Treasured Stories: “Why Can’t You Be More Like Marvin?” (1975)

« The devil’s most devilish when respectable. » — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Ah, the nineteen seventies… and their Satanic panic, in which we can recognize so closely the roots (or at least relatives) of today’s disinformation maelstrom, before the politicisation and weaponisation of septic paranoia and lies had become honed to such an anti-science. In a lot of sordid ways, Lawrence Pazder was an Andrew Wakefield of his day.

Here’s a story that I first encountered around the time of its release, remembered, but didn’t revisit until a couple of weeks ago, when a good friend (merci, Keith!) helpfully snapped up a copy for me. This deceptively dark tale was created by writer Arnold Drake (I surmise), penciller John Celardo and mysterious inker Wanda Ippolito, who may have a been a spouse or relative of Celardo’s. It’s odd to find someone else inking Celardo, as this was his chief, most enduring and distinctive strength. For comparison’s sake — and presumably, reading enjoyment — here’s another Drake-Celardo outing, The Anti-13!

I won’t make any claims that this is great art: by this time, Gold Key’s printing was shoddy, they barely bothered with the colouring (straight Magenta and Cyan and Yellow everywhere — how lazy can you get?)… but I treasure this one because of the story. Given its moral — what moral? — it’s hard to imagine The Comics Code Authority giving this one a pass, as it merrily violates several of its key precepts. I’ve got another such blasphemous entry in the pipeline… this one duly Code-Approved! Just you wait…

I had a childhood friend who was a lot like Marvin (minus the devil worship — for all I know)… he was incredibly talented, but also scarily unpredictable, and not in a good way. One day, he just disappeared.

On the other hand, the accompanying cover is spectacular.

« Why Can’t You Be More Like Marvin? » originally appeared in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 63 (Aug. 1975, Gold Key), which bore this masterfully disquieting cover by Luis Domínguez. It would have made it into my Domínguez retrospective, Luis Domínguez (1923-2020): A Farewell in Twelve Covers but for the fact that I didn’t own a decent copy of the issue.

And as (nearly) always, a bonus for context: Celardo had a long and fruitful career, and I’m sure one of its highlights was to number among Fiction House’s elite cadre of cover artists. I’ve said it before, but despite their mind-numbing repetitiveness, FH covers were tops in the Golden Age in terms of draftsmanship and production values.

Aw, poor Ka’a’nga — always left at home to feed the jackals while Ann Mason goes off on escapades with her other boyfriends. And who insisted on adopting them in the first place? Ann, that’s who! This is Jungle Comics no. 98 (Feb. 1948, Fiction House). Judging from his ability in the jungle antics genre, it’s no wonder that Celardo was picked to illustrate the real thing (at least comics-wise): the Tarzan comic strip, from 1954 to 1968, between Bob Lubbers (another FH cover artiste!) and Russ Manning.
And here’s one of Celardo’s Tarzan Sundays (March 27, 1954, United Feature Syndicate).


Tentacle Tuesday: The Jungle Queens

« Beware, bwana — beware its tentacles! »

Cue in the taut, frantic jungle drums! Picture this: through a thick tangle of brush and tropical vegetation, prances a fair maiden who is quite unaffected by spiky plants or venomous insects. She’s the staunch defender of jungle animals, friend to jaguar or hippo (or whatever other animal the artist’s imagination conjures, even if it’s entirely inappropriate to a jungle… but who cares about zoological accuracy?) One creature this wild child is definitely not a friend to, however, is the octopus: anything with tentacles gets stabbed and killed, as expediently as possible. That’s little cause for concern, however – the real octopus, who lives only in oceans, has little use for a jungle… so whatever’s getting killed must be an impostor or a mutant.

