Tentacle Tuesday: All Aboard

Has this ever happened to you? You’re sailing along, just minding your business, concentrating on fishing or just taking a pleasure cruise, when suddenly you’re abruptly attacked by shifty tentacles. What do you do? Defend yourself with a tickle assault!

Page from “Little Dot Meets Uncle Gill”, printed in Little Dot no. 5 (Harvey, 1954). Art is by Steve Muffatti. Little Dot is never at loss in any situation, but I’m surprised the octopus isn’t covered in polka dots.
Panel from “Little Dot Meets Uncle Gill”, printed in Little Dot no. 5 (Harvey, 1954). Art by Steve Muffatti. No harm done!

Some octopuses sneak onboard to be helpful…

Original art for a Felix the Cat Sunday comic strip from July, 1934. Art by Otto Messmer.

… And some are just pissed off about their dwindling food supply. (Or perhaps that fish was a personal friend.)

Marmaduke Mouse no. 2 (Summer 1946). Artist unknown.

If there’s any moral to these tales, it’s that fishing is hazardous business.

Donald Duck Beach Party #1
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Beach Party no. 1 (July 1955). The story is “Sea Breeze Sailors”, scripted and drawn by Dick Moores.
« Don’t let it get away! » Cartoon by Gahan Wilson.

~ ds

Edward Gorey: An Author Who Went for a Walk

« Painstaking drawings with an eloquent orchestration of hatchings and tickings, marvelous details of period and setting, a narrative that leapfrogs from the precise to the unexplained, a tone of vague delights in both visual and linguistic oddities. » — ‘Mr. Earbrass Jots Down a Few Visual Notes: The World of Edward Gorey’ by Karen Wilkin (1994)

So very much has already been written and said, in all media, about Edward St. John Gorey (February 22, 1925 – April 15, 2000) that there seems little of substance to add. As his work’s ultimate appeal rests in its enduring, expertly wrought sense of mystery, it should be in the Master’s spirit to show rather than tell. Consequently, here’s a gallery of favourite extracts from Gorey’s voluminous œuvre. I’ve omitted both my personal pick, The Willowdale Handcar or  The Return of the Black Doll (1962) and the too-obvious-by-half The Ghashlycrumb Tinies or After the Outing (1963), the former because I’m planning to examine it more leisurely in the future, while the latter… still manages to squeak in, after a fashion. See our bonus at the end.

The Doubtful Guest (1958).
The Hapless Child (1961).
The Wuggly Ump (1963).
The Osbick Bird (1970).
The Disrespectful Summons (1971).
The Glorious Nosebleed (1975).
The Broken Spoke (1976).
The Broken Spoke (1976).
The Loathsome Couple (1977).
The author and his creature in New York City, 1958.
Bonus bits: An entry from The Ghashlycrumb TiniesN is for Neville, who died of ennui ») turned up, of all places, in Byron Preiss‘ splendid The Beach Boys (1979), which chronicled the band’s history up to that point through reams of quotations and illustrations, matching a gazillion visuals artists with a favourite BB tune. Gorey’s entry (reprinted and détournée with the author’s consent) was the setup for a dyptich. It provides a visual for Busy Doin’ Nothing (1968) one of Brian Wilson‘s finest compositions from his years in the wilderness; well before Seinfeld, it’s a song about nothing, set to a lilting bossa beat. Hey, get the mug!
I generally have little use for Walt Simonson‘s work, which I find overly-mannered and illegible, but I give him full marks here for wit, creativity and musical discernment. His contribution to Byron Preiss’ book focused on Brian Wilson’s bucolic I Went to Sleep (also 1968), a companion to Busy Doin’ Nothing and a fascinating miniature that gives a sense of Brian’s eventual creative direction had he not been forced to stick with the tried-and-true, official Beach Boys sound to this day. Simonson does a very effective Gorey pastiche, don’t you think?

« You know, the kids had quarrelled, so they’re taken off to see a corpse, which is decayed and completely hanging. It was parody. » — Gorey, interviewed by Clifford Ross (1994)

Oh, and if you should find yourself in the vicinity of in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, do drop by the Edward Gorey House!


