« Jerry Grandenetti started out ghosting The Spirit, and nobody… NOBODY… captured the spirit of The Spirit better. Not content to stay in Will Eisner’s shadow forever, he forged his own unique style leading to a highly successful comics career lasting decades. » — Michael T. Gilbert
Since my very first encounter with his work, Jerry Grandenetti (1926-2010; born ninety-five years ago today, another Thursday April 15th) has endured as one of my true artistic heroes. But he’s not celebrated much at all.
Though he’s worked extensively on The Spirit, he’s treated as a bit of a footnote in the Eisner hagiography. His DC war work is well-regarded, but he’s inevitably overshadowed by the Joe Kubert – Russ Heath – John Severin trinity. Besides, by and large, the war comics audience doesn’t overlap much with the spandex long johns crowd. Grandenetti has only very occasionally and timidly dipped a toe into the super-heroics fray, and he was far too unusual for overwhelming mainstream acclaim.
In fact, aside from the couple of converts I’ve made over the years, I can only think of three fellow torch-bearing aficionados: Michael T. Gilbert (who digs best the early, Eisner-employed Jerry); Stephen R. Bissette (who favours the spooky 60s and 70s work); and Don Mangus, who’s most into the DC war stuff. I daresay I enjoy it all, but my taste is most closely aligned with Mr. Bissette’s on this particular point. Let’s sample a bit of everything, insofar as it’s feasible to sum up a career spread out over five decades… in a dozen-or-so images.
In 1954, the powers-that-be at National Periodical Publications (you know, DC) gave Grandenetti some latitude to experiment with their War covers. Grandenetti produced an arresting hybrid of painted and line art. The process involved a grey wash painting that was photostatted, with flat colour laid over the resulting image. The first few attempts yielded striking, but nearly monochromatic results. A bit farther down the pike, the production department got more assured in its technical exploration.
DC was generally hesitant to entrust its more established properties to the more “out there” artists. In the cases of Grandenetti and Carmine Infantino, the solution was to match them with the weirdness-dampening inks of straight-arrow artist Murphy Anderson. And you know what? It did wonders for both pencillers and inker.
This is The Spectre no. 6, October, 1968. A tale told by Gardner Fox (and likely heavily revised by hands-on editor Julius Schwartz, a man who loved alliterative titling) and superbly illustrated by the Grandenetti-Anderson team. Steve Ditko aside, Jerry Grandenetti had no peer in the obscure art of depicting eldritch dimensions (you’ll see!)
So there you are. Just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Happy birthday, Mr. Grandenetti!
« … a radical series of crappy jokes & trashy art mopped out of the Bowery’s least washed lavatories. Fueled on bologna sandwiches, black coffee & cheap cigarettes, these are the ugly buttons that scream ‘America‘ to an America that has forgotten itself. » — a tasty bit of hype from Goblinko
Fabled pulp illustrator Norman Saunders (a definite favourite around these parts) is legitimately appreciated for his body of work, but I do believe he isn’t sufficiently lauded for his humorous work. After all, he could hold his own against the likes of Basil Wolverton and Wally Wood, and how many of his peers could lay claim to such a lofty achievement?
A passage from his son David’s definitive monograph, the simply and fittingly titled Norman Saunders:
Ugly Buttons came out in 1967 to exploit the popular trend of protest buttons with witty sayings. The macabre humor of Ugly Buttons reflects their Halloween release date as well as the morbid comedy of popular TV shows like The Addams Family and The Munsters. Norm Saunders created half [ eleven, actually ] of the twenty-four images in this set, while Wally Wood created the other half.
Collectors find this set very difficult to complete. Although the series was a popular success in 1967, the buttons appear to have rarely survived. This is perhaps attributable to the design of the tin back pin, which was made in Japan with a hair-trigger clasp that instantly popped open and fell off.
By the way, I don’t know just how sanctioned these reissues are, but the cool cats at Goblinko have made these lovely buttons available once more, presumably sturdier and certainly at a perfectly reasonable price (forty times the original, I’ll grant you… but you do get to pick).
