« She’s a haunted house / and her windows are broken. » — Scott Walker, “Big Louise” (1969)
I’ve been wanting to share one of the all-time most beautiful art jobs Steve Ditko ever wittled, 1960’s The Ghost of Grismore Castle! (published in Strange Tales no. 79), but I don’t have that book. I do, however, own a 70’s reprint of it, in Vault of Evil no. 14 (October 1974), but the colouring and reproduction were so bland and washed-out that I knew that justice wouldn’t be done to this meritorious piece.
Then it hit me: I *had* seen a lovingly reconstructed presentation of the tale — has it nearly been… 30 years ago? Yikes!
It was reprinted with brio in the redoubtable Mort Todd‘s Curse of the Weird (no. 2, January 1994), a flawlessly-assembled anthology title he somehow conned Marvel into publishing in the early 90s.
So my gratitude goes out to Mr. Todd and, once more, my admiration to Mr. Ditko.
« We shot it from the original stats I dug out of the Marvel vault, rather than reprint VoE #14, and lovingly recolored it! Thanks for noticing! »
Oh, and as bonus, here’s the cover, one of those absurdly lush Kirby-Ditko collaborations. As usual with Marvel, all captions are de trop.
« When the mind is thinking, it is talking to itself. » — Plato
The waning years of the 1950’s marked the beginning of the monster craze, which coincided with Mad Magazine’s ripest period of influence. Here, then, is a publication that sought to capitalize on both occurrences. Alas, chasing fads too eagerly always did land you all-too-promptly in the cultural ditch. Still… Thimk had its moment.
Thimk was a short-lived (6 issues, 1958-59) would-be Mad, also in the black and white magazine format.
The thing kept coming. “Die, die!” Parke screamed, his nerves breaking. But the thing came on, grinning broadly. “I like quiet protoplasm,” the thing said as its gigantic mouth converged on Parke. “But I also like lively protoplasm.” It gulped once, then drifted out the other side of the field. — excerpt from The Last Weapon by Robert Sheckley
Call it goo, label it as a giant amoeba, christen it ectoplasm or protoplasm, but when it starts crawling your way, do remember to beat a hasty retreat.
Coo! this page has everything: a prehensile amoeba, tentacled plants, aliens with cephalopod appendages…
… but it’s the amoeba that’s of current interest to us (yes, the one devouring everything in its path, including dawdling professors).
Continuing our literary delusions, a peek at the adventures of a ‘star vampire’, from a (somewhat lackluster) comic book adaptation of a Robert Bloch short story:
If a tentacled amoeba is scary, just think of how startling it is to run into an amoeba with a single bloodshot eyeball (that feeds on soap, among other things).
Not only does this monstrosity go after the scientist, instead of pursuing his absurdly attractive assistant…
But she’s also the one who saves the situation. Joe Gill, ladies and gentlemen!
« 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.
« Tentacles lashing wildly with pain… the squirming squid releases a sudden gush of inky-black liquid… »
Just look at that… yet another Tentacle Tuesday has come crawling (unless it prefers to travel by jet propulsion) out! Today our handy time machine brings us, once again, to the Golden Age of comics (1930s to 1956), when war was very much on people’s minds, and tentacles were very much part of every decent comic artist’s repertoire.
During WWII, it was not unusual to find the Axis powers represented by an octopus in caricatures and political cartoons. As a matter of fact, as The Octopus, a Motif of Evil in Historical Propaganda Maps argues, the octopus, scrawled onto all manners of maps by caricaturists, has represented the spread of evil since the 19th century. I highly recommend at least glancing through the aforementioned essay – aside from being fascinating from a historical perspective, it also has tentacles galore. Anyway, the following comic eschews any subtlety and depicts Hitler himself as the Octopus of Evil:
There’s a great essay about Blue Circle Comics on Four Color Glasses. To quote, « Enwil’s “flagship” title was called Blue Circle Comics. It was a fairly common for publishers to use a color in conjunction with a shape or symbol for their comic book titles: Blue Circle, Red Circle, Red Band, Red Seal, Blue Ribbon, and Gold Medal were all titles from the Golden Age. In the case of Blue Circle Comics, though, the title did actually feature a character called the Blue Circle. » Read it here!
A recurring theme of octopus adventures is that there’s some treasure involved. I bet the lady would prefer to stay with the octopus troupe and their tender nuzzles than to be rescued by this odd assortment of cut-throats in sailor costumes… The chick en question is Harvey Comics’ Black Cat.
The title story turned out to be nothing but text… Though for readers with a decent imagination, a “score of octopi” and “bubbling moans” is definitely more than enough.
I bet you’re wondering how all this ends. Well, « Still, the octopi flopped forward!! CAPTAIN FREEDOM yanked the controls and the ship’s whirling airscrews roared into the octopi, sharp blades ripping tentacles from their bodies with murderous force! » Goodbye, trained octopi (which is not even the correct pluralization of an octopus).
« They were like octopuses — they scurred along on huge rubbery tentacles, and their bodies were nothing but huge heads in the midsts of these. Monstrous squawking beings coming at us from all directions! » Lovely writing, isn’t it? Nevermind that “scurred” is not an actual word. The title tale is actually an illustrated text story titled « Octopus-Kings of the Lost Planet », scripted by W. Malcolm White. Well, “scripted” is a bit strong.
