« Naturally there was quite a ruckus when everyone found out who… and what Rah was. But there wasn’t any rules concernin’ the eligibility of a mummy to play ball, so the Jets’ victory stood… » — from Roger McKenzie’s The Return of Rah
Carrying on with our irregular survey of significant Warren cover artists whose names and reputations are somewhat less inextricably linked with the publisher than the usual suspects, and thereby sometimes overlooked. Fresh out of art school, and on his way to a truly remarkable, award-peppered career, Don Maitz (born 1953, Plainville, CT) graced a brace of Warren Mags with some of his earliest professional imaginings, which I’ve gathered here.
When I was in college, most of my professors could easily be divided into two categories: those who had good taste in comics, and those who did not. I don’t know who launched this tradition (is this something that’s universal to all post-highschool educators?), but somehow the majority of teachers were fond of clipping particularly pleasing items from newspapers and (usually messily) scotch-taping them to their office door. This usually included some brief newspaper articles, and definitely a cartoon or two.
I have to admit that I had a soft spot for panels that clearly had spent the last decade (or three) in that spot, and were little more than yellowed, warped, sometimes downright indecipherable relics of yesteryear. However, of greater interest were office doors tended as carefully as an prize-winning garden, proudly displaying a frequently renewed wall of cartoons, meticulously positioned and impeccably pasted onto the door’s surface.
I was lucky enough to know one professor who was passionate about Bizarro, and another one who harboured a similar fire for Gary Larson‘s The Far Side. At the time, I didn’t know that Larson had retired in 1995, and that new work of his was no longer published in newspapers. I was in college in 2004. Did the professor in question hoard large archives of cut-out The Far Side strips (these weren’t photocopies), and just cycle through them? Was there, in her office, some portal to an alternate reality? That mystery shall only deepen over time. I can only state that I would make sure to swing by first thing in the morning to enjoy that day’s offering.
Today we present you with a fairly complete collection* of Gary Larson tentacles. I give my gratitude to co-admin RG for his “eagle eye” – he spent an hour or two going through his paperback collections of the strip (and giggling maniacally) to spot anything cephalopodian. He then scanned ’em (and added colour frames, because that’s the kind of man he is), so this post has honestly been more work for him than for me.
*It turns out there’s quite a lot of them, so this shall be a two-part post.
Larson has been notoriously opposed to having his strips posted online by fans, but in December 2019, he has decided to start a The Far Side website, featuring a random selection of cartoons, some weekly selections organized by theme, and the occasional doodle or sketch. I have absolutely no wish to disrespect the opinion of the author, but I hope that now it’s okay to share our excitement about so much tentacle goodness with our readers. Besides, tentacles or not, most of these are hilarious and surreal, a combination that’s dear to my heart.
Without further ado…
« Controversy never seemed too far away from me, especially during my first year of syndication. I truly thought my career may have ended a number of times. I remember one I did of a couple dogs that were playing this game, where they were smacking around a cat hanging from a long rope attached to a pole. I called it “Tethercat.” To me, and I assume my editor, it didn’t cross any line because this was just a game dogs might play. But that one got people stirred up. Especially cat people. I’ll forever be grateful to fans, who in those early days often rescued “The Far Side” from cancellation, or campaigned to get it reinstated. » 〈source〉
« Among the massive fan base that The Far Side would eventually develop, interestingly scientists and academics were among the first to take to the comic, despite Larson’s frequent jabs at this very same group. The strip also had a tangible impact on the world of paleontology. In an 1982 comic, a group of cavemen are in lecture hall being shown a slide of a dinosaur. The caveman instructor is pointing to the spiky tail of a Stegosaurus while saying, “Now this end is called the thagomizer…after the late Thag Simmons.” As it turned out, in real life, no one had actually given that part of the Stegosaurus’ tail a name. Despite Larson’s fudging of the facts (in actuality, dinosaurs and humans missed each other by more than 140 million years), paleontologists adopted “thagomizer” as the official name of the spikes on a Stegosaurus. » 〈source〉
And, in glorious colour…
While there are cheap and abundant paperback collections of The Far Side in every self-respecting bookstore, in 2014, Andrews McMeel Publishing released a beautifully designed 3-volume The Complete Far Side. Oh, and it weights 20 pounds. For bonus value, some letters written to the newspapers by befuddled or angry readers are included. Few of us may feel the need to possess such a grand coffee table book (I’ve been pondering that myself ever since it got published), but its very existence is a lovely testament to the enduring nature of Gary Larson’s world.
