DC’s Tales of the Unexpected offer quite a ménagerie of strange looking creatures! Any peculiar combination of animals you can think of, you’ll find somewhere within the pages of this series. This possibly deserves its own post, as it’s quite entertaining to see artists combining, say, an elephant with a tiger. That being said, I tend to get annoyed at artists who can’t visualize anything truly alien-looking, thus resorting to carving up earth animals and stitching different body parts together… but that’s a different conversation.
Occasionally the artists will also add tentacles, a sure shortcut to make something mundane look properly alien, and this is today’s area of interest! For more questionable monsters, have a gander at Tentacle Tuesday: Convoluted Critters.
And now, onto ‘unexpected’ tentacles, even if the result of this ends up looking like badly-made puppet with a tacked-on beak…
Of course one can’t discount the lasting power of classic vine-tentacles.
Whereas these mini-planets gone bonkers with tentacles-cum-hair bring to mind, but anticipate, something by Junji Ito.
The idea of an interplanetary veterinarian makes little sense for its assumption that life on other planets would have similar physiology to ours (even limiting the scope of action to only planet earth would be too ambitious – ask a doctor to treat a sick jellyfish and see how well he would do), but here we have the satisfaction of a sweet little scene of inter-species succor.
Some 30 issues later, we have another case of rabid tree-tentacles… this time composed of rubber (or something that behaves like rubber, at any rate).
Finally, this tentacled purple gorilla (so his tail is more dinosaur than gorilla, so what?) will no doubt please a regular reader of this blog!
« Suffering sea snakes! Can this really be happening, Aquaman? » — Aqualad has a query.
I just realised, a few days ago, that I’d left something hanging for too long: nearly two years ago, I turned the spotlight on a series of Aquaman covers, casually (in my debonair way) letting it be known that there existed another, earlier, and even longer (well, by one) run of exemplary Aquaman covers. The time has come to see whether I was talking through my hat… or not.
Now, at the risk of repeating myself, it must be stated that, since we’re dealing with DC’s late Silver Age, there’s more to any given cover than a signature. DC’s recently-ascended art director, Carmine Infantino, had a hand in designing virtually every DC cover between late 1966 and early 1976. How strong a hand varied from cover to cover, of course. A good designer sometimes knows when to hold back and be invisible, or just about.
Infantino always strove to improve himself and update and hone his skills. Well into his career (he’d started in 1940 at Timely), he pulled an unexpected (and very smart) move. As he recalled it in The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino (2000, Vanguard Productions):
« Around 1960, I went back to school again, this time to study under a gentleman named Jack Potter at the School of Visual Arts. What Jack taught me about design was monumental, and I went through a metamorphosis working with him. I’d sit there confused and he’d tear the work apart. But then it was a light bulb going off – bam! – and I’d understand everything he was getting at.
After studying with Potter at the SVA, my work started to grow by leaps and bounds. I was achieving individuality in my work that wasn’t there before.
I threw all the basics of cartooning out the window and focused on pure design. Everything I did was design-oriented. That was quite the challenging task. But that’s where Potter’s teaching took me.
… I started putting hands in captions, that was decorative. He taught us to do everything decoratively. I’d always found captions very dull. So I thought I’d break the captions into smaller paragraphs and use hands to get people to read them. I regularly pushed design and perspective to the extreme. »
And speaking of reinvention, I must also salute Nick Cardy’s own mid-career creative burst. Prior to the mid-60s, Cardy had always been one of those genteel, tasteful but entirely unexciting journeymen, the way most DC editors liked ’em. I can think of precious few long-timers that managed to convincingly reinvent themselves and greatly raise their game, well into their career, without utterly misplacing their original identity (that disqualifies you, Keith Giffen) in the process. Alex Toth, Jerry Grandenetti and perhaps Sheldon Mayer come to mind…
At any rate, when Infantino got together with Cardy on those covers, all hell broke loose, in the best possible way.
« I don’t know what’s wrong with him! He’s in hellish torment! » — there’s witchery afoot, clearly
I’ll grant you in a heartbeat that Nick Cardy‘s (and, to a lesser extent, Neal Adams’) earlier The Witching Hour (full original title: It’s 12 O’Clock… The Witching Hour!, hence its twelfth day appearance) covers beat out subsequent entries on the overall quality front, but this particular beauty, in my opinion, takes home the terror tiara as the very creepiest of the bunch. Is it the otherwise-innocuous daytime setting, the tension between the pastoral and the grotesque? In the end, it induces shivers, and that’s what counts.
Though it comes as the tail end of their involvement, Carmine Infantino and Cardy still had a hand in, as publisher and art director, and took an active rôle in the design of each DC cover of the era.
And so — why not? — here’s the full tale, so that you may judge for yourself.
