« Their bodies are mainly soft and pliant, with one major exception. In the centre of their web of tentacles lies a hard, sharp and murderous beak that resembles that of a parrot, is a tool for killing and dismembering prey… » (source)
When the story begs for an octopus intervention, artists can go the more-or-less realistic route, or take complete liberties with an octopus’ anatomy. Today I won’t talk about assorted tentacled zoological marvels one finds in comics – insert your choice of description into “… with tentacles”: dinosaurs, sharks, gorillas, robots, old hags, worms, bartenders, and so on. Yes, I can support my claims (email me if you want evidence… or just look through previous editions of Tentacle Tuesday).
Anyway, let’s say you want to draw a somewhat believable octopus – giant, sure, and plenty scary, but somewhat true to life. There’s a problem: frightening brutes generally have some sort of gaping maw, a set of incisors (preferably dripping with some revolting stomach acid), something they can visibly threaten the hero with. The octopus’ mouth is hidden under all that undulating mass of tentacles, pretty much where one would expect a normal creature’s anus to be, and definitely not next to his eyes. For that reason, in most octopuses sightings in comics, their mouths aren’t visible at all. But some artists, well, they want to have their cake and eat it, too. Here is a gallery of octopus mouths – we’ll start off with naturalistic ones, and make out way into that’s not how any of this works territory. I won’t include anything with a lamprey mouth, however.
Here’s the only clean attempt: the beast has a beak, there are no teeth in it, and the eyes are on the other sides of the octopus, where they’re supposed to be. Walter Simonson, you win this one!
In the next image, an attempt is made at something vaguely beak-like, but that dentition is definitely wrong. The octopus has some tiny teeth on its tongue which it uses to drill holes or scrape things out, and some razor-sharp hooks/teeth on its suckers, but nothing like normal teeth, which is why no octopus has ever needed dentures.
The other approach one could take is drawing something that looks like an especially irate parrot, but with tentacles. It is not entirely illogical, as the octopus’ mouth has been described as “similar to a parrot’s beak” by several people in the know.
Batman recently had a whole Tentacle Tuesday to himself – here he is again, fighting a squid with very unsquid-like features. At first, he looks normal, but glance at the bottom of the left corner – how did he suddenly develop a beak where there was none to be seen several panels prior?
Continuing the beak-and-parrot theme…
A final note to this conversation about octopuses’ mouths – should you locate an octopus, pleasedon’t put it on your face (or any other body parts).
« You are not as strong as the Robots. You are not as skillful as the Robots. The Robots can do anything. You only give orders. You do nothing but talk. » — Karel Čapek, Rossum’s Universal Robots (1921)
From the Department of Promises Kept: nearly a year ago, while featuring the late 60s run of DC’s Aquaman, I happened to posit that « Aparo returned to the character just a few years down the road, but by then, he’d already begun his long, painful artistic deterioration. » One reader disagreed. Another clamoured for some Aparo art, presumably his better stuff.
« The tentacles of today reach out like an octopus to swallow yesterday. »
That’s a quote from Gladys Taber, columnist for Ladies’ Home Journal in the 19th century, and almost as good as “put your foot down with a firm hand”.
Another thing tentacles of today… or any day… do is reach out for women, preferably ones in skimpy outfits. ’nuff said.
By now, I’m completely confused about who Ms. Marvel is supposed to be, but here is some version of her battling an octopus with a heavy hangover or a bad case of conjunctivitis. This blondie is Carol Danvers, I believe, though, that her usually bare stomach has been wrongly coloured red… but I can’t muster enough interest to care.
The next one is a scene from a fantasy world, though pray note that the tentacle grabs the woman, not the guy who’s right behind her, nor the gorilla (?) who’s right in front of her.
In case anybody is wondering about the plot of this 6-issue series by Bo Hampton, « A wizard, an air force pilot, and a young woman on a mysterious quest, join forces on a “lost planet” accessible only through magic corridors. As Ambrose Bierce, a self-taught wizard who disappeared from Earth in 1914, tells them, when the evil Zorrin family conquered the planet Iriel, they killed off its scientists so it could be dominated by the Zorrins’ magic. Before they can return to Earth, the heroes have to destroy the lotus potion which subjugates the world’s populace to the Zorrins’ will. » (source)
There’s very little science in these Thrilling Science Tales – and would you expect any from a story with a protagonist named Stormy Tempest? (any relation to Joey?) Trying to untangle her hair from the tentacle’s suckers/cilia is going to be horrendously painful, but I suppose she has more serious things to worry about.