P.S. Those teachers with bad taste in comics I mentioned? They had Garfield and Cathy on their doors…
Some content on this page was disabled on June 3, 2022 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from Gary Larson. You can learn more about the DMCA here:
« Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back. » — Marcus Aurelius
The other day, I chanced upon a Rick Geary piece about tangos with the Angel of death, which returned my mind to a time, when I was but six years of age, and that my parents had gone holidaying, leaving me in the care of some old friends. At their home, I recall perusing some back issues of that evergreen Reader’s Digest (the French-Canadian edition, called Sélection du Reader’s Digest), wherein I encountered some memorable articles, including one about the miraculous survival of people who tumbled from great heights*, unencumbered with parachutes, and another that grimly recounted the calamitous landslide that one night engulfed a village, Saint-Jean-Vianney, just a few kilometres from my hometown.
Ah, but human memory is notoriously fallible and self-deceiving. So I deemed it prudent to inquire whether the events were truly as recollected. A quick call to my folks confirmed that yes, they did toddle off to Europe for three weeks in November of that year (I think my parents are delighted when I quiz them about such matters). The landslide took place in May, so that fits too.
As the close shave lends itself well to comics, I’ve gathered a potpourri of short pieces on the topic. Tighten your seatbelts, we’re in for a rough ride!
Keep your arms and legs in the vehicle, don’t tease the wild animals, wear your life jacket, look to both sides before crossing the road, and don’t forget to floss. Oh, and call your mother more often; she misses you.
*the fellow whose tale stayed with me was most likely Lt. I.M. Chisov, « … a Russian airman whose Ilyushin IL-4 bomber was attacked by German fighters in January of 1942. Falling nearly 22,000 feet, he hit the edge of a snow-covered ravine and rolled to the bottom. He was badly hurt but survived. »
Some content on this page was disabled on June 30, 2022 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from Gary Larson. You can learn more about the DMCA here:
My grandfather, born around 1920, used to tell me tales of what life used to be like in the 40s for a young man. He skipped the salacious adventures, of course, as that would have been inappropriate fodder for a child, but another thing he seems to have omitted is the presence of all manner of tentacles in everyday life… I cannot ask him about it, as he passed away many years ago, but I nevertheless dedicate this post to his memory.
« Mister X has always puzzled me. I’ve never been exactly certain where he came from. It seems like he has always been present — maybe not skulking through the perplexing shadows of the city so much as through some kind of collective unconsciousness. » — Dean Motter (1986)
On this day, back in 1953, the celebrated art director, graphic designer, writer-illustrator and cartoonist Dean Motter was born in Berea, Ohio, not far from Cleveland.
Aside from his comics work, Motter spent a considerable part of the 1980s working for the Canadian arm of what was then the biggest (and possibly stingiest) record label in the world, CBS/Sony, shepherding or designing beautiful and clever covers for albums that were often neither… but that’s an art director’s job, cynical as it may seem. Anyway, you know you’ve made it when your work rates a pastiche decades on; to wit:
What is there left to do but to warmly wish Mr. Motter the finest of birthdays… at a safe distance? Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
« In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. » – Margaret Atwood
Our neighbours are certainly following this sage piece of advice, crawling out with shovels and rakes, clad in rubber boots and – a new development this year – face masks. As far as I’m concerned, the flu virus can’t be transmitted by plants, so one is quite safe in the garden or backyard, as far as that goes… but how about proper protection against plant-tentacles? ♪♪ Whether on land or under the sea, tentacles are coming for you and me… ♫♫ I promise to stay away from song-writing in the future. But now, for the comics!
