Let’s commence Tentacle Tuesday on a ticklish note (tentacles are itchy, you know, especially when they’re crawling up one’s leg) with Rip Off Comics no. 23, “the rip-snorting science fiction issue!”
If a tentacle creeps out from the pages of a book you’re reading to gently prod you, you know you’ve made the right choice of reading material.
Sometimes tentacles masquerade as waves, but we know better! Dunno why some sea god would want a cyborg chunk of metal, though.
Rom the Spaceknight was a toy created by three men (Scott Dankman, Richard C. Levy and Bryan L. McCoy) in 1979. His creators called him COBOL (a programming language), but he was renamed into ROM (« read only memory ») by the executives of Parker Brothers, the company that bought rights to the this « beeping, thinking toy » (which Time predicted would « end up among the dust balls under the playroom sofa »). As part of a promotional effort, Parker Brothers promptly licensed him to Marvel. Rom the toy was a commercial failure, but Rom the comic book went on to last 75 issues, beeping its last bleep in 1986 (not counting the comic’s revival by IDW in 2016).
The comic may have passed from Marvel’s hands into IDW’s, but the description still seems to have been written by a hyper-ventilating lummox flinging spit everywhere as he croaks: “WE’VE BEEN INVADED AND ONLY A SPACE KNIGHT CAN SAVE US! Now the ongoing tale of ROM begins in earnest! Christos Gage, Chris Ryall, and David Messina kick off the wildest new series of the year as Rom’s war with the DIRE WRAITHS hits close to home in ‘Earthfall, part 1!’ ‘The long-beloved and even longer absent space hero returns at long last! First, we brought back MICRONAUTS! And Now… ROM! As if Rom’s return wasn’t enough, wait’ll you see how this one ends!” Brr.
So far, the tentacles featured have been rather on the tame side. Let’s have something properly terrifying…
Oh well, terror petered out today. I guess this Tentacle Tuesday is not going to scare anybody witless. There’s always next time!
« Krokodil » («Крокодил» in Russian, a crocodile) was a Soviet satirical magazine founded in 1922 and that outlasted the Soviet Union by a number of years. In 2000, it was driven to its deathbed by a general lack of interest and failing finances – no longer being relevant to the modern age, alas! – and though weak attempts were made to breathe life into it in the 2000s, it finally croaked altogether, wheezing its very last in 2008.
Right from the beginning, The Crocodile (personified by a pipe-chomping red crocodile, holding a pitchfork) featured quite a lot of satirical drawings, which were basically panel cartoons, and sometimes even actual comics. The magazine’s modus operandi was to viciously skewer various enemies of the State and the People, such as bureaucrats, alcoholics, bribe-takers, church-goers, various delinquents, ne’er-do-wells and anti-Soviet villains. Institutions were also attacked, sometimes gleefully and sometimes sternly, and that list was long, too: American imperialism and capitalism, German Nazism, colonialism, and more other -isms that you could shake a stick at.
I would not like to leave you with the impression that Mr. Crocodile was an unsympathetic fellow, however; in its gentler moments, Krokodil’s tongue-in-cheek humour could be a delight, and its savage attacks sometimes masked a subversive anti-Soviet streak. Many prominent writers and artists worked for the magazine, and some of them started their careers within its pages. Aside from a plethora of cartoons, the magazine also featured news, stories, aphorisms, epigrams, and reviews of books, films and theatrical plays, etc.
Mr. Crocodile came with an extensive family. He had a wife, the Big Krokodila, who lost her marbles in the 1930s, and two twin children, who acquired hilariously caricatural careers in 1990 – Totosha went into management and Kokosha moved to the U.S. to design men’s magazines. These (and other recurring) characters marked several generations of Soviet citizens, and many of their catchphrases have become an everyday part of the Russian language.
Without further ado, here’s a few Krokodil cartoons on very Slavic topics, like drunkenness, and general debauchery and bureaucracy, including the disappointing lack of goods (and poor quality control of actually available goods). In no particular order…
« Hey — if you’re looking for that curly machine, I saw some beasts run off with it. »
Missouri native Rick Geary, born 72 years ago today, on February 25, 1946 (in Kansas City, which isn’t in Kansas, despite its name) is in a classe à part: a true iconoclast, he’s quietly, steadfastly carved out for himself (and his fans) a varied and consistently strong œuvre, seemingly free from petty compromise.
He first gained notice in the mid-70s through his fanciful contributions to National Lampoon and Heavy Metal, and just kept up the pace from there. These days, he mostly concentrates on his true crime graphic novels series, published by NBM. One gets a sense of a man who works in comics because he’s passionate about the possibilities the form offers. A 1994 recipient of the National Cartoonist Society’s Magazine and Book Illustration Award, he certainly doesn’t need to work in the comics industry.