I am amused by jungle comics, which perhaps require an even more dramatic suspension of disbelief than many an equally action-oriented genre.  The female protagonists, usually clad in some sort of leopard/jaguar skin (which makes one wonder why big felines even want to hang out with someone wearing their relatives’ pelt), are usually portrayed as guardians of the wilderness… but some of them kill an awful lot of animals for supposed protectors of the feral kingdom. The blonde Sheena (first female comic book character with her own series), equally blonde Lorna the Jungle Girl (Atlas-published, a rival to Fiction House’s Sheena), Avon’s Taanda – White Princess of the Jungle, Camilla – Wild Girl of the Congo (a case of Fiction House knocking off their own Sheena)… the list definitely goes on. That’s quite a few jungle queens bouncing around, dealing with hostile tribesmen getting uppity, lethal white hunters up to no good and would-be Romeos perpetually being held hostage. Sometimes they even have cat fights and overthrow one another. Very amusing indeed. Pepper the dialogue with lots of bwanas, toss in an epic rescue of hapless natives, and you’re all set.

To be fair, however, some Golden Age jungle comics boast fetching art and compelling stories in which natives are their own agents and her Royal Highness gets to show off her wits (and her gams) to best advantage. It’s hard to dislike stories in which a strong, clever woman gets to save the day.

Without further ado, I present Jungle Queen vs Octopus!

First up, there’s Sheena, who has struggled with quite a few tentacles in her day:

Jumbo Comics #31-Sheena-Voodootreasureofblackslavelake
Page from «Voodoo Treasure of Black Slave Lake», scripted by W. Morgan Thomas, pencilled by Robert Webb, and inked by David Heames, published in Jumbo Comics no. 31 (September 1941, Fiction House).

Jumbo Comics #87
«Sargasso of Lost Safaris», pencilled by Robert Webb and inked by Ann Brewster, published in Jumbo Comics no. 87 (May 1946, Fiction House). What the heck does the Sargasso sea have to do with a jungle? I’d like to know.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #5
Untitled story from Sheena, Queen of the Jungle no. 5 (Summer 1949, Fiction House). Art by Robert Webb.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #12
Panels from «The Beasts That Dawn Begot!» drawn by Robert Webb, published in Sheena, Queen of the Jungle no. 12 (Summer 1951, Fiction House).

Time for other queens to borrow Sheena’s spotlight:

Jungle Comics #105-JohnCelardo
«The Red Witch of Ubangi-Shan», with art by John Celardo, published in Jungle Comics no. 105 (September 1948, Fiction House). Technically, this inclusion goes against my main theme – for Käanga has a very stupid mate who has to be rescued at every turn. She may wear a leopard bikini, but she’s nothing but a Damsel in Distress. Boo.

This Camilla story was scripted by Victor Ibsen and drawn by Ralph Mayo, and was published in Jungle Comics no. 144 (1951, Fiction House):

Jungle Comics #144

Jungle Comics #144 -2
A raft full of musclebound men and Camilla has to be the one to stab the octopus. Her contempt is well justified, as Asheley is clearly a loser.

We’ve had a lot of blondes so far, how about a redhead?

White Princess of the Jungle no. 4 (August 1952, Avon), cover by Everett Raymond Kinstler.

The cover story, «Fangs of the Swamp Beast»:

White Princess of the Jungle #4-swampbeast

White Princess of the Jungle #4-1

Back to our regularly scheduled blonde heroine! This is «The Devil’s Lagoon», scripted by Don Rico and drawn by Werner Roth, published in Lorna the Jungle Queen no. 4 (December 1953, Atlas):

Lorna the Jungle Queen #4-devil's lagoon
Lorna has the talent of plunging into water boobs first, and using them to optimize buoyancy.

Again with the bust-ridiculously-stuck-out pose in the first panel.


For a chuckle, read Stupid Comics‘ critique of Devil’s Lagoon here. Moving on, I have no wish to be unfair to brunettes, especially given that I generally prefer them:

All Top Comics no. 16 (March 1949, Fox). Cover by Matt Baker. Sure features plenty of top, doesn’t it? That’s Rulah, by the way – you guessed it, Rulah, the Jungle Goddess (well, at least she’s not a queen), one of those run-amok women who has no qualms killing animal or human.