« … And so Hooten Landing remained unchanged through the years… a landmark and a memorial… a colonial world that had made only one or two concessions to the march of progress. » — From Ye Olde Spirit of ’76 (July 3, 1949)
Having reached the last half of Kitchen Sink’s chronological reprinting of the Post-WWII Spirit, we come at last to the end of our own chronicle. As stated earlier, facing an inexorable dwindling of Eisner’s involvement and investment in his creation due to other commitments and an understandable sagging of his stamina, the strip slowly entered its decline. Then as now, good help was hard to find, to the point where Eisner opted to wrap up the strip rather than let it peter out completely. This sober and courageous decision most certainly contributed in preserving the feature’s solid reputation to this day.
As we embark on the inarguably lesser half of the run, we encounter fewer standout covers, which is to be expected, given the creator’s diminished affection for the contents. Nevertheless, forty-four Will Eisner covers are bound to yield some genuine sparklers. Here, then, are my picks.
Some background about the classic Sand Saref two-parter, from Tom Heintjes‘ Stage Settings column:
« The final two stories form one longer tale, and they’ve earned a place in comics history. Eisner’s work and film noir have been mentioned in the same breath for decades, and you hold in your hands one of the best reasons why. »
« The story’s history is unorthodox. Sand Saref and Bring in Sand Saref had their origins in Eisner’s shop, which had been producing various comic books and pieces of commercial art with growing frequency. The two stories were originally done as a single 11-page feature, but it didn’t star The Spirit. The lead character was John Law, a character Eisner intended to launch independently of The Spirit feature.
When the John Law project was shelved due to the often poor newsstand distribution of many comic books, Eisner later saw an opportunity, and seized it by breaking the 11-page John Law feature into a two-part Spirit story. Astute readers are now saying: ‘But Spirit stories are seven pages long, requiring fourteen pages of art.‘ Well, there are no flies on Will Eisner. He created the first three pages of ‘Sand Saref’ to bring up the page count.
Eisner said breaking the John Law story into two halves, eliminating all traces of the intended hero, and inking in the faces of The Spirit’s cast of characters wasn’t simple. “The characters were different people, so considerable dialogue had to be rewritten,” he said. “John Law was a policeman and The Spirit wasn’t. Merely because they both fought on the side of law and order didn’t make them the same character.” In fact, Eisner has Sand Saref tell The Spirit ‘you’re a cop’ in the climax of the 14-page story. »
A word or two about The Outer Space Spirit, as it’s come to be called: Eisner, looking for a worthy successor to bequeath the strip to, found young Wally Wood. Talented as he was, Wood’s tragic character flaws were already well established: unlike Eisner, he couldn’t pace himself and he couldn’t stay the course, two qualities essential to the steady production of a comic strip. But for the couple of weeks before Wood started missing deadlines, such lush, interstellar beauty! Feast your peepers here.
Well, that’s it! Thanks for tagging along on Will Eisner and his most famous creation’s tireless peregrinations.
If you’ve missed the earlier entries in the series (punctuality is not one of your strong suits, is it?), all is not lost. In fact, it’s all handily archived within easy reach :
I say, the year’s first Tentacle Tuesday is a big responsibility! That’s why I’d like to start with some slimy or furry, squirming or pitter-pattering, whimsical or gnarled, skittish or spine-chilling, drooly woolly creepy crawlies with toupees and bloodshot eyes. After all, the 2020s decade is sadly guaranteed to be full of ’em… but of a significantly less cute variety than the lot that I’m featuring today.
Topps‘ Ugly Stickers have a lot going for them: excellently drawn, tongue-in-cheek monsters in various states of putrefaction. If there’s one commonality between them, it’s that most of them showcase teeth any dentist would be thrilled to drill through. Many of them have far more appendages that a regular creature needs… and a lot of these appendages are distinctly tentacular, which is of course where we come in! And they’re all cute as a button.
«In 1965 Topps released Ugly Stickers. This set was initially based on the grotesque drawings of Basil Wolverton, but when he demanded copyright control, he was paid off for his first twelve images and then fired. The rest of the creatures in the set were designed by Norman Saunders and Wally Wood.
The creatures that appear on the display box, the wax wrapper, and the giant twelve-piece puzzle were all designed by Saunders. He also painted all 44 Ugly Stickers. These were so popular they were reissued in four later versions and even spawned a line of rubbery toys called Teacher’s Pets.»
