« Moonshiners put more time, energy, thought, and love into their cars than any racer ever will. Lose on the track, and you go home. Lose with a load of whiskey, and you go to jail. » — Junior Johnson
Lee Marrs (b. 1945) is not your typical « underground » cartoonist, though to be fair — what would a typical undergrounder be? The movement’s whole raison d’être was ‘vive la différence‘, wouldn’t you say?
Hers is not a prolific career, perhaps, but look at the gloriously idiosyncratic path she followed: newspaper comic strip assistant (Hi & Lois, Prince Valiant, Little Orphan Annie…), underground (Wimmen’s Comix, Pudge, Girl Blimp, The Compleat Fart and Other Body Emissions), and mainstream cartoonist — well, even better: she was a regular contributor to DC’s justly-fabled (but yet to be reprinted, ahem) Plop!; she appeared in Marvel’s Mad knock-off Crazy; she even scripted, in the early 90s, a Viking Prince (yes, Kanigher and Kubert’s 1955 creation) epic, illustrated by Bo Hampton, and even a bit of Batman (‘Stalking‘, with Eddy Newell, in 1998). But that’s merely scratching the surface: here’s a more comprehensive rundown of her captivating journey.
And I’m delighted to report that the scintillating Ms. Marrs is still active today, her verve and talent undimmed and undiluted. By all means, check out her website for the undeniable evidence!
That SpongeBob would encounter a lot of tentacles in his day-to-day life is not at all surprising – he’s a sea sponge. What still surprises me, however, by is how much fun SpongeBob comics can be. Between 2011 and 2018, a respectable 85 issues were published by Stephen Hillenburg‘s production company, United Plankton Pictures (what a great title) and distributed by Bongo Comics.
The formula was similar to Simpsons Comics spin-off Treehouse of Horror: plenty of famous (and talented!) cartoonists having fun with the characters. Between the roster for the regular comics and the special-themed supersized issues, quite a few artists who participated are WOT favourites, and some are Tentacle Tuesday masters, to boot: Hilary Barta, Tony Millionaire, Al Jaffee, Ramona Fradon, Michael T. Gilbert… in 2017, Stephen R. Bissette even broke up out of retirement to work on a special Hallowe’en issue. I think this post is a decent sampler of the different styles and storytelling techniques involved – I’ve concentrated on prominent tentacles, and ignored all the trimmings (the recurring jellyfish tentacles, pumpkins sprouting grabby vines, etc.)
The tentacle fun starts right off with the first issue! Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy vs. the Octopus King, written by James Kochalka and illustrated by Hilary Barta, was published in SpongeBob Comics No. 1 (February 2011):
A page from Serpents & Sealords, written and illustrated by Corey Barba and published in SpongeBob Comics no. 51 (December 2015).
The following glorious illustration at the tail end of SpongeBob Comics no. 50 (November 2015) is by Jim Woodring:
Given that Stephen Hillenburg (the creator of SpongeBob) was a marine scientist and teacher, it does not come as a surprise that the recurring feature Flotsam and Jetsam was used to talk about all manner of nautical critters and their habits. Here are a few:
« The cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people who were all replaced. » — Georges Clemenceau
Commercially and creatively, the 1950s held some of the best and the worst years for the American comic book industry. Basically, the first half was a glut and the second, a massacre. This is all well-trod ground. Today, we’ll stick to one artist and his main employer.
In his one intensely-prolific decade as a professional cartoonist, Joe Maneely (1926 – 1958) produced the overwhelming bulk of his work for publisher Abe ‘Martin’ Goodman’s Timely/Atlas, which would become Marvel Comics by the decade’s end.
« As one genre faded, another would add titles to compensate. It didn’t matter if the new titles were basically redundant titles with new names. Goodman followed all trends in the comic book industry and the publishing industry in general.
A savvy businessman, he rarely led, mostly followed, but had the resources to follow with gusto, overwhelming competitors with product. »
As Ger Apeldoorn tells it, Maneely was a mere thirty-two years of age and at his frenetic artistic peak when tragedy struck:
« … on June 7, 1958, after going out for the night (with old-time friends John Severin and Walt Kelly assistant George Ward) he stepped out on the balcony of the train to get some air, fell between two trains and died. For a long time the story was that he had been drunk, but according to Dan Goldberg* he had lost his glasses earlier that week and that may have been a contributing factor. »
If the inspiring story of Joe Maneely, and its heartbreaking and sudden end is at all remembered these days, it has chiefly been through the diligent efforts of aficionado-historians such as Jim Vadeboncœur Jr. and the aforementioned Dr. Vassallo. Now why would an artist of such calibre fade so swiftly from memory? Since that happens all of the time (what one might term ‘invisible evidence‘), let’s move past the realm of the rhetorical and be more… specific. But first, some samples of the late Mr. Maneely’s goodies.
