Into the Inky Shadows With Jerry Grandenetti

« 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 KubertRuss HeathJohn 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.

Opening splash from The Secret Files of Dr. Drew: Sabina the Sorceress, written by Marilyn Mercer and lettered by Abe Kanegson, from Rangers Comics no. 56 (Dec. 1950, Fiction House); this version hails from a reprint (Mr. Monster’s Super Duper Special no. 2, Aug. 1986, Eclipse) using the surviving original art; it was recoloured by Steve Oliff.
Page 3 from The Secret Files of Dr. Drew: Curse of the Mandibles!, written by Marilyn Mercer and lettered by Abe Kanegson, from Rangers Comics no. 55 (Oct. 1950, Fiction House); this version hails from a reprint (Doc Stearn… Mr. Monster no. 4, Dec. 1985, Eclipse) using the surviving original art; it was most tastefully recoloured by Steve Oliff.

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.

This is G.I. Combat no. 77 (Oct. 1959, DC); wash tones and colouring by Jack Adler, who recalled, in a 1970s interview: « It was suggested that we start doing washes for covers, and we were talking about doing it for so damned long, but nobody attempted it. I think Grandenetti did the first one, an army cover with someone floating in the water. I think that was the first wash cover that was done. That one ended up looking like a full color painting. »
This is G.I. Combat no. 83 (Aug.- Sept. 1960, DC); wash tones and colouring by Jack Adler. In 1995, Robert Kanigher, Grandenetti’s editor on the DC war books and a frequent collaborator, recalled: « Jerry liked to experiment and I had to sit on him to get him to stop it. Especially in his covers, which were outstanding, when I forced him to draw as realistically as possible. »
Original art from The Wrath of Warlord Krang!, smothered in dialogue and exposition by Stan Lee, from Tales to Astonish no. 86 (Dec. 1966, Marvel); inks by Bill Everett. Namor‘s constant random shouts of ‘Imperius Rex!‘ make him sound like a sitcom character with Tourette’s. As far as I’m concerned, it’s possibly been the most annoyingly asinine slogan in comics since Stan stole ‘Excelsior!‘ from Jean Shepherd.
The opening splash from Cry Fear, Cry Phantom, written by Archie Goodwin, from Eerie no. 7 (Jan. 1967, Warren). In the mid-60s, presumably tiring of being pigeonholed as a war artist at DC, Grandenetti made the publishers’ rounds, doing a bit of work for Tower, Gold Key, Charlton, Marvel, Cracked (check it out here) and most memorably Warren where, after ghosting a few stories for Joe Orlando, he unleashed his innovative expressionistic style.

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!)

Page 13 from Pilgrims of Peril! written by Gardner Fox, from The Spectre no. 6 (Sept.- Oct. 1968, DC); inked by Murphy Anderson. Dig the salute to a trio of real-life spooky writers, all of whom editor Julius Schwartz knew well, having even served as Lovecraft’s literary agent late in his life. By the tail end of the 1960s, Lovecraft’s work was finally making some commercial inroads, thanks largely to Arkham House co-publisher Derleth‘s unflagging diligence.
Page 22 from Pilgrims of Peril! written by Gardner Fox, from The Spectre no. 6 (Sept.- Oct. 1968, DC); inked by Murphy Anderson.
Page 2 from Men Call Me the Phantom Stranger, written by Mike Friedrich, from Showcase no. 80 (Feb. 1969, DC); inks by Bill Draut. This story reintroduced an obscure character from the early 50s, which Grandenetti had drawn a couple of times during his six-issue run. The Phantom Stranger has remained active ever since, but most writers (save Alan Moore, wouldn’t you know it?) don’t really know what to do with him. This, however, is my very favourite PS appearance. Draut, a slightly old-fashioned penciller by this time was, as a slick inker, a wonderful fit for Grandenetti’s confidently loopy layouts.
Page 3 from The Haunting!, written by Jack Oleck, from House of Mystery no. 183 ((Nov.-Dec. 1969, DC). Grandenetti pencils and inks: undiluted!
Page 2 from Eyes of the Cat, written by Robert Kanigher, from House of Mystery no. 189 (Nov.-Dec. 1970, DC); inks by Jerry’s fellow Will Eisner ghost Wallace Wood. The inspired combination of Grandenetti’s adventurous layouts and the velvety unctuousness of Wood’s finishes are a match made in heaven, but one Woody wasn’t fond of. Oh well.

So there you are. Just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Happy birthday, Mr. Grandenetti!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Head Cases

Sometimes tentacles are positioned so close to the head that one gets the impression they’re sprouting directly from it. Whether accidental or not, the result is quite horrific – sometimes in a good way, if one enjoys the creepy and bizarre. In this Tentacle Tuesday, we’ll come across literal cases of octopus-instead-of-head, beard-tentacles (stylish!) and alien cepha-cerebellum-pods, which I hope will catch on as a term.

The following has been taken from The Octopeople of Ectroia, illustrated by Henry Kiefer, and published in Fantastic Comics no. 8 (July 1940, Fox Comics). If the introductory panel gives but a brief glimpse of the creature we are about to encounter…

… the splash page gives us an eyeful of her charms. Now we know what Baba Yaga would look like with tentacles instead of her usual limp grey tresses. Incidentally, a few days ago an enterprising fellow won enough support (and funding) from the Lego community to make his Lego Baba Yaga idea an (eventual) reality. She would come with her traditional hut on hen’s legs, a black cat and “everyday useful things” like horseradish drinks. Needless to say, I want one.

