Tentacle Tuesday: the Putrid, Gunky Insides of Death Rattle

Death rat·tle (/ˈdeTH ˈˌradl/), noun: a gurgling sound heard in a dying person’s throat.

Greetings! Today we explore Kitchen Sink‘s mostly-black-and-white horror anthology (drum roll, please) Death Rattle, which ran between 1972 and 1996 in three distinct “volumes” (please don’t forget your professional spelunking gear, things might get messy). For the pedants in the audience (and let’s be honest, that’s probably the majority of us comic-loving freaks), the break-down goes like this:

Volume 1, 3 issues published between June 1972 until June 1973 under the Krupp Comic Words imprint; volume 2, 18 issues published between October 1985 and October 1988 under Kitchen Sink Comix; finally, volume 3, five issues published between December 1995 and June 1996, also under Kitchen Sink Comix. I must admit that that my favourite period is Volume 2, and it’s from these issues that most material presented below has been drawn.

There is already a Tentacle Tuesday devoted to Kitchen Sink (see Tentacle Tuesday: The Kitchen Sink Touch) featuring, among other things, two splendid Death Rattle covers. We have also previously ogled some DR inside art in Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Rand Holmes. Today we take a longer peek into the stories promulgated by this fantabulous anthology. Get ready for some nasty fun!

(Man, I’ve got to tone down my build-ups…)

Panel from Mind Siege! by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 3 (February 1986). The “my god!! so BIG!!” alien has the power to telepathically send mind-shattering hallucinations, eventually driving (nearly) everyone on earth insane. This issue also provides the first installment of Jaxon’s epic series Bulto… the Cosmic Slug (collected as Secret of San Saba: A Tale of Phantoms and Greed in the Spanish Southwest in 1989, for those interested).
The last soldier on earth killed it! …Or did he? Panel from Mind Siege! by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 3 (February 1986).

The first 5 issues of Death Rattle volume 2 appeared in glorious colour, after which the series reverted to its standard black-and-white (financial hurdles). Issue 7 came out proudly bearing the slogan “too gruesome for color!” Issue 5 gave more details of the change to come:

« It will still be printed on quality paper, so you archivists out there won’t have trouble preserving disintegrating, rotting, putrid copies that look like they’ve just risen zombified from a Graham Ingels story. We’ll still be printing atmospheric stories of the unusual, the eerie, the — dare we say it — ghastly. So let’s rejoice, not mourn. »

I remember being vaguely disappointed for just a little while (it was nice to have colour), but the high quality of (most) stories made it easy to get used to the switch, and I really liked the unapologetic way Kitchen Sink confronted their audience, making a good thing out of a bad thing.

Polite monsters knock before smashing noisily through the window. Page from Old House, scripted by Kenneth Whitfield and drawn by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 7 (October 1986).
Page from Old House, scripted by Kenneth Whitfield and drawn by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 7 (October 1986).

I didn’t realize it immediately, but this post ends up being some sort of cephalopod love song to Steve Stiles. Speaking of the latter, I’d like to mention that he doesn’t get enough credit for his work on Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales, even though he drew Schultz-scripted back-up stories for no fewer than 13 issues of XT – and, frankly, did an excellent job. Instead of getting interrupted smack in the middle of an intoxicating story, Xenozoic Tales could have continued to thrill us if Schultz scripted and Stiles illustrated. ‘Nuff said. Visit Stiles’ website – it has tons and tons of stuff.

If I may be allowed a slight digression, here are two examples of Stiles’ recent (and computer-coloured, I’m afraid) work taken from his Tumblr blog – I think tentacles still prey heavily upon his mind! 😉



Okay, no more distractions. Back to our regularly scheduled program:

Last Exit by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 8 (December 1986). Comics *definitely* teach us that guns are useless against tentacles.
« Savoring my growing fear and horror… the crawl and prickle of my flesh.. waiting to feel the rapid feather-flutter or antennae… the clammy weight of tentacles… the jolt of pain as mandibles grip with steady pressure…» Panel from Mirrors by Eric Vincent, published in Death Rattle no. 11 (June 1987).
Page from Bulto – The Cosmic Slug (part 5) by Jaxon, published in Death Rattle no. 12 (September 1987). There simply isn’t anything Jaxon can’t ace: a lot of artists have no trouble depicting curvy vixens, few artists can draw an anatomically correct horse, and even fewer would be able to create a blood-curdling scene with a manic priest and a convincing Elder God.
Panel from The Arrivals by Steve Stiles, published in Death Rattle no. 12 (September 1987). Watch who you’re calling filthy, kid – soon you’ll be one of them.
A bit of comic relief: panel from Dr. Stodge Rimperton, Otologist by Tony Millionaire, published in Death Rattle no. 2 (volume 3), December 1995.

« Yes, you may find yourself raving in the aisles when you read Death Rattle, although we sincerely hope not. We hope it will thrill, chill, slice, dice and possibly even amuse you. » (introduction from Death Rattle no. 4)

~ ds

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