Tentacle Tuesday: Cute Critters

Sometimes I stumble upon a comic with a fight-to-the-death scene in which something-or-other- with-tentacles plays the role of a lethal enemy for our hero – but upon closer inspection, in turns out that the ferocious creature is… gosh-darned cute. I mean, how can you kill anything that has adorable whiskers, or tufted eyebrows like Oscar the Grouch?

When your attackers are carrots with tentacles, and they really get on your nerves (although I think Ann is safer with them than with Dr. Maylor), I’d suggest throwing them into a nice big pot of soup, maybe… but if you please, do consider abstaining from flinging acid at them.

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I do believe that prehensile vegetables fit into the category of “cute” – just look at their precious little root-legs! Page from Heroes Out of Time!, scripted by Manly Wade Wellman (hey, cool!), with some very stylish art by Bob Oksner on pencils and Bernard Sachs on inks, printed in Mystery in Space no. 3 (August-September 1951).

While we’re on that topic: things get delightfully wacky and madcap (not much) later in the story. Namely, Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin are summoned for help against the tentacled carrot-horde.

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The Flaming Carrot would not be pleased by this massacre. If only to admire the art, you can read Heroes Out of Time! here.

Thank you kindly for suppressing your urge to sock the creature sporting a unibrow and bloodshot eyes worthy of Christopher Lee; it’s also not his fault he got lumbered with such a shaggy wig.

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Detail from the cover of The Marvel Family no. 80 (February 1953), pencils by C. C. Beck and inks by Pete Costanza.

Have the goodness to think twice before pitching lethal ice cubes at an owl, even if it somehow grows metal tentacles and threatens to make mince-meat of humanity, because owls are the very cutest.

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Panels from The Man-Ape Skin Diver!, scripted by Robert Bernstein and drawn by Howard Sherman, published in Action Comics no. 257 (October 1959).
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“Wiggle-thing”? Excuse me?

Pray, don’t kill anything that looks like it’s wearing a dragon wearing a really bad disguise, including a moustache that looks like a pile of hay.

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A panel from Fate is the Killer (a preview of a Masters of the Universe story), scripted by Paul Kupperberg, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Dave Hunt, published as a promotional bonus in several DC titles cover-dated November, 1982.

If you would be so good as to spare the creature that looks like a mashup of a seal and a mole, especially if it gazes at you mournfully with world-weary sadness.

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Masters of the Universe: The Vengeance of Skeletor! (1982), cover by Alfredo Alcala.

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 26

« Certain types of stories make perfect television fare. In the realm of the ghost story, however, I think the printed page has some advantages and I want you to discover them. When you read, you can be alone — absolutely alone. » — Alfred Hitchcock (but likely Robert Arthur in his name and place.)

Today, we feature Fred Banbery’s fabulously detailed and, well, haunting illustrations for « Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful ».

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Haunted Houseful’s endpapers, a summary of much of what lurks within its pages.

Frederick Ernest Banbery (1913-1999) was perhaps the definitive Paddington Bear portrayer, but for me, it’s his Hitchcock-related work that truly sings. He illustrated three Random House Hitchcock books for younger readers: Haunted Houseful (1961), Ghostly Gallery (1962), and Solve-Them-Yourself-Mysteries (1963), plus the covers of a handful of Hitch paperback short story collections. These books can still be had surprisingly cheap to this day (I just checked eBay, and it holds), so keep an eye out. Every picture’s a gem, to say nothing of the stories!

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A scene from Manly Wade Wellman‘s « Let’s Haunt a House ». Dollars to doughnuts that’s not an actual ghost.
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From Constance Savery’s « The Wastwytch Secret »
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From Walter R. Brooks’ oft-anthologized « Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons »

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A pair from Elisabeth Coatsworth‘s « The Forgotten Island ». Is that you, Mr. Hitchcock, making your customary cameo appearance?
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« The Treasure in the Cave », an excerpt from Mark Twain‘s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

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And finally, two illustrations from Louise and Donald Peattie‘s « The Mystery in Four-and-a-Half Street ». Is that powerfully moody or what?

My wife said something about my « stretching the definition of comics » with this one, but, honestly, thanks to the cartoony style, this feels more authentically like comics to me than, for instance, most comics painted in a self-consciously ‘realistic’ style (think Alex Ross, Jon J. Muth or Kent Williams), not that I’m disparaging that approach… it’s just not my thing.

– RG

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Quality

« I tell ya, Spirit… this neighborhood is like a lit firecracker… »

I’m surprised that it took us this long to get to Will Eisner and his signature creation, The Spirit. Is it perhaps too obvious a topic? Nah. Though the ink and the pixels may flow, and even if everyone and his chiropractor has already waxed rhapsodic about old Will, the subject retains its depths of evergreen freshness.