The following is not exactly a worthy use of Mark Schultz‘ talents, but at least it’s a nice, intriguing cover. The insides are not drawn by him, in case you’re wondering.
I’ll wrap up with some eye candy – I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was actually drawn by Bruce Timm and not one of his many imitators. A Timm comic with tentacles and more than a subtle hint of seduction? I’m very pleased, indeed.
« Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. » – Groucho Marx
Today, we salute the remarkably versatile and woefully short-lived Gerard Hoffnung (born in 1925, died in 1959 of a brain haemorrhage, aged 34): cartoonist, illustrator, educator, musician, raconteur… and voracious reader, ça va de soit.
While he’s perhaps most fondly recalled for his music and his music-related cartooning, I hold in special regard a slender volume of his gentle celebration of the act and art of reading, Hoffnung’s Constant Readers, from which I offer you the following samples.
Born and raised in Berlin, teenage Gerard was sent to England in 1938 to flee the encroaching tide of Nazism. He was a lifelong (however brief the life) doodler, and most of his thousand-plus drawings (in a style bearing a touch of his noted compatriot Wilhelm Busch‘s influence) were carefully preserved. For such a short life and career, this irrepressible fellow left behind an outstanding discography and bibliography.
His devoted widow, Annetta Hoffnung, née Perceval (they wed in 1952), attended unflaggingly to his memory during the nearly sixty years that she outlived him by (she passed away in 2018); the website she created to celebrate and promote his work remains active, and there you’ll find a fuller biography. Thank you, madam.
«... it was invariably his work that was given pride of place. His was emulated and imitated. By the end of the 1930s, he was the most respected and sought-after artist working for comics…»
And now guess who these lines were written about. My title was a dead giveaway, I admit! But if you’ve heard of Roy Wilson, you are, as it turns out, distinctly in the minority. He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (surely that is a sign of success and fame in the modern world) in English, and a quick search for his name yields a lot of unrelated nonsense. But just add the word “comics” to your Google quest, and we’re in business!
Royston Warner Wilson was born in Northamptonshire, England just at the turn of the century, in 1900. He died young, at 65, but those years were enough for him to leave more than a lifetime’s worth of cartoons, humorous drawings and comic strips. For someone who has been widely credited as the most influential artist of British humour comics in what roughly corresponds to the Golden Age, which is to say the 1930s to the 1950s, his relative obscurity is downright criminal. While not particularly well-remembered by the world at large (even by the British public, it seems), at least he is beloved by legions of fans who were children during these decades and were irrevocably, and delightfully, marked by the antics of his characters.
In the 1930s, he was the leading artist for Amalgamated Press, which unleashed a variety of humour/comic titles, mostly weeklies, upon a delighted audience of pre- and post- pubescent children. Oh, a lot of these publications were around before he stepped in – but he revitalized them. As for the publisher, it had a long history with comics: as a matter of fact, it entered that particular market in 1890 with something called Illustrated Chips.
Because Roy Wilson was so talented and prolific and his artwork so lively, his style quickly became the house style and remained so for decades, which is why Wilson can be easily credited with having created what we can roughly call the “British humour style”, easily recognizable to this day.
He not only created and drew (and, often, redrew: like some super prolific artists who seem to have too many ideas to put down on paper, he was a perfectionist) the stories, he also lettered them himself. He had a great eye for colour, too! Which leads me to my next point – I’ve often seen him referred to as the « British Walt Kelly », but I’m not entirely on board with that comparison. Oh, there’s similarities – for instance, their common love of playful language and the ease with which both depict frisky, charismatic animals – but I think this monicker does both of them a grave disservice. Let’s appreciate artists on their own merit, shall we?
Only one Wilson monograph appears to have seen print: The Comic Art of Roy Wilson (1983), and it’s quite scarce nowadays. I recently purchased a copy. All images in this post have been scanned from it, courtesy of co-admin RG.
The reason for the re-occurring octopus, as you may be wondering – other than it being clearly fun to draw – is that he was a character in the stories of Pitch and Toss, published in Funny Wonder. To wit, Pitch and Toss Put On a Good Show and Show How to Make Good Money!:
The above was the first appearance of Occy the Octopussie, who became a mainstay of the strip. Here are two (rejected) panels from another chapter in the saga of Pitch and Toss, this time for Pitch and Toss and Their Pets Get a Sub and Spend a Happy Whitsun, from March 30th, 1942.