Tentacle Tuesday: A Torrent of Teutonic Tentacles

When one thinks of tentacles, one generally thinks of Japan. Did you know that Germans appear to be equally obsessed with them? “Obsession” is the only way I can explain the following post, in which the same hero trips over tentacles with depressing regularity. And I thought Conan encountered tentacles too often for statistical probability (see here and here).

When Gespenster Geschichten (ghost stories), a major comic book series from the publishing house Bastei Verlag, proved to be an unqualified success, it was decided to bring a second horror child into the world in the shape of Spuk Geschichten (spooky stories). The latter, though not quite as long-lived as its sibling, still spanned an impressive 492 issues running between between 1978 and 1995. (For comparison, Gespenster Geschichten lasted from 1974 to 2006.)


Both series are easy to recognize thanks to brightly coloured, if not to say garish, covers. The insides, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, were a mixed bag: some reprints (mostly of American material), some original stories by German artists and writers. I’m rather fond of the loud, red SPUK that’s part of the Spuk Geschichten logo. Rather than reminding me of the English “spook”, it seems like an onomatopoeia: “spuk!”, goes the tentacle slapping some yielding female flesh, “SPUK!”, as it smacks a young man across his chest and sends him flying, topsy-turvy, into the bushes.


Onward to the gallery of Tentakel! We’ve got green, vaguely apelike monsters…



And a whole family of purple, tentacled atrocities….





And other assorted tentacular nonsense: gorillas, plants, lizards, female sailors with multiple grabby appendages…

Spuk-Geschichten 359





Through all this, why is the main character still surprised to see a monster with tentacles? One would think he would be profoundly blasé about the whole thing by now, elegantly fending off tentacled creatures while politely covering his yawn with a carefully manicured hand. You think I’ve exhausted the tentacle arsenal of Spuk Geschichten? Ha!


And there’s more, but I’m running out of time, space, and, frankly, any interest. In terms of attaching tentacles to completely inappropriate creatures – and a lot of people have tried -, I think Spuk Geschichten reigns supreme in diversity and just, well, sheer numbers.

~ ds

*as usual, writing about comics written in a language I mostly do not understand is tricky. If I’ve committed any faux-pas, please correct me, dear readers!


The Unassuming Brilliance of William Van Horn

« Sepulveda Von Lovely looks much better in a handlebar, if I do say so myself! » — ‘Bumps’ (2004)

Since the 1980s, when it came to carrying the torch of Good Duck Man supreme Carl Barks, there have been three clear contenders, namely Daan Jippes, Don Rosa and William Van Horn. All three are outstanding talents, and honestly, no single being can take the place of Barks. In the end, Van Horn is my pick, because he’s the most complete package*, possessing his own lively, economical style in both writing and drawing (and that includes his expressive lettering, a perennially underrated art form). His work is just a pure joy to read, while Jippes is arguably too close to the model and Rosa’s stories sometimes feel like continuity-saddled homework. Van Horn is a natural.

On the occasion of Mr. Van Horn’s eightieth birthday (he was born on February 15, 1939, and is thankfully still with us), here’s a modest Van Horn comics sampler, opening with his first comics series after decades of work in animation and children’s books, Nervous Rex, and continuing into his work for Danish Disney comics packager Egmont**.

From Don Markstein’s Toonpedia: « Cartoonist William Van Horne created the series, which lasted ten bimonthly issues (September, 1985 through March, 1987). Like Russell Myers, creator of Broom Hilda, he used a style clearly inspired by George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, without being a slavish imitation. Van Horn, who had made his living for decades in commercial art and children’s book illustration, had earlier come to the attention of the comics community with a couple of minor series in Critters, a funny animal anthology published by Fantagraphics Books. »