For most generations of cartoonists, Eisner is an irresistible influence. My own initial encounter came in the early 1970s, when I glimpsed ads for Warren’s Spirit reprints in the rear section of Famous Monsters of Filmland. And then I was introduced to his groundbreaking style and storytelling approach… only it wasn’t, in this case, quite his.

In 1975, I had stumbled upon a Dutch collection of WWII-era Spirit newspaper strips (The Daily Spirit, Real Free Press, 1975-76… a publication designed by none other than Joost Swarte), and I was captivated… by the ghost work of no less than Plastic Man creator Jack Cole!

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« You can do that in a comic strip? » was my general feeling as a ten-year-old aspiring cartoonist. From The Spirit daily strip, January 3, 1942 (scripted by Manly Wade Wellman, illustrated by Jack Cole).

I won’t go over the action-packed history of the character… what I’ll focus on here instead is inextricably linked to Eisner’s terrific business acumen: having held onto his character’s ownership, he could shop him around the publishing world, a process still unfolding to this day, well beyond his own passing.

The Spirit, that well-travelled rascal, has witnessed his exploits bearing many a publisher’s imprint, from Quality to Fiction House, through I.W. (naughty, naughty!), Harvey, Kitchen Sink, Warren, and DC… so far. And the coolest thing is that Eisner was along for most of the ride, creating glorious new cover visuals for the venerable archives.

Today, we’ll focus on Quality’s output (1942-50), which alone was contemporary to the strip’s tenure. About half of it was Eisner, but I’m no purist: the man hired some of the finest ghosts in the medium’s history, when it came to both story and art. To name but a few favourites: Manly Wade Wellman, Jerry Grandenetti, Jules Feiffer, Wally Wood

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Speaking of Jack Cole… before he got his own title, The Spirit was featured for a couple of years in Quality’s Police Comics anthology. He occasionally ran into his fellow headliner, Plastic Man. This is Police Comics no. 23 (October, 1943). Cover by Jack Cole. Read this issue here.
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This is The Spirit no. 12 (Summer 1948), cover by Eisner, and featuring a bunch of Manly Wade Wellman / Lou Fine Spirit tales, which is to say “Eye, Feets, and Lock” (August 12th, 1945), “The Case of the Missing Undertaker” (September 30, 1945), “Skelvin’s School for Actors” (November 18, 1945), “The Whitlock Diamond Caper” (June 24, 1945) and “Nitro” (October 21, 1945).
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This is The Spirit no. 13 (Autumn, 1948), cover by Eisner, and gathering a clutch of Wellman / Fine outings, i.e. “Mr. Martin’s Pistols” (September 23, 1945), “Red Scandon” (June 3, 1945), “The Strange Case of the Two $5.00 Bills” (December 9, 1945), “Mr. Exter” (May 27, 1945) and “Vaudeville Vinnie” (November 4, 1945).
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Another high-wire master class in design and tension from Mr. Eisner. This is Quality ComicsThe Spirit no. 14 (Winter, 1948), featuring reprints of Spirit adventures (“The Alibi Factory“, “The Kuttup Shop“, “Prominent Executives Vanish“, “The Masked Magician“, “Belle La Trivet“) from 1945, written by Chapel Hill‘s foremost scribe, Manly Wade Wellman, and illustrated by Lou Fine and the Quality shop.
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This is The Spirit no. 15 (Spring, 1949), cover by Eisner, and gathering a bouquet of Wellman / Fine offerings, namely “Rosilind Ripsley” (June 10, 1945), “Madame Lerna’s Crystal Ball” (September 16, 1945), and “The Case of the Will O’Wisp Murders” (November 5, 1944).
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This is The Spirit no. 16 (Autumn, 1948), boasting an Eisner cover and rounding up a rogues’ gallery of  Spirit exploits scripted by Bill Woolfolk: “The Case of the Uncanny Cat” (October 8, 1944) and “Jackie Boy” (September 9, 1944) and Manly Wade Wellman: “The Case of the Headless Burglar” (September 24, 1944), all pencilled by Lou Fine.
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I’ll bet Dolan could kick himself if he wasn’t so tidily trussed up. Fooled by a pretty… er, face again. This is The Spirit no. 20 (April 1950), featuring “The Vortex” (September 8, 1946); “The Siberian Dagger” (January 27, 1946); “Magnifying Glasses” (May 26, 1946), plus a couple of Flatfoot Burns stories by Al Stahl. Cover by Will Eisner, and a gold star and a hearty round of applause for the colourist. 

As for the insides… I’m tickled to inform you that all of Quality’s issues of The Spirit are available gratis on comicbookplus.com. Enjoy!

– RG