He’s collaborated with fellow oddball genius Bob Burden, of Flaming Carrot fame, a dream pairing that manages to surpass the lofty expectations it implies. Their take on Art Clokey‘s legendary claymation characters Gumby and Pokey manages to be true to its source and to espouse both Burden and Geary’s respective slants.
Here’s a sequence from Gumby no. 1 (July 2006, Wildcard Ink.) Story by Burden, art by Geary, and let’s not forget the contribution of hue ace Steve Oliff. When it comes to Gumby comics, however, mind your step: don’t settle for anything less than Burden (whether with Arthur Adams or Rick Geary). A recent revival fumbles the childlike mood of infinite possibility and mires itself in mere childishness instead.
The Exploits of the Junior Carrot Patrol (2 issues, 1989-1990) was a solo Geary endeavour, but « based upon characters and concepts created by Bob Burden ». Pictured here is #2. From left to right: Dusty, Ethel and Chuck.
« Are all your projects this dangerous, Dr. Solar? »
Dateline: 1962. Printer-packager Western Publishing had just dealt its biggest client, Dell Comics, its slow death sentence (by mutual agreement, it is diplomatically claimed), though Dell should have seen it coming: for decades, Western Publishing Co. had « secured the rights, created the comics, printed them and shipped them out for Dell. Dell acted as the publisher and distributor and did the billing and paid Western for its creatively manufactured products*. » In 1962, Western cut out the middleman and launched its Gold Key imprint (1962-1984.)
Enter, briefly, revolutionary illustrator Richard M. Powers (1921-1996), who successfully wed representational and abstract art for his paperback covers of the 50s and 60s, bringing science-fiction visuals an unprecedented visual maturity. Don’t merely take my word for it: treat your peepers to a gander at his work. You may well find that you know it already.
So far so good, right? And then… we may never know exactly what transpired, but I assume that some art director at Western Publishing chose to second-guess Mr. Powers… smothering the tonal and compositional balance of his painting (« can’t… bear… negative space! »), and likely depriving the outfit of Powers’ further services. He was at his peak, was being offered assignments than he could hope to fulfill, assignments surely more lucrative and friction-free. He wisely scooted along.
The printed version:
And the tale might have ended there, but here’s the curveball: in the mid-to-late Seventies, Powers provided the fading publisher with a pair of gorgeous, but seldom-seen cover paintings.
See what I mean?
If memory serves, my own Powers epiphany took place in the autumn of 1982, in Lennoxville, a small college town in the Eastern Townships of Québec. There was this little bookstore… and its fine selection of 60s horror and science-fiction paperbacks, priced in the 35-to-50-cents range. The kind of place book lovers dream about stumbling upon, and wake up dismayed to find themselves in the real world… empty-handed.
My favourite (inside and out) of the lot I picked up that day? Fritz Leiber’s Night’s Black Agents (June 1961, Ballantine Books). If you’ve had a similar thrill of discovery with Powers’ art, please do tell us about it!
Compared to their bodies, octopuses have fairly small eyes. Yet in comics they often sport saucer-sized peepers, and like villains in a bad Broadway production, they love to glare menacingly at their potential victims from under their impressively wrinkled brows.
Case in point, these two Tales of Suspense covers, close cousins despite the change of scenery. They’re both from 1960, both penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Dick Ayers. Both monsters promptly acquire loving nicknames from people you would think have more important things to think of, like not getting eaten and/or crushed. Meet Monstro and Sporr!
Not all puppy-eyed octopuses have two baby blues; unlucky cephalopods end up with Cyclopean anatomy and a bad case of suffering the wrath of grapes – a cherry in a glass of buttermilk, anyone?*
I highly recommend the issue, certainly because of the art, but equally the story. You won’t find a straightforward man-finds-monster, man-kills-monster plot-line here; and there’s also bikini babes for your viewing pleasure.
* Your eyes look like two cherries in a glass of buttermilk
Don’t roll those bloodshot eyes at me
I can see you’ve been out on a spree (Wynonie Harris, Bloodshot Eyes)
Sometimes octopuses have big eyeballs *and* a vocabulary all their own.
Akim was an Italian comic, published from 1950 to 1983, and translated into several languages, most notably French. Drawn by Augusto Pedrazza and wrtten by Roberto Renzi, Akim was a « tarzanide », which is to say heavily “inspired” by Tarzan, if not directly ripped off from it.
