Tentacle Tuesday: The Menace of the Mechanical Octopus

« The tentacles of  my followers shall seek you out and destroy your swiftly! »

If you like joyous nonsense, this post is for you! As if humanity wasn’t besieged enough by actual cephalopods, evil-but-brilliant minds insist on creating machines with tentacles to horrify and maim. Pain to some, amusement for us!

First, some definite eye candy. The following story is not only convincingly illustrated, but also makes some sense on a scientific basis. The Menace of the Mechanical Octopus was scripted by Ed Herron, and pencilled and inked by Jack Kirby. It was published in Word’s Finest Comics no. 97 (October 1958).

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Now we move on to that goofy-yet-fun series, DC’s House of Mystery.  I will readily admit that I’m not always a fan. At worst, some of the stories published within its pages have plots so random that amusement becomes irritated incredulity. But keep an open mind, and there are also very creative (sometimes “were these people on drugs?” creative) plots to be enjoyed and great art to be relished.

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House of Mystery no. 96 (March 1960), cover is pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Sheldon Moldoff.

The cover story, The Pirate Brain, was illustrated by Lee Elias:

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The ‘weird, giant seeds’ look remarkably like ice cream cones.

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Our next stop concerns Robby Reed, the original owner of the Dial H for Hero gizmo, and his epic (of course) battle with… well, a whole bunch of villains. House of Mystery no. 156 (January 1966) is where he made his début, transforming into the Cometeer, Giantboy and the Mole. So many adventures, all in one (half) issue! This story was scripted by Dan Wood and illustrated by Jim Mooney:

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From Giantboy we move on to Colossal Boy, more precisely to Colossal Boy’s One-Man War, scripted by Jerry Siegel, pencilled by Curt Swan, and inked by Sheldon Moldoff. It was published in Adventure Comics no. 341 (February 1966).

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A story in which everybody talks way too much, and only in clichés.

Skipping ten years ahead, we end up in Marvel territory –

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Amazing Adventures no. 31 (July 1975). The cover is by Philip Craig Russell with modifications by John Romita; the letters are by Gaspar Saladino.

The cover story, The Day the Monuments Shattered, is scripted by Don McGregor and illustrated by P. Craig Russell:

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Not Russell’s best work, I think we can safely say.

As a final note, here are some indubitably mechanical, yet not-quite-tentacles – a worthy addition to this post, as far as I’m concerned.

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Challengers of the Unknown no. 11 (Dec 1959 – Jan 1960). Cover by Bob Brown, with colours and grey tones by Jack Adler. I love the perturbed flying dinosaur, whose hooves suggest that he has some cow ancestors.
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Startling Stories: Fantastic Four – Unstable Molecules no. 2 (April 2003). The cover is by Craig Thompson.
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Disappearing Acts is scripted by James Sturm and illustrated by Guy Davis with assistance from James Sturm. The Vapor Girl insertions (imaginary alien escapades) are by Robert Sikoryak.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to visit Tentacle Tuesday: Mechanical Tentacles, too!

≈ ds

What! You Call This Cold Weather?

« Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised. » ― Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World (1922)

Here’s what happened: I was leafing through Paul C. Tumey‘s splendid comics anthology Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny (2019, The Library of American Comics/IDW) when I came across a wonderful sample of Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (1936-58) wherein the strip’s central figure, Judge Homer Puffle, feeds another boarder a steady line of bull in that grand, booming Baron Munchausen — Captain Geoffrey Spicer-SimsonColonel Heeza Liar Commander McBragg tradition.

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Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (March 17, 1937, King Features).

Of course, it’s all piffle and bunk, but it brought to mind a passage from a favourite article on weather peculiarities in Siberia, Marcel Theroux‘s The Very, Very, Very Big Chill (published in Travel & Leisure in 2000):

« 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.