« Roy Wilson’s art is still very much alive and, even in the comics of today, his influence can be seen. Britain’s foremost comic artist created a host of cheery and boundlessly zestful characters who still exist in the minds of the millions they entertained His art will not be forgotten. » (quote by Alan Clark and David Ashford from The Comic Art of Roy Wilson)
« Discovering this girlie mag stuff was like expecting a bike for Christmas and getting a car. » — Jaime Hernandez on his personal DeCarlo epiphany
As assiduous readers of this blog may already know, I don’t rate Dan DeCarlo (1919-2001) all that highly as an Archie artist. Simply put, once he committed himself fully to the publisher (in 1963), he strapped himself onto a treadmill of exploitation for the next several decades, and on-model hackwork quickly became the norm. Archie consumers (can we truly call it reading?) didn’t know or care then, or now, who produced the stuff, nor how.
While grinding out sexy panel cartoons for Moe ‘Martin’ Goodman’s Humorama line of girlie digests also constituted exploitation (at 15 bucks a pop, sometimes less), the results were sturdier and far more expressive, which is surprising, given that DeCarlo produced hundreds of these (at the cited figure* of ten a month, it adds up to over 800!) over the course of a mere seven-year span. But then DeCarlo was at his peak, having acquired sufficient experience (he’d gotten his start in the field in 1947), and he was hungry and brimming with stamina.
DeCarlo buddy / biographer Bill Morrison, in his fine preface to Alex Chun and Jacob Covey’s The Pin-up Art of Dan DeCarlo (2005, Fantagraphics), sadly out of print and nowadays quite costly (though volume 2’s still available from the publisher, hint hint!), recounts the way things went down:
« According to Dan, Stan Lee wanted to make a little extra money, so he offered to introduce Dan to the editor of the Humorama line of men’s humor magazines. In return for the introduction, Stan would collect 10% of the fee for every single panel gag cartoon Dan contributed. Dan saw this as an chance to develop as a magazine cartoonist, and he decided to pull out all the stops. Dan recalled, ‘So I did five, and I brought them over, all black and white wash, you know. I thought they were beautiful, and he [the editor] loved them. He paid me $15.00 each, and I had to give 10% to Stan!’ Dan soon decided not to continue doing the cartoons, even when Stan declined to take his cut. So the editor offered a compromise. He said, ‘Well, would it be easier if you just draw the situations, and I put the gags in?’ Dan agreed that would help to make it worthwhile. He had been paying his comic book inker Rudy Lapick $3.00 a piece to come up with the gags, so with that cost eliminated, he could nearly clear a full $15.00 on each cartoon after buying supplies. Incidentally, Dan later learned that Rudy had been swiping the gags cold from a book of Peter Arno’s New Yorker cartoons, so it’s probably a good thing that this arrangement didn’t continue. »
Here’s a baker’s dozen samples of what I deem the cream of the DeCarlo crop…. visually, anyway.
As you can witness, the gags are a bit of an afterthought, a side dish to stock situations. Over the years, these cartoons were endlessly recycled, and the captions updated, though rarely… upgraded.
« Even without the benefit of philosophical reflection, anyone who has spent some time in an enclosed space with an excited bat knows what it is to encounter a fundamentally alien form of life. » (Thomas Nagel, What is it like to be a bat?)
Bats and octopuses, now there’s a combination that doesn’t often occur in nature – while both are admirable, fascinating animals, they’re not linked by lifestyle or environment, and neither is the other’s prey. Batman, on the other hand, has definitely tangled with many tentacled monsters in his time (which proves that he’s not a bat). I’m sure today’s post didn’t unearth *all* the octopuses that Batman has had the pleasure of defeating, especially those of a more modern vintage (with mostly horrible art, which is why I’m not too worried)… but today’s selection, you will have to admit, is quite fair.
Bat-Mite Meets Mr. Mxyzptlk(he must be from Poland, with a name like that), scripted by Jerry Coleman, pencilled by Dick Sprang, and inked by Sheldon Moldoff, was published in World’s Finest Comics no. 113 (November 1960):
Since they threatened us with the continuation of the story, I followed up, and dug up more tentacles. Deathgrip, scripted by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Don Newton and inked by Dick Giordano, was published (as promised) in Detective Comics no. 524 (March 1983):
Enigma of the Death-Ship!, scripted by Bob Haney and illustrated by Jim Aparo, was published in The Brave and the Bold no. 142 (July-August 1978):
I mentioned modern comics, earlier – I’ve chosen two examples published relatively recently, with passable art.
