Felines and Moonshine: Two by Lee Marrs

« Moonshiners put more time, energy, thought, and love into their cars than any racer ever will. Lose on the track, and you go home. Lose with a load of whiskey, and you go to jail. » — Junior Johnson

Lee Marrs (b. 1945) is not your typical « underground » cartoonist, though to be fair — what would a typical undergrounder be? The movement’s whole raison d’être was ‘vive la différence‘, wouldn’t you say?

Hers is not a prolific career, perhaps, but look at the gloriously idiosyncratic path she followed: newspaper comic strip assistant (Hi & Lois, Prince Valiant, Little Orphan Annie…), underground (Wimmen’s Comix, Pudge, Girl Blimp, The Compleat Fart and Other Body Emissions), and mainstream cartoonist — well, even better: she was a regular contributor to DC’s justly-fabled (but yet to be reprinted, ahem) Plop!; she appeared in Marvel’s Mad knock-off Crazy; she even scripted, in the early 90s, a Viking Prince (yes, Kanigher and Kubert’s 1955 creation) epic, illustrated by Bo Hampton, and even a bit of Batman (‘Stalking‘, with Eddy Newell, in 1998). But that’s merely scratching the surface: here’s a more comprehensive rundown of her captivating journey.

Ah, don’t you love a happy ending? Originally published in Weird Mystery Tales no. 18 (May 1975, DC), edited by Tex Blaisdell.
This is The Compleat Fart and Other Body Emissions (Jan. 1977, Kitchen Sink); colours by Pete Poplaski. Featured front-and-centre, doing his thing, is Joseph Pujol, France’s fabulous Pétomane!
Originally published in Wimmen’s Comix no. 7 (Dec. 1976, Last Gasp). This is underground storytelling at its finest: uncompromising, political, passionate, personal, at once witty, moving and instructive. And that whole gamut gets run through in a mere four beautifully-drawn, expertly-paced pages.

And I’m delighted to report that the scintillating Ms. Marrs is still active today, her verve and talent undimmed and undiluted. By all means, check out her website for the undeniable evidence!

-RG

Behold… the Great Shnozzola!

« That’s the conditions that prevail! » — Jimmy Durante

Today, we salute noted vaudevillian, piano player, comedian, singer, film and radio star, raconteur and unlikely comics legend James Francis “Jimmy” Durante, born on this day, February 10, in 1893 (as it was a Friday, the family presumably fasted or had fish for dinner). He truly was a master of all media, as you’ll witness.