And so… why have Maneely’s star and memory dimmed so? It has been proposed, and I agree, that it’s because he just didn’t draw superheroes (a couple of Sub-Mariner covers being the lone exceptions), and Marvel itself hardly lifted a finger, over the years, to preserve the reputation of one of its principal architects.
There’s been much idle speculation as to what course comics history would have taken had Maneely lived. Stan Lee wrote, in his usual disingenuous way, that:
« How I wish the world (and I) could have seen what he’d have done with the F.F., Spidey, Thor and all the other Marvel super-heroes! It’s a true tragedy that we’ll never have the chance. »
Let’s be honest here: Maneely was an incredible artist, and he made Stan look good, but Joe wasn’t a writer, and certainly not a world-builder in the fashion and class of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Walt Kelly, Carl Barks, John Stanley, Basil Wolverton… and precious few others. Without Kirby, the so-called Marvel Age never would have come to pass. Not to mention that Maneely, with a wife and three daughters to feed and support, had just begun to work for one of DC’s friendliest editors, Murray Boltinoff**. He would have been unlikely to drop a better-paying, likely secure gig to drop everything and return to Marvel’s uncertain prospects. Ah, and I see Mark Evanier views it along the same lines.
Oh, and I’ve mentioned in the past Maneely’s likely influence (mostly in the inks) on his contemporary Rocco Mastroserio. Take a look at this gallery of his covers and see if you agree.
*Stan Goldberg, actually.
**as a matter of fact my first encounter, as a child, with Maneely’s work was through a reprint of one of his DC stories: The Doomsday Drum (House of Secrets no. 9, March-April 1958).
Greetings to saddle sniffers, subterranean dwellers and lovers of nasty fun! Today we take a little trip into the underground, where tentacles squirm in anticipation! Through some quirk, all of today’s covers involve aliens and spaceships – underground artists clearly also liked to speculate about the possibilities of inter-planetary travel.
Tentacle Tuesday opens up with a Nicola Cuti cover, whose cutesy style, albeit not particularly original, is pretty recognizable (for example, take a look at his Weirdlings, which has really grown on me over the years). His big-breasted, doe-eyed « intergalaxtic nymph » was not devoid of charm, although she only appeared in three issues (and issue no. 3 had a print run of a hundred copies, so I don’t think many people have seen it…) For more details about Moonchild Comics, consult the ever-useful Comixjoint.
The next cover is on a similar theme: mostly naked female, tentacled alien, the shaboodle, with an interesting choice of perspective to boot. And by “to boot” I mostly mean that it looks like somebody gave her a good kick on the shapely derrière.
Staying with the same publishing house (The Print Mint was a major publisher/distributor of underground comix in their heyday in the San Francisco Bay Area!) and the same theme, another damsel in the clutches of a (pretty cute, actually) alien. She’s wearing red, which of course is the traditional colour for cephalopod attacks.
« When I grow up I would like to be an artist in France. » — Keith Haring
The other day, while weighing the idea of producing this post, I asked my wife: “Is Sempé too obvious a choice?”, to which she wisely replied: “To whom?”. To add another few grammes of perspective, I’m reminded of how, a decade-or-so ago, I was helping out a friend by manning his business phones while he took a vacation. One caller identified herself as Mme Sempé. I immediately asked whether she was related to the cartoonist. She was (they’re second cousins), but rather shockingly, this was the first time anyone had ever brought up the subject with her. Okay, so not so obvious after all.
If you only know Jean-Jacques Sempé‘s work through his cover illustrations for The New Yorker, well, you’ve missed his finest. Sempé (born August 17, 1932, in Bordeaux, France; died August 11, 2022, just a few days short of his 90th birthday) was recruited in the late 70s, in the twilight of editor William Shawn‘s tenure (1952-87) with the magazine. To be quite frank, Sempé’s New Yorker work is his weakest, comprising almost invariably mawkish scenes of the dying arts: little girls practicing scales at grand pianos, ballet rehearsals and grand operas. And the work has only grown more anachronistic and sentimental with time; I’d say he’s the least compelling cover artist currently working for the magazine, with the exception of art director Françoise Mouly‘s little chouchou, the stiff and bland Adrian Tomine, he of the lifeless line and emetic palette. Ahem.
