Treasured Stories: “Why Can’t You Be More Like Marvin?” (1975)

« The devil’s most devilish when respectable. » — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Ah, the nineteen seventies… and their Satanic panic, in which we can recognize so closely the roots (or at least relatives) of today’s disinformation maelstrom, before the septic paranoia and lies were fully politicised and weaponised.

Here’s a story that I first encountered around the time of its release, remembered, but didn’t revisit until a couple of weeks ago, when a good friend (merci, Keith!) helpfully snapped up a copy for me. This deceptively dark tale was created by writer Arnold Drake (I surmise), penciller John Celardo and mysterious inker Wanda Ippolito, who may have a been a spouse or relative of Celardo’s. It’s odd to find someone else inking Celardo, as this was his chief, most enduring and distinctive strength. For comparison’s sake — and presumably, reading enjoyment — here’s another Drake-Celardo outing, The Anti-13!

I won’t make any claims that this is great art: by this time, Gold Key’s printing was shoddy, they barely bothered with the colouring (straight Magenta and Cyan and Yellow everywhere — how lazy can you get?)… but I treasure this one because of the story. Given its moral — what moral? — it’s hard to imagine The Comics Code Authority giving this one a pass, as it merrily violates several of its key precepts. I’ve got another such blasphemous entry in the pipeline… this one duly Code-Approved! Just you wait…

I had a childhood friend who was a lot like Marvin (minus the devil worship)… he was incredibly talented, but also scarily unpredictable, and not in a good way. One day, he just disappeared.

On the other hand, the accompanying cover is spectacular.

« Why Can’t You Be More Like Marvin? » originally appeared in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 63 (Aug. 1975, Gold Key), which bore this masterfully disquieting cover by Luis Domínguez. It would have made it into my Domínguez retrospective, Luis Domínguez (1923-2020): A Farewell in Twelve Covers but for the fact that I didn’t own a decent copy of the issue.

And as (nearly) always, a bonus for context: Celardo had a long and fruitful career, and I’m sure one of its highlights was to number among Fiction House’s elite cadre of cover artists. I’ve said it before, but despite their mind-numbing repetitiveness, FH covers were tops in the Golden Age in terms of draftsmanship and production values.

Aw, poor Ka’a’nga — always left at home to feed the jackals while Ann Mason goes off on escapades with her other boyfriends. And who insisted on adopting them in the first place? Ann, that’s who! This is Jungle Comics no. 98 (Feb. 1948, Fiction House). Judging from his ability in the jungle antics genre, it’s no wonder that Celardo was picked to illustrate the real thing (at least comics-wise): the Tarzan comic strip, from 1954 to 1968, between Bob Lubbers (another FH cover artiste!) and Russ Manning.

-RG

Visit Katropolis With Kim Deitch!

Underground comix artist Kim Deitch probably doesn’t need much of an introduction, other than perhaps to mention that he’s the son of amazing illustrator/animator Gene Deitch, about whom we have talked before (see Back When ‘Hipster’ Wasn’t a Dirty Word: Gene Deitch’s The Cat). For the most part, I respect more than enjoy K. Deitch’s work, appreciating his style and attention to detail, but unable to maintain more than a passing interest in the dream logic of his tales. The story we are sharing today charmed me, as it combines his typical soaring and detail-driven landscapes with a really fun ‘what if?’ plot and a clear appreciation for cats, always an advantage for an artist, in my book.

These Cats Today! comes from the pages of Big Fat Little Lit (2006, Puffin), which collects most material from the three volumes of Little Lit, Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s anthology that featured comics created for children by a varied roster of artists (a lot of whom have collaborated with Spiegelman on RAW), as well as some Golden Age additions by the likes of by Walt Kelly, Crockett Johnson, and Basil Wolverton. School Library Journal described it as ‘a sensational introduction to traditional literature for a visually sophisticated generation‘. If by ‘traditional literature’ they mean ‘traditional folk tales’ (before they got bowdlerized*), then sure. The stories of Big Fat Little Lit are cynical and pleasantly warped; people get beheaded, eaten, and transformed, and often find that what they thought would bring them happiness just engenders its own problems.

