was, after all, Steve Ditko‘s favourite collaborator**. Gill was, instead, a bonafide conservative, fair-minded, intellectually honest, prudent, sagacious. It would appear that with time and shifting meanings and mores, this once-thriving breed has been overwhelmed by today’s reactionaries, who arguably went so far as to usurp and absorb its very name.
By way of contrast, and speaking of cowboys… Marion Morrison*** (1907-79), better known as “Popular, handsome Hollywood Star John Wayne“, despite his renown as a so-called Conservative Icon, was no conservative… he was just another reactionary. I mean, just consider *his* stance towards African-Americans (« I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people. ») or Native Americans…
Meanwhile, Gill’s Billy the Kid, though thoroughly adept at quick marksmanship and fisticuffs, always sought to defuse conflict and avoid bloodshed through wits and compassion. His idea of paradise (just like his real-life cousin, come to think of it) was to head South of the border into México and hang loose among his amigos, who good-naturedly called him El Chivito.
*whose name basically means “Death Death” in French and German (albeit with an extra D); how cool is that?
**“The comic book story/script writer? It doesn’t matter who follows the first. That first choice is Joe Gill.” — Mr. Ditko, from his preface to Steve Ditko’s 160-page Package no.3 (1999).
« Maybe one day I’ll feel her cold embrace and kiss her interface; ’til then, I’ll leave her alone. » — Jeff Lynne, Yours Truly, 2095
Without further tergiversation — here’s the thrilling conclusion of our tale!
In case anyone’s wondering, why do I treasure this particular tale?
Let me count the ways and means: the cosmic adventures are treated as asides, ceding centre stage to Warren Simms’ and Clarissa’s slow-simmering pas de deux. Whatever surprise comes at the dénouement had been carefully and honestly foreshadowed and backgrounded, respecting the reader’s intelligence. Unsavoury implications of the robot/human relationship are brought up, then coyly cast aside, in a ‘we know, but we’re not going there‘ move.
For me, it’s mostly about Joe Gill’s sober, understated writing, though I can hardly envision anyone turning in more lushly complementary visuals than did Mr. Aparo. I’d be over the moon to say that The Imitation People was one bead on a long string of commensurate efforts, but nope, it’s just about a one-off. It was only preceded by Denny O’Neil and Pat Boyette‘s classic Children of Doom (read it here).
Thoughtful science-fiction* in American comics as always been poorly served: with meagre exceptions, it’s been a numbing, near-constant diet of space opera.
There was the anomaly of EC’s Weird Science and Weird Fantasy… DC’s long-running, Julie Schwartz-edited Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space were fun, but trifling in the end (the short length did not help), and while Warren Magazines came through on occasion, they vastly underperformed on that front. Western Publishing’s Starstream tackled some classic adaptations, but the results were a bit staid. Grandmasters Jack Kirby and Will Eisner, of course, could handily pull off the feat: the former’s OMAC was a wonder of anticipation (with an honourable mention to his 2001: A Space Odyssey), and the latter’s tense serial Life on Another Planet (also collected as Signal From Space) kept its focus on the human drama.
« You are not as strong as the Robots. You are not as skillful as the Robots. The Robots can do anything. You only give orders. You do nothing but talk. » — Karel Čapek, Rossum’s Universal Robots (1921)
From the Department of Promises Kept: nearly a year ago, while featuring the late 60s run of DC’s Aquaman, I happened to posit that « Aparo returned to the character just a few years down the road, but by then, he’d already begun his long, painful artistic deterioration. » One reader disagreed. Another clamoured for some Aparo art, presumably his better stuff.
« Local people told me that at minus 60 and below, a dense fog settles in the streets, and pedestrians leave recognizable outlines bored into the mist behind them. A drunkard’s tunnel will meander and then end abruptly over a prone body. At minus 72, the vapor in your breath freezes instantly and makes a tinkling sound called ‘the whisper of angels.’ »
Then I thought: « all very nice, but that makes for a rather meagre post »… so I decided to toss in a few bonus images featuring that venerable recurring motif… and got carried away.
Oh, and since I wouldn’t want any of you superhero aficionados to think I’m freezing you out, here’s another demonstration of Mr. Infantino‘s “encased in ice” idée fixe.
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…
My co-admin ds was just telling me yesterday about a client who, upon remarking to a succession of winter-kvetchers that actually, we’d had a pretty mild January, was invariably met with goggling bafflement, as if he’d just then grown a second head. In related news, it was just announced that said month of January was, indeed, the planet’s warmest on record. There is, naturally, an xkcd strip about this sort of circular denialism.
« Man’s constitution is so peculiar that his health is purely a negative matter. No sooner is the rage of hunger appeased than it becomes difficult to comprehend the meaning of starvation. It is only when you suffer that you really understand. » — Jules Verne
For my final post of the year (my co-admin ds yet holds one more Tentacle Tuesday instalment), I turn to crusty Joe Gill and a surprisingly cheerful tale of elder abuse (one of his pet topics, see The Night Dancer! for another example). Herein, a quite horrifying situation is leavened by Gill and his Billy the Kid acolyteWarren Sattler‘s graceful, humorous handling… with the moral still clear. This is one of Sattler’s few forays into the spooky at Charlton, and I hope you’ll agree it’s worth the detour.
I love Gill’s use of the principle of communicating vessels as a means of poetic retribution. Or is it a feedback loop? I’m also very fond of Agatha’s characterization: she’s hardly the picture of evil, blandly accepting each new bend in the road as if morals never entered into the equation. But you just know that, once Jerome is laid to rest, she’ll simply find another man to feed and breezily carry on. In a sense, she’s the main character: doesn’t the whole thing hinge on her fine cooking?
« Gary Groth: You did — God help you — you did an Alice Cooper comic in ’79. Were you out of it or what?