Here’s the opening of a twelve-pager, Just a Humble, Bumbling Duck, published in Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Adventures no. 13 (June, 1991). Written, drawn and lettered by Van Horn and coloured by Susan Daigle-Leach. Read the issue right here.
Donald Duck Adventures no. 2 (July 1990, Disney), illustrating Van Horn’s “Rootin’, Tootin’ Duck”. Read it here. You can tell when a soul’s worked in animation. Nary a hint of stiffness.
Donald Duck Adventures no. 18 (Nov. 1991, Disney), illustrating Van Horn’s “That Ol’ Soft Soap”. read it here.
Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories no. 616 (Sept. 1997, Gladstone), featuring Van Horn’s “Catch of the Day”. Read it here.
Uncle Scrooge no. 322 (Oct. 2003, Gemstone), illustrating Van Horn’s “The Utter Limits”. Read the issue here.
Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories no. 655 (Apr. 2005, Gemstone), featuring Van Horn’s “Full Circle”. Read it here.
Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories no. 680 (May 2007, Gemstone), featuring Van Horn’s “In a Minor Key”. Read it here.

A most joyous 80th anniversary to you, Mr. Van Horn! Fittingly, I leave the last word to our humble birthday boy: « Let’s create our own classics if we can… but heaven help us if we think we’re doing that. We should follow Barks’ lead and regard these stories as something to pay the rent and buy the pot roast. »

– RG

*it’s pronounced Pah-kawje

**speaking of Egmont, this sobering note from Van Horn, from a brief interview conducted by John Iatrou in 2010: « Disney comic books in North America have been virtually a dead issue (no pun intended) for over a decade, possibly two. Sales here hover around 4000 copies a month! This on a continent of over 350 million people! Egmont has never tried to publish here. They thought about it years ago and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. » So there you have it. Van Horn and Don Rosa have been producing their ducks for the European market, to be then reprinted, with piddling print runs, in North America. Nul n’est prophète en son pays… On the other hand, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, most European Disney comics are utter garbage, and have been for decades. If you like endless arrays of Donald as a superhero, Donald as Michael Jackson or Indiana Jones, Rappin’ Donald… you’ll be in hog heaven. “Opera Mundi crap“, we used to call it.

Peter Tork, Man of Music… and of Comics

« I know she’s having a fit, she doesn’t like me a bit, no bird of grace ever lit on Auntie Grizelda » — Diane Hildebrand / Jack Keller, 1966

Now’s the time to wish Peter Halsten Thorkelson, he of the open, Nordic look, a most joyous 77th birthday, regardless of what Your Auntie Grizelda may think!

Pete was born in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 1942, which makes him the doyen of the group. Like Mike “Wool Hat” Nesmith, he was a musician first, likely the group’s most instrumentally proficient. Peter wound up auditioning for the tv show after his name was suggested by Stephen Stills, who wasn’t quite right for the part… but definitely a good sport.

Peter and his fellow Monkees were featured in their own Dell comic book (is there any greater honour?), which lasted from March, 1967 to October, 1969, seventeen issues in all (with some reprinting.) That was one of Dell’s few savvy moves in their waning days, and one of their few readable titles outside John Stanley‘s output.

Peter the muse. From ‘Way-Out’ West, The Monkees (1966, Popular Library). See below!
This cute lil’ volume contained a bunch of fun (what else) Monkees romps written by Howard Liss and ably illustrated by Eisner- Iger Studio veteran Gene Fawcette.
José Delbo‘s splash page from Beezle, Beezle, Who’s Got the Beezle?, The Monkees no. 8 (Jan. 1968, Dell). Scripter unknown… but he’s pretty good.
The issue in question: The Monkees no. 8 (Jan. 1968, Dell)
The Monkees no. 4 (Sept. 1967, Dell)
The Monkees no. 14 (Oct. 1968, Dell)
Ah, but Dan Clowes has known it all along! From Eightball no. 13 (Apr. 1994, Fantagraphics)

Update: Peter Tork passed away on Thursday, February 21, 2019, barely a week beyond his 77th birthday. Au revoir, Peter!


Tentacle Tuesday: a Day at the Beach

I am on vacation! (Or I will be, by the time this post is published.) I have no idea what sort of beaches I will have the pleasure to encounter, but I doubt it’s the kind that’s depicted below.

And now, everyone to the beach! Orrore sulla spiaggia!

