« People think the show gave Letterman an opportunity, but they don’t see the table with 10 guys in shorts wearing baseball caps pitching jokes for things for him to say. They don’t see the index cards that say: ‘Ask this first.’ It’s all spelled out for him, and everything is pre-interviews. He’s basically had to be this hand puppet, with everybody’s hands up his butt to tell him what to say and do. » — Joyce Brabner on David Letterman
We already snuck a peek at the darker side of DC Comics’ short-lived ’80 mirage Wasteland (18 issues, 1987-89), but the title’s modus operandi was variety… within a set format. Here’s another highlight from one of the earliest and strongest issues, before its co-authors TheSecond City comedy legend Del Close and Grimjack co-creator John Ostrander lost the plot, interest, or both. This is American Squalor (Wasteland no. 3, Feb. 1988, DC Comics). The underrated Don Simpson, the Wasteland bullpen’s utility player, its most versatile and loyal member, gets to strut his stuff, albeit in a lovely Crumb ersatz, down to the lettering.
What I find so impressive about this story is the scope of its ambition, fulfilled on several unlikely levels: it achieves success as a parody, a pastiche, a tribute, and as its own, standalone bit of workaday folk philosophy. Clearly, calling upon the trappings and rhythms of Crumb and Pekar’s American Splendor was just the starting point.
I’d love to track down (Close’s old Second City colleague) the Severn Darden monologue Close claims to have used as a springboard, but not everything was dutifully recorded for “posterity” in those days…
« I loved Harvey. He was a wonderful guest. The kind you don’t see anymore. The only real problem with Harvey was my immaturity. » — David Letterman
I wasn’t around in the 70s. (Literally, as in “I hadn’t been born yet”.) So when somebody – in, oh, say 2008 or so – handed me a copy of some ghost comics printed by Charlton Comics (I don’t remember what exactly), that was my first exposure to this publishing company. I wasn’t aware that I wasn’t « supposed » to like this stuff… and by the time some kind soul pointed out that it’s not exactly orthodox to seek out Charlton publications, it was too late to change my mind. Clearly, that’s how monsters with no taste are created.
Charlton Comics had the reputation for inferior printing (as one of my friends put it, « godawful colours and reproduction and paper ») and low quality control. I’d say that when one contemplates the variety of artistic styles and the dizzying panoply of artists published by them, the quality of the printing distinctly becomes a less important consideration. Charlton paid badly, sure, but since when do people decide what they like and what they don’t based on how artists are treated? (Just look around – companies that trample on creators’ rights are doing very well indeed.) It seems like a knee-jerk reaction; I often wonder if people who automatically react with sneers to the very mention of Charlton have actually read any of the comics this company printed. Or perhaps they’re scared by some of the artists’ styles which are just too wild, too squiggly, just not clean enough. (Sloppy line work! Anathema to any comic book lover worth his salt, right?)
Anyway, Charlton’s « loose editorial oversight » meant there was no house style to speak of, and artists with highly idiosyncratic styles could let their eccentricities shine.
You may notice some names are conspicuously absent from today’s post. Tom Sutton, exhibit A of the “chaotic, scratchy art” category, will get a Tentacle Tuesday post all to himself at a later date. Some beloved artists just didn’t draw any tentacles for Charlton (as far as I know!): Warren Sattler, Don Perlin, Sam Glanzman, Don Newton, Rocco Mastroserio, etc. Wayne Howard is already part of a Tentacle Tuesday (see Plant Tentacle Tuesday), as is Enrique Nieto (Tentacle Tuesday: Spunky Skirmishes).
Writer-Artist-Colourist Jean Cézard (né Jean César), born March 23, 1924 in the small French village of Membray, saw a ghost in his room when he was ten years old. In the morning light, the spectre turned out to be naught but one of his mom’s blouses, but the seed was sown: the incident would inspire his most famous creation, Arthur le fantôme justicier.