“Comics” McCormick has had more than just one encounter with cephalopod-headed men! The following is the cover of Fat and Slat no. 4 (Spring 1948, EC Comics), illustrated by Ed Wheelan.

And here is a page from The Octopus, printed in Terrific Comics no. 3 (May 1944, Helnit Publishing). Is it the same villain? Well, nearly: they’re Octopus-Man and Octopus, differentiated only by the costumes they sport under all those tentacles.

Edgar S. Wheelan (1888-1966) was the creator of Fat and Slat and “Comics” McCormick, and he is well remembered for his introduction of some cinematic techniques to comic strips. Of special significance is his Minute Movies, created for the George Matthew Adams Newspaper Service. This series of animated shorts not only had its stars (and continuity!), but also made full use of techniques that weren’t usually employed in comics, like close-ups, long shots and head shots with title cards.

The following sequence is an oldie-but-goodie from the oft-quoted Origin of the Species!, scripted by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, and illustrated by Feldstein. It was first published in Weird Fantasy no. 8 (July-August 1951, EC Comics). For those of you who may not have read it and are wondering whether those tentacled beasts were somehow the progenitors of the human race… no, they weren’t. As for the plot, it raises more questions than it answers, which I believe is not atypical of a Feldstein tale (from those I’ve read, they tend to be like a movie with plenty of drama and special effects, but little sense).

I recently came across a 3-part story published in Eerie numbers 91 to 93 that I quite liked: the tale of Moonshadow, the assassin who never failed, scripted by Bob Toomey and illustrated by José Ortiz. As luck would have it, two of the instalments were rife with tentacles!

The following page (and also the preceding panel) is from Suzanna Don’t You Cry, part 2 of the tale, published in Eerie no. 92 (May 1978, Warren).

Last but hardly least, a page from Kingdom of Ash, published in Eerie no. 93 (June 1978, Warren).

Fast forwarding some twenty years, we land in the middle of a pirate tale – and what suits a pirate more than a headful of tentacles (and a peg-leg)? This page is from Autopsy in B-Flat, written and illustrated by Gary Gianni and first published in Hellboy: Almost Colossus no. 1 (June 1997, Dark Horse) as a back-up feature. Gianni’s The Monstermen stories have since been collected separately.

What we gather from this dialogue is that octopus pirates like pork.

Finally, I think I promised some tentacles in lieu of beard, and the early stages of this guy’s transformation surely qualify:

This creature appears in the pages of Nocturnals: Black Planet (October 1998, Oni Press), with all plotting and art handled by auteur Dan Brereton. Actually the pages of this collection are so rife with tentacles that I’m going to force myself to be succinct.

Another instance of tentacles-as-hair:

Cover for Nocturnals: Black Planet (October 1998, Oni Press).

Thanks to friend Barney for pointing this last batch out!

~ ds

Archie Goodwin’s “Sinner” (1966)

« If you’re going to be a sinner, be the best sinner on the block. » — Anton Szandor LaVey

I’m afraid the appeal of Archie Goodwin’s (1937-1998) writing has always escaped me. As you’d expect with a career as busy and prolific as his was, there are notable exceptions*. But I think, as is often the case in comics, he gets a lot of credit for tepid, formulaic writing that happens to be masterfully illustrated. You know, like just about every story from the early Creepy and Eerie (Goodwin was editor and principal writer of the Warren line for its first four years or so) with their groan-inducing ‘shock’ endings: “But I’m a vampire, and we don’t like competition around here!” or “We ghouls don’t cotton much to werewolves!” or “You’ve guessed my secret too late — I’m a witch!” or “For I am… Death!

On the other hand, he was a fine editor and, by all accounts, a terrific human being. In 2013, Mark Evanier put it this way: « At a time when some editors in comics were notorious for treating their freelancers with disrespect and yelling, Goodwin had a sterling reputation. He always would. Archie was nice. He was honest. »

It is to his great distinction that even such divisive, eternally-acerbic figures as Jim ShooterFirst and foremost, everyone loved Archie. Archie had a manner about him that you just couldn’t not like him. While he was tough as nails, and he was probably the best that passed through this business, he managed to do it without offending anyone. He managed to be respected and remain friends with everyone and do his job. ») and Alex TothNone of us were working there [at Warren ] for the money, because there wasn’t much. We were working there to work with Archie. ») reserved naught but effusive praise for the man.

But you know what I really like about Archie? His drawing, which was all-too-rarely showcased. While he did adjoin thumbnails layouts to his scripts, Goodwin’s drawings rarely appeared in print, aside from some jokey editorial asides at Marvel in the 1980s. Here’s Sinner, written and illustrated by Goodwin, from Wally Wood’s prozine Witzend no. 1 (Summer 1966).

Sinner would be reprinted a few times, notably in the second issue of Marvel’s Heavy Metal knockoff Epic Illustrated (Summer, 1980), edited** by Goodwin. Marvel had passed on the Métal Hurlant licensing rights and, when Heavy Metal proved a smash hit, launched their ersatz. Such is the way of Marvel.
This is Witzend no. 1, featuring a splendid cover layout by Goodwin…. it’s harder than it looks, especially when it looks this good… and given the relatively primitive means employed. I tell you, Archie missed his calling.
Goodwin’s, adobe, clean line and silhouette graphic approach has always reminded me of this fine album cover from a few years earlier, which is to say 1963. It was designed by A&M Records art director Peter Whorf (yes, the legendary Whipped Cream & Other Delights cover was also one of his).