Wilfredo Limbana ‘Fred’ Carrillo (1926–2005) was an underrated Filipino artist who produced some quite fine work for DC Comics’ mystery titles in the 1970s. I was particularly fond of his work on The Phantom Stranger, when he illustrated both the titular feature and its worthy backup, The Black Orchid, at the tail end of the title’s run.
« 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.
« Our dried voices, when we whisper together are quiet and meaningless as wind in dry grass or rats’ feet over broken glass in our dry cellar. » — T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men(1925)
It’s with a bittersweet little shiver that I wrap up this year’s WOT Hallowe’en countdown. In light of my fond feelings for the holiday, I didn’t want to go out with a massive fireworks display of a post, but opted instead for a quiet, succinct coda.
Nick Cardy‘s illustration impeccably epitomizes the spirit of Hallowe’en. No, it’s not about the candy collection ritual nor about the motley, garish masquerade… truly, it’s much as Ray Bradbury summed it up in his preface to his The October Country, « … that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain… »
You can practically hear the echoes of sinister cackling drifting on the chill October breeze.
« Who’s Aquaman? I never heard of him! »
« He’s one of the super-beings from the place called Earth! He lives at the bottom of the ocean! » — Steev & Jimm, rubberneckin’ in Aquaman no. 51
Some may have wondered at the deep, abiding affection held, by a certain savvy contingent of comics aficionados, for sea king Aquaman. After all, he’s a bit of a second-stringer, and he’s had a pretty spotty record for decades. Well, I’d say one has to have encountered the erstwhile Arthur Curry at his peak, in the hands of the Stephen Skeates, (writer) Jim Aparo (penciller-inker-letterer), Dick Giordano (editor-poacher), Nick Cardy (cover artist), Carmine Infantino (editor-in-chief/art director), Jack Adler (colourist) and Gaspar Saladino (cover letterer) set.
Fond as I am of Nick Cardy and Ramona Fradon‘s work, the series’ Skeates-Aparo period is more my speed. I can’t quite put my finger on it. There’s a whiff of the end of the world, something ominous and immediate about it, despite the fanciful settings. I guess it was « relevance », but with a lighter touch and without the cringe-inducing bathos of the concurrent Green Lantern-Green Arrow series. Because of Aquaman’s aquatic nature, environmental doom seldom seems far. The Skeates-Aparo rampage lasted from issue 40 (June 1968) to number 56 (April 1971). Aparo returned to the character just a few years down the road (Adventure Comics no. 441, Sept. 1975), but by then, he’d already begun his long, painful artistic deterioration.
But back to the covers: this represents, in my view, Cardy’s second hot streak on this title. From the beginning of his career (in 1940 with the Iger/Eisner shop!) Cardy had always been a reliably competent artist, but rarely a very exciting one. That all changed in the mid-Sixties when newly minted art director/editor-in-chief Carmine Infantino made him his right-hand man and co-designer of DC’s covers. This greater latitude gave Cardy wings. Cardy’s first Aquaman hot streak opens on issue 37 (Jan.-Feb. 1968) and closes with issue 45 (May-June 1969). Issues 46 to 48 are nice enough, but short of transcendence… beyond that bump in the road, we’re set for a smooth run of splendid covers.
Under normal circumstances, this run of covers would have turned out quite differently for, as Steve Skeates told me a few years ago, « The only reason Jim [Aparo] didn’t do the covers was that he lived out of town, couldn’t come in for cover conferences! »
« Mom, my teacher, Mrs. White, has invited me to a slumber party at her house this weekend. She’s really nice. Can I go? »
« Sure, why not? » — from a Jack Chick tract, The Poor Little Witch (1987)*
Today, we part the curtains and peek at the fair bosom of suburbia, circa 1972. In those gentle times of satanic panic, Tricky Dick’s political shenanigans, the oil crisis and all-around grooviness, the Manson ritual murders were recent history, Anton LaVey‘s The Satanic Bible (1969) and its sequel, The Satanic Rituals (1972) were all the rage, not to mention William Peter Blatty‘s The Exorcist (1971… the film another year away) and Ouija boards. DC Comics’ The Witching Hour (85 issues, 1969-1978) was well in keeping with the vibe of the times, and offered girls somewhat of an alternative to Archie, Little Dot and Young Romance. In fact, my recollection (and I’d welcome yours!) was that ghost and mystery comics overwhelmingly found favour with the ladies.
I’ve perhaps said it before, but DC’s mystery books were mostly well-drawn but mind-numbingly formulaic… but exceptions now and again slipped in.