Arthur first manifested himself (though still invisible!) in issue 449 of comics weekly Vaillant (December 20, 1953). The editorial team realizing the character’s vast potential and charm, Arthur then returned with issue 451 (January 3, 1954), this time fully visible (when he so desired) and he was set for the afterlife. After his creator’s 1977 passing, Arthur’s adventures continued for a time in lesser hands, but really, Cézard was irreplaceable.
Arthur was Cézard’s favourite series to work on, because he could set the little revenant’s* adventures anywhere and any when, and he certainly did.
Les Éditions Toth, an ambitious Parisian publisher, set out to restore and reprint the works, but after five volumes (2002-2006), the enterprise seems to have stalled. However, another specialty publisher, Éditions du Taupinambour, picked up the gauntlet and published all of Cézard’s Pif Gadget Arthur stories (1969-77) in 13 volumes. That leaves, it seems, a gap of five years or so.
In closing, an anecdote about the loneliness of the long-distance cartoonist, told by Pif’s finest editor in chief Richard Medioni (1947-2016) in his definitive chronicle of Vaillant’s rise and fall, Mon camarade, Vaillant, Pif Gadget : l’histoire complète, 1901-1994 (2012, Vaillant Collector): « So I begin to read the episode that Jean has brought — when an author hands me his new pages, I necessarily read them in his presence, because I’m eager to read them, of course, but also out of respect for the work accomplished — and I admire it.
As I read on, Cézard comments here and there… when I laugh, he smiles. Sometimes, he points out a detail in the drawing that I missed… he never ceases to observe me and appears satisfied when I react as he had hoped.
Suddenly, it dawns upon me just how important such a session is to him. I bring up the notion and he explains:
“I spend days at my drawing table, alone, without a soul to appreciate my toil. And it’s a lot of time. No-one to give me a sense of what works and what doesn’t, what will bring a laugh and what will fall flat. So, when I come here, in seeing your response, I get that indispensable connection with my audience…” »
*Arthur, unlike, say, Casper, isn’t the shade of some dead child: his parents made him the old-fashioned way.
Created by Bill Everett, Namor the Sub-Mariner first appeared in Marvel Comics no. 1 (October 1939). The offspring of a human sea captain and a princess of Atlantis (and thus proudly bearing the title of Prince), he possessed the aquatic talents one expects of a regular merman and the exceptional strength of a carnival strongman. The cool thing about Namor is that right off the bat, he was a rather negative character – to be more precise, he was an Enemy of the United States (Everett didn’t mince words or characters, huh?) As Les Daniels states in his Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics (1991), « Namor was a freak in the service of chaos. Although the Sub-Mariner acted like a villain, his cause had some justice, and readers reveled in his assaults on civilization. His enthusiastic fans weren’t offended by the carnage he created as he wrecked everything from ships to skyscrapers. » This chaos culminated in an epic fight with Human Torch in 1941 when Namor took things a little too far and threatened to inundate the whole island of Manhattan. This little skirmish didn’t prevent him from joining the Allies’ side once World War II started, however, which gave a more constructive outlet for his somewhat destructive energies.
Right from the beginning, the Sub-Mariner was a complex character who just wouldn’t fit into the standard good guy/bad guy dichotomy. He underwent through quite a few transformations, disappearing for a bit right after WWII like many of his super-and-anti hero compatriots (but never for more than a couple of years at a time) and resurfacing during the Silver Age as a slightly different character. Namor’s concern about encroaching technology and hate of humanity, his fierce independence, made him a likeable character for those of us who like mavericks. He is a tragic character, a king without a kingdom who finds that Atlantis and its people have been destroyed by nuclear testing. After that, who wouldn’t hold a grudge? Anyway, if you’d like a more cogent overview of the Sub-Mariner’s history, visit The Great Comic Book Heroes.
To get back on topic, given how much time Namor spends underwater, it’s hardly surprising that he quite frequently encounters tentacles.
First, a story scripted and drawn by Bill Everett – who better to introduce the character than his creator? This is “The Octopus-Men!”, printed in The Human Torch no. 38 (August 1954).