Actually, it was quite difficult to select which story to run, as this anthology is packed with wicked goodies, but this whimsical tale won out (my other favourites are by Kaz, Maurice Sendak, Richard Sala and Joost Swarte, and may yet pop up in another post). Note that if you look beyond the surface of These Cats Today!, you’ll find plenty of cruelty in this fun narrative – dogs enslaved to power up the majestic and glittering Katropolis, force-fed stuffed mice**, these details are briefly mentioned, yet in plain view for those perceptive enough to notice. Truly, for its seeming gentleness, this story belongs into the Little Lit line-up.

~ ds

* See Grimmifaction as a reverse process.

** Not sure about Deitch himself, but his wife Pam Butler appears to be a vegetarian.

Michael Dougan, From Houston to Tōno

« I’ve never been to Texas but I’ve heard Willie Nelson Sing. » — Mark Ballard

I’ve just heard of the recent, untimely passing of cartoonist Michael Dougan (1958-2023). Well, perhaps former cartoonist would be more accurate, but if so — he said his piece, made his mark, and moved on — and that’s cool. But can cartooning truly ever be left behind?

Dougan made his début in comics on the back cover of my very favourite issue of Weirdo, no. 17 (Summer 1986, Last Gasp), which also housed my pick for Robert Crumb‘s greatest short-form achievement, The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick, and a cover among his finest *and* most provocative. See both story and cover here!
Dougan’s first collection appeared the following year, published by Seattle’s fabled The Real Comet Press. The back cover was festooned with eloquent-upon-eloquent quips from his peers. For instance, Gary Panter wrote: « Dougan’s work is clear and he is not afraid. He is a big storyteller and a good liar. In East Texas the wire fences, orange colored tufts of grass, pine trees, tire tracks, piles of wood, and water towers are the best parts. The stories are about human desperation, a funny kind of desperation, an air-conditioned kind of desperation. »

And here are a few excerpts from its pages:

Dougan’s second and final collection, from 1993, was published by Penguin, no less! It featured longer, more ambitious pieces.
Kentucky Fried Funeral would have to be my first pick for Dougan’s masterpiece. Unfortunately, it’s around 20 pages long, so it was unfeasible to present it here. Still, here’s the opening splash.
A detail, perhaps, but worth noting, I think: Dougan preferred handling his own lettering, finding, like many a visual artist, the look and texture of mechanical text too… well, mechanical. Lovely!

In 2017, some twenty years after his last cartoon (that I’m aware of… Double Booked?, in Fantagraphics’ Zero Zero no.17, June, 1997) Michael and his wife moved to Japan and opened a café-restaurant. Read Michael’s own account of the saga.

This must be the place.
Of course, Dougan named his place after Bogie’s in Casablanca, but not without adding a couple of typos, for that modern touch.

Creative types often get restless, and Michael found himself a little niche answering people’s mostly, and sometimes incredibly, inane questions on Quora, with a potent mixture of withering sarcasm with a side of snide, all the while providing helpful information — whenever possible. Check out his feed, but let me caution you: it’s a bit of a frazzling rabbit hole (or warren, more accurately).

I’m hoping that, once news of Michael’s passing trickles over to his native land, that The Comics Journal will provide a detailed obituary of this notable artist. Farewell, Mr. Dougan.

Update: I see that TCJ has not let me down. Here’s their first piece in tribute to Michael.

Further update: The Seattle Times has just published a moving obituary by his friend, former The Rocket Editor Charles R. Cross.

-RG

Adopting the Gauld Standard

« Quake in the presence of the stack of bedside books as it grows taller! Gnash your teeth at the ever-moving deadline that the writer never meets! Quail before the critic’s incisive dissection of the manuscript! And most important, seethe with envy at the paragon of creative productivity! »

I hesitated a bit about writing this post, as it seems to me that everybody already knows (and likes) Scottish cartoonist Tom Gauld and therefore it’s a bit like launching into a review of a Beatles album (vaguely embarrassing, and completely unnecessary). I have also previously talked about him in Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Tom Gauld (and you can head over that way, if you want some biographical details of his life). That being said, his art is not nearly as ubiquitous as it deserves to be.