Airboy, a.k.a. David Nelson, has been in some truly bizarre scraps in his time, so a fight to the death with tentacled monsters who want (as usual) to take over Earth is strictly routine. Created by writer Charles Biro and artist Al Camy, Airboy not only used his expertise in aviation to fight off Nazis, but also all manner of fantastical monsters. A quick look through the covers of Airboy Comics will reveal crazy scientist machinery, rabid tigers, gladiator fights, giant amœbas, pterodactyls, minotaurs, insect-shaped aliens, an invasion of man-eating rats, and so on. Pure entertainment! Airboy’s most memorable (and prettiest, by far) foe (and love interest) is Teutonic aviatrix Valkyrie, who eventually defected to the Allies’ side. She barely seems like a Golden Age creation – with her blouse splitting until her navel and her skin-tights pants, her costume leaves little to the imagination.
She was sexualized further in later incarnations – Dave Stevens’ version of her for Eclipse Comics is probably the hottest – but the Golden Age Valkyrie is more charming and earnest (IMHO), devoid of the nymphomaniacal arrogance appended to her personality in later years. Anyway, back to the topic:
The title story, « My Home… », scripted by Al Feldstein and drawn by Joe Orlando, is emotionally manipulative… and succeeds very well in breaking the readers’ hearts (or pissing them off, depending on your temperament). Read a synopsis of the plot, if you wish, or read the whole story here – who am I to give spoilers to those who don’t want ’em?
I wasn’t around in the 70s. (Literally, as in “I hadn’t been born yet”.) So when somebody – in, oh, say 2008 or so – handed me a copy of some ghost comics printed by Charlton Comics (I don’t remember what exactly), that was my first exposure to this publishing company. I wasn’t aware that I wasn’t « supposed » to like this stuff… and by the time some kind soul pointed out that it’s not exactly orthodox to seek out Charlton publications, it was too late to change my mind. Clearly, that’s how monsters with no taste are created.
Charlton Comics had the reputation for inferior printing (as one of my friends put it, « godawful colours and reproduction and paper ») and low quality control. I’d say that when one contemplates the variety of artistic styles and the dizzying panoply of artists published by them, the quality of the printing distinctly becomes a less important consideration. Charlton paid badly, sure, but since when do people decide what they like and what they don’t based on how artists are treated? (Just look around – companies that trample on creators’ rights are doing very well indeed.) It seems like a knee-jerk reaction; I often wonder if people who automatically react with sneers to the very mention of Charlton have actually read any of the comics this company printed. Or perhaps they’re scared by some of the artists’ styles which are just too wild, too squiggly, just not clean enough. (Sloppy line work! Anathema to any comic book lover worth his salt, right?)
Anyway, Charlton’s « loose editorial oversight » meant there was no house style to speak of, and artists with highly idiosyncratic styles could let their eccentricities shine.
You may notice some names are conspicuously absent from today’s post. Tom Sutton, exhibit A of the “chaotic, scratchy art” category, will get a Tentacle Tuesday post all to himself at a later date. Some beloved artists just didn’t draw any tentacles for Charlton (as far as I know!): Warren Sattler, Don Perlin, Sam Glanzman, Don Newton, Rocco Mastroserio, etc. Wayne Howard is already part of a Tentacle Tuesday (see Plant Tentacle Tuesday), as is Enrique Nieto (Tentacle Tuesday: Spunky Skirmishes).
« There’s no room for professional jealousy around the graveyard, chums… life is too short, as they say… but what comes after that short life may stretch into all eternity! »
I could carry on endlessly (or so it would seem) on any number of obscure topics, but it’s healthy, every once in a while, to take a deep breath, empty one’s mind of its flotsam and jetsam, and reach for an old favourite.
I hadn’t yet written anything about Steve Ditko‘s passing, as I figured it would get lost in the mad shuffle of tributes. That base was well-covered. Still, while I’d known all along the day would come, it was hard to imagine a world without that reclusive genius, likely my very first artistic inspiration.
I didn’t see much of Ditko’s 60s Marvel work until the late 70s pocket book reprints (the period equivalent of watching a movie on one’s cellphone), but the Charlton ghost books grabbed me at a tender age. And so…
As my candidate for Steve Ditko’s finest cover run, at any company, I submit issues 22-27 and 29-30 (curse you for the interruption, Joe Staton!), from January 1972 to March 1973, final year of Ditko’s peak period, imho.
That just about wraps it up. For further reading on the topic, I recommend you check out Ben Herman’s perspective on some of these very stories, and on Ditko’s spooky Charlton work of the 70s in general.
« Ape is real spooked, guys! He’s always imaginin’ he sees someone in there! »
Here we have an evocative Steve Ditko cover, solid evidence of his tremendous design chops, from Charlton’s Ghost Manor (no. 7, second series, October 1972). A collaboration between Joe Gill and Ditko, « The Monsters Ride at Night » is an elegant bit of storytelling legerdemain, a fairly basic yarn that retains its mystery past the conclusion and whose deliciously dusty mood lingers in the mind. Well, in mine, at any rate. Back in the late ’70s, I traded a copy of Amazing Spider-Man 121 (acquired at a garage sale in a two-for-five-cents deal) for this one. I know I came out ahead in the deal*.
