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

Treasured Stories: “The Locked Door!” (1973)

« Man’s constitution is so peculiar that his health is purely a negative matter. No sooner is the rage of hunger appeased than it becomes difficult to comprehend the meaning of starvation. It is only when you suffer that you really understand. » — Jules Verne

For my final post of the year (my co-admin ds yet holds one more Tentacle Tuesday instalment), I turn to crusty Joe Gill and a surprisingly cheerful tale of elder abuse (one of his pet topics, see The Night Dancer! for another example). Herein, a quite horrifying situation is leavened by Gill and his Billy  the Kid acolyte Warren Sattler‘s graceful, humorous handling… with the moral still clear. This is one of Sattler’s few forays into the spooky at Charlton, and I hope you’ll agree it’s worth the detour.

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Despite the mere six pages allotted, The Locked Room! features a lot of story. Joe Gill typically wrote pages comprising five panels, which would translate to 30 panels for a six-pager. Sattler breaks down the script into 43 panels, so it could have been far longer. A jewel of elegant compression!
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Tom Sutton’s humdinger of a cover gives away the plot, but no matter — it’s a striking, beautifully-coloured image. The rest of the issue’s nothing special: Joe Gill, Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia’s The Truth in the Fire is yet another spin of the stale greedy-explorer-versus-native-god plot; Gill and Wayne Howard‘s Bury Me Deep! is saved by its light tone; Gill and Steve Ditko‘s Let the Buyer Beware, despite featuring Ditko in full-on goofy mode, is more-or-less standard voodoo stuff; but the humdrum outing is largely redeemed, in the end, by the cover tale. This is Ghost Manor no. 17 (January 1974, Charlton).

I love Gill’s use of the principle of communicating vessels as a means of poetic retribution. Or is it a feedback loop? I’m also very fond of Agatha’s characterization: she’s hardly the picture of evil, blandly accepting each new bend in the road as if morals never entered into the equation. But you just know that, once Jerome is laid to rest, she’ll simply find another man to feed and breezily carry on. In a sense, she’s the main character: doesn’t the whole thing hinge on her fine cooking?

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Tom Sutton

« Gary Groth: You did — God help you — you did an Alice Cooper comic in ’79. Were you out of it or what?

Tom Sutton: I listen to Mozart. I don’t know. I guess Alice Cooper was a musician. Some kind of giant snake or some damn thing.

Gary Groth: So why the hell didn’t you do a Mozart comic?

Tom Sutton: Nobody asked me to. »

When I wrote Tentacle Tuesday: a Treasure Trove of Charlton Tentacles, I skipped Tom Sutton, vowing to return to him at a later date. If there was anyone deserving the title of Tentacle Tuesday Master (applause, please!), it is him. I don’t know what the appropriate cluster term for tentacles is, but Sutton has surely brought a, um, pandemonium (a terror? a trepidation?) of tentacles to Charlton‘s pages.

Even outside of his tentacles, Sutton is a truly interesting artist. I highly recommend An Odd Man Out: Tom Sutton, Gary Groth’s interview with him for The Comics Journal. Just read Groth’s introduction, if nothing else – he does an excellent job of summarizing Sutton’s singular career and the conflicting influences that shaped it. The interview is 11 web-browser pages long, and throughout Groth and Sutton’s conversation, one gets the distinct impression that Sutton is a witty, self-deprecating man, the kind you want to take to a bar or something to listen to his stories. At some point he mentions that the tape (to record the interview) is probably running out, and Groth responds with «There’s not enough tape in the world for you, Tom», which is, I think, a good example of their easy banter as well as obvious camaraderie.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand – the art and writing is by Tom Sutton, unless indicated otherwise. You know those over-the-top Russian buffets, where food is overflowing from the table? This post is like that, but with tentacles.

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Ghostly Tales no. 106 (August 1973).
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This story, titled simply (and à propos) Those Tentacles!, scripted by Nicola Cuti and illustrated by Sutton, has already been mentioned in Tentacle Tuesday: Domesticated Octopus Seeks Soulmate, but I’ve never posted this page. Dang, gave away the ending.