Here’s a rather amusing explanation for Rulah’s raison d’être from Toonopedia: «One day, while piloting a small plane across Darkest Africa, she crash-landed where civilization had scarcely been heard of. Her clothes were damaged to the point of leaving her butt naked (“like Eve in the Garden,” she mused), modesty preserved only by shadows and strategically-placed vegetation — yet, her skin wasn’t noticeably scratched or abraded. Fortunately, her plane had whacked a giraffe on the way down, so she skinned it and skillfully fashioned a fetching bikini from the raw, uncured pelt. Her uncovered parts were no more bothered by thorns, rough bark, poison ivy and the like, than were her bare feet. Next, she saved a tribe from the local tyrant, a white jungle queen much like herself, and was proclaimed its ruler — provided she could prove herself by killing a starving leopard with nothing but a dagger, which she did.»

Another brunette! Vooda no. 22 (August 1955, Farrell). Note that Jungle Queens are only allowed to have hoop earrings, preferably gold.

Phew, that tromp through the jungle wore me out! Until next Tentacle Tuesday…

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Joe Kubert

As Tentacle Tuesday lazily unfurls its slimy appendages yet again, we come face-to-face with one of the comic greats, Joe Kubert. And, as luck would have it, his ability to draw pretty much anything extends to depictions of cephalopods.

Page from “It Was a Dark and Heavy Night…”, published in Heavy Metal Special Edition Vol. 11, no. 2 – 20 Years (January 1997).

I’m less engrossed with Kubert’s work on prehistoric cavemen, archetypical feral youngsters or troglodyte adventurers (my interests lie more in the direction of Enemy Ace or Unknown Soldier, as well as Kubert’s solo projects like Abraham Stone). Nevertheless, Korak, his father Tarzan, and the unrelated Tor have all encountered tentacles in their eventful careers of dinosaur skirmishes and vine-swinging. (I also have to admit that if anybody could make me inquisitive about this sort of thing, it would be Kubert. I may yet reconsider, especially in the case of Tor, a comic Kubert both drew and plotted.)

Page from Tor no. 3 (May 1954). Read the whole issue here. The adorable monkey Tor is talking to is Chee Chee, his pet gibbon.

See Korak wrestle tentacles on this aquatic Joe Kubert cover! Korak (the ape name for “Killer”) was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs for his Tarzan novels. (Korak was the hero of The Son of Tarzan from 1915; in other novels he was but a young boy, incidental to the plot). This is Korak, Son of Tarzan no. 54 (October-November 1973). This issue has Robert Kanigher and Murphy Anderson on the main story.

It’s not only prehistoric men who have to put up with tentacles – Scandinavian royalty has to deal with them, too.

The Brave and the Bold no. 24 (June-July 1959). The main two stories, “The Trail of the Black Falcon” and “Curse of the Dragon’s Moon”, both scripted by Bob Haney and drawn by Kubert, are frankly silly.

Moving into a slightly different direction….

Mystery in Space no. 115 (January 1981). In a Kubert illustration, even monsters have soulful, anguished eyes.

Weird War Tales no. 77 (1979). Do all three dooms involve tentacles, by any chance?

Kubert’s tribute to Arzach, a comic series by Mœbius. Interesting to see Kubert sort-of imitating someone else’s style – however, the feet, hands and tentacles are obviously his.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Eightball Eyeballs

Compared to their bodies, octopuses have fairly small eyes. Yet in comics they often sport saucer-sized peepers, and like villains in a bad Broadway production, they love to glare menacingly at their potential victims from under their impressively wrinkled brows.

Case in point, these two Tales of Suspense covers, close cousins despite the change of scenery. They’re both from 1960, both penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Dick Ayers. Both monsters promptly acquire loving nicknames from people you would think have more important things to think of, like not getting eaten and/or crushed. Meet Monstro and Sporr!