Despite all this, Archie Goodwin’s greatest claim to fame simply has to be the tremendous legwork he did as Nero Wolfe’s assistant.

« Archie Goodwin’s first prose story was published by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which warned him he could not use Archie Goodwin as a pen name because it was a Rex Stout character in the Nero Wolfe books. According to Goodwin’s wife Anne T. Murphy, the magazine’s editors ‘then were so delighted when he wrote back to say that it was his real name that they used the anecdote as the introduction to the story, which ran in the July 1962 issue.’ »

-RG

*Notable exceptions: The Success Story, with art by Al Williamson (Creepy no. 1, 1964) has actual bite. Despite its rote-EC-revenge-from-beyond-the-grave finale, it’s a bitter parody of real-life comic-strip parasites such as Don Sherwood (Dan Flagg, The Partridge Family) and Alfred Andriola (Kerry Drake). There’s the tragically moving Island at World’s End, illustrated by Gray Morrow (Eerie no.4, July 1966). And a handful of inspired little tales that truly fired up the creativity of a freshly-emancipated Steve Ditko: Collector’s Edition (Creepy no. 10, Aug. 1966); Second Chance! (Creepy no. 13, Feb. 1967); Deep Ruby! (Eerie no. 6, Nov. 1966); and my very favourite, Room With a View (Eerie no. 3, May 1966… their first collaboration!). If anyone’s interested, the Goodwin-Ditko outings have been handsomely collected in Creepy Presents: Steve Ditko (2013, Dark Horse).

It must be said that Goodwin knew how to match a plot with the proper illustrator. As he explained, « I always tried to write the stories for individual artists. Sometimes, I’d ask them if there was a certain setting or a certain kind of story they were interested in, and I also knew what they did best. » It’s a shame that, overall, the stories themselves were so timid and unambitious, so mired in the glories of the past. Some people can’t help pulling their punches, I suppose.

**To give you a fair idea of Marvel’s delusions of corporate grandeur at the time, Epic Illustrated no. 2‘s convoluted and deceptive editorial credits read thus: Stan Lee (editor); Archie Goodwin (editorial director); James Shooter (consulting editor); Marian Stensgard; Louise Jones; Larry Hama; Ralph Macchio (editorial); Roy Thomas (contributing editor); Maggie Thompson (contributing editor); Don Thompson (contributing editor). Dollars to doughnuts that Goodwin and Louise Jones did all the actual work.

Strange Sports, Weird Kids and More: Don Maitz at Warren

« Naturally there was quite a ruckus when everyone found out who… and what Rah was. But there wasn’t any rules concernin’ the eligibility of a mummy to play ball, so the Jets’ victory stood… » — from Roger McKenzie’s The Return of Rah

Carrying on with our irregular survey of significant Warren cover artists whose names and reputations are somewhat less inextricably linked with the publisher than the usual suspects, and thereby sometimes overlooked. Fresh out of art school, and on his way to a truly remarkable, award-peppered career, Don Maitz (born 1953, Plainville, CT) graced a brace of Warren Mags with some of his earliest professional imaginings, which I’ve gathered here.

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A lot of people apparently don’t much care for Warren’s late 70s sports-themed issues, but I like ’em, given that they feature a trove of gorgeous Carmine Infantino artwork, when he was experimentally-paired with a dizzying assortment of inkers (in this issue, John Severin, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño… and, well, Dick Giordano). At their best, the sports issues allowed him to revisit with more latitude (though less ingenuity, I’d argue) the Strange Sports Stories format he’d initiated in 1962 with writer Gardner Fox and editor Julius Schwartz. This is Creepy no. 93 (Nov. 1977, Warren). Senior editor Louise Simonson* (née Mary Louise Alexander) was commendably trying to spice up what had become a stale formula, but it turned out that there just wasn’t sufficient overlap between Warren readers and sports fans. A more staggered release programme might have cushioned the blow: as it was, Warren readers got two sports-centric issues in November 1976, then another pair in November 1977.

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I hope that headline was meant ironically, because (spoiler alert), the humans are the monsters and the aliens… aren’t, in Bill Mohalley and Nicola Cuti’s Deathball 2100 A.D., a sordid, derivative (Rollerball + Death Race 2000, geez) and heavy-handed tale made uglier by Dick Giordano’s usual stiff, graceless visuals. Nice cover, though. This is Eerie no. 88 (Nov. 1977, Warren).

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Well, now! This marvellous vision, marking quite a tonal break from the usual Warren diet, corresponds to no particular tale within this ‘bad seed’ issue, yet teems and brims with story, with nary malice… but so much wonder. A bold move on the part of editors Simonson and Nick Cuti. This is Creepy no. 94 (Jan. 1978, Warren).

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This handsome simian trio deserves better than their association with Cary Bates and Esteban Maroto‘s rather juvenile, Lord Greystoke-slandering Murder on the Vine. You’ve done better, boys. This is Creepy no. 95 (Feb. 1978, Warren), a cover bearing more than a mere whiff of Frazetta.

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The probability of violent demise aside, isn’t this just the most unctuously idyllic autumnal scene? This is Eerie no. 91 (March 1978, Warren).

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Though this one is to my mind the lesser entry in the parade, I must concede that it’s presented in exemplary fashion: the colour choices, the placement of the type, even the integration of that unholy blight, the bar code. This is Eerie no. 93 (June 1978, Warren).