This early bit of biography appeared in Juke Box Comics no. 4 (Sept. 1948, Eastern Color); it was illustrated by Ed Moore. Hear Cantor and Durante reminisce about their early days on this 1947 episode of The Jimmy Durante Show.
A passing mention of old Jimmy, from Nyoka the Jungle Girl no. 24 (Oct. 1948, Fawcett). Writer and artist unknown.
An early cover by Dick Ayers (1924-2014), this is Jimmy Durante Comics no. 1 (Oct. 1948, Magazine Enterprises).
The second and final issue of Jimmy Durante Comics (Winter 1948-49, Magazine Enterprises).
Mr. Durante rates a smashing musical appearance in this Rube Goldberg Device daily strip (Apr. 14, 1951, King Features Syndicate)… by Rube Goldberg, naturally.
And here’s the Shnozzola in the midst of a carnal melée of his fellow Old Hollywood legends (can you name them all, cinephiles?) This is Bill Griffith‘s cover for The Tiajuana Bible Revival Volume Two: Under the Stars in Hollywood (1977, Hooker, California: Paramounds Prod.). This was « An anthology reprinting 1930’s Tijuana Bibles, some of which were obscene parodies of popular newspaper comic strips of the day. Others made use of characters based on popular movie stars and sports stars of the day, such as Mae West and Joe Louis, sometimes with names thinly changed. Before the war, almost all the stories were humorous and frequently were cartoon versions of well-known dirty jokes that had been making the rounds for decades. » [ source ]
Pointillist-satirist Drew Friedman‘s immortal Jimmy Durante Boffs Young Starlets first saw print in National Lampoon vol. 2 no. 78 (Jan. 1985).
Durante briefly pops up (with the Checkered Demon!) in the second half of a truly all-star underground comix jam involving R. Crumb, Steve Clay Wilson (1941-2021… he left us just three days ago, aged 79… RIP), Victor Moscoso, Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Gilbert Shelton. It appeared in Zap Comix no. 12 (1989, Last Gasp). Cartoonists are generally fond of the Schnozzola, but Underground cartoonists are just mad about him.
And finally, on a gentler note… here’s a clearly affectionate caricature (a preliminary sketch) of the esteemed Signor Durante (aw, he’s blushing!) by the amazing Sam Berman (crayon on onionskin paper, 1947). Berman (1907-1995) was, deservedly, quite a big deal in his day; as the erudite Drew Friedman told Print Magazine in his quality of co-curator of the 12 Legendary Caricaturists You’ve (probably) Never Heard Of exhibition at NYC’s Society of Illustrators, Berman « was indeed famous and celebrated in his day. Beginning his career in the late 1930s, he created iconic sculpted caricature covers for Esquire featuring their new mascot “Esky” (created by Berman) for an entire year. He created the sculpted caricatures of the leading actors (Fredric March, Carole Lombard, etc.) for the opening titles of the 1937 classic screwball comedy Nothing Sacred, did huge amounts of work for all the top magazines and newspapers of the day, including for Mark Hellinger’s popular column, created close to 60 amazing full-color portraits for the 1947 booklet The NBC Parade of Stars, drew children’s books, and arguably his most famous creation, the opening caricature of Jackie Gleason rising over Brooklyn for “The Honeymooners,” although he was never credited on the show for drawing that image, nor in any books. He then inexplicably went into map-making and faded quietly into obscurity. »

To wrap things up, here’s Jimmy D. and Frankie S. duetting in Russian. And why not? Happy birthday, Jimmy, wherever you are (and do say hello to Mrs. Calabash!)

-RG

The Prodigious William Stout

« You know, the dog food that Billy Jack loves! » — The Firesign Theatre

Ah, September the 18th. Today’s the birthday of the staggeringly accomplished William Stout (born in 1949), master of ancient reptiles, bootleg record covers, friend of The Firesign Theatre, former Russ Manning assistant (none but the best would do!), and I’ll spare you the illustrious details of his career in cinema. Still, let’s look around a bit, shall we?

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Here’s an unforgettable cover from Alien Worlds no. 3 (July, 1983, Pacific Comics). This scene gave me nightmares, and still raises a shudder. These critters look like a hybrid of a platypus and a piranha. Happy landings!

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Stout’s wonderful original logo for Rhino Records, circa 1974.

Speaking of ’74, isn’t that rhino a dead ringer for Swan’s oleaginous right-hand man, Philbin, from Phantom of the Paradise?

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This is the back cover (the recto is equally sumptuous) for The Firesign Theatre‘s 1975 opus, In the Next World, You’re On Your Own, featuring a pair of classic sidelong suites, Police Street and We’ve Lost Our Big Kabloona.

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A clutch of underground classics? Sure. Here’s Cocaine Comix no. 1 (Feb. 1976, Last Gasp).

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Another number one (with a bullet, of course): 50’s Funnies no. 1 (1980, Kitchen Sink). More lies inside!

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A favourite page from Stout’s masterpiece (or certainly his great labour of love, at the very least): The Dinosaurs: A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era (1981, edited by Byron Preiss). This piece (the first he drew for the book) is entitled Hot Weather. « After lifting his head for air, he drank more and then wallowed his whole length and breadth into the ooze, vocalizing for the first time that day, and loudly. »

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Say hello to friendly Ed Gein. Weird Trips no. 2 (1978, Kitchen Sink). Please note the sinisterly-customized Kitchen Sink Enterprises logo, Wrightsonbrand coffee, and EC Comics narrator The Old Witch impishly peeking from a lower-right shelf. And yes, can’t go disemboweling your fellow man and woman without a copy of Gray’s Anatomy. Preparation is everything!

