« With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. » — Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death
And now, a piece from — gasp — 2022! It’s at once most timely and a link to the dim past, with WOT? favourite Rick Geary drawing nimble parallels* to Mr. Poe’s famous tale of arrogant (and happy and dauntless and sagacious) Prince Prospero’s well-earned comeuppance. This other great plague, however, isn’t greeted with hubris by our everyman protagonists. While Poe provides the spirit and the starting point, Geary wends his own way, bless his soul.
Ahoy Comics‘ series of Poe-themed anthologies are of course uneven — such is their nature — but their peaks are joltingly, exceptionally good, and they make the whole enterprise quite worthwhile.
A Tale of The Great Plague appeared in Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Death no. 4 (Jan. 2022, Ahoy Comics).
*and also, you might say, to The Fall of the House of Usher and perhaps even The Tell-tale Heart. Clever chap, this Geary.
Our heatwave is nowhere as bad as the one afflicting Europe right now, but it’s a heatwave nevertheless, and to cool off I felt like traipsing down the icy corridors of horror. Evan Dorkin‘s series Beasts of Burden, the tale of a (predominantly) canine crew who fight the supernatural to keep their small town community safe, fits the bill: though including elements of adventure, mystery, and humour, it’s genuinely tense in places (and features enough blood and grue to keep the average gorehound satisfied). One expects a comic in which all protagonists are animals to evoke baby-talk sounds of endearment, not send chills down the spine of the more sensitive reader, and yet…
However, I’ll warn you that a fondness for animals is a prerequisite for enjoying this comic, lest you miss the emotional punch to the gut of moments like a dog searching for her lost puppies, or animals mourning the loss of their friend. Despite the paranormal threats these pooches (and cat!) have to deal with, I would say that it’s that emotional horror that makes these stories memorable, especially to a modern reader well-versed in zombies, werewolves, and witchcraft (yawn, how cliché…) I am quite allergic to animals getting hurt in stories, but Beasts of Burden never feels manipulative in that regard: shit definitely happens, but is overcome through teamwork and courage.
This comic also features loving watercolours by Jill Thompson (according to the DC Comics website, ‘most well-known female comic book artist‘… not sure how they measured that), who’s not only great at evocative woodsy landscapes in all seasons, but also a deft hand at convincing portraits of animals. I have seen too many comic artists who cannot draw a convincing cat or dog (let alone a horse, a true test of artistry…) to take that for granted. This post only spotlights material from the collection Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites (2010, Dark Horse), as Thompson was later on replaced by Benjamin Dewey, whose art I suppose I could bear… if only the standard desaturated colouring job wasn’t the final nail in that coffin. It’s a bitter pill to swallow after Thompson’s bright, organic art.
All stories featured in this post are written by Evan Dorkin and illustrated by Jill Thompson.
Beasts of Burden is still ongoing, with the latest installment, Occupied Territory (illustrated by Benjamin Dewey, alas), published in July 2021.
« Carve out a pumpkin and fill it full of cake mix and raisins and bake for half an hour and then write me and let me know how it turns out. » — one of Patrick Dean‘s ‘Party Tips’
I never met Patrick Dean in person, but I did consider him a friend. I became aware of his work when we both contributed to the second issue of Danny Hellman‘s Legal Action Comics anthology, back in 2003. Looking back, it strikes me that we were among the very few participants not going out of their way to offend.
We began to correspond. Geography aside, we had plenty in common, and so we kept in touch over the years. Then poor Patrick was diagnosed with ALS and fell victim to that relentless degenerative disease a couple of years later. But that’s a well-documented tragedy, so I won’t dwell on it.
I know I’ll always be thinking of Patrick when the leaves turn to red and gold, and I do believe he would have liked to be recalled in that fashion. His own countdowns to Halloween were always heartfelt and delightful.
My partner ds is also a fan, and she shared her own appreciation here.