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Young master Maitz’s final Warren cover (chronologically speaking): this is Eerie no. 94 (Aug. 1978, Warren), illustrating Nicola Cuti and Leo Durañona‘s Honor and Blood. « Can the child born out of an unholy union between man and vampire grow up to lead a ‘normal’ life? You can’t escape the sins of your parents. Their errors ripple faintly down the generations! » “Er, what’s with the deer head?”, you may ask. The answer, from the story: « The bride was never to see the weak, corrupted face of her human husband. She wedded the Elk, symbol of the Beast. »

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« A lowly elk, “symbol of the Beast”? Maaa, you’re just making shit up, Nick. » The feeling on that point seems, in fact, quite unanimous.

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And here’s a privileged peek at Mr. Maitz’s Creepy 94 cover painting original (Mixed media on Masonite, 24” x 18”), which, as it turns out, is entitled Unsafe Footing, which makes me love it even more.

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As a rum enthusiast, I am naturally aware of the Captain Morgan brand… whose mascot (circa 1982) is, as it happens, Maitz’s most familiar creation… to date. Prost!

-RG

*Yes, that Louise Simonson (Jones à l’époque)

Tentacle Tuesday: Toothsome and Monstrous

« Teeth are always in style. »  — Dr. Seuss

By now, we have surely established that in the compendium of made-up monsters, tentacles are an artistic short-cut for evoking an especially terrifying creature. As it turns out, if there’s one way to make an already spine-chilling abomination even scarier, it’s to equip its gaping maw with teeth. Be it fangs borrowed from some unfortunate vampire, the implausibly symmetrical dentures of a TV show host, or clearly carnivorous, sharkish chompers, artists have been inserting teeth where no teeth should be long before you or I were born.

« But Grandmother! What big teeth you have! », once quipped Little Red Riding Hood in the 19th century, and this fear of teeth has clearly followed us into the Modern Age.Take a look —

Sheldon Moldoff was probably thinking of a snake’s fangs when he came up with this cutie:

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A page from Horror at the Lighthouse!, published in Beware! Terror Tales no. 6 (Fawcett Comics, March 1953). Scripted by Bill Woolfolk, drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. Read the full story at The Horrors of It All.

TerroratheLighthouse-2-SheldonMoldoff-Beware! Terror Tales #6,

This cross between a dinosaur and a mole (or is that more of an ant?) boasts an enviable set of sparklingly white dentition:

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Challengers of the Unknown no. 22 (Oct-Nov 1961), cover by Bob Brown.

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Aw. You’d go “wacky”, too, if some jerk piled on grenades on you.

One thing you can say about tentacled monsters, it’s that they sure keep their denticulations (yes, it’s a word) impeccably clean. Maybe they choose their victims based on that, like cats gleefully enjoying the crunch of a good teeth-cleaning croquette?

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Holy crap, look at those white chompers (that are about to get a little marred with blood, gristle and whatnot)! Weird Mystery Tales no. 9 (Dec 1973 – Jan 1974), cover by Luis Dominguez.

On the other hand, some monsters could have used a set of braces (this one is an orphan, which is why it had to make do with a British set of teeth).

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Eerie no. 131 (June 1982), cover by Rudy Nebres. Can you imagine trying to chew anything with such a set?!

A somewhat similar (but a lot less overcrowded) set of ivories for gnawing and gnashing can be spotted in water:

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A collectible card (from sometime in the 2000s) by illustrator Chet Phillips. Here you can admire his series about Japanese monsters, or visit his website, chetart.com.

This toothy post is now at its end – happy brushing (and flossing — it’s important!) to all, and ’til next Tentacle Tuesday!

~ ds

p.s. Not particularly related to comics, but I found this photograph distinctly on the side of scary:

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Captioned « Women in London sit down for express teeth whitening ». I think they’re about to be transformed into aliens, or contaminated with some deadly germ, or perhaps just burnt to a crisp by some mysterious rays. Have I been reading too many comics?

Tentacle Tuesday: “She was asking for it!”

You know how women aren’t advised to go out after dark, or to go to parties in revealing clothing because they might get raped and/or murdered? (This is purely a comic blog and we play nice, so I’m not developing that line of thought any further.) In the comic world, until relatively recently, that sort of thing couldn’t really be shown, but aren’t tentacles a rather handy stand-in for more realistic (and far scarier) violence? The only point I wish  to state is that a woman can’t even go for a fucking walk without encountering tentacles. Swimming? Just forgetaboutit. Sitting quietly on a log? As long as you’re female, the tentacles will still find you, it scarcely matters whether you’re clad in a swimsuit, a gunny sack, or a parka. If the monster finds you a tad overdressed, it will just rip your clothing off – problem solved!

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Blackstone no. 1 (Fall 1947, EC). Blackstone, Master Magician was created in 1946 by Elmer Cecil Stoner (1897-1969; one of the first black comic book artists!) for Vital Publications. The comic had a remarkably short life – one issue published by EC Comics (the one you’re currently looking at), and three more issues published by Timely. Somehow this was enough to spawn a radio series that aired from 1948 to 1950.