Page from Rich Larson‘s Haunted House of Lingerie, Vol. 2 (July 1999). I’m pleased to see that the octopus seems to have undressed the man as well.
This is the original art for the cover of Sukia no. 89. Art by Emanuele Taglietti, whose specialty was sex and horror! Sukia, already part of one T.T. roster (see Tentacle Tuesday: Euro Tentacles Unto Horror), was an erotic Italian comic that ran from 1978 to 1986, published, as is often the case for such things, by Edifumetto. Sukia’s alluring form is based on that of actress Ornella Muti, though it’s probably somewhat less obvious from this cover.

I’m getting carried away here with sun-tanning and babe-centric pastures and whatnot. People also go fishing on vacation, right?

Cartoon by Charles Addams.

Or just walking along the beach…

A panel from “Lord Octopus Went to the Christmas Fair”, a poem by Stella Mead. Art by Walt Kelly; published in Santa Claus Funnies n° 2, 1943. Slightly unseasonal, sorry.

Or just flingin’ an octopus about… The local authorities might object, however.

Whiz Comics n° 115 (November 1949), art by Kurt Schaffenberger.

A little knitting, perhaps? Don’t mind if I do!

Festival Tartine n° 54 (November 1971). Grand-mother Nonna Abelarda, created in 1953 by Italian Giulio Chierchini, came to France in 1956 and was renamed Tartine Mariol. This intrepid granny appeared in Presto and in Arc en Ciel until her popularity prompted the publishers to give her her own series in 1957.

~ ds

P.S. A little bonus, though only involving an off-screen sighting of an octopus:

Cartoon by Robert Crumb, as if you needed to be told, featuring Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

Mal Eaton’s Peter Piltdown

Newspaper strip Peter Piltdown was created by Mal Eaton (1902-1974) and debuted as a Sunday page on August 4th, 1935. Featuring a mischievous boy getting into trouble in some sort of prehistoric world (with a lot of indispensable modern conveniences – like earmuffs!), the strip seems to have lasted for quite a while, until the late 1960s. The reason I say “seems” is because not much is known about Eaton *or* the strip. With some difficulty I managed to find out that Malcolm Eaton was based in New York.

It doesn’t help that the strip changed titles several times. Starting out as Peter Piltdown, syndicated by Miller Services (a small Canadian newspaper syndicate that has since then been renamed into Canadian Artists Syndicate), it appeared as Pookie (Peter’s younger brother, whose antics had taken over the strip) in 1947 and 1948, and then migrated to the pages of Boys’ Life magazine as Rocky Stoneaxe.

Some comics are buried by the collective memory through sheer bad luck, some are rightly forgotten because they weren’t that good. It’s always exciting to unearth something obscure, but one has to ask if this excitement is justified, or whether whatever artifact of the past one has dug up is thrilling only because of a “I know what you don’t!” kind of show-off-manship. I do think Peter Piltdown is genuinely good.  The art is manic – and dynamic – in a way that’s spontaneous and appealing. Eaton clearly liked to draw animals; they’re often a big part of the punch line, and they’re drawn lovingly, with great attention to detail and body language. Anyway, you be the judge!

From the small sample that’s findable online, I’d say that the period around the 1940s is the best; the art gets simpler later on. Here’s a selection of strips that I’ve succeeded in finding (and cleaned up somewhat) – they are in chronological order starting from 1943 and going up to 1959. Most of these are original art: three images are from the collection of gallery owner Rob Stolzer (the first two, as well as the Sunday strip in colour); the rest have been found on Heritage Auctions. The last three are scans from a newspaper.










~ ds

Abner Dean’s Universe: Before…

« No other state of confusion is as interesting as yours. »

By the mid-1930s, Abner Dean (1910–1982), Abner Epstein in New York City, had reached the pinnacle of his profession, and begun to make rewarding inroads into other pursuits and endeavours. Fruitfully and prolifically published in most of the top magazines of the era (and top era for magazines), such as The New Yorker, Life, Esquire, Coronet, Time, Newsweek, Collier’s, Look, Ladies’ Home Journal and so forth, he’d also scored in the advertising field (most notably through a fifteen-year association with Aetna Insurance).

