« No wonder psychedelics are threatening to an authoritarian religious hierarchy. You don’t need faith to benefit from a psychedelic experience, let alone a priest or even a shaman to interpret it. What you need is courage to drink the brew, eat the mushroom, or whatever it is, and then to pay attention, and make of it what you will. Suddenly, the tools for direct contact with the transcendent other (whether you call it God or something else) is taken from the hands of an anointed elite and given to the individual seeker. » — Dennis McKenna
Sensing that I’ve been neglecting Underground Comix in our coverage, I thought I’d close out the year with a thematic pairing of a favourite comestible with a beloved cartoonist (and his collaborators).
An octopus has crept into the following pages. Can you spot it before the year ends?*
*I realize this is an extremely easy assignment, but given the state of things these days, one should seek out a minor sense of accomplishment wherever one may find it!
I have plenty more tentacles saved up, but after four years of weekly cephalopods, I am growing rather weary of this topic. While I endeavour to rekindle this old love of mine, I will move on to other interesting things, so this is not only the last Tentacle Tuesday of the year, but the last TT for a bit. See you on newer, fresher pastures!
« Talk about cheap – on Christmas Eve, my neighbor shoots off three blanks and tells his kids Santa Claus just committed suicide.» — Milton Berle
We hope this Christmas day finds you healthy and happy, whether you’re spending it quietly with the nearest and dearest, or stranded far from your family. We all do the best we can.
In a slightly different, yet somehow appropriate, vein… the following Christmas story by Max Andersson is a bracing antidote to the usual syrupy cheer of December 25th. As co-admin RG aptly put it*, in Andersson’s world, malevolence is the status quo, and this Jekyll-and-Hyde version of Santa Claus will fluff up the fur of the staunchest anti-Christmas reader.
« Everything that happened to Archie happened to me in school, except that Archie always seemed to get out of it. » — Bob Montana
Despite the hundreds, if not thousands, of variably-abled hands that have toiled in the Archie Comics salt mines, the most important set of mitts devoted to the task was also the very first.
Archie creator Bob Montana* (1920-1975) knew what he was doing from the git-go. After all, he rubbed shoulders with the characters’ real-life counterparts from the Class of 1940: according to a 1989 Associated Press story, his buddy ‘Skinny’ Linehan became Jughead, football hero Arnold Daggett became Big Moose Mason; principal Earl MacLeod gave us Mr. Weatherbee and school librarian Elizabeth Tuck inspired Miss Grundy… and so on.
Montana was also that rare cog in the Archie machine: an autonomous writer-artist. This served him well in the newspaper strip world: he débuted the Archie feature in 1946 and remained in charge, dailies and Sundays, until his 1975 passing. I do prefer Samm Schwartz’s Jughead, but Montana drew the definitive version of every single other member of the Riverdale ensemble. In particular, as you’ll witness, Betty and Veronica were never slinkier.
And a bonus New Year’s-themed one for the road!
And with this… Merry Christmas, everyone!
*On the Archie plantation, as with the Harvey gulag, we can safely dismiss the founders’ specious and strident claims of having created their cash cows. In this case, Archie “creator” John Goldwater‘s original mandate to Montana was essentially to riff on popular radio show The Aldrich Family (1939-1953).
Today’s Tentacle Tuesday is going to be short and sweet, as the week before Christmas, complicated traveling plans, and pandemic scares do not incite one to write long posts.
Bill Spicer, a then-letterer for Western Publishing, launched Fantasy Illustrated in 1964, after gathering some contributors through a want ad in a science-fiction fanzine. The introduction (with issue 4) of a Spicer-penned column titled ‘Graphic Story Review’ heralded a shift from the initial graphic adaptation of stories to a focus on articles and interviews, and what used to be Fantasy Illustrated continued as Graphic Story Magazine by issue 8 in 1967. GSM may have been somewhat short-lived (it lasted another 9 issues), but thanks to Spicer’s sensitive and literate editorial direction, it had a lasting impact on the minds of astute readers through pioneering in-depth interviews with comics creators (notably Basil Wolverton, Bernard Krigstein, Howard Nostrand…). GSM would later morph into the equally-excellent, but with a broader scope, Fanfare (5 issues, 1977-83).
« Like everyone in his right mind, I feared Santa Claus. » — Annie Dillard
’twas 1982, and DC’s mystery anthology titles were dead or dying (the last one standing, The House of Mystery, had but a year or so left to go), and The Unexpected, published since 1956, was a mere two issues away from cancellation. Latter-day editor Dave Manak had done a fine job with the means at his disposal, wisely engaging Joe Kubert (1926-2012) to grace close to ten issues with his ever-elegant artwork.
This is perhaps the finest of the lot, a wistful, old-fashioned cover that dispenses with most of the clichéd Holiday iconography.
The issue’s lead, Holiday-themed story, boasts gorgeous art by powerful and versatile Puerto Rican cartoonist Ernie Colón (1931-2019), and it’s unusually well-coloured for the era (not to be confused with well-printed!), in that the shadings convey projected light and ambiance, not merely the prevalent, simplistic colour-by-numbers approach.
The writing, on the other hand…
Santa Is a Killer! is an artless hodge-podge of tropes, a kiddie rehash of Johnny Craig’s timeless “… and All Through the House” (Vault of Horror no. 35, Feb. 1954, EC), dressed up with the done-to-death-and-then-some “That — wasn’t *you*? Then — it must have been the –*choke* — real ghost / Satan / Santa Claus / Carlos Santana / Tooth Fairy / Larry “Bud” Melman!) “twist”. Did I mention that I love the art?