The pompously titled Leaves of Grass, Part 3: Comedown!, scripted by Alan Grant, pencilled by Dave Taylor and inked Stan Woch, was published in Batman: Shadow of the Bat no. 58 (January 1997):
Knightmares, Part 4, scripted by Tom King and illustrated by Jorge Fornes, was published in Batman no. 66 (May 2019):
To conclude on a more pleasant note…
Tentacled Terror, number 8 in Topps‘ 1966 Batman ‘Red Bat’ trading card set, boasting painted artwork by Norman Saunders.
« … drawn by a terrible hypnotic fascination, the gangster peers deep into Jim’s dark eyes and glimpses — DEATH! » — “The Spectre”, More Fun Comics no. 52 (Feb. 1940)
Today, we salute Bernard Baily (April 5, 1916 – January 19, 1996), recalled nowadays as co-creator of The Spectre (with Jerry Siegel) and Hourman (with Ken Fitch) and conjurer of many of the 1950s most notorious comics covers… but there’s much more. Let’s take a look, shall we?
To my knowledge, there aren’t a lot of Golden Age superheroes whose costumes were so perfectly designed in the first place that no change whatsoever has been required over time. The Spectre has to be exhibit number one in that case.
As far back as I can recall, I’ve been intrigued by the tremendous latitude to be found in specific penciller-inker pairings. Depending on who’s at the helm, things can go anywhere from manna to mud.
No need to dwell on the damage a bad or lazy inker can inflict, and we’ve all witnessed the magic of inkers that elevate any pencils they’re called upon to finish.
It’s of yet greater interest, I believe, to delve into the rare and mystifying alchemy worked by two flavours you’d never dream of commingling in the same dish… like anchovies and ice cream, or perhaps Nutella and caviar.
One such audacious mixture was given a go in the transitional post-Atlas days of Marvel comics, as the publisher’s long-running anthologies were shedding their mostly-standalone short story format in favour of the resurgent superheroes.
First, though, a bit about our performers:
Recently-retired (in 2018) writer-artist Larry Lieber (born October 26, 1931, and still with us), is Stan Lee’s younger brother (who didn’t anglicise his name nor sport a toupee) and publisher Martin Goodman‘s nephew. From day one (he got his start in comics with Atlas in 1951), Larry toiled on the family farm, so to speak, his entire career (including a chaotic editorial stint with Martin and Chip Goodman’s ill-conceived Atlas-Seaboard company in 1974-75). His most notable work at Marvel was his run as writer-artist on Rawhide Kid (1964-1973); after Atlas-Seaboard, he worked for Marvel-related newspaper strips, frequently with brother Stan (first The Incredible Hulk, 1978-79, then The Amazing Spider-Man, 1986-2018). He did co-create Iron Man, Ant-Man and Thor… but hasn’t seen a dime for it beyond his measly page rate back in the 60s. Once more, that’s the American comic book industry for you, particularly if you’re a bit of a milquetoast.
In the 1950s, he drew a handful of short stories for Atlas, as well as a single story and a trio of covers for Youthful’s Chilling Tales… upon which largely rest his reputation in comics. Peter Normanton, in The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics, wrote: « There is an air of disquiet to his vision, yet it charms through a surreptitious blending of the primitive with the mockingly insane. His characters border on the lunatic seemingly at home in his landscapes, concealing a darkness corruptive of the soul. »
This is Beware — the Machine!!! from Strange Tales no.111 (Aug. 1963, Marvel). Lieber, while he’d never be called (or claim to be, to his credit) a master draughtsman, did possess one irrefutable and priceless artistic quality: he could tell a story clearly, smoothly, without undue fuss.
Now, you may ask, did Lieber appreciate Fox’s stellar efforts? Short answer: nope. In this chat with Roy ‘Houseroy’ Thomas, he lets it all hang out. [ source ]
Roy Thomas:One of the strangest inkers you had was Matt Fox.
Larry Lieber: I hated that stuff! Oh, God, and years later, I learned that Matt Fox is considered one of the greats by some people, and his artwork brings a buck or two.
RT: Yeah, but not in comics.*
LL:I hated his stuff because I struggled with drawing, and I was trying to make the drawings look as real as humanly possible, and I had a tough time. I remember I once had Don Heck inking me on a five-page western, and I remember saying, “My God, he’s good at making my stuff look better than it is,” and he was. Matt Fox – if my stuff was a little stiff, he made it even stiffer; he made it look like wood cuttings!
RT: Fox had been in advertising. He’d done lithographs, pulp illustrations; evidently he did some covers for Weird Tales, the magazine that published H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, including Conan, back in the ’30s. Fox did color wood cuts; he was a real artist, but his comic inking was so strange – his line just deadened everything.