Tales of Suspense #8, March 1960. An octopus who was minding his own business gets temporarily but dramatically enlarged by radioactivity from nuclear tests (*communist* nuclear tests). “He lives! He moves!” – I fail to see why that’s amazing more than, oh, say “this thing’s gigantic on a scale heretofore unknown to man”.


Tales of Suspense #11, September 1960. A well-intentioned but overly enthusiastic scientist exposes an amoeba to an « experimental death ray » and the poor thing grows into this.


Not all puppy-eyed octopuses have two baby blues; unlucky cephalopods end up with Cyclopean anatomy and a bad case of suffering the wrath of grapes – a cherry in a glass of buttermilk, anyone?*

The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #19Painting
The original art for the cover of The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #19 (Gold Key, April 1976). It was painted by Filipino artist Jesse Santos. Dr. Spektor is our protagonist, yet he looks particularly baleful here, hunchbacked and grinning, nothing like the kind of  dashing  hero who’d rescue a drowning maiden.

The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor19Page
A panel from « Loch of the Leviathan », also drawn by Jesse Santos, and written by Don Glut. I just love this panel – the gentle curve of tentacles, the skeleton and his pleading gesture…

I highly recommend the issue, certainly because of the art, but equally the story. You won’t find a straightforward man-finds-monster, man-kills-monster plot-line here; and there’s also bikini babes for your viewing pleasure.

* Your eyes look like two cherries in a glass of buttermilk
Don’t roll those bloodshot eyes at me
I can see you’ve been out on a spree
(Wynonie Harris, Bloodshot Eyes)


Sometimes octopuses have big eyeballs *and* a vocabulary all their own.

Octopus language is the biggest mystery after “what does the fox say?” I bet you never knew that octopuses go “LURK LURK?!”

Akim was an Italian comic, published from 1950 to 1983, and translated into several languages, most notably French. Drawn by Augusto Pedrazza and wrtten by Roberto Renzi, Akim was a « tarzanide », which is to say heavily “inspired” by Tarzan, if not directly ripped off from it.

The LURK LURKs in panel above were no one-time occurrence. The octopuses in this story keep saying it again and again, and with different intonations, which I find hilarious. Turns out, a whole range of emotions can be expressed with this small four-letter word! My thanks go to co-admin and partner RG, who noticed this unpromising, poor-excuse-for-a-comic in a store and pointed out why we should pick it up after I had scoffed at it.

I can’t help but feel that the octopus is trying to say something important, but all its mouth (?) can form is a piteous luuurrrkk.

~ ds


Tentacle Tuesday: Out of the Snowbank and Into the Jungle!

Welcome to the first Tentacle Tuesday of 2018. Exciting, isn’t it?

Since it’s currently chillingly cold outside (or so the weather networks tell us), let’s bask in a bit of warmth and visit some exotic places where heat reigns supreme all year ‘round.


What’s the first thing to do on a vacation? Take a leisurely walk, of course. However, I’d advise against venturing into a swampy forest. Some people never listen to sage advice, however…

This is Beware no. 13 (1953), with a cover by Harry Harrison. « Out of the filth and mud-spawned deep it came, this horrible slug-white creature that wanted only one thing — to be loved! » Wait, what? “Rebirth”, the cover story, also illustrated by Harrison, clearly has absolutely nothing to do with the cover.

I’m quite fond of Harry Harrison as a writer, but as an artist he seems to have been rather middling. Although advertised as a “saga of terror”, Rebirth is an intriguing story in which the “horrible slug-white creatures” are actually far more likeable than the regular humans, who are back-stabbing, greedy assholes. Not that the plot makes much sense.

The “white slug” may be well-intentioned, but he tends to launch into pompous speeches at the drop of a hat.

A heart-warming, romantic scene.


Okay, so a walk through a forest didn’t pan out quite as hoped. Let’s take a soothing dive into welcoming, warm waters. Did I say “welcoming”? Perhaps a little *too* welcoming.