I happily received his latest book, Revenge of the Librarians* (2022, Drawn & Quarterly**), as a Christmas present, and I remain impressed by the scope of Gauld’s wit and his instantly recognisable style. He also has an impeccable sense of composition; each drawing is perfectly framed, often sneakily implying something happening almost out of sight, hinted at by a chunk of wall just at the edge of the panel, a partially seen open door, an alluring bit of tentacle. He’s funny but poignant. I can only imagine how many of his cartoons are pasted over the doors of professors in all fields and walks of research (it’s something people still do, right?) I can consume Gauld’s perfect little microcosms like semechki, but try to read only a few every day to prolong the enjoyment.

It was really difficult narrowing down today’s selection to ‘just’ 12 strips (I didn’t want to annoy my master-scanner co-admin RG too much). The following have been scanned from the aforementioned Revenge of the Librarians, as well as You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack (2013) and Department of Mind-Blowing Theories  (2020). Enjoy this sampling, whether you are already a Gauld convert or have never heard of him!

Po-tay, po-tah-toh…
One of my very favourite Gauld strips, though I couldn’t explain why.
A very typical Gauld strip, complete with many options of something that starts out grounded in real life and shoots off into funny social commentary.
There was no way I could skip over this one, given my mushroom leanings… Have I mentioned Gauld’s expert use of colour to highlight important details in an otherwise subdued palette?
In case someone is unfamiliar with The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.
The first Gauld strip I became consciously aware of, after somebody shared it on Facebook.
Given the war in Ukraine, this one hits especially hard…

Want more? Head over to The Guardian.

~ ds

* French edition La revanche des bibliothécaires (from Editions Alto and Editions 2024) has been chosen for the 2023 Selection officielle of the Angoulême comics festival.

** That makes it two worthwhile things that Drawn & Quarterly has published… or is the process of publishing, the other being Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories.

Of Sneetches and Robots, Orange and Blue

« “Good grief!” yelled the ones that had stars at the first.We’re still the best Sneetches and they are the worst. But, now, how in the world will we know,” they all frowned, “if which kind is what, or the other way round?” » — Dr. Seuss‘ The Sneetches (1961)

A few days ago, this news item piqued my interest: « The assistant director of communications for Olentangy Local School District abruptly stopped the reading of the Dr. Seuss book “The Sneetches” to a third-grade classroom during an NPR podcast after students asked about race. »

Naturally, since this sorry episode made its way around the world and rightly gave rise to quite the furore, the school district has since thrown its patsy under the bus.

This mention of Dr. Seuss’ timeless classic The Sneetches made me think of another slightly earlier parable of systemic racism, Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando‘s Judgment Day (1953), and the similarly telling reaction would-be guardians of bluenose morality had to it.

Initially, I thought posting such an already eminent story as ‘Judgment Day’ was a trifle too obvious. But then again, how famous can a standalone comic book story published seventy years ago be, in the true scale of things? Really, it can never be famous enough.

In the course of an excellent article, CBR.com’s Brian Cronin summed up the skirmish (spoiler alert! you may want to read the story first if you haven’t already):

« The last traditional comic book produced by EC Comics was 1955’s Incredible Science Fiction (a series that had just begun a few months earlier, taking over the numbering from Weird-Science Fantasy) #33.

The last story in the issue, “Eye for an Eye,” had to be pulled at the last minute due to objections by the Comics Code Authority.

So Gaines and editor Al Feldstein decided to reprint “Judgment Day” in its place.

However, Gaines and Feldstein were then told that this replacement story ALSO violated the Comics Code.

Judge Charles Murphy (administrator of the Code) said that they would have to change the astronaut from black to white if they wanted it to be included. This was not part of the Code at the time. Feldstein and Gaines felt that Murphy was just deliberately messing with them.