If you’ve missed any of our 154 previous instalments, here they are in handy and tidy fashion:
« Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. » — The Black Cat (1845)
What can I tell you about the legendary English cartoonist and bon vivantHunt Emerson — born in 1952 in Newcastle and still devilishly active these days — that he can’t tell you in his own words?
« Every Goblinko product is a seed of a better world. Better because it is built to last – built for relevance – built for survival – built for buttermilk – built for speed – built for living the chaos – built for you! Everything else sucks! Go Goblinko! »
My path to discovering Sean Äaberg‘s art was rather tortuous.
On one hand, I’ve liked Goblinko t-shirt designs for a while – co-admin RG is a big fan, and given my love for pickles, so am I. Somehow I was not aware of those was creating these designs, however.
As for Äaberg art, it all began when I saw some very striking Tarot cards on some forum discussion – I have no interest in Tarot, but these were hitting all the right buttons, with their super bright green-magenta-yellow colour scheme and lush artwork. I looked up the artist, and landed on his Dungeon Degenerates on the wonderful Monster Brains blog.
As I am one of those silly people who want to own stuff on paper, I looked for a book and found Acid Vomit! The Art of Sean Äaberg on Kickstarter. When I received this (glorious, by the way) compendium, something clicked into place and suddenly I realized that Sean Äaberg = Goblinko!! (Well, to be fair, Sean’s wife Katie is part of it, too.) Nothing like one of those ‘well, that should have been obvious a long time ago…’ realizations to put one into a philosophical mood.
Dark Horse seems to publish more mini-series heavily dependent on tentacles that you could shake a stick at, and enough spin-offs of spin-offs to make one’s head spin. Still, I have been dutifully saving the… shall we say, less ugly… tentacle-heavy DH covers I have come across, and since there is clearly little point in hoarding them, the time has come for a part III. Visit the previous instalments here: Tentacle Tuesday: Dark Horse, Pt. 1 and Tentacle Tuesday: Dark Horse, Pt. 2. Your mileage may vary!
I have to include at least a couple of things I actually somewhat like per post, whatever pleasure I may get from mocking the rest.
The first is the back cover of Madman Comics no. 4 (October 1994), with art by Dave Stevens, with well-defined, slimy tentacles and plenty of boobage. That’s Madman (created by Mike Allred) in the middle, but he surely ends up ending up in the background of his own adventure, courtesy of the cephalopod and skin-tight costumes of the damsels.
Continuing with the 90s, here are two Star Wars covers by Mark Schultz who’s, err, distinctly not at his best – though bringing one’s best to Star Wars would be a waste, anyway.
Continuing with the 90s…
This one I like far more:
Finally, we have three Black Hammer-related covers, which made me look up this series since I didn’t even know of its existence before spotting these tentacles. Created by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston, it’s apparently doing quite well (given that it started in 2016, and is still ongoing with many spin-offs, awards received, and a possible TV show).
No Dark Horse post about tentacles can avoid the elephant in the room, namely Hellboy and Mignola. If that’s what floats your boat, I covered that ground in Tentacle Tuesday Masters : Mike Mignola.
Today, let’s dip a toe (at the risk of losing it) into the midnight domain of Swedish cartoonist and filmmaker Max Andersson (b. 1962). It’s a relentlessly-perilous scene, but like Kaz’s Underworld comic strip or Arnt Jensen‘s Limbo video game, I find it unexpectedly comforting in spite of (and thanks to) all the darkness, both thematic and in density of ink. In Andersson’s case, might it be owing to the author’s kindness to his protagonists? That’s a factor with odds I rather favour.
I don’t doubt that certain readers of a more sensitive cast will differ, but I posit that the cheerful lack of clemency the artist affords the callous, the cruel and the pernicious makes Andersson’s universe a profoundly moral one. Contrary to, say, your average American action blockbuster, such a purge of the villainous doesn’t restore the status quo… because here, malevolence is the status quo. Andersson’s put-upon little people are true outsiders, and his stories feel like Kafka, but blessed with dénouements far merrier yet merited.