But there was a time…
In 1968, a decade-and-a-half into Sempé’s career, ever-lucid Belgian writer and historian Jacques Sternberg perceptively summed up the artist’s appeal:
« But Sempé’s humour has earned the favour of a very wide audience. Without a doubt because he’s able to observe with a playful — but rarely sadistic — eye the drawbacks and peculiarities of our daily lives, and that his reader feels — mistakenly — reassured by this vision.
Sempé has, in fact, a way with an impressive setting, with meticulous detail, of the mise en scène that sugarcoats the bitter pill and of the lyrical flight that dampens the ferocity of the content. The miracle occurs as if by magic: Sempé, who is rather scathing, seduces rather than worries his readers. »
This year, since I am currently working from home and spending a lot of time on the balcony, I decided to take another crack at planting a few things in containers and taking a chance with the local squirrels’ tendency to root through soil and munch on whatever’s planted. Still, for all my adorable-yet-annoying rodent problems, I have to admit that I have it much better than some folks: there are no tentacles in this garden, thank you very much.
ACG’s Adventures into the Unknown can always be relied upon for an octopus or two (or ten) – just see Tentacle Tuesday: ACG’s Adventures Into the Tentacles, for example. Tentacles of the plant variety also make a frequent appearance, of all shapes and sizes and degrees of grabbiness.
The Plant That Lived, illustrated by Harry Lazarus, was published in Adventures into the Unknown no. 38 (December 1952, KenACG). What happens when a young woman is forced to tend to a plant’s roots against her will?
An interesting plot point, revealed at the end of the story, is that the plant’s fervent desire to become human is explained by his love for Phil Benson, the young botanist. I kind of want to see a follow-up story about that couple and the problems a plant-man pairing would be confronted with. And the classy blonde? She can find somebody else to hang out with.
A very similar blonde in a red dress was featured on the cover of an earlier issue, Adventures into the Unknown no. 32 (June 1952, ACG). It may not explicitly feature tentacles, but it is close enough in spirit for me to happily welcome it to the fold!
Another plant-tentacle offering from ACG comes from The Garden of Horror, illustrated by Lin Streeter, published in Adventures into the Unknown no. 48 (October 1953, ACG). This somewhat wordytale concerns itself with an archeologist who comes upon some strange seeds in a ruined temple in an unspecified ‘remote corner of Africa’. Arriving home, he plants them, and – surprise, surprise! – gets a little more than he bargained for. A dog is also involved, though this time it does not escape unscathed.
Carla gives her unscientifically-minded beau (strangely unconcerned with the killed dog, and later in the story, a similarly-dispatched burglar) an ultimatum: either he destroys this evil plant, or it’s all over between them! He chooses the plant – what the hell, she was a nag, anyway.
Continuing the theme of the strangulated man and the tentacle-throttled dog, we have two pages from a The Vision story (without a title) published in Marvel Mystery Comics no. 26 (December 1941, Marvel). A scientist finds some strange seeds and plants them. Does that sound familiar?
Fortunately, the brave doggo that gets trapped by tentacles is saved in the nick of time by the Vision. Aarkus, aka The Vision, was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (much like all roads once led to Rome, sometimes it seems that the latter has had a hand in creating nearly everything), as an alien enforcement officer from a dimension called Smokeworld. I stand by the side of any alien who saves braves doggos from a ‘horrible fate’!
This is neither here nor there, but The Vision has been repurposed by Roy Thomas in the late 1970s as part of the Avengers. I quote: « A great fan of Golden Age heroes, [Roy Thomas] first thought to bring back Aarkus, a 1940s hero who had been called the Vision due to his spectral appearance and smoke-based abilities. He discussed the matter with Marvel editor Stan Lee, who enjoyed the idea of a new member, but didn’t want it to be an alien or visitor from another dimension. After he suggested creating a new character entirely and that it could be an android instead, Thomas compromised by creating a new android character who resembled Aarkus and also called himself Vision. » Err, how is using the same name/moniker and a differently-coloured, but otherwise very similar costume considered “creating a new character”?
Glancing at some previous Tentacle Tuesdays, I realize I’ve actually built up a healthy nursery of plant instalments. If you’re still in a horticultural mood, here are some of them:
« When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn’t out collecting for the Red Cross. » — Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry (1971)
As is often the case, I had something else in the pipeline for this week… but then I came across a beautiful biography of a wise man whose birthday was just around the corner. Now if the other guy (he’s 88) can just hold on and stay alive another week, things’ll be just fine.