The LURK LURKs in panel above were no one-time occurrence. The octopuses in this story keep saying it again and again, and with different intonations, which I find hilarious. Turns out, a whole range of emotions can be expressed with this small four-letter word! My thanks go to co-admin and partner RG, who noticed this unpromising, poor-excuse-for-a-comic in a store and pointed out why we should pick it up after I had scoffed at it.
Another day, another birthday, it would seem. Well, I feel this one’s of particular importance… Gahan Wilson, born February 18, 1930, turns 88 today. As you may know, many an artist burns bright and burns fast, enjoying a peak of a handful of years followed by a settling into habit or mediocrity. That’s not our Mr. Wilson, who’s been prolific, reliable and versatile for over a half-century. That makes him, I suppose, easy to take for granted. Let’s not, shall we?
Most visibly, he’s built up a splendiferous body of work at Playboy, which was collected in exemplary fashion (2010), for your convenience, by the fine folks at Fantagraphics (in case you don’t have room for the entire magazines.) With the possible exception of Shel Silverstein, Gahan was perhaps the only cartoonist Hugh Hefner didn’t habitually encourage to throw in some buxom females.
Which brings us to another facet of Gahan’s œuvre: his writing. I greatly enjoyed his regular film column in Twilight Zone magazine (1981-89). For the publication’s August, 1985 issue, he provided, in addition to his regular contribution, an eye-catching (watch out!) cover illustration and a feature article « I Hear You Callin’ Cthulhu », a review of the role-playing game Call of Cthulhu. « Hot on the trail of Dagon, the shoggoths, and other Lovecraftian horrors, the noted cartoonist (and intrepid TZ columnist) finds himself drawn into a labyrinth of secret caverns, sinister intruders, tentacled monstrosities — and a terrifying thing called the Insanity Table. »
Happy Birthday, and thanks for all the tentacles, Mr. Wilson!
Here’s a merrily libidinous one (who’s chasing whom, really?) from Irwin Caplan (1919-2007), originally published in Liberty Magazine in 1946.
From the 1940 to the early 1960s, Caplan’s work appeared regularly in all the big ones: Collier’s, Liberty, The Saturday Evening Post (with his strip “Famous Last Words”), Parade, Life, the Sunday supplement This Week, and so forth. For my money, his early work is his finest, boasting a crisper line and more distinctive in style and substance.
Caplan was also a successful fine art painter, art director, advertising illustrator and graphic designer… which may have somewhat watered down his legacy. Nevertheless, what matters is the strength of his œuvre, and the fact that he had a varied and rewarding career.
Here’s an obituary from the Seattle Times (he was born in Washington and remained a lifelong resident of The Evergreen State) that provides a fuller account of this jovial man’s life and times.
As a bonus, a Caplan cartoon of undetermined vintage and publication history… but a timeless one, you’ll surely agree.
I’d like to wish a loud and boisterous (or quiet and dignified, depending on what he prefers) birthday to Roger Langridge, who’s a jolly good fellow (which nobody can, or will, deny). If you’re looking for a reason to celebrate something on the 14th of February, but hate the Cheez Whiz of Valentine’s Day, this could be it!
Here are some of my favourite Langridge moments, by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully a fun one.
Our man of the hour has also written and drawn quite a few stories for « children », most of them published by KaBoom!, or their tot-friendly division, Boom!. I think there should be a special category for books that are fun for children, but even more entertaining for their parents (or the nulliparous amongst us). For instance, are the Muppets purely child-fare? Sure, little ones enjoy their madcap, sometimes surreal humour, but adults are often as smitten by it, if not more. I think it takes a special talent and superior intelligence to write stories that appeal to youngsters, but are complex enough to give their older relatives something to chew on. Throw a spirited sense of humour into the mix, and you’re all set.
To quote a perceptive review by Ryan Dosier (read it here),
« Once again, Langridge has beautifully captured the unhinged feeling that each of us enjoyed watching on the original Muppet Show. Zaniness reigns supreme, random Muppets hang out backstage, and we can once again feel like the show never ended. Roger Langridge has captured the Muppet spirit of writing in a way that is more than reminiscent of the Jerry Juhl days of The Muppet Show. He has a complete grasp on every character. Everything in the comic works, and it’s because of the quality of the writing that this is true. When there are, not one, but five chances for Fozzie to deliver a pun-filled monologue (each in a different comedic style) and hit each one out of the park (relatively speaking), you know the writing is top-notch. »
This wasn’t the last time Langridge worked with the Muppets.
Among more recent adventures undertaken by Mr. Langridge and his lucky readers is Snarked!, his take on Lewis Carroll’s topsy-turvy world, Abigail & the Snowman, and the Baker Street Peculiars, written by him but illustrated by someone else. All of the aforementioned comics are life-affirming *and* vocabulary-expanding.