After being told that, clearly, the color of the astronaut’s skin was practically the whole point of the story, Murphy backed down a bit, but said that they would at least have to get rid of the perspiration on his skin. It could possibly be that Murphy felt that it was exploitative. I do not know, and neither did Feldstein nor Gaines, who only had their suspicions that they were being screwed with.

Feldstein and Gaines both refused to comply (I believe the terms they used included at least one use of the word “fuck“), and Gaines threatened a lawsuit and/or a press conference to shine a light on why exactly the story was objected to.

The story ran as is. »

And so here it is (boasting superior reproduction, thank you, technology):

Originally published in Weird Fantasy no. 18 (Mar.-Apr. 1953, EC). Beautifully understated, it’s easy to understand why its creators considered it a high point of their respective careers.

As is generally the case with such anecdotes, there are other accounts and explanations:

« At least three versions of the story about Gaines’ dispute with the CMAA exist. In an interview, Gaines said a story showing a black astronaut with sweat on his face was rejected because the code forbid ridicule of any religion or race. When he threatened to sue, the code administrator backed down. A second version of the story suggests that Gaines was not able to get approval for the comic, but printed it with the seal anyway. A third account, told by Gaines’ business manager, said the EC story was rejected because it featured robots, which challenged Code Administrator Charles Murphy’s religious beliefs that only man was granted the ability to think. »

I like that, no matter which angle or reality we consider, Judge Murphy never fails to, er… rise to the occasion.

In closing, here’s a scrumptious cartoon anecdote about Messrs. Orlando and Gaines.

« Here’s Sergio Aragones‘ version of one of the many outings Joe Orlando and his publisher/pal Bill Gaines made to the best restaurants in Paris. While on one of the now famous MAD trips, Joe and Bill would eat 4 or 5 times a day! They went from restaurant to restaurant, always ordering the specialty of the house — with appropriate wines, of course! Yep — they’ve been on a very strict diet since (… but it hasn’t helped!) » Originally published in The ‘Special Joe Orlando Issue‘ of Amazing World of DC Comics (no. 6, May-June 1975, DC).

-RG

Let’s All Go Down to the Catfights — Again!

One of this blog’s unexpected hits (pow!) has been Let’s All Go Down to the Catfights!. Though published in 2018, this post still generates a lot of interest on a practically daily basis – I knew people liked to spectate women fighting, of course, but I didn’t realize just to which extent. I mean, we have a whole THE TWILIGHT WORLD OF GIRLIE CARTOONS category, it’s not like that post was the only instance of us featuring half-or-entirely-naked women.

I’ve been meaning to do a part 2 for a long time now, gradually accumulating choice material, to finally spring it on you when you least suspect it (yes, that’s me cackling in the corner). When dealing with a potpourri of styles and decades, I usually try to go in chronological order. If this cavalcade through the years demonstrates something, it’s that our tastes haven’t evolved much. Plus ça change

Page from The Last Curtain, illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff and published in Sensation Comics no. 22 (Oct. 1943, All-American/DC).
Page from Condemned Venus!, scripted by ‘Gregory Page’ (who’s probably Ruth Roche), and tastily illustrated by Matt Baker. This story was published in Phantom Lady no. 14, 1947.
Jumbo Comics no. 105 (November 1947), with a cover by Joe Doolin.
Adelita y las Guerrillas no. 73 (1953, Ediciones José G. Cruz). This is a Mexican Western comic series created cartoonist José G. Cruz in 1936, initially published in Paquito magazine. I’m not sure whether here Adelita is fighting her nemesis, Tigresa del Bajio, or just punching around some other woman.

Crimes by women, on women? Read an entertaining overview of this dime comic book published by Fox Features Syndicate on Criminal Element.

Crimes by Women no. 6 (April 1949). Is a cheap frill the same thing as a cheap floozy?
Crimes by Women no. 16 (December 1949). ‘Crime never pays’, they always remind the reader, who’s probably too interested in the catfight to believe it.