Skipping ahead some twenty years, a page from “Namor Agonistes!”, scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by John Severin, printed in Sub-Mariner no. 38 (June 1971). This is sort of an origin story of the Sub-Mariner. Lovely art, n’est-ce pas?
A page from “When Wakes the Kraken!”, scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Sal Buscema and inked by Mike Esposito, printed in Sub-Mariner no. 27 (July 1970):
Oh, let’s have a couple of covers, too.
I mostly sneer at modern “reboots” of Golden or Silver Age characters, but Namor’s appearance in the excellent Thor the Mighty Avenger (Marvel, 2010) was completely à propos. (The series is a happy union of an absorbing story with great graphics – it’s written by Roger Langridge with art by Chris Samnee.) Here’s a page from “Thursday Morning“, published in Thor the Mighty Avenger no. 5 (December 2010).
« It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! » — Mark Twain
André Montpetit (1943-2012) was a prodigiously talented québécois cartoonist and illustrator who, after wowing the public and his peers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, essentially turned on his heels and walked away from it all. Was it fear of success, fear of failure, self-loathing, self-respect or something else that prompted his slow fade? Hard to tell.
In the meantime, here’s a seasonally sardonic piece he produced in 1971. It saw print in the March 20, 1971 issue of Perspectives, a supplement bundled with each Saturday edition of Québec’s Le Soleil daily newspaper from 1959 to 1982.
In recent years, writer-director Saël Lacroix endeavoured to put together a documentary to assemble and organize the known facts and to fill in some of the blanks of Montpetit’s troubled career and existence. The result, Sur les traces d’Arthur (aka Tracing Arthur) was released in 2016. Watch the trailer here.
This year, spring officially begins on March 20th, so it’s still a few days away… but the vernal bevy of birthdays has already started. Al Jaffee is still our first Spring Birthday Boy – he was always precocious, you know! Born in 1921 on March 13th, he turns 98 today, and that’s a truly impressive age, even for the oldest working cartoonist. Break out the bubbly!
Take my hand as we gallop through Jaffee’s career at a fast clip. In chronological order, then…
The New York Herald Tribune Syndicate published Tall Tales from 1957 to 1963. Al Jaffee came up with the idea of this strip’s format (one vertical panel for dailies, and a series of vertical panels for Sundays) when he was in financial straits – its unorthodox configuration ensured that newspaper editors would be able to squeeze it in *somehow*.
Visit The Fabulous Fifties blog for more – the amazing Ger Apeldoorn has scanned tons of Tall Tales from old newspapers, a monumental (and much appreciated) endeavour.
« The world is full of bloviators. And this kind of stuff, when there’s someone on the public scene who’s really going beyond his duties as a politician or a religious leader or a sportsman, he’s fair game. The main thing is to keep your eyes and ears open and when you hear something that’s clearly baloney, such as “eight out of 10 doctors smoke Chesterfield cigarettes” – these are ads that actually ran! One of the tobacco companies had the nerve to claim that doctors prefer their cigarettes. So it’s easy to shoot down that kind of bull. But you do it with a gentle hand, you don’t preach and say “tobacco kills! How can these doctors do that?!” No, you just go them one step further and say, “In addition to eight out of 10 doctors smoking this brand of cigarette, in their time off, they each drink a gallon of bourbon, which also has health benefits.” » |source|
« I’m not an educator or a preacher. I think the important thing, in my line of work anyway, is that you’re helping the reader to think for himself. It’s not just about getting a chuckle from them. When you expose hypocrisy or nonsense or plain ol’ stupidity, you want to do it in a way that makes the reader connect the dots. Don’t tell the joke, just hint at the joke. If you over-explain it, it’s no good. » /source/
You might be wondering if Mr. Jaffee’s art and wit were any good much later in his career, say in the 90s. Stupid question, bub. Of course they were!
