Recalling Tomorrow With Dean Motter

« Mister X has always puzzled me. I’ve never been exactly certain where he came from. It seems like he has always been present — maybe not skulking through the perplexing shadows of the city so much as through some kind of collective unconsciousness. » — Dean Motter (1986)

On this day, back in 1953, the celebrated art director, graphic designer, writer-illustrator and cartoonist Dean Motter was born in Berea, Ohio, not far from Cleveland.

Over the course of his illustrious career, Motter has flitted in and out of comics, often in tandem with a rather remarkable array of collaborators, among them Jaime Hernandez, Paul Rivoche, Seth, Ty Templeton and Michael Lark… but just as frequently on his own.

As you’ll see, though he is quite adept in a vast range of media and techniques, nearly all of his mature work is lovingly filtered through his abiding interest in Will Eisner’s The Spirit, film noir, Art Deco, German Expressionism, with, I’d say, a soupçon of Soviet Propaganda art… resulting in a surprisingly cogent and coherent retro-futurist vision. The future as seen from the past, in short. And that’s just the visuals.

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Ah, youthful indiscretions! Motter’s cover for the inaugural issue of the tabloid version of Andromeda (1974, Media Five; Bill Paul, editor). Herein, Motter wears some rather less highfalutin’ influences on his sleeve, notably those of Mssrs. Brunner, Kane and Steranko. « Focus Fire ~ white Eclipse The Aurora Anti-Cosmos Splitting Heavens Apocalypse. »… concluded Young Master Motter’s epic poem, Celestial Circuit Cirkus.
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An early appearance from (a yet-unnamed?) Mister X, snuck its way onto a Canadian reissue of Patrick Cowley‘s Megatron Man (1982, Attic Records). And here is a later, rather dodgy recycling of his artwork that must give Dean some choice nightmares.
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A nice change of pace to showcase his range, this is Motter’s cover for Mister X no. 6 (Dec. 1985, Vortex). This splendid logo, débuting here, would thankfully return from time to time.
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This is Mister X no. 8 (Oct. 1986, Vortex); In its subtlety, this cover stretched the limits of what was technically possible in comics printing at the time, in terms of saturation and contrast.
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In the late 1980s, Motter jumped at the chance to write and illustrate Shattered Visage (oh dear me, a Shelley quote!) a sequel to 60s British television classic The Prisoner (4 issues, prestige format). This is the (much improved) cover to a 2019 reprint (Titan Books) of the original 1990 DC Comics collected edition.
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This is Electropolis no. 2 (Sept. 2001, Image), a spin-off of his Terminal City limited series (1996-97, DC Comics).
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Page two of Epilogue Prologue from A1 no. 1 (Atomeka Press, 1989), story and art by Motter.
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Cover from Mister X: Eviction no. 2 (June 2013, Dark Horse).
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The cover of Dean Motter’s Mister X: Eviction & Other Stories (Nov. 2013. Dark Horse).
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Front and back cover spread of Mister X: Razed no. 4 (May 2015, Dark Horse). Unusually done in gouache, if I’m not mistaken.
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One of the current comics field’s crasser, most mercenary outfits, Dynamite Entertainment specializes in the frivolous mangling and mingling of established franchise properties, with the wankbait titillation ramped way the hell up and variant covers out the wazoo. Sample titles: Red Sonja & Vampirella Meet Betty & Veronica (twelve issues so far, as it’s so very high-concept), Barbarella / Dejah Thoris, or Army of Darkness / Xena… I mean, check out this train wreck of a lineup. Such is the power of their brain-dead crappitude that they even managed to produce an abysmal mini-series from a Roger Langridge script, a career first for the great man. Their not-so-secret weapon: in the hallowed publisher’s tradition of the old bait-and-switch, they don’t scrimp on the slick-as-spit cover artwork. This is The Shadow no. 25 (May 2014); a variant cover, need you even ask?