Tom Sutton: I listen to Mozart. I don’t know. I guess Alice Cooper was a musician. Some kind of giant snake or some damn thing.
Gary Groth: So why the hell didn’t you do a Mozart comic?
Tom Sutton: Nobody asked me to. »
When I wrote Tentacle Tuesday: a Treasure Trove of Charlton Tentacles, I skipped Tom Sutton, vowing to return to him at a later date. If there was anyone deserving the title of Tentacle Tuesday Master (applause, please!), it is him. I don’t know what the appropriate cluster term for tentacles is, but Sutton has surely brought a, um, pandemonium (a terror? a trepidation?) of tentacles to Charlton‘s pages.
Even outside of his tentacles, Sutton is a truly interesting artist. I highly recommend An Odd Man Out: Tom Sutton,Gary Groth’s interview with him for The Comics Journal. Just read Groth’s introduction, if nothing else – he does an excellent job of summarizing Sutton’s singular career and the conflicting influences that shaped it. The interview is 11 web-browser pages long, and throughout Groth and Sutton’s conversation, one gets the distinct impression that Sutton is a witty, self-deprecating man, the kind you want to take to a bar or something to listen to his stories. At some point he mentions that the tape (to record the interview) is probably running out, and Groth responds with «There’s not enough tape in the world for you, Tom», which is, I think, a good example of their easy banter as well as obvious camaraderie.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand – the art and writing is by Tom Sutton, unless indicated otherwise. You know those over-the-top Russian buffets, where food is overflowing from the table? This post is like that, but with tentacles.
This story was repurposed as a cover for Ghostly Tales no. 130 (May 1978):
For more Tom Sutton, head over to the great blog The Horrors of It All, where a fellow admirer has posted a bunch of his stories. I’m happy to say that Sutton aficionados are legion and they’re fairly rabid, so to speak.
« The precious hours seemed to hurtle by, as if we were in some kind of vicious time machine! »
Today’s birthday number seventy-six for one of Charlton Comics’ most singular and hardest-working artistes, namely Enrique Nieto Nadal (born August 15, 1943, in Tangiers, Morocco, to Spanish parents), who injected some edgy excitement into the Charlton Comics line, handling with equal aplomb and virtuosity tales of romance, horror, war, adventure… and every combination thereof.
To mark this special occasion, I’ve picked out the lovely tale of A Strange Good-Bye from Love and Romance no. 20 (January, 1975); it provides a sterling showcase for his remarkable design chops and, as my dearest co-admin ds has earlier pointed out, Enrique’s tales provide, as a rule, beefcake and cheesecake in equally generous shares. Is anyone else that fair-minded?
I’m particularly fond of this yarn because of its unusual avoidance of most romance clichés: there are no scheming rivals, no duplicitous so-called friends, no disapproving parents, no melodrama… just two serious-minded, intelligent young people who are *really* into each other, but don’t lose their heads over it. And they may be yuppies, but success wasn’t just handed to them. Call me a sap, but I can’t help but sincerely root for Wade and Didi.
Oh, and let’s face it, can you think of any other US romance comics that pack such an erotic charge? It may be subjective, but I’ve rarely seen such convincing depictions of tenderness and affection, physical and otherwise, between two characters… and in mainstream, comics-code approved funnybooks yet. Full marks to Mr. Nieto and his masterful understanding and depiction of body language… male and female.
While he’s not credited, it’s still obvious to me that Joe Gill is the writer; my favourite facet of his romance tales is how he grounds what could be stock situations in the everyday, endowing his characters with actual, credible occupations, as opposed to soap opera ones. When a character describes a business deal or an industrial process, it makes perfect sense. I suspect this to be a by-product of Gill’s authorship of a 1973 series of promotional career-choice Popeye-branded comic books. The research clearly fed his subsequent work, which is just as it should be.
As we’re currently in the blaze of summer (rocketing temperatures and crazy humidity, courtesy of global warming – this June was the hottest June ever, and we’re well on track for beating records for July), a Tentacle Tuesday post about plants seemed appropriate. Did I say “plants”? More like “plantacles”: these vines and tendrils snatch and grab, creep and reach, entwine and writhe just like their cephalopod counterparts.
So Blaze Barton encounters some vine tentacles, fine; but he also encounters ‘queer tiny plants‘ that swarm him and attack with what looks very much like octopus appendages. The delightful thing about Hit Comics and particularly Barton’s adventures is that the stories are goofy as hell.
The story continues in the same vein, merrily galloping into insanity… into an ‘evil-infested‘ lake that boasts man-eating weeds, once again complete with tentacles.
Continuing our grabby, carnivorous vines theme, a creepy little tale of a scientist who slightly oversteps his bounds:
Occasionally, an entire tree will decide that it’s more fun to strangle a human than to passively let itself be chopped down. Who could argue with that?
The cover story, Women of the Wood, is based on a short story by Abraham Merritt that you can read here if you’re so inclined. It’s an excellent creepy tale – though I can’t promise tentacles, I can definitely guarantee murderous trees.
« For all those hundred years there have been hatred and battle between us and the forest. My father, M’sieu, was crushed by a tree; my elder brother crippled by another. My father’s father, woodsman that he was, was lost in the forest — he came back to us with mind gone, raving of wood women who had bewitched and mocked him, luring him into swamp and fen and tangled thicket, tormenting him. In every generation the trees have taken their toll of us — women as well as men — maiming or killing us. »
Speaking of attacking tree trunks, I do believe this qualifies:
The cover story, The Phantom of Gamma-Ray Flats! (scripted by Peter B. Gillis, penciled by Don Perlin and inked by Kim DeMulder) is quite entertaining – and brimming to the gills with plant tentacles.