Happy Deathday, Sweet 16! was a bit of lightning in a bottle. It was illustrated by the hardly-prolific Canadian Bill Payne, who drew a dozen or so jobs for DC’s mystery and war titles, lettered a few more, then vanished. I suspect he had a day job in some advertising agency and did a bit of comics work on the side for kicks. If that’s the case, he certainly applied himself, bringing actual realism and a bit of the old ‘Ghastly’ Ingels grotesqueness to the table. The writer, however, is uncredited. The writing doesn’t quite feel like the work of any of DC’s workhorses… it’s markedly better, rising beyond the stock situations and packing in plenty of credible detail to flesh out the players in its scant eight and a half page allotment. Sibling rivalry, social aspirations**, marital and parental discord, class warfare… Lucky Peter, though: he somehow seems to have continual access to Shock Theater; for me, that’s the main cause for suspension of disbelief.
These days, I suppose the fundamentals haven’t changed, though with so-called Christians behaving in most unchristian fashion, and Satanists displaying a puckish (honestly, kind of adorable) sense of humour, things are… interestingly confusing.
*Read it here; but remember, it’s “available only in multiples of 10,000 at half-price.” ** Let’s keep in mind that, as Lori Loughlin has pointedly pointed out, “Any mother would have done the same if they had the means to do so.”
When you think of Aquaman, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is he a brooding, tragic hero? A hapless sap whose prowess extends no further than throwing a starfish at his assailant? A talented swimmer, defender of Earth’s oceans?
« The image of the superhero riding on a chariot made of fish—sporting that classic orange top and green pants—sealed the depths-dweller in public memory as a doofy champion, despite defenders who insist there’s more to Aquaman than talking to fish and riding them places. While later depictions of the character emphasized his serious side, Aquaman jokes abounded especially in the 90s and 2000s—largely thanks to a school of young male animators, including Seth MacFarlane and South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who couldn’t help but poke fun at Aquaman’s ineffectual reputation. »|source|
I believe the aforementioned Aquaman’s defenders are slightly missing the point. What’s wrong with catching a ride from a fish, or getting a helping hand from an octopus? In Aquaman’s world, octopuses play the role of indispensable helpers, using their tentacles as lassos, bludgeons and tourniquets, or forming acrobatic formations to give Aquaman a boost. Does this somehow make this superhero wimpy? Do we seriously still believe that treating animals with kindness, or collaborating with them, is emasculating? No wonder this world is going to hell in a handbasket. The audience for superhero comics sometimes seems to be quite devoid of imagination (or a sense of humour).
« Jokes about his wholesome, weak portrayal in Super Friends and perceived feeble powers and abilities […] led DC to attempt to make the character edgier or more powerful in comic books. Modern comic book depictions have attempted to reconcile these various aspects of his public perception, casting Aquaman as serious and brooding, saddled with an ill reputation, and struggling to find a true role and purpose beyond his public side as a deposed king and a fallen hero. » |source|
Okay, I’ve grumbled, and now I’ll move on to the tentacles. Take a seat astride your favourite jellyfish, strap in your fins, and let’s go!
Aquaman, the child of an undersea explorer who learned how to breathe and live underwater “by training and a hundred scientific secrets”, was created in 1941 by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger. During the Golden Age of comics, he fought various evil guys (usually from water-related professions: sailors, marine biologists, pirates… and Axis villains, too). The whole thing started becoming really interesting (imho) in 1956 (coincidentally, with the advent of Silver Age), when Aquaman acquired his sidekick Topo the Octopus:
Ramona Fradon handled Aquaman from 1951 to 1959, when she became pregnant and had to temporarily withdraw from the comics field until 1963. She deserves a separate post, really, especially since I love her art. In the meantime, read The Woman Who Made Aquaman a Star. As for Topo, I don’t have to explain why I’m fond of the idea of an octopus sidekick.
A few nice Fradon pages:
In 1961, Nick Cardy started working on Aquaman with Showcase no. 31 (March-April 1961). When the sea king got his own title in 1962, Cardy became the regular artist, drawing inside stories and covers until Aquaman no. 39 (May-June 1968), and staying as the cover artist until Aquaman no. 56 (April 1971).
« Cardy proved adept at drawing sea creatures; his fluid, swirling water currents helped create a captivating, eye-pleasing undersea world. He became a fan favorite, not only because of his superb story-telling ability, solid figure work and facile inking, but because of the way he rendered Mera, Aquaman’s girlfriend. Cardy’s women had curves, not angles, and seemed to exist in three dimensions on the two-dimensional page. He never stopped trying to elevate his work, until the later covers in the series were among the most striking and imaginative of the publisher’s entire line.» (source: Comics Journal’s eulogy for Nick Cardy)
Well, that’s high praise indeed, but is it deserved? I can confirm that Cardy covers were really inventive. As for the interior art, let’s take a peek, as these stories conveniently overflow with tentacles.