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Well, there never was any doubt that Mr. Stout was an EC Comics überfan. The Comics Journal no. 81 (May, 1983, Fantagraphics).

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I did bring up his Hollywood work, so here’s a sample. I wasn’t going to go with his the far-too-familiar Rock ‘n’ Roll High School poster… you all know it already, so where’s the fun in that? Of course, Joe Dante’s Amazon Women on the Moon again (1987) raises the eternal question: « Who made Steve Guttenberg a Star? »

And that’s Bill Stout for you: stunningly versatile, but always himself. Could any artist strive for more?

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: The Hungry Greenery

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.

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Pages from Dark Side of the Moon, with art by Maurice Gutwirth, published in Hit Comics no. 2 (June 1941, Quality Comics).

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.

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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.

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Visit Atomic Kommie Comics for many further Blaze Barton exploits.

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Continuing our grabby, carnivorous vines theme, a creepy little tale of a scientist who slightly oversteps his bounds:

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Pages from The Hungry Garden (scripted by Joe Gill and drawn by Fred Himes), published in Ghostly Haunts no. 34 (August 1973). Trespassers will be stung, choked, and then gleefully consumed.

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Should you be curious or concerned, the pooch makes it out just fine, and in fact goes on to save the day!

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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?

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Psychotic Adventures no. 3 (June 1974, Last Gasp). Cover by Charles Dallas. The blog Mars Will Send No More has many Dallas stories (all from Psychotic Adventures) for your perusal; I recommend them heartily.

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. »

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Speaking of attacking tree trunks, I do believe this qualifies:

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The Defenders no. 132 (June 1984). Penciled by Sandy Plunkett and inked by Alan Weiss.

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.

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Not “rapey”, “ROPEY”.

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The tiny remnant of the tentacle creature manages to find a hold on Warren’s back, perfectly à propos to this post… but I couldn’t resist including the other panel revealing his thoughts about his sexy colleague. Warren is Warren Worthington III, aka The Angel, a founding member of the X-Men.

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I’ve done a couple of Tentacle Tuesdays about Conan already (Tentacle Tuesday: Conan-o-rama and Tentacle Tuesday: the Savagery of Conan’s Savage Sword), but a few plantlike tentacles managed to slip through, as they’re wont to do.

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The Savage Sword of Conan no. 42 (July 1979). Cover by Bob Larkin.

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The Devil-Tree of Gamburu is scripted by Roy Thomas, penciled by John Buscema and inked by Tony DeZuniga.

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And another Conan cover for the flora hall of tentacles:

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Conan the Barbarian no. 243 (April 1991). Cover by Filipino artist Whilce Portacio.

Need – nay, crave! – more plant tentacles? Visit our post from June 2018 (how time flies): Tentacle Tuesday: plants sometimes have tentacles, too.

~ ds

Justin Green’s Musical Legends

« My father had a lifelong interest in helping musicians. I even encountered his presence when reading the autobiography of Anita O’Day. She said that there was a real estate man in Chicago who always made sure her band had a place to stay. That was Pop. » – Justin Green

How did Justin Green, one of the Founding Fathers of the Underground Comix movement, wind up holding down a regular feature for a decade (1992-2002) in Tower Records‘ in-house magazine, Pulse!? The whole chain of events began with a strip about his dad’s drinking. Of course.

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« It was my father’s spirit that instigated this cartoon project…. this was ’91 (Blab No.6, Summer 1991, Kitchen Sink Press), and I was living in Sacramento. Mark Weidenbaum was then an editor at Pulse! Magazine, published and distributed by Tower Records, which had its headquarters in West Sacramento. He had just seen the piece when he found out I lived nearby. He wanted to explore the idea of an ongoing musical biography cartoon feature. »

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The second instalment (April, 1992). A little Einstein on the Beach, anyone?

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August, 1992. Elvis certainly had his faults, but racism or ingratitude were not among these.