This story was repurposed as a cover for Ghostly Tales no. 130 (May 1978):

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Ghostly Tales no. 113 (February 1975). Isn’t it a beautiful cover?
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Page from Through a Glass Darkly, the (surprisingly, black and white; Sutton evidently knew it wasn’t feasibly colourable… and his publisher respected his wishes! As opposed to…) cover story of Ghostly Tales no. 113. Good thing we we treated to all those eye-pleasing blues and greens on the cover!
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Creepy Things no. 2 (October 1975). You can read the full issue here. This is my favourite cover of this lot, both for the parent creature’s sad, slightly sleepy expression, and for the crispness of greens against black.
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Creepy Things no. 4 (February 1976). I’ll bet that slug-thing glows in the dark.
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Page from Man’s Best Fiend, scripted by Joe Gill (as Tom Tuna) and illustrated by Sutton, printed in Creepy Things no. 4.
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Ghost Manor no. 27 (January 1976)
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Scary Tales no. 4 (February 1976). Scary Tales hostess Countess Von Bludd tackles tentacles! Now you can’t say this post doesn’t have any cleavage.
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Haunted no. 20 (February 1975). My second favourite cover, for the completely horrified, totally Sutton-esque faces of the creature’s victims. I also like the way his signature is hiding at the foot of the tentacles.
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Pages from Mountain of Fear, published in Haunted no. 20. This is likely the most Lovecraftian (and epic) of Sutton’s Charlton tales.

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Page from Out of the Deep, published in Haunted no. 21 (April 1975). This panel was later used as the cover for Haunted no. 55 (May 1981). Read the full story here.
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Page from Fear Has a Name!, scripted by Nicola Cuti and illustrated by Tom Sutton, published in Haunted no. 22 (June 1975).
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Page from The Thing in the Hole, published in Ghostly Tales no. 111 (September 1974). Read the whole issue here.

For more Tom Sutton, head over to the great blog The Horrors of It All, where a fellow admirer has posted a bunch of his stories. I’m happy to say that Sutton aficionados are legion and they’re fairly rabid, so to speak.

Furthermore, you can read co-admin RG’s Mind the Quirks and Glitches: Petrucha & Sutton’s Squalor for one more, more modern, facet of Sutton’s varied career. And if you’d like a little piquant in your life, his post even includes links to Sutton’s erotic comics!

~ ds

Mind the Quirks and Glitches: Petrucha & Sutton’s Squalor

« I, I know this place. I’ve been here when I’m wasted. » « Sure, and a man who drives his car off a cliff knows what it’s like to fly. » « He does if he’s headed DOWN. » — Squalor and Todd debate the nature of reality

Compared to his 1970s, the ensuing decade was surely no picnic for Tom Sutton (1937-2002). After producing a massive body of work for Warren, Skywald, Marvel, Charlton and DC by the late Seventies, the mid-1980s found Sutton trudging through a long run (« It lasted hundreds of years. ») of abysmal Star Trek comics to put food on the table. This was the movie franchise Star Trek, with Bill Shatner’s permed hairpiece and those atrocious red velour outfits. Worst of all, inker/saboteur Ricardo Villagrán dogged his every move, casually pulling a Colletta on him*.

Oh, Sutton did work for other publishers in the 80’s, mainly the once-promising upstart First (1983-91), but the rote fantasy of The Black Flame and the hollow tough-guy posturing of Grimjack (coming soon to a screen near you, apparently) didn’t offer much of substance as alternatives to the Big Two’s sludge.

Still, First merits full credit for green-lighting the last great Sutton project, Squalor (1989-90). It was part of a line called First Fiction**, which looked like an eleventh-hour push to get into mainstream bookstores without quite committing to the graphic novel format and its price tag. Cardboard covers, full colour, slick paper; certainly more durable than the average comics pamphlet. Let’s take a look, shall we?

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The inspired choice for the series’ covers was photo-montage artist J. K. Potter., whose work I recalled from Twilight Zone and Night Cry magazine covers, as well as a clutch of memorable paperback covers. Joe R. Lansdale‘s By Bizarre Hands comes to mind. Now remember, young Photoshop pups, these had to be created the hard way.

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Since you asked, panel four refers to the inevitable American Bandstand teenybopper analysis.
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« Welcome to A-Time… not another dimension, not a parallel world, but your very own neighborhood bereft of linear time. In A-time, past, present and future merge like expressway off-ramps, six-legged quirks hunt the time trails, and archetypes leave footprints. »

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So yes, we have an accomplished illustrator on board… but do we have a proper story to hang the visuals upon? What do you know, we do! In a freakish bit of convergence, a newcomer to comics, Stefan Petrucha, then a freelance technical writer, happened along with a fully fleshed-out, unconventional concept, one ideally suited to Sutton’s strengths. And then someone fished it out of the slush pile.

So what’s Squalor about? It’s a bitch to summarize, but it involves alternate time streams, the oft-elusive nature of genius, conspiracy theories, synchronicity, archetypes, and the road map of reality. Fair enough? I surmise that we have Mr. Petrucha’s experience as a technical writer to thank for his capacity to hold his magic bus to the right side of the road through to the end of the journey.

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This is Squalor no. 3 (July, 1990) J.K. Potter does the cover honours again.