Stoner, who worked for a plethora of golden age companies (Timely, Fawcett, EC, Dell…) attracted some pretty heavy criticism in recent years. « Stoner’s drawing is the visual equivalent of fingernails scraped across a slate, and whenever he had a chance to botch the perspective, the composition, or even the inking, he did so with brio », opines Ron Goulart in his Great History of Comic Books. One could make the point that the above cover demonstrates this: the characters seem to be floating, not connected at all with one another or the landscape. However, whatever one thinks of his art, it has to be admitted even by the staunchest critic that Stoner was a pioneer who carved out a path for other African-American artists.

« On December 16, 1969, Elmer Stoner passed away. Since then he has been largely forgotten by the comic book industry and overlooked as a trailblazer. He was no Jackie Robinson, his presence in the comic industry didn’t alter its course. He did, however, pave the path for Al Hollingsworth, Matt Baker, Ezra Jackson, Cal Massey and for every African-American artist who followed. Stoner’s life is worthy of further exploration and his story deserving of wider recognition. He should not remain invisible. » |source, an article by Ken Quattro that’s well worth reading!|

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« Miriam and Hester were insane. They took the severed head of a dead man, and sewed it back onto his body. Then, they stripped away their clothes and conjured up a demon! » As usual, Vampirella stories make perfect sense. The Nameless Ravisher, scripted by Flaxman Loew and drawn by Leopold Sanchez, was published in Vampirella no. 40 (March 1975, Warren). Flaxman Loew, by the way, was the somewhat ridiculous nom-de-plume of British Mike Butterworth. His stories seemed to get criticized a lot in the letters’ section, so maybe he deliberately picked a moniker guaranteed to be misspelled. One thing’s for certain – he had a vicious streak, qualified by a fan as a “fizzy, nasty run”. Read the full issue here, if you must; I can’t recommend it.

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Thank you for underlining the VIOLATING in the narration, Mr. Script Writer (what can you expect out of a man named Flaxman Loew?) – otherwise we would have never figured it out. This story also contains awe-inspiring quotes like « Vampirella! Rend her! Rip her! Now! », and « the water comes… and comes… ravishment by water…! »

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You know how I said that swimming is not recommended unless you want a tentacular encounter? Do keep that in mind, especially with summer just around the bend:

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Alpha Flight no. 14 (Marvel, September 1984). Cover by John Byrne. Co-admin RG would like to inform everyone that Lake Ontario is not teal-coloured. I’d rather take my chances with the octopus rather than be rescued by that horrible-looking man, but that’s just me (or Byrne’s so-called art).

A closer look at Heather’s rescuer:

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Puck is a dwarf, okay, but why does it seem like Byrne has never seen an actual dwarf in his life?

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A page from « Biology Class », scripted and drawn by John Byrne. So why doesn’t the athletically-minded Puck jump into the water instead of Heather? She tells him not to: « Stop! You know you can’t swim worth spit! » (Err…?)  Is it just me, or do the “deep and dark waters of Lake Ontario” look like a swimming pool?

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O, cute Demi with your gleaming hooves, beware of the quiet before the (sexy) storm! Demi the Demoness no. 2 (1993, Rip Off Press). The cover is by Demi’s Canadian creator, Steven S. Crompton.

Crompton’s art is not *great*, but it has definite charm: somewhat childlike and proudly cartoony, it underlines Demi’s innocence perfectly, her huge puppy eyes beckoning to the reader while she gets ravished by yet another toothy monster, well-endowed Pegasus, or frisky cat goddess. And I don’t mean to make it sound like she’s lying back and thinking of England, either – in most cases, she’s an enthusiastic participant in the sexy shenanigans.

« Over 35 different Demi the Demoness comics have been published. Numerous artists and authors have worked on Demi comics over the years, including Frank Brunner, Tim Vigil, Seppo Makinen, Philo, Ryan Vella, Gus Norman, Enrico Teodorani, Silvano, Diego Simone, Jay Allen Sanford, and many others. Demi has appeared in numerous comics crossovers with other characters, including Shaundra, Captain Fortune, Mauvette, Vampirooni, Cassiopeia the Witch, Djustine, Crimson Gash, and adult film stars Tracey Adams, Tabitha Stevens, Deja Sin, and Bonnie Michaels.» |source|

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Page from « The cumming of Lamasthu », published in Demi the Demoness no. 4 (1994, Rip Off Press). Art by Steven S. Crompton.

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Page from « The Cumming of Lamasthu », published in Demi the Demoness no. 4 (1994, Rip Off Press). Art by Steven S. Crompton.

You can read a dozen Demi issues on My Hentai Comics… the link is very much not safe for work, unless you work for a sex-obsessed Lord Cthulhu or something. But I can guaran-damn-tee a lot of tentacles!

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Cadillacs and Dinosaurs no. 2 (March 1994, Topps). Cover by Dick Giordano, who shouldn’t have been let anywhere near Mark Schultz’ characters. I see the lizard has decided to photobomb this romantic scene (the skeleton guy is clearly about to drop Felicia into the murky swamp water.. that’s teal-coloured for some reason… hardly swampy!)

Inside, we get Blood and Bones, Part II: Swamp Things (scripted by Roy Thomas and drawn by Dick Giordano), a Mœbius 2-pager, a couple of pages of captioned Schultz dinosaur illustrations, and – just in time to save this issue from being thoroughly dreadful – Sailor, Take Warning!, scripted by Roy Thomas and drawn by Steve Stiles.

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See? Definitely tentacles. Every self-respected brain has ’em.

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Felicia’s pose looks distinctly unnatural, but she’s doing a good job of letting everyone know she has an impressive bust (a girl has priorities, even while unconscious). Giordano doesn’t seem to know that human hands curl up when at rest.