For more Golden Age goodies, don’t forget about Here Comes Sally the Sleuth… and There Goes Her Dress! (which I am not including here, as I devoted a whole post to Sally).

We have a heavy Italian contingent today! Co-admin RG recently wrote a post about Averardo Ciriello, Sitting Pretty: Averardo Ciriello’s Maghella. As he pointed out, Ciriello lent his art to many an erotic series — here’s his cover depicting Lucifera fighting a woman with three breasts (?) I mean, nobody can say you don’t get your money’s worth from this blog… 😉

Lucifera no. 165, 1980.

And here is the original painting, for comparison purposes:

Ciriello wasn’t the only one working in that vein.

Historia d’Ahi!, a one-shot published by Edifumetto, presumably in the 1970s. Episodio Completo Inedito Fumetto… cashing in on Histoire d’O.
Storie Blu Special no. 12 — L’astronave dei mille tormenti (1983, Ediperiodici).

How about some dubious plot involving a fight between an impeccably fair-skinned maiden and an exotic black woman clad in some sort of tribal garb? Uh, sure.

A page from Royal Hunt, scripted (cringingly overwritten, frankly) by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Bolton. Marada the She-wolf finds herself a ‘worthy’ adversary in Epic Illustrated no. 12 (June 1982, Marvel).
Page from The Devil-Tree of Gamburu, scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by John Buscema and inked by Tony DeZuniga, published in The Savage Sword of Conan no. 42 (July 1979). Conan fans, I am sending you over to Tentacle Tuesday: Conan-o-rama and Tentacle Tuesday: the Savagery of Conan’s Savage Sword.

For a slight change of pace and style, I offer you some horror from Tentacle Tuesday Master Richard Sala, two pages from Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires, published in Evil Eye no. 13 (August 2005, Fantagraphics):

~ ds

P.S. Here’s a Tik Tok video of a female martial artist who has a rather interesting way of showing different self-defense techniques. It seemed relevant!

Never Forget: Cabu, le grand Duduche

« A shaggy mane, odd, steel-rimmed little glasses, a get-up owing rather more to personal fancy than to the edicts of fashion, a candid gaze, the smile of a malicious dunce, that’s Le Grand Duduche… and it’s also Cabu. » — René Goscinny

On this significant day, I will spotlight Jean Cabut (b. 1938, d. 2015) alias Cabu, and his wondrous Le Grand Duduche series, begun in 1963 and concluded in 1982, published in Pilote, Hara-Kiri, Charlie Hebdo and Pilote Mensuel. An absurdly massive collection of the entire series (672 glossy pages!) was published by Vents d’Ouest in 2008. Even as a hardcover volume, the thing’s so big and heavy it can barely bear its bulk, and is therefore virtually unreadable. It should really have been three books in a slipcase. But hey, the reproduction is first-rate… for what it’s worth.

Duduche is a gangly lycéen (high school student, sort of) wending his way through classes and student life, doing as little work as possible but expanding a maximum of ingenuity. It’s most certainly not about the plot.

The strip displays a fantastic level of graphic bravura and formal experimentation, while retaining 20/20 narrative clarity. I felt it was a fool’s errand to try singling out a “typical” example, since every page is unique — so here’s a sampler. Amazing, and yes, highly recommended, even if you can’t read the (marvellous and abundant) text.