Petrucha wrote, in Squalor no. 4‘s concluding notes: « Personally, I would love to write more Squalor. In fact, I have a few document files chock full of plot ideas. We’ve seen quirks, glitches, and an archetype up close, but what about paradigms, totems, and babblers? I’d also like to write a graphic novel about Todd Penderwhistle’s coat. Maybe that’s why I’ve had so much trouble breaking into this business. »

While he did break into the business, he’s never again been afforded the chance to handle such a personal project. Squalor was Tom Sutton’s final such endeavour***, though I can’t help but think that he was more than a bit broken by his Star Trek stint.

In 2016, Squalor was at long last collected as a graphic novel by Caliber Press, to what I presume was general indifference. As for the original issues, one can still get copies online for less than the original cover price, which is a bargain and a golden opportunity, but rather bittersweet.

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I still have my Squalor pin-back promo button (logo designed by art director Alex Wald) from ’89. Whee.

-RG

*From Gary Groth‘s definitive interview with Sutton (The Comics Journal no. 230, Feb. 2001) ): « No, I did not ink this thing. This was inked by a fellow who I was told inked in bed watching television. The enthusiasm of this man was evident. He was a pro. Oh, he was very slick. He was very, very good. It was exactly what the book didn’t need. What the book needed was Mœbius. Hear what I’m saying?

This will sound really dumb, but even after all of that crap I had gone through I went into this thing and I said, This is going to be fun. This is going to be creative work. I worked like hell on the thing. I penciled backgrounds you wouldn’t believe, with all the scopes and all of those things. I thought I was Wally Wood. I forgot that Wally inked his stuff himself. I had to leave it up to Ying Yang watching TV or something. They actually took your backgrounds out and erased them. I never realized it until I saw the fucking comic book and I said, I drew something there. A large something. A complex something. »

GROTH: « And this would have been for sheer expediency’s sake? »

SUTTON:  « I suppose so. Because he knew he could get away with it. He knew something that I didn’t realize until later, that that book had a special job. And that job was to promote movies. » [ source… well worth your time! ]

**The other “volumes” of First Fiction were nothing special, to put it kindly.

*** Unless you wish to count his pseudonymous (as Dementia) late ’90s, er, erotic comics, such as The Crypt of Cum!, The Vault of Whores! or Bustline Combat! He certainly gave them his all.

Tentacle Tuesday: Groping Vines and Other Shenanigans

What better way to start Tentacle Tuesday than with the Big Pop-Up Book of Giant Squids? Sensitive people may want to skip this one.

PopUpTentaclesA« Dirk Dragonslapper », other than making me giggle every time, sounds like an actual character from some fantasy trilogy, which may be a comment on the state of fantasy these days (hint: it’s not fantastical). I’ll go with the cephalopods, thanks!

Incidentally, there’s a lot of dreadful fantasy covers out there (and that’s quite out of the scope of this blog, anyway), but I can’t resist sharing this one with you.

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Poor Fritz Leiber! An octopus holding a bunch of swords at completely ridiculous angles, a squat muscle-bound freak with a bare ass and some booby green-and-purple women floating a distance away. Thanks, Peter Elson.

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Let’s take a break from cuteness. Next up is some serious cause for alarm from Tom Sutton, who’s excellent at psychological horror. His weird art is full of details one can sink into; his sketchiness and sweeping lines leave one with the disquieting impression of being inextricably pulled into a distorted, nightmarish world.

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Damsel in distress from « Budding Evil », Haunted no. 17 (July 1974, Charlton), both scripted and drawn by Tom Sutton. Tell me you can look at the girl’s face as she’s getting strangled by tentacles and not get goosebumps.
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The meat-eating flowers have seriously disturbing “buds”… the best of us would have fainted!

There’s an inspired essay about Sutton here which I heartily recommend! I’ll take the liberty of borrowing a great Sutton quote from it (itself taken from a 2000 interview by Jon B. Cooke for Comic Book Artist no. 12). Voilà:

« They published weird stuff, and I have always been fascinated by weird stuff, and the weirder the better….  I do owe a certain amount to Charlton, because they allowed me to write a lot of ditties of my own, to paint a lot of horrible covers, and they never, ever, ever remarked on my technique. »

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Brr. I think we need an example of straightforward macho heroism to counter-act the icky impression left by the creeping horror glimpsed above. Here’s Doc Savage to the rescue, as usual. Watch the epic struggle between muscled man and malevolent tentacled beast!

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Original cover art for Doc Savage no. 8 (Marvel, Spring 1977) by illustrator Ken Barr. And no, I don’t have the answer as to why Doc Savage’s normally bronze hair looks like a white bathing cap here. However, Barr seems to have enjoyed painting it – just look at that glistening musculature!