Have you ever wondered what Al Jaffee is like in person? Here’s your chance to find out:
“But you haven’t even mentioned MAD fold-ins!”, you might exclaim in dismay. Hey, I’m not gonna repeat myself… visit A MAD Dash… Inside for that and more Jaffee silliness.
Oh, fine, you guys. Just one, though, ’cause otherwise we’ll be here for another couple of hours, and frankly I’ve got hungry cats to feed.
You say you’re having trouble folding your screen? Geez, do we have to do *all* the work around here?
The Golden Age of comics proffered quite a lot of anthropomorphic animals to its readers. The stuff on offer ran the gamut of different definitions of humour, from inane slapstick to pleasant goofiness, all the way to batshit surrealism. There’s at least one common streak running through this zoological revelry – tentacles!
Our first exhibit is a charming comic from the 40s. Land of the Lost was a radio series broadcast from 1943 to 1948 on Mutual Broadcasting System and ABC, written, produced and narrated by Isabel Manning Hewson. Each episode started with the line « In that wonderful kingdom at the bottom of the sea… », and presented a new under-the-sea adventure of Isabel and Billy, two kids lucky enough to have an adorable avuncular fish for an underwater guide. (The fish was called Red Lantern, and was most notably voiced by Art Carney.) You can listen to an episode from 1945 here.
Coming back to our beloved cartoons: in 1946, EC Comics started publishing Land of the Lost Comics, a series that lasted for 9 issues. Hewson remained the writer, and the art was handled by Olive Bailey (not the Olive Bailey who helped crack Germans’ Enigma cipher machine in WWII.) The result was impressive: these comics are delectable, combining beautiful art with inventive plots that may be goofy, but have a solid internal logic. Hewson gave her sea-creatures vibrant personalities, and it’s so much fun to dive (not pun intended) into this world.
The following panels are from “Jack Frost“, scripted by Isabel Manning Hewson and drawn by Olive Bailey, published in Land of the Lost Comics no. 3.
Thank you, cool ladies, for all the fun!
Land of the Lost also became an animated cartoon as part of Famous Production Studios‘ Noveltoon series: Land of the Lost (1948), Land of the Lost Jewels (1950) and Land of Lost Watches (1951). I find the animation to be definitely subpar to the comics or the radio show, but I’ll let you judge for yourselves. (Jack Mercer is in it, albeit briefly!)
Did you know octopuses love to box? This implausible situation is definitely part of the lazy artist’s roster. To wit:
Ha Ha Comics, a sister anthology of Giggle Comics, was published by ACG. (With issue #100, Ha Ha became Teepee Tim, going from animal hijinks to young Indian shenanigans for all of… three issues.) It’s quite a the playground of anything goes, but upon careful inspection, one easily finds good art shining among the dirt-pile of mediocrity, and diverting storytelling among hackneyed yarns.
How many arms does the fellow up above have, nine? I suppose that’s why he’s the champ!
Comic Cavalcade went all funny-animals only with issue 30 (Dec-Jan 1948), when superheroes faded from popularity (oh man, that’s hard to imagine now, isn’t it?) It lasted until 1954, by which time it shrank from its original 96 pages to 76, however retaining its 15-cent cover price.
« Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise. » — Bertrand Russell
When last we left Abner Dean (catch up with Part One), he was contemplating a professional change, something transcendent, something more lasting, but still using most of the traditional tools of cartooning. We can surmise that, at first, the resultant works weren’t necessarily to be shared widely: “I’m at work on a long series of drawings now that are not intended for publication ”, Dean had confided to a friend in 1941.
First came, in 1942, a Life Magazine article premiering a handful of these drawings. Then, in 1945, It’s a Long Way to Heaven landed in bookshelves.
Incredibly (if you’ll forgive the cynicism), the book, and its sequels, were solid sellers. Given the groundbreaking character of these cartoons (for the lack of a more fitting term), such well-merited success is quintuply impressive. Hell, maybe the audience for such material actually existed then.