In these riotous days when acts and thoughts of kindness and compassion are being denounced as political and partisan, we would do well to remember the life and example of International Red Cross founder, Henri Dunant (né Jean-Henri Dunant, May 8, 1828 in Geneva, Switzerland). Read on…
As you can bear witness, Reed Crandall (1917-1982) was not the type of artist to cut corners. Unlike some of his peers who could not be bothered to properly draw, say, details of background, period or costume, Crandall lavished attention and care to each and every element, yet without overpowering the narrative. His pages aren’t mere sequences of panels: they’re smartly composed for smoothness of flow and tonal balance.
Though nowadays his fame rests largely upon his brief but fruitful association with EC Comics (1953-56) and its echo at Warren Magazines (1964-1973), the greater bulk of his work was produced for Quality Comics (1941-1956) and for the catholic comics anthology Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact (1960-1972). All Men Are Brothers was, as it happens, his first work to be published in Treasure Chest.
Here’s a tongue-in-cheek but revealing snippet from a profile of Crandall that appeared in Creepy no. 10 (Aug. 1966, Warren):
« Combined with Reed’s fantastic drawing ability and mastery of rendering technique, is the rare ability to take any subject or setting and impart to it a complete sense of realism and authenticity. This, along with the fact that he is one of the most genial and unassuming men in the comics field, has earned him the high regard of his fellow artists, in addition to a growing circle of reader-admirers.
Asked about his ambitions, Reed replied: “To live in an ivory tower and to try to learn to draw and paint, also to pursue unendurable pleasure indefinitely prolonged.” It looks to us as though the drawing and painting are pretty far along already, so surely the ivory tower and prolonged pleasure can’t be too far behind… and in our opinion, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy! »
As for writer John Randolph, who knows? He scripted twenty or so non-fiction pieces for TC between 1955 and 1962, then appears to have moved on. It must be noted that he understood the comics medium, as his work (often with Crandall) was well-paced and not overwritten, the words and visual in steady harmony. Many a writer, lacking the restraint and finesse required for the collaborative pas de deux of comics, tends to crowd out the illustrator, box him in (j’accuse, Al Feldstein!) or pointlessly restate what’s right there in the visuals (Et tu, True Believer?). Add to that the difficulty of elegantly condensing a life or career in six pages… as in this case. Take a bow, Mr. Randolph, whoever you are.
« Don’t change your tack when the timbers crack On the dark and the rolling sea… » *
I am relatively indifferent to tales of adventure, but the siren song of the ocean sometimes prompts me to venture into reading tales about ruthless pirates or valorous seafarers and the perilous voyages they undertake on ships big and small, magnificent or modest. Who hasn’t felt a thrill at spotting a handsome vessel on the water, even if that water is but a canal running through the city? The other point of interest of this discussion is that where there’s an ocean and a ship upon it, there is a (preferably) giant octopus somewhere nearby, only waiting to shred the ship’s hull to smithereens and voraciously gobble up its shipmates.
Here is a modestly-sized yet utilitarian boat with a handsome octopus in tow. Maybe he just wanted to climb on deck to rest a while, like this otter?
A similar boat (I don’t know whether it’s my profound lack of knowledge of boats that makes it seem that way) was attacked by a bigger, scarier – downright malevolent! – octopus some twenty years later. See Kyle “Ace” Morgan, Matthew “Red” Ryan, Leslie “Rocky” Davis and Walter Mark “Prof” Haley scramble for safety while an enraged octopus seeks to devour them! Oh, sorry, I’m being melodramatic.
This cover has actually been recycled from Showcase no. 12 (Jan.-Feb. 1958, DC), where the background was yellow and the water a more normal shade of blue-white. I do like how the octopus stands out against a black background, however (and the multi-coloured water really sets off his beady, evilly-glowing green eyes!)
Of course these encounters also take place within the stories, as opposed to on the cover.
Time to move underwater, a very natural setting for an octopus attack. Here we have a submarine tenderly wrapped in tentacles:
Last but not least, I’ve kept this neat little submarine until the end:
Glanzman is also a favourite of ours, though we haven’t talked about him much (yet). In case you’re wondering what the insides of one of those issues looked like – good, they looked really good! Note the octopus proudly perched in the middle of the page.