Today’s TT is like one of those 5$ grab bags: you don’t exactly know what you’re going to get, but there will at least one thing you’ll find amusing! Unless the store has cheapened out and stuffed it with nonsense nobody in their right mind would want. This offering, on the other had, is full of our favourite artists, and is not nearly as disparate as I first thought 😉
I don’t always have an over-arching idea for a post, inevitably ending up with plenty of odds and ends that don’t neatly fit into any one category. Actually, some of those “scraps” are the most enjoyable finds for me.
The thing kept coming. “Die, die!” Parke screamed, his nerves breaking. But the thing came on, grinning broadly. “I like quiet protoplasm,” the thing said as its gigantic mouth converged on Parke. “But I also like lively protoplasm.” It gulped once, then drifted out the other side of the field. — excerpt from The Last Weapon by Robert Sheckley
Call it goo, label it as a giant amoeba, christen it ectoplasm or protoplasm, but when it starts crawling your way, do remember to beat a hasty retreat.
Coo! this page has everything: a prehensile amoeba, tentacled plants, aliens with cephalopod appendages…
… but it’s the amoeba that’s of current interest to us (yes, the one devouring everything in its path, including dawdling professors).
Continuing our literary delusions, a peek at the adventures of a ‘star vampire’, from a (somewhat lackluster) comic book adaptation of a Robert Bloch short story:
If a tentacled amoeba is scary, just think of how startling it is to run into an amoeba with a single bloodshot eyeball (that feeds on soap, among other things).
Not only does this monstrosity go after the scientist, instead of pursuing his absurdly attractive assistant…
But she’s also the one who saves the situation. Joe Gill, ladies and gentlemen!
Dan Piraro‘s Bizarro is a ubiquitous newspaper comic that usually doesn’t need much in the way of introduction. Favourite strips are widely shared by fans – cut out or photocopied from newspapers (or, more recently, printed from a website) to be pasted on office doors, cubicle walls and school binders. As a matter of fact, that’s where I spotted my first Bizarro strip: scotch-taped to the office door of my college English teacher. Oh, I’ve seen them before, of course, but this was the first time I consciously noticed one of them. Teachers of all stripes seem to have a thing for Bizarro – I had a university psychology professor once who actually collaborated with Piraro on some strips, an achievement of which he was justifiably proud.
As usual, one can rely on the intrepid Tom Heintjes of Hogan’s Alley to conduct a worthwhile interview with whichever artist one is interested in. Read it here: Mondo Bizarro: The Dan Piraro Interview. I’m not going to compete with Heintjes’ ability to summarize, so I’ll just quote:
« Since Bizarro’s January 22, 1986, debut, Piraro has taken his panel in directions simultaneously surreal and topical. In a comic universe where world-weary talking dogs exist alongside nihilistic housewives, Piraro gives his cartoons heft by skewering his own bêtes noires: wasteful consumerism, environmental destruction, corporate greed and sheeplike people, to name a few. Though his humor is never didactic, Piraro’s work is remarkable in its unwillingness to pander, even when the occasional panel borders on the inscrutable. For example, he once used the Etruscans as a punchline; if you skipped history class that day, tough. Since sustained excellence like Bizarro‘s is rare in any medium, his willingness to shepherd his panel into its third decade is great news for comics fans and for the more than 200 papers that carry the strip. Though Piraro maintains that Bizarro is a comic strip for people who don’t read comic strips, we all know better: Bizarro is a comic strip for people who love comic strips. »
Piraro is not the only cartoonist spoofing social conventions, endowing animals with the gift of human speech or forging surreal situations out of everyday occurrences… but he does it consistently well. His easily recognizable, flowing art style is the frosting on the cake, and very nice frosting it is, too. Yet who can grasp the scope of such prodigious output? Bizarro collections (there have been thirteen of them – fitting number, isn’t it?-, all quite out of print) generally end up in the discount bin of bookstores (often neighbours to disheveled anthologies of Gary Larson‘s The Far Side, another omnipresent yet somehow underappreciated strip). For all my affection for Piraro’s goofy world, I only own Bizarro and Other Strange Manifestations of the Art of Dan Piraro (Harry N. Abrams Publisher, 2006). Some of the strips in this post have been scanned from it (others were found in the trackless depths of the Internet.)
Pleasantly, Piraro wears his politics, heart and sympathies on his (rather accommodatingly large) sleeve:
Most Bizarro cartoons feature a recurring object or creature (added value for a comic strip that’s already rich in detail). Some of my favourites: the Eyeball of Observation, the Pie of Opportunity (a piece of pie – blueberry, I think), the Dynamite of Unintended Consequences, or Firecracker of Pop (a dynamite stick), the Fish of Humility (or at least its tail), and my very favourite, the Bunny of Exuberance. One can just tell that Piraro enjoys his work. What kind of jerk still enjoys drawing the same strip after 30 years*?!