You know what Blood and Bones, Part II: Swamp Things has, aside from a suspiciously blue and limpid swamp? Dinosaurs. More specifically a T-Rex skeleton controlled by a brain with tentacles, who’s actually the father of one of the characters! It takes a Roy Thomas to cobble up such classic plots.

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Maybe, instead of Brainosaurus Rex, he should have been called Daddysaurus, or maybe even Papasaurus Rex?

Read the issue here.

I hope I have impressed upon you the absolute necessity of caution when taking a stroll – whether your path lies next to a large body of water or leads through a forest. Above all, do not perch on a log when you need a rest, or lean against a tree. Hanging out with magicians is also not recommended.

Until next Tentacle Tuesday, I remain tentacularily yours…

~ ds

Treasured Stories: “I Wonder Who’s Squeezing Her Now?” (1979)

« 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.

IWonderWho01AIWonderWho02AIWonderWho03AIWonderWho04AIWonderWho05AIWonderWho06AIWonderWho07AThe 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.WallyWoodPowRoughAAn adult humour magazine? I guess they hadn’t quite settled on the tone.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Rooks, Epics, an Eclipse and a Web

This Tentacle Tuesday is a magazine edition.

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Web of Horror no. 1 (Major Magazines, December 1969). Painting by Jeff Jones.

I understand that the artist left quite a lot of empty space on purpose – to be filled with pointless text – but still, was it necessary to plaster nearly every inch of the image with captions yellow, red and purple? (I do like how the WEB seems to be made out of plasticine… and likely was.) Here’s the cover without all that wordy fluff:

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“Oooh, lookie, tentacles!”

I’ve already covered most Warren tentacles in Tentacle Tuesday: Warren and its many tentacles and Tentacle Tuesday: Warren and its many tentacles, part II, but handsome, gun-toting, time-travelling The Rook got left over. I’d like to rectify this omission. Admire the fight to the death of the scientist-who-likes-to-dress-up-as-gun-slinger and a tentacle-bearing fish-lion!

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The Rook no. 4 (Warren, August 1980). Cover by Nestor Redondo.

The Rook couldn’t quite kill the fishy brute’s whole family in #4, so he had to confront its slightly more colourful cousin in issue 7:

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The Rook no. 7 (Warren, February 1981). Cover by Jordi Penalva. It’s nice to see that men (not exclusively Doc Savage) get strategically ripped shirts, too, sometimes. Eye candy!

Co-admin RG suggested I check Eclipse Magazine‘s tentacular offerings for this post, and he was correct, there was one issue involving an octopus used as a coffee table.

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Eclipse Magazine no. 4 (Eclipse, January 1982). Cover by Carl Potts. I went snorkeling a few months ago and the scene was not dissimilar (minus, sadly, the mermaid).

Marvel’s Epic Illustrated, with its 70-odd pages per issue, surely offered something for everyone. The aforementioned offerings were quite hit-or-miss, but the occasional presence of Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, Basil Wolverton (in reprints), Berni Wrightson, Ernie Colón, Craig Russell, et al. makes it worthwhile to go through its 34 issues (okay, maybe not all in one sitting, unless you have quite a few thermoses of tea prepared – or something stronger).

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Epic Illustrated no. 12 (Marvel, June 1982), cover by Frank Brunner. You can read the whole issue here.

Brunner’s painting is rather nice – the mermaid and her friendly octopus both look so serene! – that here it is again. And read an interview with him while you’re at it: Legendary Feathers: Interview with Frank Brunner. (I apologize for linking to a website titled Fanboy Nation, though. Erk.)

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Issues 10 to 17 of Epic Illustrated featured Rick Veitch’s Abraxas and the Earthman, a purported retelling of Moby Dick (although frankly, aside from a vengeful squid, the similarities are not striking). Naturally, tentacles abound. Really freaky, creepy tentacles, much like the rest of the story.

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Page from “The Hunt: Chapter Three”, written and drawn by Rick Veitch, printed in Epic Illustrated no. 12.

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Epic Illustrated no. 17 (Marvel, April 1983), cover by Tim Conrad. Read it here.

Veitch’s fucked-up (I mean that as a compliment), imaginative tale continues with “Man and Whale (Chapter Eight)”, the final installment. Alongside a plethora of sea-creatures (no longer  in the sea), there’s this Devourer of Awareness, Bearer of Tentacles:

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(Incidentally, though somewhat off topic, I’d like to mention that Veitch did a bloody good job on Swamp Thing, for which he does not get enough credit.)

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Epic Illustrated no. 22 (Marvel, February 1984). Cover by John Bolton. Read the issue here. It’s a bad, unconvincing cover, but hey, this is an inclusive post.

Speaking of Bolton, he drew “Wizard’s Masque” (another chapter in the cycle of Marada the She-Wolf), a story scripted by Christopher Claremont.

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~ ds

Kenneth Smith’s Singular Warren Visions

« Quodo seemed to be a paradise. It was a lush green planet of peace and solitude. Then the pilot met the blonde… » — Nicola Cuti, “Weird World”

Kenneth Smith (1943-), the fantasy artist, inhabits the same body as Kenneth Smith, the retired philosophy professor and incorrigible obfuscator. Whereas someone like, say, Bertrand Russell would make his point clearly and concisely, Kenneth would just pile it higher and higher, leaving the reader entangled in a maze of syntax and syllogism.