There’s tentacles getting tangled, the octopus equivalent on panties in a twist…
An army of octopus fighters…
I promised you acrobatics, so here are some octopuses doing a cheerleading routine (Aquaman forgot his pompoms at home):
Continuing our tentacle shenanigans…
One of those Nick Cardy covers we were discussing earlier, so you can decide for yourself whether his women are all angles or all curves:
With Aquaman no. 40 (July-August 1968), Jim Aparo replaced Cardy on the inside art. Issues no. 40 to no. 47 (September-October 1969) were scripted by Steve Skeates (a definite favourite of this blog; read co-admin RG’S post “… and the Dog Howls Through the Night!”) and drawn by Jim Aparo. This creative team is a favourite of many an Aquaman fan. Voilà:
More Jim Aparo (sans Skeates):
You can read issues Aquaman issues no. 1 through to 63 here.
One last thing… I happen to be the proud owner of a piece of original art by Ramona Fradon (of fairly recent vintage), given to me by my sweetie. Lucky me!
« In YOUNG LOVE, how can people talk when they kiss? My mom can’t talk when she’s kissing. Can you? I am nine years old. » — Mary K, an astute young reader
It’s recently occurred to me that, in a year-and-a-half of posting, I’ve utterly neglected to feature one of my favourite artists, Nick Cardy (1920-2013); I suppose he’s been easy to take for granted, as he was DC’s main cover artist during most of Carmine Infantino‘s management years (1967-1976).
Much has been made, in various forums, of Cardy’s covers for Aquaman, the Superman titles, The Teen Titans, the Mystery books, and so on. I figured I’d have to dig a bit deeper. Cardy, ex aequo with the even more underappreciated Bob Oksner, was arguably DC’s primo portrayer of feminine pulchritude, and what I’d seen of his artwork for DC’s romance line was pretty stunning. It just turned out that there was far less of it than I had assumed.
DC’s romance books were sadly treated as the proverbial Siberia of the company’s roster. How else might one explain calling upon top illustrative talent, the likes of Jay Scott Pike, John Rosenberger, Ric Estrada, Werner Roth … then taking these fine men’s work and slathering it with wall-to-wall Vince Colletta… finishes. We’ll return to this topic, naturally. This time around, we’ll showcase the sentimental side of Mr. Cardy. He seems to have produced fewer than thirty covers for the romance line (not counting a handful of gothics he did), of which I’ve retained an even dozen. I’m reserving a handful for an eventual thematic post, plus one that Colletta “fixed” (in the criminal, rather than useful, sense.)
As I pointed out during my initial foray into the tangled relationship between superheroes and tentacled creatures (Superheroes in Octopus Land), even heroic stock characters with extraordinary powers get bested by the occasional octopus, be it of oceanic, mystical, or outright intergalactic origins. Some of these monsters are aliens from proverbial outer space, some swam out from the depths of the sea for reasons they alone comprehend; some are plants, some are mammals – animal, mineral, or vegetable in form and content.
Our first entry is someone who’s faster than a speeding bullet… but requires a passerby’s help to get rid of some pesky plant tentacles. None too impressive for someone of his calibre, the first superhero that comes to mind for most.
That’s enough bumbling. I’ll move on to someone who can *really* handle tentacle problems!
“High atop Slaughter Mountain, where the rain never stops, stately Stearn Mansion stands silhouetted against the blood-red moon. This is the home of Dr. Strongfort Stearn, known throughout the world as … Mr. Monster!! From this lofty perch, Doc Stearn peers unflinchingly into the black abyss below. For it is Mr. Monster’s mission to search out evil — and destroy it!” Today Mr. Monster is fighting a cute octopus with googly eyes. Sometimes monsters look most innocuous, you know.
And this is the way it was published:
« Since the first simple life-form crawled from the pounding turf, the sea has been laced with legend! From the daring men who faced the raging waves in primitive wooden craft to those who probe the hidden depths today in devices of plastic and steel, fables have been passed, secrets whispered from father to son… » And where there’s sea legends and fables of raging depths, there’s tentacles, you can be sure of that. Can the mysterious Phantom Stranger cope with them?
Maybe saying that starfish have tentacles is stretching it a bit, but just look at the way their arms bend at the ends! Besides, they can “walk” using their tubed appendages, which look like tentacles to all but the most pedantic.
Starro, a.k.a. Starro the Conqueror, was created by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky in 1960. He’s a mean, stubborn alien lifeform with an idée fixe to enslave mankind, which he repeatedly tries to do by scattering his starfishy spores (which grow into clones of himself) over large cities. And, yes, he has prehensile extremities; it’d be difficult to wreak as much havoc without them.
Technically, Medusa’s got hair, not tentacles, but she expressed the wish to be part of our Tentacle Tuesday line-up… and I am not going to argue with a woman with hair that can knock out an army.
Does anybody have an answer for catty Ms. Kyle? I’ll see you next Tentacle Tuesday – until then, keep away from hungry and horny octopuses.