The topic of today’s Tentacle Tuesday is based on a plant-based mishap. I was walking along an alley, minding my own business, when some sort of climbing plant with especially long and vicious tentacle-vines, swinging from from a nearby fence, grabbed my arm. The result were scratches that felt like burns.*
So today’s gruesome offerings are mostly cousins of the Venus Flytrap, if the latter had tentacles to assist its quest for prey. (Let’s breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn’t.)
Midnight Tales often offer moments of “wait, how did that get through the Comics Code?” Arachne (Professor Coffin’s undeniably attractive niece) is frequently more sexually provocative than one would expect from a kid-appropriate comic, crimes committed are nastier than surmised, and the plots go from morbid to surreal… with some comedy thrown in. Oh, sure, there’s some terrible clunkers, as every issue has three or four stories linked by a common theme and illustrated by different artists, but overall the quality remains high throughout its 18-issue run.
I’ve seen people online saying that Howard shamelessly plagiarized Wally Wood’s style – perhaps people more erudite than I see that, but I don’t. “Influenced” is one thing – but one can build on those beginnings to create a recognizable style of one’s own, right? Those who like Wayne Howard frequently classify him as a “guilty pleasure”, and proceed to insult his art while they’re explaining why they like it. To quote, for instance, from Atomic Avenue,who follow the unspoken rule – just mentioning Charlton Comics warrants a condescending tone, and any acknowledgement of their quality has to be tempered by mockery.
Creator Wayne Howard blatantly imitated the style of comic art great Wally Wood right down to his gothic signature, but at least he aimed high in his plagiarism. Consequently, Midnight Tales had the look of a seedy, off-register knock-off of an EC horror comic—putting it at the top of Charlton’s quality spectrum.
In my world of geek’n out over all this great art, Wayne Howard is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. He loves to draw like Wally Wood, but he’s no Wally Wood. His females usually look like Wally’s women after a really bad day, and his males are just plain fugly. His Wood machinery is close to the background machinery behind the awesome machinery, and everything shouts fan art VS pro art, but… Luvittopieces
Ah, well. I won’t be apologetic about liking Howard’s art, and Midnight Tales will be proudly presented as a favourite series on a need-to-know basis. Fortunately, there’s some nice articles about him, too – a sort of obituary for a great African-American artist who died at only 58.
Another Flytrap for your enjoyment, in this tale of brotherly rivalry:
The cover of this issue of House of Mystery is also a good exhibit of plant tentacles, even if the children are a superfluous addition:
Here’s something more recent – published on some almost-thirty years ago, instead of forty – the tentacular adventures of Doctor Gorpon! I hope these guys count as plants (even if they’re slightly more mobile) – they’re the right shade of green!
I only finished reading this three-issue series today, and I must say, it was an exciting ride. Highly recommended (if you can find it, that is).
Meet an old man’s pet, Poochy. Like most pets, he gets a little impatient and loud around mealtime, but forgive him – he’s just a healthy animal who needs his calories. Who’s a good boy?
It’s Tentacle Tuesday, and today’s offering is this barking mad (hehe) and delightfully nonsensical story with script and pencils by Jim Starlin and inks by Wayne Howard.
« The Hotel » is a mere 2 pages long, so here it is in its full and unabridged glory:
This tale of woe comes from Weird Mystery Tales #4 (Jan.-Feb. 1973), with a cover by Jim Aparo. It re-interpreted the story somewhat, making the thug’s comeuppance a little more immediate, but it’s still the same basic plot device: there’s the Deus ex machina, and there’s what I call Sudden Tentacles. Don’t know how to wrap up your story? Bam! tentacles out of nowhere, and everyone forgets that your tale makes no freaking sense.
Continuing this rather disturbing theme of stay-at-home octopuses, we have another contender for someone’s beloved pet: this sweet little (metaphorically speaking) guy from « Dum-Dum’s Basement » (Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #93, August 1979).
Then we have the prototypical Sudden Tentacles and set at home, too: this panel from a chilling Tom Sutton and Nicola Cuti story called « Those Tentacles! » (inventive title), published in Ghostly Tales #106, August 1973.
There’s a scene in Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (at 3:55) that quite terrified me as a kid – a girl reaches over a sink to turn the water on, and the tap sprouts… appendages… and grabs her hand. I wish Freddy Krueger was into tentacles, I would have spent fewer sleepless nights in my youth.
Wishing all of you peaceful nights of slumber… until the next Tentacle Tuesday rolls around – and it will.