Ah, remember cursive?
Little Duduche has to give away his cat’s latest litter, with deplorable results. « A female cat can have up to 20,000 descendants in just a span of five years. If you don’t want to take care of tons of cats or feel responsible for many homeless ones, it’s a good idea to spay or neuter your cat. » It’s just common sense, folks.
Expressive, varied lettering is another crucial asset in the toolkit of the complete artist. « Mister Duduche! You will no longer find it quite so droll when I quiz you on aerial warfare of 1917-18! »
Okay, this was hell to scan and reassemble (do open it in a separate tab to see the glorious details). But I felt it essential to showcase Cabu’s mastery of scale, perspective, architecture and general cohesion. Once in a while, Cabu would pull out one of these ambitious strips with over a hundred distinctive and identifiable figures, in service of a couple of dozen individual or entwined jokes. It is a rare breed of genius that can conceive such an array of moving parts and keep them all under control.
1- “Sir! Sir! Sir!” ” “Belphegor is getting deafer by the day...” 2- “May I go out, sir?” “Yes.” “Watch this…” 3- “Sir! Sir! Sir!” 4- “Sir, may I go out… to tell the principal’s daughter that I love her?” “No. There’s already another.” 5- “Well, I never!” 6- “Sir! May I go out to smash the other freak’s face in… it’s urgent!” “Okay, okay. But make it quick!
If you notice that the elderly maid, who’s known you all your life, is suddenly afraid of you…
Duduche catalogues the telltale signs of his entrance into ‘the awkward age’. “If you notice that the house cat is now wary of you…
Interesting: I had no idea until just now that the country fair game of ‘Chamboule-tout’ was known as ‘Coconut Shy‘ in English. Live and learn!
Duduche’s utter inability to keep a poker face can be a bit of a liability. I love the well-observed detail of the study monitor keeping his feet warm with a hot water bottle. In French, the lovely, evocative term for that item is ‘bouillote‘.
Here’s one from Pilote no. 590 (Feb. 1971, Dargaud). Though Cabu could be much, much acerbic than his American colleague, he and Jules Feiffer had a lot in common. “What’s on tonight at the film society?” “It’s a flick with, ah, what’s his name again… ?” “It’s on the tip of my tongue, his name…” “… I’ve got his name on the tip of my stump, your weirdo… isn’t it Fred Astaire?

Coming back around to what makes this a ‘significant day’… Eight years ago to the day, Cabu was among those viciously murdered during the terrorist assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices. Honestly, I can’t bear to talk about it, but it’s crucial that this horrible event not be forgotten, and not merely because one of my artistic heroes was slaughtered that day.

« When she visits the gravesite of her late husband in Châlons-en-Champagne, Véronique Cabut-Brachet can witness just how much the French have not forgotten him: locals and fans come regularly to reflect (“It’s Cabu’s grave that people are looking for, and some people come just for it: nearly one a day, yes!” and for the past five years, according to the caretaker of the Cimetière de l’Ouest, interviewed by France Bleu). The artist’s gravestone is copiously covered in flowers but, especially, pencils in jars, a touching homage and the most beautiful of symbols. » [ source ]

Cabu’s headstone in Châlons-en-Champagne. Photo © Radio France – Sophie Constanzer.

-RG

Florent Chavouet, From Hideaway to Vista

I’ve recently given in to a long-time interest (a fool’s dream is realized‘) and purchased one of those pretty miniature book nook kits. In case you are not familiar with them, they’re usually the size of a big hardcover book once assembled, and are meant to be inserted on a bookshelf and provide a bibliophile with an intriguing glance into an urban landscape, a Victorian street, a bookshop, a train station, or whatever it is bookworms tend to go for. One painstakingly (and crookedly, at least in my case) glues together furniture and houses, cuts out tiny pieces of paper or slices of fruit, and connects wires to provide background illumination. The one I’m currently working on is a peaceful Japanese street with a sushi shop, a tea store, and lots of cherry blossoms.

I’m clearly not alone in my love for house miniatures or drawn isometric projections of a room. One can do without too much unnecessary psychoanalysis (perhaps it allows us to feel organised and in control when real lives and houses are quite messy), but most of us find such things soothing. Placing a tiny plate on a tiny table is profoundly satisfying; the 2021 game Unpacking makes good use of this, consisting of pulling various objects from a box and placing them where you want through different rooms of the house.

The art of French artist Florent Chavouet (see my earlier post Spotlight on Florent Chavouet) hits a similar note for me. His love of isometric projection and his elaborate sketches of storefronts and people’s rooms immediately attracted me, though at the time I didn’t think to verbalise the reason for it. I concentrated on his excellent graphic novel Petites coupures à Shioguni last time, so here are more glimpses of his other books.