So what’s the break-down? Out of the original 44 stickers, Wolverton designed 10. The rest were the handiwork of WallyWood and Norman Saunders. The total set numbers 164. Not all cards were repeated in the re-runs, which is why the numbers don’t compute, for those of you who multiplied 44 cards by 4 versions and obtained 176, not 164; there were 4 groups of 40 cards + 4 non-repeated cards.
In some print runs, the creatures did not have names, doubtlessly leaving that part to the reader’s imagination. Most cards, however, do have names, with genders shamelessly swapped, making guys into gals and back into guys again. Take a peek at the full list of name changes over at this very instructive website, Bubble Gum Cards.
Does s/he look like a Jacqueline to you? Or maybe an Edward? I vote for the former; such an elegant name for a bug-eyed, displeased brain-thing, Just look at the flair with which she wears that pink tuft of fur underneath.
Joseph and Evelyn (or Stanley and Renée, or…) were previously used by my co-admin RG in his Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 24 post, but they distinctly have tentacles, so I believe it’s worth running them again.
As a little bonus, here’s a lady from Topps’ 1966 Ugly Name Stickers series who asked to be included. Her name was… Donald, Sylvia, Angelo, Phyllis, Barney, or Rosemary. “Barney” is really pushing it!
« Somehow, this thing had caught the spark of life! And, anything that lives will fight to stay alive… even if it’s just a Rag-a Bone and a Hank of Hair! »
Ah, Brother Power, the Geek. A notorious flop for DC in 1968… or was it? At the time, it took several months for a book’s initial sales reports to make their way back to the publisher. Axing a title after two measly issues is quite a preemptive and premature strike against it. I suspect a case of toxic in-house politics. From the onset, editorial cold feet had the suits meddling with the project: the character of the animated rag doll was to be called The Freak, which was nixed in favour of the less druggy but more chicken-head-bite-y TheGeek.
Brother Power the Geek, despite its commercial failure and infamy, offered a good-natured, unpretentious romp, even if didn’t quite show us « The Real-Life Scene of the Dangers of Hippie-Land! » You can’t always get what you want.
Brother Power was brought back under DC’s Vertigo imprint in 1993, but as with the revival of its fellow Joe Simon creation, Prez, it received a « groovy » and « ironic » hipster treatment. Bah.
« When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her. » — Sacha Guitry
Here’s my contender for the most adult thing ever published in a Warren Magazine, as opposed to adolescent. It was also Wally Wood’s final significant contribution to his bibliography (though it was created around 1971); by the time of its belated publication Wood’s work had degenerated into depressing, crude porn before he tragically took his own life in November, 1981. As Witzend sadly proved, most comics creators, when handed a creative carte blanche, would merely regurgitate the same old thing they were doing for the mainstream, but with the addition of tits and/or gore. This, however, whilst featuring a generous dollop of T&A, is another breed of beast. It was published, of all places, in Warren’s SF anthology 1984 (issue 5, Feb. 1979). Go figure.
The marvellous Bhob Stewart queried Nick Cuti about the story during a roundtable gathering of former Wood assistants in Derby, Connecticut, in July 1985. The discussion later appeared in Against the Grain: MAD Artist Wallace Wood, edited by Stewart (2003, TwoMorrows Publishing)
Bhob: You worked on “Last Train to Laurelhurst“? [the story’s original title] Cuti: « As a matter of fact, I’m in it on the opening page. That’s me — right there [points to foreground figure in splash.] I used to wear muttonchops in those days. We wrote that together; Woody came up with the basic storyline, and I wrote a lot of dialogue. I hated his ending. I said, ‘Woody, you really ought to change the ending.’ The ending was that the guy blasted his faithless wife and her lover and then walked away. I said, ‘Gee, that’s what he’s intending to do in the very beginning. There’s no switch at the end. If you change it around somehow, it would make it a little bit more surprising.’ So he went home and rewrote the ending. I thought that the ending he came up with was far superior and made it a really brilliant story, to really tell you what life can be like.