Terrors of the Jungle no. 20 (December 1952), cover by L.B. Cole. Normally I like Cole’s use of bright colours, but on this cover he goes all the way into gaudiness. However, the octopus is quite handsome, and he’s got startlingly human, expressive eyes. I’m rooting for him! Once again, the cover has little to do with the cover story.

The Creeping Scourge, credited to the Iger Shop (that my spellchecker keeps correcting to “tiger shop”), a comics packager that was officially known as the Eisner and Iger Studio, is an entertaining romp with babes in bondage, wild natives, catfights, blood sacrifices, etc. For example:

A typical page from The Creeping Scourge, published in Terrors of the Jungle no. 20 (December 1952). « Help! The crawling thing eats me! » is a pretty snappy catchphrase.


For the botanically-minded, a vacation is a fine opportunity to admire some heretofore unseen exotic plants. Take a look at this sweet little flower:

« In the middle of the everglades, there’s a flower that’s different from any you’ve seen… »  Tales of Horror no. 11 (June 1954). Pencils by Ben Brown, inks by David Gantz. Death Flower tells the blood-curdling tale of a creepy old man who lives in the Florida swamps and feasts on human flesh – after having turned into a flower, of course.

The opening panel of Death Flower, also drawn by the Ben Brown (pencils) and David Gantz (inks) team.

Wouldn’t *you* trust this old man? Just look at him – such honest eyes, such a confidence-inspiring face. Yes, of course we’ll go to your cabin, venerable oldster!

That’s it for our little holiday pleasure trip – come to think of it, I’ll remain where it’s cold and snowy, thanks.

~ ds

… in which a carnivorous reptile fights a man masquerading as a T-Rex

Yes, I’m sure that jungle inhabitants had to fight off vicious, anatomically impossible pterodactyls all the freaking time. Man, has John Celardo, the artist of this cover, ever seen a pterodactyl? … Oh, right, I guess he hasn’t. That still doesn’t justify this monstrosity, though.

Mark Twain comes to mind:

« The less said about the pterodactyl the better. It was a spectacle, that beast! a mixture of buzzard and alligator, a sarcasm, an affront to all animated nature, a butt for the ribald jests of an unfeeling world. »

*This* pterodactyl certainly looks like a butt for jests, given that its spine is twisted like a strand of DNA, and that its head has been put on backwards.

Jungle Comics no. 17 (May 1941). Cover by John Celardo.

The premise of Valley of the Killer-Birds is exactly the same as the raison d’être of all the other ‘Jungle Lord’ comics: Kaänga (who, judging from the umlaut, is probably Danish, just like Häagen-Dazs) has to rescue his damsel-in-distress yet again. I’m sure you are dying to know what the plot is like, so here it is in more detail:

Ann, Kaänga’s mate, is “blown off her perch” (where she was roosting, presumably) by a strong wind, and is carried off by a pterodactyl that just happens to be passing by at the moment, probably on its way to the grocery store. Kaänga tries to follow, but falls off a cliff, is carried (unconscious) through a watery tunnel, and lands in “a weird prehistoric valley”. He then effortlessly kills a a dinosaur that looks like a slightly smaller-than-average T-Rex and climbs into its skin (that somehow fits him perfectly), plays dead, gets carried off by another pterodactyl and dropped off at some random cave, miraculously the same cave where Ann is captive, and even more preposterously just a few meters away from her standing coyly by in a typical “just look at my bikini!” pose.  Then he waves at her with his paw (understandably, she doesn’t understand why a dinosaur is waving at her – it’s those super-short front paws, you know), then she gets carried off (again) by a giant ape that shows up from nowhere, and Kaänga, still in T-Rex form, hotly pursues them and kills the ape. Then the hero of our tale, as clean and Arian as he can possibly be (nevermind that he just climbed from the bloody insides of an animal corpse), takes Ann’s hand and leads her out from the tunneled cave, reasoning at some point that if there’s human skulls in the passage, there must be a way out of those tunnels. (Um, no, it just means the pterodactyls and/or giant ape have had a lot of silly little humans for supper that they’ve brought in from elsewhere.)

~ ds