Tentacle Tuesday: Educational Cephalopods

Today we bring you a selection of edifying cartons that will (hopefully) teach you something about our friends the cephalopods. Like how to check that you really are looking at an octopus, for instance: like with most things in life, just ask!

Cartoon published in Mad Magazine no. 486 (February 2008) The author, in all senses of the word, is our beloved Al Jaffee.

I like the idea of learning from comics, but stories written specially to teach children (or the occasional adult) moral lessons or scientific facts often end up incredibly boring, insultingly condescending, or painfully obvious. However, (gently) throw an octopus into the mix, and I’ll be willing to consider it!

Of course sometimes the octopus is the student, albeit an undressed one.

Treasure Chest Vol. 21 no. 4 (October 21st, 1965). The cover is by Pete Hironaka, born in California to Japanese parents. Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact was a comic book series that was Catholic-oriented and featured inspirational Christian stories and such, but also ran stories about science, history, and just plain adventure, emphasizing values like teamwork, honesty, etc. throughout. No, it’s not as boring as it sounds! Most of the stories weren’t at all preachy, just kind to their characters, which is something I really appreciate. The title was distributed throughout parochial schools from 1946 to 1972.

Are there tentacles inside? Well, yes!

I am slightly disturbed by how angry Murphy is at the octopus’ supposed ignorance (especially since he’s so blatantly wrong). Art by Pete Hironaka.
I wish octopus lobotomy wasn’t on the menu, but what can you do…

On the topic of classrooms – octopuses have to write essays, too, just like any old student Joe. It’s a bit hard to hold a pencil with a tentacle, though.

An illustration by Lynda Barry, 2018.

I’ve never watched SpongeBob SquarePants, because the idea of a protagonist who’s some sort of dumb-looking kitchen sponge (I’m sorry, “sea sponge”) has never appealed to me. It may be brilliant, for all I know. However, whenever I encounter a SpongeBob comic, I’m always surprised at how good the stories are. Given that the calibre of some contributing artists and writers (Ramona Fradon, Tentacle Tuesday Master Hilary Barta, WOT favourite Stephen R. Bissette, Tony Millionaire of Many Tentacles, the aforementioned Al Jaffee, Michael T. Gilbert… come on, it’s like a who’s who of comics talent), this is actually less astonishing than one might expect – and the fact that Stephen Hillenburg, the creator, managed to attract such talent speaks well of him. Another fact, namely that that he worked as a teacher of marine science at the Ocean Institute of Dana Point (California) and decided to create an educational comic book depicting the life of anthropomorphic sea creatures, confirms that he’s one cool (sea) cucumber.

A cephalopod installment of Flotsam & Jetsam, scripted by Maric Wicks and illustrated by Nate Neal. This page was published in SpongeBob Comics no. 9 (June 2012, United Plankton Pictures)

A final educational strip, although to be perfectly honest with you, a tad on the boring side. Mark Trail was created by Ed Dodd an eternity ago (which is to say, April 1946). Dodd was a national parks guide and (quite naturally, one would hope) an environmentalist, so his syndicated newspaper strip featured a lot of environmental disasters, mostly orchestrated by human hands (but the evil guys often received a satisfying punch in the mouth from Trail, a nature writer-cum-photographer – if only it were this easy in real life!)

This strip is from August 16th, 2020.

After passing through a few pairs of hands, the strip landed at the doorstep or artist James Allen, who began by assisting on the Sunday page in 2010, and formally took over in 2014, to continue until 2020, at which juncture he left his position by mutual agreement with the syndicate. After some years of reruns, Mark Trail is now continuing once again, this time with artist Jules Rivera at the helm.

I admire Dodd’s art and plotting, and in my opinion the others who have continued the strip in recent years (from 1978 and onwards) lack his doigté and his talent to various degrees. For example, take a look at the original art for the Sunday strip of September 25, 1955:

Clearly drawn by someone who loved and understood animals. Art by Ed Dodd.

Of course it doesn’t help that the recent Sundays had garish (by my assessment) colours. For a more detailed story of Mark Trail, head over to this Daily Cartoonist article.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: How Does That Grab You?

Today’s TT is like one of those 5$ grab bags: you don’t exactly know what you’re going to get, but there will at least one thing you’ll find amusing! Unless the store has cheapened out and stuffed it with nonsense nobody in their right mind would want. This offering, on the other had, is full of our favourite artists, and is not nearly as disparate as I first thought 😉

I don’t always have an over-arching idea for a post, inevitably ending up with plenty of odds and ends that don’t neatly fit into any one category. Actually, some of those “scraps” are the most enjoyable finds for me.