Ernie Colón did the pencils. It was Woody’s idea, and I wrote some of the script, I don’t know how much because we used to toss things back and forth all the time when I was at the studio.It was for a magazine called Pow that never came to be. [Jim] Warren had approached Wood to do an adult humor magazine which would have had serious stories, very sexy, something that adults would enjoy reading. Unfortunately, Woody and Warren had diametrically opposed personalities, and they couldn’t seem to get together on it.
There was a funny story: Ernie had done the pencils with a soft pencil, and Woody and I were wondering what the heck we could do to make sure it didn’t get smudged. I was very carefully going over the pencils with an eraser to get out the smudges. I came in the next day with the pencils and said, ‘I found the perfect way to avoid smudging the pencils.’ Woody said, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘I sprayed them.’ Woody’s face dropped, and he almost reached over the strangle me before I stopped him and said, ‘Hey, Woody, I’m only kidding!’ [laughter] Because when you spray something, you can’t erase the pencils any more. You would have ink and pencil on the same paper. He almost had a heart attack right there; his mouth dropped open, and he said, ‘Oh, no!’ Then he started laughing after I told him it was only a joke. Later, when I walked into the house, and Marilyn said, ‘Oh, Woody, Nick’s here. You know, the fellow who sprays all your pencils?’ Obviously, he had thought enough of the joke to tell her about it. »
Speaking of Pow, here’s a cover sketch Wood did in 1971.An adult humour magazine? I guess they hadn’t quite settled on the tone.
Today’s Tentacle Tuesday delves into William Gaines’ EC and the glorious 50s (well, glorious for *some* things, at any rate). “Weird”, you say? Why, weird simply must include tentacles!
It’s a mixed bag: those of you who dislike Al Feldstein (and I know my co-admin RG would raise his hand readily) may be terribly annoyed by this post, but patience, my friends! there’s a lot of Wally Wood (a Tentacle Tuesday master, by the way!) in here, too, and who in their right mind would admit to detesting Wally Wood?
(As for myself, in case somebody is wondering, I like Feldstein’s artwork just fine.)
« EC’s flaws are pretty obvious: even when the artists were striving for greater seriousness than the ironic gore of the horror stories or the outrageous early sci-fi plots or even the clever but predictable crime and suspense stories, the writing was often overwrought, prolix, and ham-fisted, and the artists were straightjacketed by EC’s rigid visual grid. They were Entertaining Comics first and foremost, but they also seemed compelled to break out of their commercial formulas, however finely realized, and publish stories that were fiercely honest, politically adversarial, visually masterful, and occasionally formally innovative…» (source: Gary Groth’s Entertaining Comics)
« While [Feldstein was] freer than most writers of his era to indulge his fantasies, he was also more punitive toward the characters who acted them out. John Updike tormented adulterers with depression and guilt. Feldstein lopped off their heads or burnt them alive. If they received a scarlet letter, it was branded on their flesh. In real life, sexual misbehavior might have cost one alimony. Feldstein made Shahira law seem like Thomas Jefferson had drafted it. Feldstein reflected a society which, while fascinated by sex, was terrified or ashamed of this fascination. » (source: Bob Levin in Let Us Now Praise Al Feldstein)
There are few things more satisfying than hitting two birds with one stone. Today’s Tentacle Tuesday almost, but not quite, coincides with the birthday of Hilary Barta, who was born on June 17th, 1957. As it happens, he is delightfully adept at depicting tentacles, and quite enthusiastic about it, too…. so it is my pleasure to combine tentacle festivities with a (hopefully) tantalizing sampling of a great artist’s work.
There’s no mentioning Barta without perusing some of his Simpsons’ work, especially under the umbrella of that tentacle-rich (my favourite!) manifestation of the Simpsons, the Treehouse of Horror.
If your little heart desires babes with form-fitting clothing (or wearing nought but their birthday suits) and tentacled monsters with sad, expressive eyes, look no further than Wallace Allan Wood (1927-1981). Famously advising fellow cartoonists to “never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up”, he would return to the beloved theme of buxom girl + tentacles again and again.
Without further ado, let’s take a gander at some of Wally Wood’s tentacled offerings.
This theme is returned to again several years later:
There’s also this poignant scene…
Wally Wood was a tremendous influence on artists who came after, and there’s a myriad of parodies, imitations, and derivations of his style… But I’ll wrap up this post with one well-executed hommage that fits in well with the theme, I think.