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This is Astonishing no. 36 (Dec. 1954, Atlas), the title’s penultimate pre-Code issue… not that Atlas ever crossed the line into gruesome. The cover-featured yarn is The Man Who Melted!, an amusing load of utter rubbish you can read here. Cover art by Carl Burgos.
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This is Chamber of Chills no. 10 (May, 1974, Marvel), and most everything’s the same, save for the colour palette and the now-hostile expression on the caveman’s mug.
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And this is also Chamber of Chills no. 10 (July, 1952, Harvey)… the original, whose title Harvey Comics left curbside for Marvel to recycle when they went all kid-friendly in the Comics-code-ruled Silver Age. Cover designed and art-directed by Warren Kremer and illustrated by Lee Elias. For some insight into these collaborators’ working methods on the horror titles, here’s our post on that very topic. Incidentally, what’s up with the hifalutin Lord Byron quote, Harvey folks? This wacky fare is quite plainly fiction… what’s your point? [Read it here.]
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This is Tales of The Unexpected no. 101 (June-July 1968, DC). Layout and pencils by Carmine Infantino, inks by George Roussos. Infantino, promoted the previous year to editorial director (he would soon rise to the rank of publisher), brought in the versatile Nick Cardy to serve as his right-hand man on the artistic front; together, they designed all of DC’s covers until both men stepped down in 1975.
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This is House of Mystery no. 199 (February, 1972, DC), illustrating Sno’ Fun! a rare (possibly unique, really) collaboration between Sergio Aragonés (script) and Wally Wood (pencils and inks). Cover designed by Infantino and Nick Cardy, pencilled and inked by Neal Adams and coloured by Jack Adler.
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This is Unexpected no. 142 (Dec. 1972, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.
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This is Unexpected no. 147 (June, 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.
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This is Unexpected no. 150 (Sept., 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.
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« Hey, look! The critter is frozen whole… it’s in pretty good shape! » Tom Sutton vibrantly sells Joe Gill and Steve Ditko‘s cautionary tale of arctic drilling gone awry, The Ancient Mine. Also in this issue: Steve and Pete Morisi‘s Surprise!, and Gill and Fred Himes’ touching Pipe Dream. This is Haunted no. 37, (Jan., 1974, Charlton), presented by the publisher’s blue-skinned, green-haired answer to Nana Mouskouri, Winnie the Witch.
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« … that face haunts me… was it a man or a beast? » Ah, the Seventies. Left dazed and frazzled by his whirlwind life of slow-mo violence, glamorous excess and substance abuse, not to mention radiation poisoning, the inevitable occurs: The Hulk wanders onto the wrong set, as well as the wrong publisher’s! Against all odds, he handles the rôle with aplomb and commendable gravitas. A page from Gill and Ditko’s The Ancient Mine. Read it here!
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This is Ghosts no. 37 (April, 1975, DC), featuring Luis Dominguez‘s first (or many) cover for the title, a passing of the torch from Nick Cardy, who’d handled every one of the preceding three dozen…. minus one: number 7’s cover was the work of Michael Kaluta.

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.

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Mr. Freeze, who first popped up in Batman no. 121 in 1959, initially known as, er… Mr. Zero (Celsius, Fahrenheit or Kelvin?) before being revamped and renamed for the mid-60s Batman TV show, a makeover that carried over to the comics, but tragically didn’t include his outfit. This is Detective Comics no. 373 (March, 1968, DC); layout by Infantino, finishes by Irv Novick. [ read it here!]
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…

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Namor goes all First Commandment on some poor Inuits (surely they’ve seen frozen bodies before?), displaying an unseemly level of insecurity for someone of his standing. This recap hails from King Kirby’s sensational feat of deadline rescue on the behalf of a tardy Jim Steranko (to be fair, it was worth the wait). George Tuska‘s inks are a surprisingly good fit! This is Captain America no. 112, Lest We Forget! (April 1969, Marvel). [ read it here!]
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.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 23

« It was the town dandy! That spiffy cigar-store indian! Within the impact of a second I knew what I had to do! »  – Ron gets it wrong.

It’s become a historical footnote that, before fully settling into their (for a time) winning formula of lighthearted, cartoony monomania with Casper, Richie Rich, Little Dot and their ilk, Harvey Comics had published, pre-Code, some of the most, er… transgressive horror comics in the field. And before he settled down to designing and pencilling the lion’s share of Harvey Comics‘ admittedly inventive and arresting covers, art director Warren Kremer had fulfilled many of the same in-house duties in the more daring and diverse pre-Code years. A remarkably inventive and versatile artist, Kremer’s true worth has historically been obscured by his retiring, behind-the-scenes status, as well as the Harvey family’s plantation mentality. Today, let’s take a peek at the nuts and bolts of his collaborative partnership with cover artist Lee Elias, who would go on to become one of DC’s most straight-laced artists (though his talent remained undimmed.) It would seem, and it’s quite understandable, that a lot of artists who’d merrily produced horror comics in the early 1950s got burned by the ensuing censorious witch hunt / backlash… and became quite timid thereafter.

