« Someone at Dell Comics decided it’d be swell to turn famous monsters into superheroes — an idea whose time never came. And just to make sure there were bad, they hired Tony Tallarico to draw them. » — — James Schumeister, with the sort of brickbat typically lobbed at Mr. Tallarico.
Last week, we lost, at the venerable age of eighty-eight, the controversial, much-maligned Tony Tallarico (Sept. 20, 1933 – Jan. 7, 2022). The case of Mr. Tallarico’s reputation is typical of mainstream US cartoonists who generally eschewed the superhero genre. His mistake, I suppose, is that he drew a handful of them, and in his own distinctive fashion to boot, thus sealing his doom in Fanboy court.
Yet there’s far more depth and variety to Tallarico’s career, and that’s should be remembered. Besides, those superhero comics were just light-hearted, unpretentious fun. Obviously not what the continuity-addicted True Believers craved.
Let’s take a tour of some of the highlights!
As reported in Alter Ego no. 106 (Dec. 2011, TwoMorrows): « On May 20, 2005, Tony Tallarico received the Pioneer Award, given for his co-creation of the first African-American comic book hero, Lobo, a post-Civil War cowboy who appeared in two issues of his own Dell/Western title. The honor was given at a ceremony held at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. »
By the mid-70s, with his main comics accounts defunct or dormant (Dell, Treasure Chest, Charlton), Tallarico, ever the astute and tireless businessman (another rare trait among cartoonists) simply stepped up and diversified his efforts, branching out and creating a market for himself. « In the 70s the whole business went kaput. Luckily I was able to transfer over into doing children’s books. I’ve been doing children’s books ever since. My wife went though a count several months ago. It was over a thousand titles. That’s a lot of children’s books. »
I don’t know whether I’ll change anyone’s mind about Mr. Tallarico’s work, but I believe I can rest assured I gave it my best shot.
*Hex was introduced in All-Star Western no. 10 (Feb.-Mar. 1972, DC).
**My closest brush with the Tallaricos came in 2015 when I helped his daughter Nina identify and source some artwork she was selling on eBay for her dad. In my experience, a very nice lady. My sincere condolences to the bereaved family.
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.
Today we play a game: yes, those long slithery things are wrapped around somebody’s ankle… but are they tentacles, or worms?
In real life, worms (even predatory) don’t really wind around their prey or suffocate them. A biologist could tell us whether they ever ‘hunt’ in huge numbers, but I think we can be fairly certain that the scenes depicted below have never happened in real life. If disbelief must be suspended, I’d rather string it up for a cephalopod invasion, rather than a worm onslaught (ick)… But the characters of this post have had to deal with both kinds of threat. Let’s get on to it!
Worm or tentacle? Well, these have eyes at the end of… of whatever it is… and they seem like individuals, so probably worm. Hey, those who have read this issue before, no spoilers, please!
Let take a look inside this issue…
What do you think? These seem to originate from the same source. Let’s peek at the next issue – cephalopod confirmed!
Moving on to our next puzzle! Those are surely tentacles, belonging to some cephalopod monstrosity with a thousand arms:
Moving on! With a texture distinctly reminiscent of some sort of slug, the following whatchamacallits could be either… but the planet that hungers is using its tentacles, and not worms, to feed. Ping! Correct. This makes the following scene no less disquieting – oh, somebody bring me back to the normal, sea-faring octopus…
Let’s have one last go. This cover so clearly depicts Abby getting grabbed by some underwater tentacled monster, that it regularly appears in tentacle-related searches…
And yet! The cover is the self-explanatory The Conqueror Worms!, scripted by Len Wein and illustrated by Nestor Redondo. The star creatures of this story are actually pretty adorable, especially their mini-trunks and moist, sensitive eyes:
I hope some of these examples gave you pause, even if for just a little bit!
« The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on. » — Carl Sandburg
The first novel I ever read was a Bob Morane… so we’re old friends.
Bob Morane, created in 1953 by yet another Belgian writer* both talented and astoundingly prolific, Charles-Henri Dewisme aka Henri Vernes (1918-2021), has been the hero of over two hundred novels, movies, television shows, animated series, records, you name it.
A foray into comics logically followed in 1959, when, according to Vernes,
« Femmes d’Aujourd’hui, a women’s weekly, asked me to do a series. I said: ‘why not?‘ And so I did, that’s all. »
For brevity’s sake, we’ll stick to the comics, one album in particular at that (the series numbers, after all, over one hundred by now.) I’ve always been intrigued by this one, though I never have, as far as I know, encountered a copy in the wild. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I queried my go-to bédé provider about it, and he responded that: « Bob Morane albums sell just as soon as they arrive. We can’t ever keep them in stock. » So I ordered a copy from Belgium. One must choose one’s battles with care.
Yet what had he to fear if this place were evil – was he not an upright and godly man who held no traffic with evil? If wicked spirits had power over such men as he, there would be no justice in it.
“That’s true,”said a voice behind him, “there isn’t.” — The Gibsons*
I must confess I had something else planned for today’s post, but I learned, at the last minute, of the existence of material that would vastly augment my intended post — and I wouldn’t want to drop the ball on that topic. One less piece to plan for the next Countdown, then!
I suppose I had thus far refrained from touching upon DC’s long-running Ghosts (1971-82) — too obvious? Well, here we are. Ghosts, like its presumed model, Ripley’s Believe It or Not: True Ghost Stories (1965-80, Gold Key), was always tame and rather formulaic, but frequently boasted wonderful artwork, and definitely great covers.