Yet he was restless; he bristled at the limitations, conventions and formulae of the era’s gag cartooning world and had something grander in mind and up his sleeve. We’ll get to that.

But first, here’s a sampling of what Abner accomplished as a commercial illustrator and cartoonist early in his career.

The following four cartoons appeared in the pages of Esquire, for which Dean produced in excess of forty colour cartoons, and scads more in good old black and white (frequently with spot colour adornment) between 1934 and 1955.
Spot the influence? The girl is a dead ringer for one of Jack Cole‘s celebrated beauties.


As Abner created five covers for The New Yorker (1933-35), it seemed absurd to leave any of them out, especially given their high calibre. Here they are, in order of their appearance.


Two examples of Dean’s illustrations for Aetna Insurance‘s long-running advertising and prevention campaign, for which Dean produced a whopping one hundred and ten drawings between 1940 and 1955. This one hails from 1946.
To better convey the tone and tenor of the campaign, I’ve transcribed some of its text. This entry is from 1955.
Our boy, wearing an appropriately skeptical expression, from the back cover of his Come As You Are (1955, Simon & Schuster).

Incidentally, what little remains publicly known about this once-famous man is the fruit of diligent research conducted by the eclectically erudite Ken Parille. As usual, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Thank you!


Tentacle Tuesday: EC’s Weird Tentacles

Today’s Tentacle Tuesday delves into William Gaines’ EC and the glorious 50s (well, glorious for *some* things, at any rate). “Weird”, you say? Why, weird simply must include tentacles!

It’s a mixed bag: those of you who dislike Al Feldstein (and I know my co-admin RG would raise his hand readily) may be terribly annoyed by this post, but patience, my friends! there’s a lot of Wally Wood (a Tentacle Tuesday master, by the way!) in here, too, and who in their right mind would admit to detesting Wally Wood?

(As for myself, in case somebody is wondering, I like Feldstein’s artwork just fine.)

Weird Science no. 6 (March-April 1951). Cover by Al Feldstein.

« EC’s flaws are pretty obvious: even when the artists were striving for greater seriousness than the ironic gore of the horror stories or the outrageous early sci-fi plots or even the clever but predictable crime and suspense stories, the writing was often overwrought, prolix, and ham-fisted, and the artists were straightjacketed by EC’s rigid visual grid. They were Entertaining Comics first and foremost, but they also seemed compelled to break out of their commercial formulas, however finely realized, and publish stories that were fiercely honest, politically adversarial, visually masterful, and occasionally formally innovative…» (source: Gary Groth’s Entertaining Comics)

Weird Science no. 10 (November-December 1951), art by Wally Wood.
Weird Fantasy no. 15 (Sept-Oct 1952). Cover by Al Feldstein. The best cover that Feldstein has ever drawn? Quizás, quizás, quizás! The monster is doing a traditional Slavic dance, I think.

« While [Feldstein was] freer than most writers of his era to indulge his fantasies, he was also more punitive toward the characters who acted them out. John Updike tormented adulterers with depression and guilt. Feldstein lopped off their heads or burnt them alive. If they received a scarlet letter, it was branded on their flesh. In real life, sexual misbehavior might have cost one alimony. Feldstein made Shahira law seem like Thomas Jefferson had drafted it. Feldstein reflected a society which, while fascinated by sex, was terrified or ashamed of this fascination. » (source: Bob Levin in Let Us Now Praise Al Feldstein)

Weird Science-Fantasy Annual no. 1 (1952), art by Al Feldstein.
Weird Fantasy #21
Weird Fantasy no. 21 (Sept-Oct 1953). Cover by Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta.

Weird Fantasy #21-detail

Weird Science no. 22 (November-December 1953), cover by Wally Wood.
Detail from the title story, “My World”, scripted by Al Feldstein and drawn by Wally Wood. You can read the story over at Mars Will Send No More.
Weird Science-Fantasy no. 27 (January-February 1955), art by Wally Wood.

~ ds