See? A happy ending and all, and even a rare glimpse of daylight.
Soon after he began to publish his work, Gary Groth spoke with Andersson (The Comics Journal no. 174 (Feb. 1995, Fantagraphics):
Groth: What would you point to as your defining influences? How did you develop this approach, style and point of view?
Andersson: What I always have in my backbone is the style of classic comics, the stuff I read when I was a kid.
G: I don’t see much Tintin.
A: No, but it’s there if you look closely. The basic technique of how to tell a story well. I try to do that because I want the storytelling to work, to be easy to read.
G: Were you influenced by sources outside of comics — film, literature?
And don’t leave out old cartoons! Andersson’s thoroughly animist way dovetails neatly with early animation’s unhinged, anything-can-happen mode. By which I mean that anything and everything possessed motion and sentience, be they boulders or pebbles, thunderclouds, petals or creepers, sparks or flames, pantaloons or braces, blunderbusses or bassoons…
About Pixy, fellow dweller-in-darkness Charles Burns exulted: « So you think it’s a cold, creepy, world out there, huh? Hah! Just wait’ll you get a load of Max Andersson’s Pixy… safe sex suits, buildings that eat people, drunken fœtuses with bazookas, money that shits on you, recyclable bodies… hey, wait a minute, that’s not creepy, that’s fun. MY kind of fun. »
For more dope on this important creator’s endeavours, do sidle over to his official website!
« It’s a lot easier to draw rubble when deadlines hit. » — Guy Davis
Today, on his birthday, we seize the occasion to salute prodigious autodidact Guy Davis and to look upon his works, no despair necessary.
Born in Michigan on November 20, 1966, Guy Davis started out in comics in 1981 with a SF strip, Quonto of the Star Corps, published (he suspects his dad had something to do with it) in local newspaper The Clarkston News.
From there, he delved into sword and sorcery with The Realm (1986-1988, Arrow), then made significant strides toward his mature style with punk saga Baker Street (1989-1991, Caliber).
He then hit the majors, devoting most of the 90s to pencilling and inking the bulk of Sandman Mystery Theatre‘s quite respectable run (70 issues + 1 annual, 1993-1999, DC/Vertigo), Matt Wagner‘s darkly revisionist chronicles of Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman… pre-yellow-and-purple togs.
I must confess that I wasn’t, at this point, particularly fond of Davis’ style. His endearingly schlubby, potato-schnozzed characters had yet to work their charm upon me. But the writing was compelling, Davis’ storytelling was strong and clear, so I stuck around.
However, I’m not ambivalent at all when it comes to his subsequent work, wherein he ditched his often awkward cross-hatching, his inking improved by leaps and bounds in expressiveness, and he was at long last paired with a colourist that fully grasped his singular style.
Guy Davis on his collaboration with Dave Stewart:
I was never never happy with my work in color — I hated the idea of it — until [ Dave Stewart ] started coloring me in B.P.R.D. He had this textured brush look that was just perfect for my linework. My linework is not clean, and before Dave, everybody who’d color me would do a standard house style. They wouldn’t adapt for each artist, and that’s what makes Dave so amazing is that he adapts his style for the art as opposed to trying to shoehorn one style of coloring — which a lot of colorists do — into every artist’s style.
(from an interview conducted by Eric Nolen-Weathington and published in Modern Masters Volume 24: Guy Davis, 2010, TwoMorrows)
Frankly, I don’t think Mr. Davis ever received his due in comics; he remained an artist’s artist, reliable and productive, but relatively unsung. On B.P.R.D., he allowed Mr. Mignola to envision events and visions on a far, far grander scale than Hellboy’s creator could have realised by himself. After Davis resigned from the title and exited the comics field for challenges and well-earned success, artistic and financial, in the realms of film and video games, there simply wasn’t anyone able to fill the void he’d left.
