Tentacle Tuesday: Wrap Your Brain Around This!

The brain-with-tentacles is curled up at the comfy intersection of two beloved tropes, the Brain Monster and the Tentacled Terror. Through some clever combining, one is guaranteed a truly horrendous creature that’s at least 25% more appalling than either of its step-parents. It’s the favourite of many a filmmaker and comic artist, and the toast of this particular post!

It may be a little too early to wrap yourself around a drink (at least in this part of the world), so you’ll have to enjoy this Tentacle Tuesday sober.

A friendly critter from Fiend Without a Face, a British movie from 1958.

One has to pay one’s dues to the classics: Basil Wolverton‘s The Brain Bats of Venus, originally published in Mister Mystery no. 7 (September 1952), is unquestionably indispensable, so I could hardly turn a blind eye to it. In case you were out that night and missed it, you can read the whole story at The Horrors of It All blog.

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The tentacled brain has several means of locomotion at its disposal, and while crawling around spasmodically is a great mood-setter, floating around gives one much better scope of movement. The following is one of those floaters, aided by some mechanical gizmos.

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Superboy & the Legion of Super Heroes no. 241 (July 1978). Cover pencilled by James Sherman and inked by Joe Rubinstein.

The cover story, Prologue to Earthwar is scripted by Paul Levitz, pencilled by James Sherman and inked by Bob McLeod:

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It’s just the worst when a brain launches into a tedious monologue after attacking you.

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As implicitly suggested earlier by that panel from Brain Bats of Venus, some brain-monsters latch onto their victims’ brains, either sucking them out like you’d do with a coconut and a straw, or taking over people’s minds by puncturing some unsavoury holes I’d rather not think about too closely. A character in the following issue of World Below, when it is kindly suggested to her that perhaps it would be a sound idea to sever her ties with the tentacled thing on her head, mentions that « it hurts them to release — terribly. And it’s hard to reconnect, too. Like surgery without anaesthesia.» The implications are… unpleasant.

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The World Below: Deeper and Stranger no. 2 (January 2000), cover by Paul Chadwick. Say, that’s a stylish hat you’ve got there, fella!

Zombies! is scripted and pencilled by Paul Chadwick and inked by Ron Randall, with grey tone separations by Jason Hvam:

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I would recommend not taking advice from women with a cephalopod on their heads.

 

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The headaches this hat must cause… just think of the neck pressure from having to support 40 pounds of octopus-flesh.

 

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Oops, that doesn’t look like it’s going to end well.

Moving along to goofier pastures…

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SpongeBob Comics no. 49 (October 2015). Cover by Kelley Jones.

This is perhaps getting ever-so-slightly beyond the parameters of today’s brain theme, but the inside of this issue hides a gem in its otherwise dull pages (although I have to be fair: the stuff is much better than I expected). Behold: Spongebob in Monster Canyon, written by Kaz and drawn by Tony Millionaire, both favourites of this blog. With such excellent parentage, one expects something wonderful, and one is not disappointed.

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Keep a close eye on your brains, folks, lest they be transformed into mindless mush by brainy aliens with tentacles with a taste for grey matter. I’d also stay away from TV, just in case… 

∋∈ ds

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Tony Millionaire

Once upon a time, in a kingdom beyond the seven seas, a little boy lived under the name of Scott Richardson in a seaside town (let’s call it Gloucester and pretend it’s in Massachusetts). His whole family were artists, and he would watch his grandparents paint the sea, the ships that sailed it and the people who commanded the ships. It must have come as no surprise at all when the boy, too, started to draw. Eventually, he grew up, moved around a lot, almost started a major war and somewhere along the way, acquired the nom de plume of Tony Millionaire (which, according to him, « comes from Old French. It means a person who owns a thousand slaves. Serfs, not slaves. »

How’s that for a little fairytale? You will forgive me for the jejune introduction, but something about Millionaire’s art is magic. It is easy to underestimate how good an artist he is because his art is so cartoony, and his characters so outlandish: his award-winning, syndicated strip Maakies, for instance, concerns itself with a perpetually blotto stuffed crow (Drinky Crow) and his best pal, a sock monkey (Uncle Gabby). Both were TM’s childhood toys. All children make up stories about their playthings. What’s magic isn’t that he was able to create a world for his toys to inhabit, it’s that he was able to pull us, the audience, in with him.

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His art is also stunning on a purely technical level: the impeccable geometry of his Victorian houses, the zest of his epic battle scenes (often between a whale and a kraken, it should be noted), the lushness of the gardens inhabited by fairies, gossiping insects having tea, and mice with puritanical sensibilities.

A couple of other things about Tony Millionaire: he’s really funny (or “drunkenly charming”, if you prefer; read his interview with John F. Kelly from 1999), and he clearly loves drawing tentacles, gleefully sticking them hither and tither. He’s clearly long overdue for an inauguration into the elite hall of Tentacle Tuesday Masters. I’m not here to provide you with hard facts about when and how, either about the newspaper strip Maakies or about the comic series Sock Monkey. You can get that from elsewhere. But I do believe that this is the only website where you can get your tentacle fix *and* your TM fix all at once (courtesy of co-admin RG who did all the scanning work!)

Anyway, enough of this chit-chat, and let the tentacles abound!