The art inside is quite nice, with pencils by Howard Purcell and inks by Sheldon Moldoff (read the whole issue here):
Incidentally, co-admin RG pointed out that the Sea Devils were basically turned into Sea-Monkeys – and minus the tail, he’s perfectly right!
Many people are highly wary of seaweed – and this story proves them right. Remember, eat seaweed, but don’t let seaweed eat you!
Back on land, and not even on a different planet, we have a story featuring hungry, hungry vines *and* the novel sport of “princess-tossing”:
The Creeping Forest is scripted by Gary Poole and illustrated by Win Mortimer:
Of (relatively) recent vintage, a philosophical young man pondering the mysteries of life while held in the tender embrace of this, err, plant:
Previous botanical Tentacle Tuesdays can be perused here.
« The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself. » — Bertrand Russell
Irv Phillips‘ (1904-2000) Mr. Mum was a comic strip that ran between 1958 and 1974 (at which point both author and alter ego took their well-earned retirement), attaining a quite considerable level of popularity, thanks its appearance in over 180 newspapers in 22 countries or so. The pantomime approach certainly helped sell it abroad. The titular character is a bystander, an eternal witness to… everything and especially anything.
In an interview published in Cartoonist Profiles no. 4 (Fall, 1969; Jud Hurd, editor), we learn that Phillips « ... has been an actor, a violinist, a Hollywood script writer, the Humor Editor of ‘Esquire’ magazine, a playwright, as well as a very successful syndicated cartoonist. » He goes on to reveal that « I didn’t draw until I became Humor Editor of Esquire Magazine in my thirties. I used to make little rough sketches to try to illustrate gags that I had written for the various Esquire cartoonists. I would take these sketches in to Dave Smart, the founder and publisher of Esquire, and together we would make the choices as to which cartoonist would handle one idea best, which man would be best suited to another idea, etc. It seems that these little sketches sort of intrigued Dave for a while and finally he said, ‘Why don’t you try to draw?’ »
While Phillips’ style is deceptively rudimentary (but still distinctive), it’s evident that his years as a gag man taught him the fundamentals: economy, clarity and substance. Here are a few samples drawn from a variety of sources:
The Mum aficionado will seek sustenance wherever he can find it, but it helps that in this century, a pair of easy-to-find, affordable print-on-demand collections have seen the light of day. They are Classic Mr. Mum Volume 1 (2010, iUniverse) and The Strange World of Mr. Mum (2011, Empty-Grave Publishing).
One unexpected hurdle that stands in the way of a Mr. Mum revival is that an overwhelming number of Phillips’ originals repose in one man’s private collection. Not to put too fine a point on it, painter Andrew Massullo, though evidently a man of discernment, is hogging all the Mr. Mum original art. In a profile that appears in the San Francisco Chronicle’s website, SFGate, he reveals the appeal and the breadth of his collection:
Mr. Mum Cartoon Collection by Irving Phillips How many: 1,385 –
« It’s like potato chips, you can’t just have one. » Why? The deadpan humor and the beautiful drawing.
« They remind me of my childhood. » From? From his estate and eBay. Any more? « No, I have all I want. »
Ah, that’s probably why I managed to snag one for myself. Let’s hope Andrew, if someone should make the request, will be open to the idea of a definitive Mr. Mum collection. I heartily concur with Mr. Massullo’s verdict on the addictive power of the strip. It vividly brings to mind the québécois adage « Le plaisir croît avec l’usage. » The deeper one delves into Mr. Mum’s oddly comforting universe, the more one appreciates the depth of his brilliance. For a start, scope out this fine selection of strips on Ger Apeldoorn’s ever-excellent blog The Fabulous Fifties. And while you’re at it, sneak a peek at my Christmas-themed ode to this loveable bystander.