Happy birthday, thanks for everything and all the best to you, Mr. Davis!
p.s. In selecting artwork for this essay, I forced myself to exclude any and all instances of tentacles, and trust me, there were plenty. We haven’t made it official yet, but if anyone ever deserved the title of Tentacle Master…
Back in August, I promised to follow Tentacle Tuesday: Dark Horse, Pt. 1 with another instalment of cephalopod material issued by this publisher. The time, as they say, has come! While I’m not always on board with the comics they opt to publish (rarely, I might even say), I do like today’s selections.
Dark Horse obtained the licence to produce James Bond comics in 1992. The result is a number of series and stand-alone comics – Serpent’s Tooth was the first, a three-part miniseries. The following two pages are from Serpent’s Tooth Part III: Mass Extinction, scripted by Doug Moench and illustrated by Paul Gulacy, published in James Bond 007: Serpent’s Tooth no. 3 (February 1993).
In 2007, Dark Horse stepped into a partnership with New Comic Company, who had earlier acquired from Warren the rights to Creepy and Eerie. The result was the gradual publishing of ‘archival’ hardcover collections of all issues of Creepy and Eerie magazines. In 2009, DH launched the ‘new’ Creepy Magazine, which mostly featured new stories, sprinkled with the odd reprint. A revived Eerie soon joined it.
The next story is Tentacle Master Mike Mignola‘s ‘Champion of the Worms‘, which held my lazy interest for a few pages… until I found out that it’s actually quite good. What a pleasant surprise for one who had such low expectations! It also brims over with tentacles. The following three pages are from ZombieWorld: Champion of the Worms (October 1997), scripted by Mignola and illustrated by Pat McEown.
Last but not least… Scarlet Traces is a sort of sequel to Ian Edginton and D’Israeli‘s adaptation of H. G. Wells‘ The War of the Worlds, with heavy Dan Dare and Doctor Who references. This story wears its Englishness on its sleeve!
« Because sometimes, for whatever reason, you just want to draw an octopus. » — Mike Mignola, June 2019
I would say that this Tentacle Tuesday feature was started for a similar reason – sometimes one just needs to gather tentacled material, to share it more efficiently with like-minded weirdos.
I don’t imagine writer and comics artist Mike Mignola (most notably, creator of Hellboy and its spin-off B.P.R.D.) needs much of an introduction – he’s fairly ubiquitous in mainstream culture, and his style has been aped by many, which according to the proverb is the most sincere form of flattery. I was aware of this already, and yet was staggered by the sheer number of copycats I stumbled across while seeking out materials for this post.
I also started suffering from tentacle fatigue: as much as I love octopuses, seeing dozens upon dozens of fairly similar images made me weary. Mignola draws tentacles well, but he also draws them very, very often, and he also likes to revisit scenes already depicted. The result is a sprawling mess of sketches, variant covers and spin-offs of spin-offs… perhaps not inappropriate, come to think of it. This particular octopus has far more than just eight limbs!
Enjoy this barrage of Mignola tentacles, just make sure you’re in the proper mood for them 😉
No post of this nature would be complete without featuring, in some form or other, H.P. Lovecraft, arguably the father of our modern obsession with tentacles. On that topic, I am linking to an excellent article about Mignola’s relationship with the creator of the Cthulhu Mythos (be warned that it’s in French, sorry!)
Mignola revisited this very scene for his cover of Children of Lovecraft, and anthology of (non-comics) stories ‘inspired’ by Lovecraft (September, 2016). This was also published by Dark Horse.
More Victorian England and Lovecraftian archetypes can be found within the pages of Jenny Finn:
Even Batman, in Mignola’s hands, gets tentaclefied!
As a final note, I’d like to officially make a moue of distaste at people who share art without attribution, or without bothering to ascertain its source. To wit: a pair of images that are widely shared as Mike Mignola artwork… except that it isn’t by him at all, just by someone drawing in a similar style. Instagram and Pinterest are breeding grounds for such deplorable artistic credit robbery.
The following two illustrations are by Malaysian artist Daryl Toh.