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: Rise, the Demon Etrigan!!

« 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!

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I was rather hoping the Somnambula would stick around, but it came and went in one page. Merlin’s Word… Demon’s Wrath! was published in The Demon no. 5, January 1973.

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The spoiled and malicious brat Klarion and his cat/pussycat-princess Teekl are my favourite characters of the series. The One Who Vanished!! was published in The Demon no. 15 (December 1973), the penultimate issue. This scene is reminiscent of a sequence from the 1961 movie Night Tide.

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In the following (and final) issue, tentacles reared their grabby suckers yet again. Immortal Enemy! was published in Demon no.16 (January 1974). One more complaint from me – Kirby’s use of the philosopher stone (which Warly is clutching on this page) as a sort of Deus ex machina, that can be used for accomplishing pretty much everything (some examples: it produces the ultimate cold or demon flame, shields the owner from thousand-volt electricity or brings people back form the dead, turns people into vultures or an Egyptian mummy or a chair into flowers, randomly makes objects levitate, etc.) This makes one wonder why Jason bothers running around at all, instead of elegantly waving the stone about and solving all problems instantly.

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.

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The Demon no. 3 (November 1972). This little baby is one of my favourite monsters of the series, despite just being part of Jason Blood/Etrigan’s nightmare – one can really felt its crushing weight. Besides, it’s probably a preview of the Kamara, a creature that becomes what the person fears most, and an awe-inspiring enemy.

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A panel from Reincarnators.

In case anyone is interested, I am currently re-reading Kamandi: the Last Boy on Earth, which was my first exposure to Kirby.

≈ds

Treasured Stories: “Spawns of Satan” (1973)

« Hugs can do great amounts of good, especially for children. » — Diana, Princess of Wales

Today’s entry is a tale of vampirism from the typewriter of Jack Oleck (1914-1981). In the late 1940’s Mr. Oleck’s career in comics began promisingly with his brother-in-law Joe Simon and his partner Jack Kirby‘s Prize (Young Romance, Strange Worlds of Your Dreams, Black Magic and other anthologies), followed by a stint with EC late in the publisher’s classic, pre-Mad Magazine-only run (Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories, Vault of Horror, Incredible Science-Fiction, et al), along with assignments with Hillman, Atlas, Charlton and Harvey… among others.

Finding the décor of the Code-regimented funnybook industry a bit austere to his taste, he devoted the years of 1957 to 1969 to publishing and editing the magazine Decorator News and authoring the odd novel.

In 1969, he sauntered over to DC, where he cranked out quite a caboodle of scripts over the following decade-or-so, mostly in the horror (as it couldn’t be and shouldn’t be called under The Code) genre (“Mystery”, they called it), but also the occasional bit of romance, science-fiction and adventure. I’d like to say he was great, but frankly, he was pretty much a page-filling hack.

This is probably his finest script from this most prolific period, and it’s still full of plot holes and other inconsistencies. But that’s market reality for you: Oleck was consistently readable, he was fairly competent, he turned in his work on time, and he got along with the editors. Sometimes that’s all you need.

So why am I featuring Spawns of Satan if I seem to think so little of it? Well, obviously, there’s the luxurious grace of Nestor Redondo‘s art, granted here a specially generous setting to display its virtues. The middle act of the story is virtually mute, and all the more effective for it.

Read it first, then I’ll tell you more.

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Okay, if the town’s taken care of them, how come no-one’s found it unusual that the kids aren’t around during the daytime? Doesn’t anyone go to school?

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It certainly tips the scale in the miscreants’ favour that the sheriff just shrugs and admits he hasn’t a clue. I guess it just wasn’t an election year.

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Wait… kids (with one or two tackling most of the grunt work) burying five coffins on grassy ground, and “not a sign that the ground’s been disturbed“? Mighty vampire powers, I say! And can you imagine the torment and frustration of the little ones, knowing they’ll never grow up, never get to take charge or be taken seriously? This story is just honeycombed with potential avenues of exploration.

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One slight problem: hypothermia should not affect undead creatures without a beating heart nor, necessarily, blood circulation. A little too convenient, Mr. Oleck. But fine, you’ve got them to the bottom of the lake.

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For me, one of the tale’s chief assets had been Aaron’s characterization. Now how is it that suddenly, this cool-headed and calculating leader just loses his shit and gives up*? As depicted earlier, Aaron would have ordered a retreat to the lake and formulated another plan. But no, there had to be a ‘sting in the tail’. Also, if the town knew full well they were dealing with vampires, why do bodies turned to dust suddenly seem “impossible”? Finally, did you get the impression that the Baker kids killed out of hate (well, except for Holly; that girl had a bad attitude), as stated in the final panel? I think not: the clan was portrayed as a predator pack, who merely killed to survive, no sentiment allowed.

SOS is otherwise mainly notable in its introduction of themes and ideas that would be brought to full miasmic flowering by (of course) Alan Moore in issues 38 and 39 of Swamp Thing (July and August, 1985), namely the family unit of underwater vampires. Moore’s set of toothsome nasties was more-or-less introduced, but not fully-fleshed out, by his predecessor, Martin Pasko, in July, 1982’s Saga of the Swamp Thing no. 3‘s A Town Has Turned to BloodMoore’s keen eye caught the spark of potential and set the hills ablaze. However, it seems unlikely that Moore’s research hadn’t trailed back  a few years to the lacustrine lair of the parasitical Baker brood.

