« 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.
« 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 acolyteWarren 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.
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?
« 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.
This story was repurposed as a cover for Ghostly Tales no. 130 (May 1978):
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.
« 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?
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.
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.
*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.
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.
« 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.
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.
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.
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 Artistno. 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. »
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!
Let’s see the cover as it was published:
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.
« 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.
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.)
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).
*perhaps more appropriately “Grizzly”, in this instance.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.