Wishing Mr. Langridge many happy returns, many productive collaborations, and above all the time and financial support he needs to pursue his solo projects.
In today’s Tentacle Tuesday, I’d like to demonstrate that Planet Comics, a sci-fi comic series published by Fiction House from 1940 to 1953, liked to tantalize its rapt audience by featuring tentacled monsters as often as basic decency permitted. Not to say that they limited their cheap pandering to tentacles; other tropes reared their ugly head, too. Faithful to its pulp magazine roots (Planet Comics was a Planet Stories’ spinoff), there’s always some stunning damsel in distress on the cover, and often some dashing muscle-head to rescue her. Mike Benton summarized Planet Comics’ raison d’être beautifully, if somewhat cruelly, in his Science Fiction Comics: The Illustrated History (1992) as «the barest smattering of sense and substance».
In its defence, P.C. also often ran stories in which female protagonists saved their friends’ bacon. How oddly progressive: the gals were clearly dressed to impress, but their skills and smarts repeatedly allowed them to overcome the odds while the big hunks stood helpless. Between that and all the tentacles, there’s a warm spot in my heart for Planet Comics.
Let’s start with no. 42, which features Gale Allen, a Venusian princess with a knack for getting into trouble and the courage for getting herself out of it. Her Girl Squadron, comprised of female pilots and soldiers, may have been an excuse for drawing yet more pretty girls, yet in the stories the squadron was still a force to be reckoned with, by friend or foe.
Moving on to the next cover, an odd one even by Golden Age sci-fi standards:
A glimpse at the stories inside quickly proves that the cover has nothing to do with Mysta of the Moon, or any of the “many others” advertised on the cover. There is, however, an octopus in the Futura story. Futura was another recurring heroine, an ordinary girl abducted by Brain-Lords of Cymradia and “improved” into a stronger, smarter version of her old self. Smart, resourceful and a damn good fighter, Futura is fun to watch in action. Especially when tentacles are involved! Take a look:
Let’s have a look at several covers where tentacles are actually used as the good lord has intended, i.e. for grabbing pretty girls:
Oh, perhaps I have been neglecting burly heroes a tad. Those of us who prefer muscle to curve deserve some eye candy, too! So here’s good old Reef – and some green men in Speedos.
And men get grabbed by tentacles, too:
There’s about 10 more Planet Comics covers with tentacles left, and quite a few more interior pages showcasing the beauty of the octopus, or tentacled alien, or cephalopod reptile, or whatever else the kooky minds writing and drawing for Fiction House have dreamed up… but that’s enough for now. There’s only so much probing appendage the human mind can take in one go, so I’ll say Auf Wiedersehen.
Until the next time our paths (and tentacles) cross again!
Of course, you can take that ‘forgotten artist’ notion with a grain of salt: most Archie artists aren’t forgotten, because they were rarely acknowledged in the first place. There are cases such as that of Scrooge McDuck creator Carl Barks, aka the Good Duck Artist, whose identity latterly became known through the efforts of a handful of devoted fans… but such fortuitous events are rare as Gladstone Gander’s off days.
No such luck for Robert “Bob” White (1928-2005), who got the short end of the stick despite being the Archie line’s signature artist during its peak period* (pretty squarely 1959 to 1965) and crafting uncluttered, expertly-designed covers and stories. Of course, these years coincide with most of the classic Archie bullpen hitting its stride, bookmarked at one end by the ascent of White (who’d arrived at Archie around 1954, but details are scant) and at the other by Samm Schwartz‘s departure for greener, but sadly ephemeral (1965-69) pastures, an art director post with Tower Comics.
Archie’s illiberal response to a guy simply, and wisely, trying to avoid putting all his eggs in one basket was typical of the publisher, and of the reactionary comics industry in general, but it’s to White’s credit that, unlike Dan DeCarlo and Samm Schwartz (who at least made a break for it), he didn’t just fold, kiss their ring and take their abuse. Who’s to say? Perhaps that principled departure really stuck in their craw.
There are simply too many outstanding White covers to feature in one go; I suppose I’ll have to return to the well a couple of times. Still, these ought to give you a sense of the man’s style.
*I’m in complete agreement with cartoonist-connaisseur Gregory Gallant, aka Seth, when he writes, in his introduction to John Stanley‘s Thirteen ‘Going on Eighteen’ (Drawn & Quarterly, 2009… where’s volume 2 at?) that « I like Archie comics quite a bit and own hundreds of issues of Archie and its various spin off titles. I can even tell you which years are the good years (1959 to ’65, incidentally) »