Aside from his comics work, Motter spent a considerable part of the 1980s working for the Canadian arm of what was then the biggest (and possibly stingiest) record label in the world, CBS/Sony, shepherding or designing beautiful and clever covers for albums that were often neither… but that’s an art director’s job, cynical as it may seem. Anyway, you know you’ve made it when your work rates a pastiche decades on; to wit:

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This reminds me of how a single-minded, contrarian generation of Chuck Klostermans has taken over music criticism in order to wipe away the work of the Obama Administration Robert Christgaus and Dave Marshes of this world, aiming to vindicate and impose their beloved childhood bands, which once were the reigning critics’ whipping boys. Nowadays, you’ll find 4 and 5 star ratings (out of five, there’s no room here for moderation!) of Van Halen, Kiss, Loverboy and Journey albums, which was unthinkable at the time of their release. Plus ça change…

What is there left to do but to warmly wish Mr. Motter the finest of birthdays… at a safe distance? Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!

– RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Won’t You Have a Cuppa With Me?

« I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea. » — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A colleague at work labelled me a “tea whore” the other day. I don’t think that’s an official expression (though apparently one can purchase tea mugs with this message), but I’ll take that as a badge of honour. And therein lies my similarity to my beloved octopods: they never say no to a nice cup of tea, either. Evidence, you may ask? I’ve a-plenty of it. Pour yourself a steaming cup of oolong and join me!

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Donald Duck no. 200 (October 1978), cover by Larry Mayer. Incidentally, he has already been part of a Tentacle Tuesday.
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Surprise: this quintessentially British scene (an umbrella, a cup of tea and a suitably meek accountant) is brought to you by a Canadian comic! This is Vortex no. 9 (May 1984), cover by Ron Lightburn. Vortex was one Canadian Vortex Comics’ titles. Some interesting stuff was published by these guys: Matt Howarth’s Those Annoying Post Bros and Savage Henry, Los Bros Hernandez’s chunk of Mister X, Ted McKeever’s Transit, Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur

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The following pages are from Disney’s The Little Mermaid no. 10 (June 1995). No, no, stick around, it’s worth it. You can read the full issue here.

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So far so good, even though this begs some questions (such as “how do you pour a cup of tea underwater?”) But the following dialogue suggests that things other than tea-drinking were on the mind of *this* octopus:

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You know how all this ends, don’t you? That’s right:

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I tried to make this a purely innocent post, but things didn’t pan out.

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Gahan Wilson is always, always good and ready for tentacles. (By the way, he is financially struggling and has dementia, which is both stupefying and depressing. I never cease to be amazed at how someone with such a wide-ranging and fruitful career can end up impoverished… His family raised enough money on GoFundMe – for now – to take care of him, but you should still visit that page for recent pictures and updates about his health.)

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Cartoon by Gahan Wilson, published in Playboy’s August 2006 issue.

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In 1986, British cartoonist David Leach unleashed Psycho Gran upon an unsuspecting world. The « five-foot high, mauve-haired, bespectacled psychotic granny with a pan-dimensional, sentient handbag called Percy, a flying dog called Archie and a pathological loathing of rudeness » first appeared in British children’s comic Oink!, where she lingered for 15 issues, pummeling purse snatchers, clobbering office workers and disciplining  rampaging monsters until 1988. In 2011, she came back – her hair more purple than ever, her lust for authoritarianism unabashed – and is currently involved in a four-part mini-series.

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And she’s drinking tea with Mr. Cthulhu. I’m jealous.

« We all have grannies. I think there’s something wonderfully exciting, mischievous and dangerous about them, or was that just mine? They’re old and they’re the mum of your mum, plus they spoil you rotten, but they can also tell you what to do, like your own mum does! That seemed so strange when I was a kid, the idea that they could boss not only you but also your mum or dad around. And I think we’re all a little scared of the elderly, no one likes to think that one day they’ll be old themselves, I think we resent them for showing us what we’re going to become. Psycho works because she looks frail and yet she’s super strong and batty. She’s the classic sheep in wolf’s clothing. And there’s something funny about an old granny being lethal and crazy to boot, especially since usually the elderly are portrayed as figures of fun to be mocked and laughed at. » (Look Out, Britain! Psycho Gran is Back!)

And by the way, I wasn’t exaggerating about Psycho Gran’s passion for control (and tea).

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Drink tea with your octopus today… and if you don’t have an octopus, borrow one from a friend. I don’t have a dirigeable (that would be a zeppelin for younger people in the audience) , but I manage. Toodle-oo!

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The cover for the 2016 calendar of Otto and Victoria, an adorable steampunk couple created by Brian Kesinger. These two were featured earlier in Tentacle Tuesday: Adopt an Octopus Today!

~ ds