Since you may not be familiar with the man’s infamous column in The Comics Journal, Dramas of the Mind, here’s a typical quotation from the man, where he, er… takes on “obscurantism”:

« In characterizing realities no less than in taking positions on issues, consciousness generalizes, i.e. genericizes: in articulating or formulating, it reduces things, even our own selves, to forms, abstractions, idealizations, types, archetypes, simplisms. “Thinking” is an activity that ultimately grounds or resolves itself in the satisfying, self-certain form of orthodoxies, preconceptions, uncriticized and imperative norms; and it is overwhelmingly inept to recognize just how pathetic, parasitic or placental is its relation to its “own” fundamental norms of understanding and valuation. Rarely if ever does any act of thinking grow so laserlike or iconoclastically intensive as to escape from the dense miasma of what is acceptable. To think what actually is is even more contranatural for humans than to see what actually is: as subjectivizing as “seeing” is, “thinking” is many degrees or magnitudes more saturated with conditioned biases, delusions, self-deceptions. A program of hygiene or asepsis for the sanity, acuity and clarity of syncretic or wholesided thinking—a discipline of orthotics for sobering, grounding and polemicizing of well-formed gnoseonoesis—is needless to say unknown in modernity. Not just language but virtually all of intellect, education, culture, etc. have been adapted into utilities, tools whose very aspectivity militates against the nakedness of “evidence,” which is to say, against candor and against truth: regardless of what it may be called, “evidence,” even the most obvious and blatant, is in actuality not so “evident” to most people, and the modern development of “sophistication” or “education” typically worsens the obscurantism. »

For all that, I’ll take a guy with such an overflowing abundance of vocabulary and ideas that he doesn’t know when to quit… over most of the boneheads frequently passing for writers nowadays. Still, if you don’t mind, we’ll (mostly) stick to his Warren artwork today.

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Creepy no. 35 (Sept. 1970). Regardless of its month of release, its lovely shades of emerald bring thoughts of springtime to mind.

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Creepy no. 36 (Nov. 1970), unique amidst Smith’s Warren covers in that it presents the human form in a somewhat less… grotesque fashion.

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This is Creepy no. 41 (Sept. 1971). Owing to its lower than usual print run, this ranks amongst the scarcest Warren issues.

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This is Creepy 1971 Annual, all reprints, but quite a choice roster of them: Ditko, Toth, Boyette, Craig, Crandall, Sutton, Adams, and Torres.

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And here we have Mr. Smith’s last, and arguably least, Warren cover. Only a detail of the full painting was used. Eerie 1971 Annual also features naught but reruns.

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And this is the original painting in its entirety. Sorry about the glare, but this is likely the only publicly available image of this privately-owned piece.

Bonus time: Mr. Smith created this lovely piece to illustrate R.A. Lafferty‘s masterful short story Mr. Hamadryad. I first encountered them* in the anthology Prime Cuts no. 1 (Jan. 1987, Fantagraphics). Hey, any fan of Old Man Lafferty’s is someone I’d happily clink glasses with. Cul sec, Mr. Smith!

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« I believe that Mr. Hamadryad was the oddest-looking person I had ever seen. Surprisingly I regarded him so, for I first became aware of him in The Third Cataract Club in Dongola, and some very odd-looking gentlemen came into The Third Cataract. If you cock an eyebrow at someone in that place, then he’s really odd. » — R.A. Lafferty

*Smith’s illustration first graced Lafferty’s tale in the limited edition (1000 copies) collection Golden Gate and Other Stories (1982, Corroboree Press, MN). However, “Mr. Hamadryad” first turned up in STELLAR I (Judy-Lynn Del Rey, ed., 1974).

-RG

Edgar Allan Poe: Immortality Is but Ubiquity in Time*

« Be silent in that solitude
    which is not loneliness — for then
the spirits of the dead who stood
    in life before thee are again
in death around thee — and their will
shall then overshadow thee: be still. »
— Edgar Allan Poe (1829)

It was on this day, two hundred and ten years ago, that the great writer, poet and posthumous master of all media Edgar Poe (Jan. 19, 1809 – Oct. 7, 1849) was born in Boston, Massachusetts. I’ll spare you the usual biographical details, widely available elsewhere, and we’ll concentrate on his unflagging ubiquity in the medium of comics.

Poe’s literary reputation was in tatters in America, thanks to a rash of hatchet jobs and dismissals, some of the most vicious from the pen of one Rufus Griswold, the very worm he’d named his literary executor (!), as well as such notables as Ralph Waldo Emerson and T.S. Eliot… while his renown was undimmed in Europe, particularly in France (in no small part owing to Charles Beaudelaire’s legendary translations), rehabilitation at home slowly came as the 20th century crept along, but it was likely the publication of Arthur Hobson Quinn’s definitive Poe biography, in 1941, that sealed the deal and opened the floodgates.

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Top two tiers from page 2 of The Spirit‘s August 22, 1948 episode. Layout by Will Eisner, pencils and inks by Jerry Grandenetti. As Dave Schreiner puts it: « Grandenetti captures the asthenic look of Roderick Usher that Poe described. The man is a decadent waif; insular, fragile, high-strung, possibly in-bred. »

Classics Illustrated publisher Gilberton was first out of the gate with Poe adaptations, at first tentatively with a pair of poems (Annabel Lee, then The Bells)**, then more substantially with The Murders in the Rue Morgue, in Classic Comics no. 21 3 Famous Mysteries (July, 1944), sharing the stage with Arthur Conan Doyle and Guy de Maupassant. Read it here. Pictured below is Classics Illustrated no. 84 (June 1951, Gilberton), cover by Alex A. Blum. Read the issue here.