Tokyo Sanpo : Promenades à Tokyo (2009, Philippe Picquier)
Manabé Shima (2010, Philippe Picquier)
L’île Louvre (2015, Futuropolis)
Touiller le miso (2020, Philippe Picquier), his latest book (which I haven’t bought yet, shame on me!)
A poster created for Zoom Japon magazine, 2021.

On a more seasonal note, two of his window panoramas drawn for the famous Galeries Lafayette in 2022:

Another thing I really love is imaginary food (which is why the duo of comic artists James Stokoe and Brandon Graham is going to be a post topic sometime in the future), and Chavouet did a beautiful job with his Gloutisphère, a map of the best food in the world… completely made up. Enjoy it on his blog!

~ ds

Fungus Friday: Amanita New Year (To Get Over This One)

It’s nearly New Year’s eve, and a Friday, which seems like some sort of omen for a gallery of vintage winter postcards featuring toadstools, seeing as Fungus Friday is every bit as tangible as Tentacle Tuesday (go here if you’re late to the tentacle train). The connection between hibernal celebrations and mushrooms might not be an immediately obvious one, but one has to keep in mind that the way we celebrate Christmas is distinctly pagan.

More in reference to mushrooms, it has been argued that Santa Claus actually started out his folkloric life as a shaman who gets high on Amanita* (either by direct consumption, or by drinking the urine of reindeer who have consumed them). When one looks for coincidences, one finds them, but nevertheless it’s worthwhile pointing out that the pine trees we adorn our households with for Christmas form a symbiotic relationship with Amanita muscaria (yes, that iconic red toadstool with white warts that so often stands in for a generic mushroom in many stories), and that Santa Claus’ red-and-white costume follows its colours. For more in-depth analysis, I highly recommend Santa Claus Was a Psychedelic Mushroom (written by Derek Beres, who also coined the great alliteration ‘psychedelic piss’ when discussing reindeer-processed Amanitas).

This claim has been disputed by people (some of whom were foaming at the mouth, and not necessarily from mushroom consumption) who point out that this is rather a case of retro-fitting facts into the storyline. You may accuse me of intellectual laziness, but I actually don’t give a fig about where Santa Claus came from. Of more relevance to me (and this post) is this bit: ‘Fly agaric does not appear in authentic Germanic Christmas cards, they’re New Years cards which use fly agaric as a good luck symbol, alongside horse shoes and four-leaf clovers.’ The Fliegenpilz is indeed a good luck charm in Germany, so that’s quite possible. New Year’s card are certainly germane to this time of year, now that the ecstatic joys of Christmas (ahem) are a week behind us.

Either way, enjoy the array of vintage postcards from the late 1930s-1940s, most of them German. Whatever they’re supposed to symbolize (the ones with writing do mention New Year, not Christmas), to a modern reader’s eyes they’re delightfully weird, and I won’t blame anyone for thinking that some drugs were involved.

The Amanitas-as-good-luck-charm theory seems to be borne out in the following, given the presence of clover, horse hooves, etc.:

I wonder if the kid in white represents the Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa and similar) – its name gives more than a hint about its toxicity. Perhaps ‘Mushroom Grandpa’ should stay away. Pigs are also a good luck charm, so they make more than one appearance in these postcards (though much like the rabbit’s foot, they’re distinctly unlucky for the actual animal, since they get gobbled up…)
Boldog Új Évet is actually in Hungarian, not German, and means Happy New Year
… and Daudz laimes jauna gada is in Latvian.

Who knew so much revelry was taking place around a couple of mushrooms?

The closest I was able to find is Head uut aastat, which is Happy New Year in Estonian. This post is proving to be quite a language lesson.
Another Latvian postcard. The one on the left is totally sloshed.
Gelukkig Nieuwjaar is in Dutch.