« Let’s just say you weren’t born to be an octopus… only a poor fish! »
Salutations on this most diverting day of the week, Tentacle Tuesday! Today, we take a little trip to the 60s… but perhaps not the 60s as you remember them, those who were around back then.
Rip Hunter was created by Jack Miller and Ruben Moreira – the “Time Master” part is explained by Hunter’s invention, the Time-Sphere, that allows him (obviously) to travel through time. Other characters in Rip’s world include his girlfriend, Bonnie Baxter, and Bonnie’s kid brother Corky (who’s being grabbed by a tentacle on this cover). Maybe Corky was spotted as an imposter because he’s wearing jeans instead of yellow pantaloons? Fashion can be quite goofy in some of these far-away, long-long-ago kingdoms…
When The Jaguar gets into trouble with The Human Octopus, you know the Jag is going to come up trumps, mostly due to the fact that he has all powers of the animal kingdom at his disposal, whereas the Octopus has to make do with some unconvincing tentacles and an evil stare. The Jaguar (or zoologist Ralph Hardy, in his everyday life) was created by Robert Bernstein and John Rosenberger as part of Archie’s “Archie Adventure Series”.
Some fodder for your nightmares? Of course!
I believe Hawkman needs no introduction (although I will mention that he was created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville!), and we don’t have time for one, anyway, seeing as he’s currently stuck between a dragon and some tentacled nest-creature.
« The working class is revolutionary or it is nothing. » — Karl Marx
Pif le chien was introduced to the world on March 26, 1948, in the French Communist daily L’Humanité. His strip was intended to replace that of Felix the Cat, who was deemed too bourgeois, what with his magic bag and invisible means of financial support. On the other paw, Pif, early on, was even a stray, homeless and starving. In time, he was taken in by a humble working-class family (as late as 1957, it was the outhouse and public baths), and that’s when the elements clicked into place.
While I greatly admire and enjoy the work of Pif pater José Cabrero Arnal — and trust me, his is a story worth the telling: fought the Fascists in Spain, spent four years in a Nazi Stalag in Austria before being liberated by the Soviets, never quite recovered from the ordeal of his captivity, and remained fragile for the rest of his days. Consequently, in 1953, he handed Pif’s leash over to the truly indefatigable Roger Masmonteil (1924-2010).
Of Masmonteil (who signed R. Mas.), historian Hervé Cultru writes, in his Vaillant, 1942-1969 : La Véritable histoire d’un journal mythique (2006, Vaillant Collector):
« The problem is that, once he got his finger caught in the gears of the freelancing engine, he couldn’t just yank it out! Because giving life to the Césarin family is practically a vocation: one must provide the daily strip, six a week. Over thirty years, Masmonteil, aka Mas, crafted over eleven thousand of them. There are also the Sunday strips, the pages for Vaillant, solo Pifou stories, Léo, created for Pif Gadget. It never ceased. By his career’s end, he had racked up some 45,000 gags or so. »
I’m inclined to admire Mas for the same reasons I hold Nancy’s Ernie Bushmiller in the highest regard: the uncanny ability to find humour in any and every place or situation, to distill and express it in a pared-down visual language made all the more potent by its universal simplicity. But it’s hard work, even if geniuses make it look easy. As Hervé Cultru explains, in Mas’ case:
« … Pif gets the last word in: at night, he haunts Mas’ dreams. The point at which he’s about to doze off is actually one of intense creativity. He constantly keeps a notepad and pencil at his bedside, to jot down ideas straight away, because if he neglects this precaution, all is forgotten by morning. »
In April 1967, Mas walks away from the Pif feature in Vaillant (four pages a week!), maintaining the daily in l’Humanité and Pifou’s solo strip. Pif returns briefly to Arnal, who still can’t handle the workload; Pif then passes into other, and decidedly far lesser hands.
Mr. Cultru, again:
« In 1968, the team takes umbrage with the repetitive and by far too ‘domestic’ character of the adventures.It feels that the working class household, typical of certain post-war values, that serves as a setting, has become obsolete, if not grotesque, and that it no longer fits the social context of the times. »
So they methodically excised everything that made Mas’ Pif special, and turned him into another Mickey Mouse, which is to say the familiar mascot or standard-bearer of a company, but one whose adventures nobody reads or truly gives a hoot about. Oh well — you still had a good run, Pif!
If you’ll forgive me the venial but gauche sin of quoting myself… three years ago, I posited:
« Luís Ángel Domínguez, reportedly born ninety-five years ago to the day… and still among the living… as far as we know. I like to envision him warmly surrounded by several generations of loved ones and well-wishers, an impish gleam in his eye. »
I found it sadly infuriating that such an important and accomplished artist’s latter-day whereabouts and circumstances were so shrouded in mystery… and largely, it would seem, indifference. The usual story: he didn’t really do superheroes.
Neither Lambiek nor the Grand Comics Database have anything to add on the subject, but a spot of digging turned up that he indeed was still alive until recently, though purportedly afflicted with Alzheimer’s in his waning years. Then I found what may well be his… very basic obituary, placing his date of birth exactly one month off (unsurprisingly, since accounts have long varied) and his date of death as July 1st, 2020, in Miami, FL. Unless something more definitive comes along, it’ll have to do.
I think we can all agree that ninety-six years is a pretty good run, even with the doleful decline near the end. Let’s look back on what’s surely his peak decade in comics, the 1970s. My picks have nothing to do with ‘key’ issues, character débuts or popular crossovers. I’ve judged these on artistic merit, keeping the pernicious influence of nostalgia at arm’s length.
For more Domínguez delights, just click on this link and explore away! I daresay that I only managed to keep it to an even dozen (difficult!) choices because we’ve already spotlighted many of his finest covers.