Within its pages lurks this gorgeous three-pager written by Carl Wessler, pencilled by the mysterious (how appropriate!) J. Noriega, and embellished by the peerless Alfredo Alcala.
*« A couple called ‘The Gibsons’ won a New Statesman competition in Britain with a 200-worder about a man who grows increasingly nervous while walking down a winding moonlit road. » — From Dr. Van Helsing’s Handy Guide to Ghost Stories, Part III, by Kurt Van Helsing, in Twilight Zone Magazine vol. 1 no. 7 (Oct. 1981, TZ Publications).
Actually, no. Before that, there arose the idea in art director Warren Kremer‘s ever-effervescent mind:
Then, one year on…
More than two decades down the road, Marvel, since they were already borrowing Harvey’s Chamber of Chills title (did they even ask? I wonder), figured they may as well reenact one of its classic covers.
Say, what’s this about the day’s first shave? … is there shaving after death? Hassles, hassles.
Though most would nowadays call upon electric shavers or disposable plastic razors, I presume that straight razors have made a comeback among the hipster set. Still, a niche is hardly universal.
As a bonus, here’s one on the general topic by the immortal Chas Addams. It appeared in The New Yorker in 1957, then was reprinted later that year in his solo collection Nightcrawlers (Simon and Schuster). For more of that excellently-morbid Addams mirth, amble over to this earlier spotlight from our Hallowe’en Countdown’s initial edition.
A decade-and-a-half after his unceremonious cancellation, the Stranger was dusted off and given another shot in Showcase no. 80 (Feb. 1969), which was gorgeously illustrated by Messrs. Grandenetti and Bill Draut, and the Stranger, fedora, turtleneck and all, was soon spun off into his own title once more. It began well enough, but despite some often gorgeous covers, in no time descended into endless formulaic repetition: the PS makes vague, laughably pompous statements, his skeptic foil Dr. Thirteen fumes and rants, and my candidate for all-time most tedious arch-nemesis, Tala (introduced by Bob Kanigher and Neal Adams in issue 4) almost invariably turns out to be behind the issue’s menace.
A couple of years after the book’s cancellation, The Phantom Stranger and Deadman were teamed up again for a Halloween special. Beyond a decent cover, the results were rather… dire. I really, really wanted to like it, but it’s just a hodgepodge of overwritten mediocrity that can’t seem to decide what it wants to be or what its audience is: not scary in the least (even by Comics Code Standards), barely moody, a waste of trees.
*helpfully reprinted, though in dribs and drabs and all over the place, through the 1970’s.
« Drinking your own blood is the paradigm of recycling. » — Gary Busey
Say, isn’t there something… sorta quaint about that cover?
In the 1970s, while DC and Charlton consistently provided all-new material*, Marvel quickly switched to an all-reprint formula (the better to save money whilst flooding the market, my dear!), sometimes even on the covers, with some amusingly inappropriate updates at times.
Okay, here are another pair of before and afters:
*and if and when they didn’t, they’d tell you! Not so with Marvel. As for Gold Key, they would just pretend the material was ‘reprinted by popular demand’.
« The man asked, “Who are you?” “I am Death, who makes everyone equal.” » *
Greetings! Today I am giving my co-admin RG a much-needed chance to rest, and taking over Hallowe’en count-down duties. He protested a bit, but I was persuasive. Oh, don’t worry about him – he’s quite comfortable in the basement, and I may even unchain him at the end of the evening.
We have previously dipped a toe into Gespenster Geschichten (Ghost Stories) territory before, but – and this will come as no surprise – it was through the peculiar prism of tentacles. (For example, see Tentacle Tuesday: A Torrent of Teutonic Tentacles.) Yet this long-running (1974-2006) series published by Bastei Verlag also offers plenty of Hallowe’en-appropriate thrills: witches, ghosts, demented scientists, cold-blooded killers… you name it, Gespenster Geschichten has it! Here are a few covers which seem particularly appropriate for this wonderfully dreary, grey October evening.
The insides of these issues are of lesser interest: reprints of American horror comics, and, later on in the series, new content by artists local and migrated (Argentine, Spanish, Italian, Yugoslav…) Within some of these pages dwell reprints from Gold Key Comics’ Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery (for example, with artwork by John Celardo, Sal Trapani, and Canadians Jack Sparling and Win Mortimer). I think we can safely conclude that the covers are considerably more horrifying than the innards of these issues…
With that out of the way, let’s see what German ghost stories have in store for us!
This charming little doggo was a rather… creative interpretation of the following painting, created for Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 48 by George Wilson:
So you see how that particular Teutonic ball rolls! I admire George Wilson, but I admit I much prefer the German interpretation of this scene.
« Hell is empty and all the devils are here. » — William Shakespeare
In the 1970’s, thanks to a boom of interest in all things Occult, we made the acquaintance of hordes of Satan and Dracula’s close relatives. Oh, these bad boys were prolific!
This is one of Atlas-Seaboard’s entries into the black and white magazine arena. The stylish cover is the work of George Torjussen, one of his rare forays into comics (so to speak); Mr. Torjusson is still active in the fine arts field.
Here are a few sample pages from Curse of the Ra Scarab, written and illustrated by Mr. Estrada (1928-2009). Moody!
It’s worth noting, I think, that this has to be the most rape-happy comics magazine I’ve encountered… that isn’t from Italy. The Devilina feature aside, only one story doesn’t feature or imply an instance of violent rape. I’m inclined to thing that editor and scripters’ notion of ‘Female-filled fantasy‘ was more like ‘Female-filling fantasy‘. I guess this is some people’s idea of exercising their freedom from the Comics Code Authority — but mature it isn’t.