« Much as he hates to admit it, the life of the average man (which means virtually all of us) tends to assume the form of a longish doze, interrupted by fits and starts of bewildered semi-alertness. We will invent a hundred ways of heading off self-alertness to one that may force us to ask ourselves who the devil we are. You cannot turn on your radio or unfold your newspaper without being offered all the answers. But where shall we go if we wish to be asked the questions? » — Clifton Fadiman, from his “Prefatory Note” to What Am I Doing Here?
Regrettably, Dean’s five books in this new idiom [It’s a Long Way to Heaven (1945); What Am I Doing Here? (1947); And On the Eighth Day (1949); Come As You Are: A Book about People at Parties (1952) and Cave Drawings for the Future (1954)] have all-but-entirely faded from collective memory, but there have been encouraging stirrings of a revival in recent years, owing to the efforts of a dedicated handful of brave souls.
Dedicated… and perhaps influential: What Am I Doing Here? was granted a new facsimile edition in 2016. Here’s a brief review.
As in the case of the couldn’t-be-more-highly-recommended Abner Dean’s Naked People: A Selection of Drawings from Four of His Books (1963), we’re omitting any excerpts from Come As You Are, not because it’s inferior work, quite the contrary, but because it deserves a showcase of its own. We’ll return to it.
In the meantime, enjoy these peeks into Abner Dean’s Id and, I daresay, the human condition at large. Thanks to Dean’s visionary approach, these haven’t acquired a wrinkle in the past eighty or so years.
« 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.
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!
*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).
Kitchen Sink Press, a trailblazing publisher of underground comix that grew out of Denis Kitchen’s successful attempts at self-publishing, has seen its share of tentacles. (For a detailed story of how Kitchen Sink grew from a modest artists’ cooperative into a force to be reckoned with, as well as a discussion of its 30-year legacy, pay Comixjoint a visit.)
First we have a pair of entries from the Death Rattle catalogue. There were 3 “volumes” (series, if you will) published, and my favourite is volume 2, consisting of 18 issues coming out between October 1985 and October 1988, starting out in glorious colour but reverting to black-and-white with issue 6 (which was fine, actually). It’s a remarkably consistent anthology nearly devoid of clunkers, and featuring awesome stories and art by Rand Holmes, Jaxon, Tom Veitch, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, Steve Stiles, etc. It’s also where Mark Schultz’ Xenozoic Tales series was introduced (Death Rattle no. 8, December 1986)!
Speaking of Jaxon, I’d like to quote from General Jackson, a tribute written by Margaret Moser (who dated him on-and-off through the years).
« The last time I saw Jack was a humid, late summer night in 2005 at the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture. His hair was nearly white and had lost its red-brown burnish, but his mustache was bushy as ever, and he resembled God Nose himself. He was a little grumpy, probably feeling bad, and I was with my boyfriend, so I didn’t sit on his lap. I did kiss his leathery cheek and fetch him a beer. He smelled like cigarette smoke and maybe of Old Spice.
On Wednesday, June 7, just three weeks after his birthday, Jack Jackson took his life at the graves of his parents outside Stockdale. His diabetes and arthritis were getting worse, affecting his ability to draw, and he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Unwilling to face a debilitating course of chemo treatment, he put down his pen forever and made his own kind of peace with the unforgiving future. »
On to something more cheerful! Next, we have a bit of a non sequitur in this otherwise horror-centric post, although one might argue that being grabbed by an octopus is a traumatic experience. What’s The Spirit doing in here, you might ask?
« Kitchen Sink continued publishing multiple undergrounds and alternative comics through the ’80s and ’90s, but also expanded into publishing non-underground comics, graphic novels and extensive anthologies, most notably by Will Eisner, Al Capp, Milton Caniff and Harvey Kurtzman. » |source|
All rested now? Okay, back to horror.
The scientist seems to have been preparing to dissect the specimen – turnabout is fair play! This cover reminds me of this, actually:
Back on topic, another attack of the Flesh Crawlers:
My final submission for today involves a cozy family scene where Frank is peacefully having breakfast with, err… Potted turnip babies and an almost-nude greek serial killer. I think.