While slaughterous children were all the rage from the late 50s (John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, its filmic adaptation Village of the Damned and its sequel, Children of the Damned) and into the 70s, Oleck’s Spawns still preceded Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot (1975), The Omen (1976) and the 1976 Spanish shocker ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? / Les révoltés de l’an 2000 (boy, did that one scar me as a kid), and given the comics field’s penchant for cribbing ideas *after* they had run their course, that’s another feather in Oleck’s fedora.

Speaking of editors, I’ve long suspected that this particular issue of House of Secrets was the dumping ground of an aborted experiment by its editor, Joe Orlando. Orlando had clearly been trying to shake things up a bit, running two longer, less compressed stories per issue instead of the usual three… as DC’s available story page count had dropped from 24 to 20 (and would reach a woeful 17 by 1976!); the two-story practice lasted but a few issues. After no. 117, it was jettisoned. It would appear that at least one of House of Secrets 113’s stories had been scheduled and delayed: eight months earlier, Jack Sparling’s grey-tone lovely cover for House of Secrets no. 105 (Feb. 1973) was a perfect illustration for Doug Moench‘s, Mike Sekowsky and Nick Cardy‘s fascinating ‘Not So Loud– I’m Blind’… which finally turned up in this issue as the lead story. Sombre and rambling, Moench’s likely first sale to DC lacks the usual forced twist ending, opting instead to trail off into darkness. In fact, when I first read it, I thought my copy was missing a page.

Moench went off to be arguably (well, he’s my pick) Marvel’s most consistent writer of the 1970s, and only returned to DC in the ensuing decade.

-RG

*short answer: The Comics Code Authority.

Treasured Stories: «Tex’s Bad Dream or ‘The Egg Lady’s Revenge’» (1988)

« You really saw that things were not at all what was portrayed in the mass media… at least not in our neighborhood. It was just a conclusion that most of the kids of that age came to, that things were extremely corrupt. » — Spain Rodriguez

While plenty of cartoonists trod the path of autobiography before him, it took Manuel ‘Spain’ Rodriguez (1940-2012) to truly show how it should be done: here at last was a genuine full-blooded practitioner, hardly content to merely observe from the sidelines, blending with the wallpaper. Lover, brawler, consummate graphic storyteller: a scarce combination indeed.

The following tale belongs to a cycle recounting the exploits and insights of The North Fillmore Intelligentsia, Spain’s closest compadres in Buffalo of the 1950s. Tex’s Bad Dream… originally appeared in Blab! No. 3 (Sept. 1988, Kitchen Sink Press); indeed, Spain’s recollections became, over time, the sole reason to purchase the once-excellent Blab! Mercifully, most of these were collected, in their usual exemplary fashion, by Fantagraphics, as Cruisin’ With the Hound (2012). You’ll still be lacking the mysteriously-omitted, quite essential « How I Almost Got Stomped to the “Still of the Night” by the “Five Satins » (Prime Cuts No. 2, Mar. 1987, Fantagraphics), which you can find in another Spain anthology, My True Story (1994, Fanta again).

In the meantime, enjoy, with my compliments, this true-life tale of original EC Fan-Addicts, facial restructuring, cautionary dreams, isometrics and pork sandwiches.

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-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

Golly, a pop quiz?

« Have a nice nap, young man? »

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The punchline to the EC story “Pleasant Screams!”, written by the usual Bill Gaines / Al Feldstein combo, with art by Joe Orlando. From Tales From the Crypt no. 37 (August, 1953) Can anyone in the class tell me where this panel was swiped and quoted (to hilarious effect) in the eighties? The answer follows…

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Here it comes… pencils down, everyone!

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Poor Fifi. He hardly seems to be the right breed of pooch for the Canadian Arctic, not to mention its special precipitations. Reprinted several times since, this edifying tale of poetic justice first saw print in the final issue of the Yummy Fur mini-comic (no. 7, Sept. 1985, Tortured Canoe).

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Chester’s closing argument in the case.

Ah, for a return to the days when we didn’t know way too much about Chester Brown, when he was a mysterious, self-published cartooning genius and Châteauguay‘s finest son. I remember how awestruck I was upon encountering his brilliant Yummy Fur minis, available at Toronto’s gone-but-not-forgotten Dragon Lady comic book store in the early-to-mid 1980s. What a surreal breath of fresh air they were!

A cat’s meow and a cow’s moo
I can recite ’em all

Just tell me where it hurts yuh, honey
and I’ll tell you who to call

Nobody can get no sleep
There’s someone on ev’ryone’s toes

But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here
everybody’s gonna wanna doze.

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The source of Bobby Zimmerman‘s inspiration: Anthony Quinn as “Inuk” in The Savage Innocents (1960). Back then, people dressed like this where and when it was actually cold; nowadays, it may be sunny and well above freezing, but those fierce, dauntless Polar explorers roam the streets in great numbers, clad in their fashionable down-filled, fur-lined hooded coats…  

-RG