The rest of these are in German:

There is something disquieting about a pink-cheeked child surrounded by dancing mushrooms.
‘Wow, this thing is big and it’s all for me!’
An Amanita drawn by somebody who wasn’t sure what they looked like (hint: it’s not a raspberry).
Weihnacht is sort of like Christmas eve in German-speaking countries. Note that this postcard differs from others in two ways – it features a bolete, not an Amanita, and wishes the viewer Merry Christmas, not Happy New Year (with a bag full of money, apparently).

Happy New Year to all our dear readers, and may your paths be littered with tasty mushrooms in the coming year!**

*Amanita muscaria is considered poisonous, as far as foraging mushrooms go, though it has a long history of being used as a psychedelic/intoxicant by many tribes (namely, by the indigenous people of Siberia). A strong dose causes delirium and a host of other side-effects, which fade after a few days. I might add that some Russians (and god knows Russians will eat whatever mushroom is even remotely edible – I say that with nothing but admiration) consider it a good edible, provided you boil it in water three times or so. I might try that one of these days! I have no interest in psychedelic properties, but plenty of interest in culinary ones.

**Assuming you like them, of course.

~ ds

Sitting Pretty: Averardo Ciriello’s Maghella

« Italy hasn’t had a government since Mussolini. » — Richard M. Nixon

Today, let’s bask in some purely visual glory. Let’s take a gander at a small corner of the mind-boggling œuvre of Averardo Ciriello (1918 – 2016). As you can see from these dates, he was a long-lived fellow, and I’m delighted to report that he was healthy, hearty and active well into his nineties.

He was one of those illustrators who truly delighted in their craft, and so produced an enormous body of work that bore every sign of inspiration and enthusiasm. Since my plan is to focus on a specific period of his career, I’ll skip most of his early work — though it’s well worth returning to — and give you a couple of famous pieces to give you as sense of his success and importance in his field.

It’s fair to say that Ciriello excelled across the board, likenesses included. This is the Italian poster for 1956’s Forbidden Planet.
And this one for 1965’s Bond adventure Thunderball. Since the Bond movies were as much Italian as British production (if not moreso), it’s no surprise that producer Cubby Broccoli did not scrimp, tapping Ciriello for the series’ Italian promotional campaign.

Now for the heart of it: I frankly marvel at Ciriello’s willingness to provide hundreds of cover paintings for cheap, mass market erotica fumetti. The way I see it, it’s evidence that he greatly enjoyed the assignment, and that the money was but a secondary concern at best. We’ve briefly touched upon the Maghella series (in our all-time most popular post, as it happens), but here’s some more.

This is Maghella no. 1 (Nov. 1974, Elvifrance).
This is Maghella no. 15 (Oct. 1975, Elvifrance).
This is Maghella no. 22 (Mar. 1976, Elvifrance). ‘Gode’, aside from being a city in Ethiopia and a species of fish, is the abbreviation of godemichet, which is to say… a dildo.
This is Maghella no. 24 (Apr. 1976, Elvifrance).
This is Maghella no. 41 (Apr. 1977, Elvifrance). Since you’re bound to ask, here’s a recipe for Salade russe, which actual Russians call ‘Salade Olivier‘. DS made it for lunch a couple of days ago, and it was delicious.
This is Maghella no. 42 (May 1977, Elvifrance). Unlike most artists specialising in ‘erotica’, Ciriello could draw anything, in any style, and effortlessly mix sensuality with comedy with horror with angst. A true master — sorry, maestro.
This is Maghella no. 66 (Jan. 1979, Elvifrance).
This is Maghella no. 77 (Feb. 1980, Elvifrance). I assure you, those pun-based titles are utterly untranslatable.
Censorship inevitably got into the act. Here’s one of several instances, the before (with imposed editorial revision indicated) and after of Maghella no. 110 (Sept. 1978, Publistrip); said censorship seems to have driven up the cover price, to boot. This precious bit of info gleaned from a lovely monograph of the artist, Gianni Brunoro and Franco Giacomini’s Ciriello: Una Vita per l’illustratione (2016, Edizioni Di).

-RG