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My own introduction to the Reverend’s music came, as it surely came to many others, through Jackson Browne‘s fine cover of his Cocaine (Running on Empty, 1977). « I was talking to my doctor down at the hospital. He said, ‘Son, it says here you’re twenty-seven, but that’s impossible — you look like you could be forty-five’. »

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The strip frequently appeared in colour. Here’s my favourite example, from April, 1994. And here’s a fine Venuti performance. No, he wasn’t *always* joking.

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Ah, Rodd Keith, the main man behind those infamous Song Poems ads, comic book fixtures in the 1970s. The weren’t a scam… not in the traditional sense. November, 1996. Lend your ear to his «Ecstasy to Frenzy».

While Green isn’t a native virtuoso draftsman like, say, R. Crumb or Rick Griffin, and he’s only fair-to-middling when it comes to likenesses, he *is* a born storyteller, and that’s really what’s most needed for an endeavour of this nature. Compressing a lifetime, or at least a career, into a single-page strip (two at the most!) is remarkably tricky and demanding, and if it looks deceptively easy here, he’s succeeded.

In selecting strips for this post, I didn’t lean towards my own favourite musicians, opting instead for what I felt were the strongest pieces, regardless of topic. However, I’m reserving my very favourite for a special New Year’s Eve post. Hope you enjoyed these musical time capsules! If you did, you’ll be happy to learn that the fine folks at Last Gasp collected the set in 2003.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Rand Holmes

We have just come back from a lovely vacation in Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s maritime provinces. In the honour of this all-too-short getaway, this Tentacle Tuesday is about Canadian artist Randolph Holton Holmes, who was born in Nova Scotia in 1942 and passed away in British Columbia in 2002, completely at the other end of this big country.

« Rand Holmes was Canada’’s most revolutionary artist in his heyday, the star cartoonist at the Georgia Straight newspaper in British Columbia during the 1970s. His hippie hero, Harold Hedd, became the spokesman of the emerging counterculture as he avoided work, explored free love, and flouted drug laws. The Adventures of Harold Hedd spread across the globe in the wave of underground comix and newspapers of the era and Holmes became famous — or at least notorious. While his comic character was bold and blatant, the artist was shy and quiet, well on his way to becoming a complete hermit. » (excerpt from Fantagraphics’ The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective)

Glimpsing through Holmes’  body of work, one quickly becomes aware that he displays a special affinity for drawing busty women… and (of more interest to this current post) that he loves to insert tentacles at the drop of a hat, especially if ETs of some kind are involved. A lot of artists use tentacles as a short-hand for aliens, and he’s not alone in that… much to my personal satisfaction.

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Slow Death no. 6 (Last Gasp, January 1974). Colonel “Saunders”?

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Fog City Comics no. 2 (Stampart, October 1978).  “Science fantasy at its finest” may be an unfulfilled promise; by all accounts, Rand Holmes’ Killer Planet is the best story of the issue. Fog City Comics was an all-Canadian underground comix anthology and lasted a mere 3 issues.

As I mentioned Holmes’ story Killer Planet, here’s a peek at its manifold tentacles:

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A panel from Killer Planet, both written and illustrated by Rand Holmes, originally published in the aforementioned Fog City Comics no. 2, coloured by Bill Poplaski and reprinted in Death Rattle no. 1 (2nd series, Kitchen Sink Press, Oct. 1985).

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What kind of idiot eats fruit growing on an obviously life-threatening planet? Panels from Killer Planet, both written and illustrated by Rand Holmes, published in Death Rattle no. 1 (Kitchen Sink Press, October 1985).

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Panels from Killer Planet, both written and illustrated by Rand Holmes, published in Death Rattle no. 1 (Kitchen Sink Press, October 1985). Note the cute mushrooms in the bottom left corner.

And lastly, for contrast with the cover of Slow Death and its throes-of-ecstasy coupling scene, there’s this:

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Vagina Dentata! A page from “Junkyard Dog“, written by Mike Baron. It was published in Death Rattle no. 5 (Kitchen Sink Press, June 1986). The (telepathic) alien female wasn’t unjustified in, erm, chewing up her rapist (the intercourse wasn’t consensual) – he was an unapologetic asshole.

~ ds