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Warren Kremer’s original cover sketch and colour guide.
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… and his instructions to the final artist, in this case Lee Elias.
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As it appeared in print, this is Chamber of Chills Magazine no. 19 (Sept. 1953.) Marvel borrowed the title in the 1970s… Harvey clearly had no further use for it.

Another one? But of course!

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Kremer was evidently a believer in the « tilt the drawing to make it more dynamic » rule of layout (as DC’s Carmine Infantino notoriously was)
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Kremer to Elias, again. An illustrator is quite blessed indeed when he gets to work with such a talented, insightful and friendly art director.
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Elias’ finished version, as it appeared on the stands. This is Witches’ Tales Magazine no. 21 (Oct. 1953).

-RG

“He sure is my heap hep dream beam!”* In praise of Bob Lubbers (1922-2017)

Mr. Lubbers (pronounced LEW-bers) , born January 10, 1922, left us last summer at the venerable age of ninety-five. As it happens, he also left us some fine, fine artwork.

My initial encounter with Bob Lubbers‘ work came in 1978, when he provided a handful of covers and a couple of issues to Marvel’s Human Fly, a book about masked Canadian stuntman Rick Rojatt, whose real-life, non-funnybook story is a gripping read**. Anyway, the series was usually pencilled either by Lee Elias*** or by the mighty Frank Robbins; by the time Lubbers came along, Robbins had rightly had his fill, given the comics industry the one-finger salute and decamped to México to retire and paint in peace. Wise man.

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Lubbers’ fourth and final The Human Fly cover (no. 16, Dec. 1978, Marvel). Inks by Bob McLeod. Inside, “Niagara Nightmare!” is written by Bill Mantlo, with art by Lubbers and Ricardo Villamonte.

I then became aware of Mr. Lubbers as one of the Golden Age’s primo ‘good girl’ cover artists, with Fiction House, no less. That’s what I’ll chiefly focus on here. Can you honestly blame me? Unlike some of his peers (hello, Bill Ward), he wasn’t just good at, and interested in, the saucy depiction of lightly-clad sirens: he could draw anything with finesse and brio.

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Mouth-breathing, slope-browed… I guess he’s not the hero in this one. Wings Comics no. 82 (June 1947, Fiction House.)
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Arguably the most (in)famous of Lubbers’ Wings covers. “Classic bondage and headlights cover!”, cry the ancient fanboys. Wings Comics no. 90 (Feb. 1948, Fiction House.)
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If our man of the hour had rescue in mind for the imperilled damsel, dropping a payload (you heard me!) a hundred feet away from her is likely to… make the situation a bit messy. Wings Comics no. 91 (March 1948, Fiction House.)
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« Seriously? The engine is on fire, we’re being strafed, I’m hogtied and helpless, and he’s still going to threaten me with a gun? » Wings Comics no. 94 (June 1948, Fiction House.)
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The life of a crocodile dentist isn’t an easy one, but the satisfaction of a job well done is its own reward. Wings Comics no. 98 (Oct. 1948, Fiction House.)
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Here comes the mother of all rope burns, sister. You’re supposed to grab the loop! Wings Comics no. 100 (Dec. 1948, Fiction House.)
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The exception to the Fiction House Wings set: Authentic Police Cases no. 5 (Oct. 1948, St. John.) The babes never could resist a bad boy.

Yet farther along, I would learn of his large and distinguished body of comic strip work: Long Sam, Secret Agent X-9, Tarzan, The Saint, Lil’ Abner, and best of all, his most personal work, Robin Malone (1967-70). On the latter, I can’t praise enough Tom Heintjes‘ definitive article (Hogan’s Alley no. 19, 2014), here’s a version of it: www.hoganmag.com/blog/the-life-and-death-of-robin-bob-lubbers-robin-malone

… and don’t forget to scroll down, down, down so you can sample (though it’s never enough!) the article’s lavish bounty Robin Malone Sunday strips.

*From the Captain Wings adventure « The Spider and the Fly-Guy » (Wings Comics no. 82) Read it right here (or pick from a generous selection of Wings Comics issues at Comicbookplus.com)

**speaking of which, check out this fine piece about The Human Fly’s rocket bike and the stunt that ended his career: http://kymichaelson.us/human-fly. You have to admit that jumping over 27 buses is a tad ambitious… and he was originally going to try for 36!

***likely picked for the job due to his fine work on another masked stuntperson character, Harvey’s The Black Cat.

– RG