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A relevant passage from Simon Singh‘s fascinating (if you’re into that sort of thing… and I hope you are) The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-Breaking (1999): « On the other side of the Atlantic, Edgar Allan Poe was also developing an interest in cryptanalysis. Writing for Philadelphia’s Alexander Weekly Messenger, he issued a challenge to readers, claiming that he could decipher any monoalphabetic substitution cipher. Hundreds of readers sent in their ciphertexts, and he successfully deciphered them all. Although this required nothing more than frequency analysis, Poe’s readers were astonished by his achievements. One adoring fan proclaimed him ‘the most profound and skilful cryptographer who ever lived’. In 1843, keen to exploit the interest he had generated, Poe wrote a short story about ciphers, which is widely acknowledged by professional cryptographers to be the finest piece of fictional literature on the subject. The Gold Bug tells the story of William Legrand, who discovers an unusual beetle, the gold bug, and collects it using a scrap of paper lying nearby. That evening he sketches the gold bug upon the same piece of paper, and then holds his drawing up to the light of the fire to check its accuracy. However, his sketch is obliterated by an invisible ink, which has been developed by the heat of the flames. Legrand examines the characters that have emerged and becomes convinced that he has in his hands the encrypted directions for finding Captain Kidd’s treasure. »

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A page from EC Comics great Reed Crandall‘s exemplary adaptation of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, from Creepy no. 3 (June, 1965). While Crandall’s work is outstanding, scripter-editor Archie Goodwin tried to ‘improve’ upon Poe by tacking on a tacky ending, a nasty habit he would indulge in again on subsequent adaptations, notably issue 6’s The Cask of Amontillado!. Read The Tell-Tale Heart. And don’t miss The Cask…, if only for the artwork.

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In the mid-70s, Warren would devote two full issues of Creepy to Poe adaptations; issue 69 (Feb. 1975), featured The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Premature BurialThe Oval Portrait, MS Found in a Bottle!, Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar; issue 70 (Apr. 1975) comprised The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Man of the Crowd, The Cask of Amontillado!, Shadow, A Descent into the Maelstrom! and Berenice
All stories were adapted, with far greater respect than Mr. Goodwin seemed capable of, by Rich Margopoulos, and illustrated by a host of artists. The project was edited by Bill DuBay, and the cover painting is by Ken Kelly.

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Isidre Monés‘ fabulous opening splash from Creepy no. 70‘s Berenice. Read the story in full here.

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« The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which Musselmen say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity. » In 1976, a peak-form Berni Wrightson got out his brushes and paint tubes for a heartfelt portfolio of Poe-inspired oils. A sensitive and subtle sense of colour was among Wrightson’s chief assets; it’s a shame we didn’t see more of it. I opted to feature my favourite piece from the lot, A Descent Into the Maelström, but by all means feast your eyes on the whole shebang.

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In 1976, Marvel Comics set out to make their mark on the classics… with dubious, but predictable results. It wasn’t what their zombie readership had clamoured for. Here’s the best page (art by Rudy Mesina) from Marvel Classics Comics no. 28, The Pit and the Pendulum (1977), featuring three tales adapted by scripter Don McGregor, and including future superstar Michael Golden‘s abysmal professional début on yet another helping from The Cask of Amontillado, where he demonstrates how he believes wine is to be drunk just like Pepsi. See what I’m griping about here.

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Think Poe’s all about the horror? Think again! You don’t become a household name by putting all your eggs in the same basket. Meet Edgar ‘Eddie’ Allan Poe, romantic leading man. “Based on actual records…” and sanitized beyond recognition. Given that Virginia and Edgar were first cousins and that they married when she was thirteen, you can see how absurd this strip is. Read the full tale of romance and pathos right here. The Beautiful Annabel Lee appeared in Enchanting Love no. 2 (Nov. 1949, Kirby Publishing). Writer unknown, art by Bill Draut and Bruno Premiani.

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Kubert School alum Skot Olsen‘s cover illustration for the revised and expanded second edition (July, 2004) of Graphic Classics‘ Poe compendium.

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As with, say, Elvis or H.P. Lovecraft, when both legend and œuvre reach a certain tipping point of iconic fame, one can bend and twist the concepts any which way and they’ll still be recognizable. Here’s a panel from Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder‘s faithful-in-its-fashion take on The Raven, from Mad no. 9 (Feb.-Mar. 1954, EC).

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Michael Kupperman strikes again. From Snake ‘n Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret ( 2000, HarperCollins)

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Hot off the presses! It’s Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror no. 2 (Nov. 2018, Ahoy), featuring a collaboration between Rachel Pollack and the fabulous Rick Geary. Don’t miss it! Oh, and if the pose looks familiar, you’re thinking of this.

Whew — that’s it for now. In closing, I must bow and salute before the gargantuan endeavour accomplished by Mr. Henry R. Kujawa on his truly indispensable blog, Professor H’s Wayback Machine. Thanks for all the heavy lifting, Henry. I get exhausted just thinking about it.

Tintinabulate on, Mr. Poe — wherever you are!

-RG

*my thanks to Herman Melville for those words of wisdom.
**and thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Kujawa for that precious scrap of arcane lore.