« Challenge Merlin and be a fool! — Challenge a demon — and be destroyed! »
Suddenly having so much time on my hands (courtesy of COVID-19) is an eerie, though by no means unpleasant, experience. While I could crochet mini couches for my cats or enrol my partner’s help to re-create some favourite classic paintings, I prefer to catch up on books I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Case in point: in April, I’ve been joyously absorbing Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga, reprinted in a handsome 4-tome omnibus (and to which I have easy access, thanks to co-admin RG’s vast library). That ended all too soon, and I moved on to a collection of Etrigan the Demon. It was a somewhat underwhelming experience, especially given the epic scope of Fourth World, but of course still worth a read.
The red-eyed, yellow-skinned creature called Etrigan came into existence in 1972. Mark Evanier, in his introduction to Jack Kirby’s The Demon, explains: « There was, at the time, a feeling around DC that perhaps superheroes were on the way out again. Ghost and mystery comics like House of Mystery and Phantom Stranger seemed to be selling, and some in the office felt the next trend was what Joe Orlando, who edited most of them, dubbed “weird adventure” comics. A few weeks later, [Carmine] Infantino asked Jack to whip up something in that category… »
Kirby accepted the challenge and, despite his lack of interest in horror, created The Demon, patterning his face on a a detail from Hal Foster‘s Prince Valiant strip as an inside joke.
As great a storyteller Kirby is, I think being asked to write about a subject he wasn’t particularly into had its repercussions. Although he clearly tried to give Etrigan a stimulating playground of supernatural rogues of varying degrees of viciousness to bat around, the overall result is rather underwhelming by Kirby standards. I’ve seen quite a few people in comic forums expressing their undying love for the Demon – if you’re one of them, I’m open to being convinced!
I actually first encountered Etrigan the Demon in a Swamp Thing issue written by Alan Moore. He first made an appearance in Swamp Thing no. 26 (July 1984) and then came back for the 14-issue storyline American Gothic that ran from June 1985 to July 1986. In Moore’s hands, Etrigan cut a dashing, mysterious figure, and he spoke in rhyme, which was a really nice touch. I admit I was disheartened to find out that he really wasn’t that exciting in his original form.
However, he *did* encounter tentacles, and more than once!
The three pages above are Etrigan’s encounters with actual tentacles, but we have an honorary mention of almost-tentacles-but-not-quite, which I wanted to include in the spirit of thoroughness.
Can the following creature’s beard tentacles be used to grab anything? We never learn if they’re prehensile or not, because the fear-monster doesn’t stick around long enough.
« Maybe one day I’ll feel her cold embrace and kiss her interface; ’til then, I’ll leave her alone. » — Jeff Lynne, Yours Truly, 2095
Without further tergiversation — here’s the thrilling conclusion of our tale!
In case anyone’s wondering, why do I treasure this particular tale?
Let me count the ways and means: the cosmic adventures are treated as asides, ceding centre stage to Warren Simms’ and Clarissa’s slow-simmering pas de deux. Whatever surprise comes at the dénouement had been carefully and honestly foreshadowed and backgrounded, respecting the reader’s intelligence. Unsavoury implications of the robot/human relationship are brought up, then coyly cast aside, in a ‘we know, but we’re not going there‘ move.
For me, it’s mostly about Joe Gill’s sober, understated writing, though I can hardly envision anyone turning in more lushly complementary visuals than did Mr. Aparo. I’d be over the moon to say that The Imitation People was one bead on a long string of commensurate efforts, but nope, it’s just about a one-off. It was only preceded by Denny O’Neil and Pat Boyette‘s classic Children of Doom (read it here).
Thoughtful science-fiction* in American comics as always been poorly served: with meagre exceptions, it’s been a numbing, near-constant diet of space opera.
There was the anomaly of EC’s Weird Science and Weird Fantasy… DC’s long-running, Julie Schwartz-edited Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space were fun, but trifling in the end (the short length did not help), and while Warren Magazines came through on occasion, they vastly underperformed on that front. Western Publishing’s Starstream tackled some classic adaptations, but the results were a bit staid. Grandmasters Jack Kirby and Will Eisner, of course, could handily pull off the feat: the former’s OMAC was a wonder of anticipation (with an honourable mention to his 2001: A Space Odyssey), and the latter’s tense serial Life on Another Planet (also collected as Signal From Space) kept its focus on the human drama.