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« Maakies is me spilling my guts… Writing and drawing about all the things that make me want to jump in the river, laughing at the horror of being alive. »

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As fun as Maakies are, I find that one gets weary of them quickly – they’re like chips that burst with flavour to the point of causing desensitization. I believe that Sock Monkey is where Millionaire really gets to shine; I fondly remember being bowled over by Sock Monkey: the Inches Incident, in which TM really put his nautical sensibilities to use. The other books from this series only reinforced this impression – the art was so much lusher, and the moral complexity of these stories made each tale bittersweet. The artiste himself summarized it well, stating that « Sock Monkey is me trying to rise above all that bullshit, to be more poetic, looking at the bright side, remembering the things that used to delight me as a child. At the same time, the main theme to all the Sock Monkey books is the crashing of innocent fantasy into bone-crushing reality. »

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Fantagraphics published a full collection of Sock Monkey strips, but you can also read three of them right here online. I would of course strongly suggest supporting the publishing house and the author by purchasing the book, but what kind of high moral ground can it be if one is not offered a choice?

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~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: the Putrid, Gunky Insides of Death Rattle

Death rat·tle (/ˈdeTH ˈˌradl/), noun: a gurgling sound heard in a dying person’s throat.

Greetings! Today we explore Kitchen Sink‘s mostly-black-and-white horror anthology (drum roll, please) Death Rattle, which ran between 1972 and 1996 in three distinct “volumes” (please don’t forget your professional spelunking gear, things might get messy). For the pedants in the audience (and let’s be honest, that’s probably the majority of us comic-loving freaks), the break-down goes like this:

Volume 1, 3 issues published between June 1972 until June 1973 under the Krupp Comic Words imprint; volume 2, 18 issues published between October 1985 and October 1988 under Kitchen Sink Comix; finally, volume 3, five issues published between December 1995 and June 1996, also under Kitchen Sink Comix. I must admit that that my favourite period is Volume 2, and it’s from these issues that most material presented below has been drawn.

There is already a Tentacle Tuesday devoted to Kitchen Sink (see Tentacle Tuesday: The Kitchen Sink Touch) featuring, among other things, two splendid Death Rattle covers. We have also previously ogled some DR inside art in Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Rand Holmes. Today we take a longer peek into the stories promulgated by this fantabulous anthology. Get ready for some nasty fun!

(Man, I’ve got to tone down my build-ups…)

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Panel from Mind Siege! by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 3 (February 1986). The “my god!! so BIG!!” alien has the power to telepathically send mind-shattering hallucinations, eventually driving (nearly) everyone on earth insane. This issue also provides the first installment of Jaxon’s epic series Bulto… the Cosmic Slug (collected as Secret of San Saba: A Tale of Phantoms and Greed in the Spanish Southwest in 1989, for those interested).

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The last soldier on earth killed it! …Or did he? Panel from Mind Siege! by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 3 (February 1986).

The first 5 issues of Death Rattle volume 2 appeared in glorious colour, after which the series reverted to its standard black-and-white (financial hurdles). Issue 7 came out proudly bearing the slogan “too gruesome for color!” Issue 5 gave more details of the change to come:

« It will still be printed on quality paper, so you archivists out there won’t have trouble preserving disintegrating, rotting, putrid copies that look like they’ve just risen zombified from a Graham Ingels story. We’ll still be printing atmospheric stories of the unusual, the eerie, the — dare we say it — ghastly. So let’s rejoice, not mourn. »

I remember being vaguely disappointed for just a little while (it was nice to have colour), but the high quality of (most) stories made it easy to get used to the switch, and I really liked the unapologetic way Kitchen Sink confronted their audience, making a good thing out of a bad thing.

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Polite monsters knock before smashing noisily through the window. Page from Old House, scripted by Kenneth Whitfield and drawn by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 7 (October 1986).

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Page from Old House, scripted by Kenneth Whitfield and drawn by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 7 (October 1986).

I didn’t realize it immediately, but this post ends up being some sort of cephalopod love song to Steve Stiles. Speaking of the latter, I’d like to mention that he doesn’t get enough credit for his work on Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales, even though he drew Schultz-scripted back-up stories for no fewer than 13 issues of XT – and, frankly, did an excellent job. Instead of getting interrupted smack in the middle of an intoxicating story, Xenozoic Tales could have continued to thrill us if Schultz scripted and Stiles illustrated. ‘Nuff said. Visit Stiles’ website – it has tons and tons of stuff.

If I may be allowed a slight digression, here are two examples of Stiles’ recent (and computer-coloured, I’m afraid) work taken from his Tumblr blog – I think tentacles still prey heavily upon his mind! 😉

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Okay, no more distractions. Back to our regularly scheduled program:

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Last Exit by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 8 (December 1986). Comics *definitely* teach us that guns are useless against tentacles.

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« Savoring my growing fear and horror… the crawl and prickle of my flesh.. waiting to feel the rapid feather-flutter or antennae… the clammy weight of tentacles… the jolt of pain as mandibles grip with steady pressure…» Panel from Mirrors by Eric Vincent, published in Death Rattle no. 11 (June 1987).

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Page from Bulto – The Cosmic Slug (part 5) by Jaxon, published in Death Rattle no. 12 (September 1987). There simply isn’t anything Jaxon can’t ace: a lot of artists have no trouble depicting curvy vixens, few artists can draw an anatomically correct horse, and even fewer would be able to create a blood-curdling scene with a manic priest and a convincing Elder God.

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Panel from The Arrivals by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 12 (September 1987). Watch who you’re calling filthy, kid – soon you’ll be one of them.

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A bit of comic relief: panel from Dr. Stodge Rimperton, Otologist by Tony Millionaire, published in Death Rattle no. 2 (volume 3), December 1995.

« Yes, you may find yourself raving in the aisles when you read Death Rattle, although we sincerely hope not. We hope it will thrill, chill, slice, dice and possibly even amuse you. » (introduction from Death Rattle no. 4)

~ ds