Let’s see the cover as it was published:

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A bit too much text, guys. C’mon, you have a tentacled monstrosity with indubitably evil eyes, a man with rippling muscles and bulging veins… We’ve figured out that Doc is its next victim (just as surely as we know that he will come to no real harm).

Interestingly, upon opening the magazine, the first thing one sees is a Tom Sutton illustration. Small world! The cover story, « The Crimson Plague », is an adaptation of a novella published in Doc Savage Magazine in September 1939, and most likely written by Lester Dent (as Kenneth Robeson), who’s responsible for most of the classic Doc Savage epics. It’s an « adventure in which Doc Savage and his team deal with kidnapped scientists, captured comrades, and the deadly secret of the Octo-Brain » (sounds exciting, doesn’t it?) and is illustrated by Ernie Chan.

~ ds

On this day: November 16, 1902

« A cartoon appears in the Washington Post, prompting the Teddy Bear Craze, after President Teddy Roosevelt refused to kill a captive bear tied up for him to shoot during a hunting trip to Mississippi. »

Boy, American presidents sure were different back in those days.

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The history-making cartoon by Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman (1869-1949), who worked with the Washington Post from 1891-1907, then with the Washington Star from 1907-1949.

Which brings us to Teddy Bears (as they became known henceforth) returning the favour of protecting the vulnerable and innocent.

The earliest instance that comes to mind is Johnny Craig and “Ghastly” Graham Ingels’ holiday charmer, Shoe-Button Eyes!, which appeared in The Vault of Horror no. 35 (Feb.-Mar. 1954, EC), wherein a blind, put-upon little boy gets a new set of peepers… the hard way.

Post-Code, this sort of harsh poetic justice had to be handled very gingerly, if at all. The vengeful bear turned up again in Nicola Cuti and Jack Abel’s elegantly-told The Teddy Bear, in Haunted no. 15 (Nov. 1973, Charlton.)

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Quoth the plush companion: « I was sent to you to protect you and I will! » Spoiler alert: the butler did it.

A couple of years down the pike, “Grisly”* Tom Sutton took up the gauntlet with his «Terrible Teddy!», from Ghost Manor no. 23 (May 1975, Charlton). Here it is, presented in its glorious entirety (including Sutton’s gnarly painted cover).

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TerribleTeddy1ATerribleTeddy2ATerribleTeddy3ATerribleTeddy4ATerribleTeddy5ATerribleTeddy6A

– RG

*perhaps more appropriately “Grizzly”, in this instance.

Tentacle Tuesday: Domesticated Octopus Seeks Soulmate

Meet an old man’s pet, Poochy. Like most pets, he gets a little impatient and loud around mealtime, but forgive him – he’s just a healthy animal who needs his calories. Who’s a good boy?

It’s Tentacle Tuesday, and today’s offering is this barking mad (hehe) and delightfully nonsensical story with script and pencils by Jim Starlin and inks by Wayne Howard.

« The Hotel » is a mere 2 pages long, so here it is in its full and unabridged glory:

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This is no plebeian octopus. This tentacled horror, this mutated dog-like atrocity, is a force for moral good, dammit, dishing out all the punishment these evil-doers deserve! (Or maybe it’s just hungry.)

This tale of woe comes from Weird Mystery Tales #4 (Jan.-Feb. 1973), with a cover by Jim Aparo. It re-interpreted the story somewhat, making the thug’s comeuppance a little more immediate, but it’s still the same basic plot device: there’s the Deus ex machina, and there’s what I call Sudden Tentacles. Don’t know how to wrap up your story? Bam! tentacles out of nowhere, and everyone forgets that your tale makes no freaking sense.

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Continuing this rather disturbing theme of stay-at-home octopuses, we have another contender for someone’s beloved pet: this sweet little (metaphorically speaking) guy from « Dum-Dum’s Basement » (Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #93, August 1979).

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Art by Mel Crawford. Dum-Dum’s pet will soon want flesh instead of fish! (I also like how some people don’t give a shit about having a permanently flooded basement.)

Then we have the prototypical Sudden Tentacles and set at home, too: this panel from a chilling Tom Sutton and Nicola Cuti story called « Those Tentacles! » (inventive title), published in Ghostly Tales #106, August 1973.

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“The tree branches remind me of those tentacles… those slimy, winding tentacles squeezing the life from Jake!”

There’s a scene in Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (at 3:55) that quite terrified me as a kid – a girl reaches over a sink to turn the water on, and the tap sprouts… appendages… and grabs her hand. I wish Freddy Krueger was into tentacles, I would have spent fewer sleepless nights in my youth.

Wishing all of you peaceful nights of slumber… until the next Tentacle Tuesday rolls around – and it will.

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This itty-bitty octopus will haunt your nightmares.

˜ds