Again, I had every intention of providing the whole spooky shebang right here, but seeing as how I was preceded in this particular enthusiasm by a sinister confrère, it seems unnecessary. Just dim the light, settle in, point your browser to Destination Nightmare, pour yourself a noggin of your preferred poison, and savour this fine vintage.
I’m particularly fond of the mid-tale interlude, where our esteemed host, Mr. Bones, seizes the occasion to poke around the cobwebs a bit, a narrative game that the Gill-Ditko duo excelled at. DC and Warren’s hosts (with the obvious exception of Vampirella) never got to play such an active rôle in their respective recitals.
Oh, and since we’re on the topic of early 70s Charlton ghost books, here’s one I picked up just this afternoon, in the 50 cents box of the local comic book shop in Wolfsville, NS. It clearly had been through such hardships, I couldn’t resist giving it a home.
Catfight (noun):A vicious fight between two women that features biting & scratching and often involves clothes being ripped off.
To which I’ll add that if you put two women with different hair colours in one room, it’s like there’s a chemical reaction that makes them instantly aggressive. In comics, at least – and we all know that comics reflect real life accurately, right? The resulting combativeness is especially obvious when the encounter is between a blonde and a brunette. The women involved must also be beauties – presumably, plainer girls resort to verbal assaults when provoked, eschewing physical violence, unlike their flashier counterparts.
Or it could have something to do with the mostly-male audience who actively likes watching belles brawl. (Perhaps “ogle” would be a better description.) Let’s move on to the ogling bit, then!
“Jeepers! Baldy’s been skewered through the ticker! He’s defunct!” This charming scene with boob grabbery and skirt rippery (I know, don’t I have a way with words?) is from “Off Stage Kill”, a Dan Turner Hollywood Detective story from Crime Smashers no. 7 (Trojan Magazines, 1951).
Skipping ahead ten years or so…
The clothes-shredding and breast-mauling (ouch) continues…
Sometimes Betty and Veronica associations are hard to avoid. These girls also made sure to wear contrasting costumes while fighting, for maximum visual appeal, proving it’s possible to be fashion-conscious even in prehistoric times.
Women of other cultures aren’t immune from this phenomenon, by the way. Witness Italian chicks fighting:
Italian erotica can be so entertaining! Maghella means a “young witch” in Italian. “The girl is identified by two braids of black hair and giant breasts with unspecified powers“, reads Wikipedia… Odd, I would have thought that her breasts have very specified powers, indeed. 😉
Moving on to French damsels…
If you want to emphasize the catfight aspect, dress your girls in feline-motif outfits. Oh, I’m sorry – this is no quotidian quarrel, it’s professional wrestling!
I think we need one even more literal interpretation of “cat fight”:
This is a fairly inexhaustible topic, but one must quit sometime. Cold shower, anyone?
Mechanical tentacles! Cephalopod monsters communicating by mental telepathy! Even Jimmy Olsen playing the part of a monster in an alien horror movie! Yes, it’s all this and more in this Tentacle Tuesday post (after which I’ll quit bugging you with various cephalopods until next Tuesday).
Head over to the Fourth Age blog for a further discussion (with pictures!) of the cover story from this issue, “Jimmy Olsen’s Private Monster!”, written by Jerry Siegel (ahem…) and illustrated by the aforementioned Curt Swan (pencils) and John Forte (inks).
The two-eyed, many-tentacled mechanized wonder appears again in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen no. 47 (September 1960):
In a similar line of thought (but some 15 years later), a more steampunk relative of the creature above appears in Swamp Thing.
And here’s a peek at the glorious (I’m a fan of Redondo) inside:
Here’s another file for our records of Tentacular fascination: the Boy Commandos’ intrepid gang of feisty moppets, tired of fighting Nazis, switch it up by doing battle with some tentacled robots.
I couldn’t very well have a mechanically-minded Tentacle Tuesday without mentioning Dr. Octopus, one of Spider-Man’s most famous foes! Otto Gunther Octavius, a.k.a. Dr. Octopus, a.k.a. Doc Ock was created by Steve Ditko, and first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man no. 3 (July 1963). Obviously I could feature a gallery of Dr. Octopus tentacles as long as your arm (pardon the confused anatomical terminology on my part), but I’ll limit myself to a couple.
First, The Amazing Spiderman no. 12 (May 1964), cover by Steve Ditko. The “Look who’s back!!” caption pointing to the Doc is rather mystifying, given that he was there in the previous issue.
Second, an underwater scene, because what element more appropriate for tentacles? Kudos to Doc Ock for making his perfectly watertight.
Dr. Octopus’ metallic appendages, resistant to radiation and of great strength and agility, were originally attached to a harness…. but became fused to his body after an explosion involving radioactivity (what else?) They were surgically removed, but he could now control them telepathically from a distance. Spooky.