LL: One of my traits was that I was reluctant to say anything bad about anybody, because everybody has to earn a living. I wouldn’t complain, no matter who they put on. But one day I was working in the office penciling a western, and Stan walked by. He saw my pencils and he said, “This is your penciling?” And I said, “Yeah.” Stan said, “This is pretty good. I’ve been looking at the finished stuff, and that looks terrible.” And he removed that inker – it wasn’t Matt Fox – and gave me a better one. But I, of my own volition, wouldn’t say a word about it.
RT: Fox obviously had a style that just didn’t translate well into comics.
No, Roy: Fox had a style that just didn’t translate into your own, extremely limited idea of comics. This is, after all, the guy who assigned Vince Colletta to ink Frank Robbins, as well as the single individual most responsible for infecting US comics with the dread malady of “continuity“.
It must be said, however, that Fox’s meticulous line work is not particularly suited to the lousy colouring and printing found in comic books of that vintage. So… let’s look at some original art!
Here’s a chronological Lieber-Fox bibliography, comprising 17 stories:
Escape into Space (Tales of Suspense no. 42, June 1963) The Man Who Wouldn’t Die! (Journey into Mystery no. 93, June 1963) We Search the Stars! (Strange Tales no. 110, July 1963) I Was a Victim of Venus! (Tales of Suspense no. 43, July 1963) Beware — the Machine!!! (Strange Tales no. 111, August 1963) I Come From Far Centaurus! (Tales of Suspense no. 45, September 1963) The Smiling Gods! (Tales to Astonish no. 47, September 1963) The Search for Shanng! (Strange Tales no. 113, October 1963) Grayson’s Gorilla! (Tales to Astonish no. 48, October 1963) The Purple Planet! (Journey into Mystery no. 98, November 1963) The Secret of Sagattus! (Tales to Astonish no. 50, December 1963) Stroom’s Strange Solution! (Journey into Mystery no. 99, December 1963) No Place to Turn! (Tales to Astonish no. 51, January 1964) The Unreal! (Journey into Mystery no. 100, January 1964) The Enemies! (Journey into Mystery no. 101, February 1964) The Menace! (Journey into Mystery no. 102, March 1964) The Green Thing! (Tales of Suspense no. 51, March 1964)
Larry! sure! loved! his! exclamation! marks!!!
Most of these have never been reprinted until recently, and since they appeared in key early issues of Silver Age Marvel superhero titles… they’ve largely languished in obscurity. Writing-wise, they deserve it. But the artwork is what we’re interested in.
And on that point, it would be fair to feature a solo piece from Fox and Lieber, for a bit of perspective on each man’s respective strengths and peccadillos.
In closing, here’s a bittersweet excerpt from Bhob Stewart‘s vivid recollections of his meetings with Fox in the mid-60s, during Stewart’s time as editor (and just about everything else) of Castle of Frankenstein, when Fox dropped by to place an ad in the magazine.
« Fox came across as a straight-arrow, no-nonsense sort of a guy, and after a brief conversation about Weird Tales, he quickly got to the point. He was selling glow-in-the-dark posters, and he wanted to run an ad in Castle of Frankenstein. With that, he unfurled his glowing poster depicting demons and banshees dancing in the pale moonlight. We took it into a dark corner of the room, and yes, indeed, it did emit an eerie green glow.
He next produced an ad for the posters. He had made a negative photostat of his ink drawing, so the reversal of black to white simulated glowing monsters coming out of the darkness toward the reader. Clever hand-lettering effects added a subtle suggestion of glowing letters seen at night, not unlike the moment when Marion Crane first spots the Bates Motel sign through her car’s rain-covered windshield. »
« … it was the second time I saw him. I admired his tight rendering in ink and crayon on pebbleboard. Then I casually asked, “So how many orders did you get for the glow-in-the-dark posters?” He responded bitterly, “None.” After that day, I never saw him and his demonic entourage again. He became the Phantom Artist, whereabouts unknown. Fox died in 1988… » [ source ]
*utter half-baked, speculative claptrap from Rascally Roy. The fact is that very little of Fox’s original comics artwork survives. For instance, Heritage Auctions has never sold a single Matt Fox solo page. If anything still exists, it’s been in private hands for a long, long time. Furthermore, the comic books in which Fox’s work saw print do ‘bring a buck or two‘, particularly the issues of Chilling Tales featuring his covers (numbers 13, 15 and 17). Read these sinister beauties here!
(In fact, to fill that gap in demand, renowned fantasy painter Ken Kelly has even produced recreations of Matt Fox covers. Here’s a sample.)