Feature Comics no. 71 (September 1943, Quality Comics). Cover by Gill Fox. The octopus-in-plumbing theme is an oldie-but-goodie; the undaunted housewife may yet regret her cavalier attitude towards the tentacled one, who probably wants to move in with his family.
Nicola Cuti‘s Weirdlings was a charming little ‘filler’ gag page designed and drawn by him. This one was published in Haunted no. 14 (Sept. 1973, Charlton).  I think the octopus, that appears to be still alive, would also prefer a good old PBJ sandwich.
Midnight Tales no. 11 (February 1975). Cover by Wayne Howard, who’s a Who’s Out There? (oh, all right, mine) favourite. Read my take on his art in Tentacle Tuesday: Plants Sometimes Have Tentacles, Too.
Archie’s Pal Jughead no. 77 (October 1961). Cover by, dare I say legendary, Samm Schwartz; revisit (or discover!) some of the nicest covers he has drawn for Archie Comics in co-admin RG’s post.
Al Jaffee Sinks to a New Low (1985, New American Library). Visit Al Jaffee: Snappy Answer to Many a Stupid Question for Who’s Out There’s take on this quintessential Mad Magazine artist!

= ds

Al Jaffee: Snappy Answer to Many a Stupid Question

« Whose birthday is it today, does anyone know? »

This year, spring officially begins on March 20th, so it’s still a few days away… but the vernal bevy of birthdays has already started. Al Jaffee is still our first Spring Birthday Boy – he was always precocious, you know! Born in 1921 on March 13th, he turns 98 today, and that’s a truly impressive age, even for the oldest working cartoonist. Break out the bubbly!

Take my hand as we gallop through Jaffee’s career at a fast clip. In chronological order, then…

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Original art for “Pain Relief Speed Test On Actual People In Actual Pain“, published in Humbug no. 7 (February 1958).

The New York Herald Tribune Syndicate published Tall Tales from 1957 to 1963. Al Jaffee came up with the idea of this strip’s format (one vertical panel for dailies, and a series of vertical panels for Sundays) when he was in financial straits – its unorthodox configuration ensured that newspaper editors would be able to squeeze it in *somehow*.

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Sunday Tall Tales strip from 1960.

Visit The Fabulous Fifties blog for more – the amazing Ger Apeldoorn has scanned tons of Tall Tales from old newspapers, a monumental (and much appreciated) endeavour.

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Sunday Tall Tales strip from 1961.

« The world is full of bloviators. And this kind of stuff, when there’s someone on the public scene who’s really going beyond his duties as a politician or a religious leader or a sportsman, he’s fair game. The main thing is to keep your eyes and ears open and when you hear something that’s clearly baloney, such as “eight out of 10 doctors smoke Chesterfield cigarettes” – these are ads that actually ran! One of the tobacco companies had the nerve to claim that doctors prefer their cigarettes. So it’s easy to shoot down that kind of bull. But you do it with a gentle hand, you don’t preach and say “tobacco kills! How can these doctors do that?!” No, you just go them one step further and say, “In addition to eight out of 10 doctors smoking this brand of cigarette, in their time off, they each drink a gallon of bourbon, which also has health benefits. » |source|

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« Thanks a lot for ignoring my recent request for a house call, Doc! You saved me ten bucks!! It went toward the funeral!!! » Now, isn’t this a happy vernal scene? (Look at the pretty flowers!) Al Jaffee painted this “Get Mad” picture postcard for publication in The Worst From Mad no. 12 (1969).

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First edition of Mad’s Al Jaffee Spews Out More Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, (Signet, February 1972).

« I’m not an educator or a preacher. I think the important thing, in my line of work anyway, is that you’re helping the reader to think for himself. It’s not just about getting a chuckle from them. When you expose hypocrisy or nonsense or plain ol’ stupidity, you want to do it in a way that makes the reader connect the dots. Don’t tell the joke, just hint at the joke. If you over-explain it, it’s no good. » /source/

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This painting (layout by Harvey Kurtzman, art by Al Jaffee) was designed to accompany an Esquire article from April 1972 about Elaine’s, a hip restaurant in NYC that was known for attracting writers, actors, and other prominent New Yorkers. Incidentally, Elaine Kaufman, the owner of this establishment, was a barrel of laughs (I’m not saying that sarcastically, either). « Kaufman was known for not mincing her words, for booting less-favored customers to seat new arrivals and for forbidding hamburgers to be served in her restaurant. She was once arrested after a physical altercation with a visiting Texan. Elaine also once had a fist fight with the actress Tara Tyson, and also chased away the notorious paparazzo Ron Galella by hurling two garbage can lids at him and exclaiming, “Beat it, creep… you’re bothering my customers”. » Ah, the people you knew at Elaine’s

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The back cover of Mad no. 170 (October 1974), “A Mad Look at a TV Commercial“.

You might be wondering if Mr. Jaffee’s art and wit were any good much later in his career, say in the 90s. Stupid question, bub. Of course they were!

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Original art from Mad’s Restaurant Survival Guide (Mad no. 300, January 1991).

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Art from a 1998 issue of Mad Special illustrating yet another round of Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. When I said ’round’, I meant it: these are stupid questions asked at a wrestling programme. This one was probably “does this pink boa make me look fat?”

Have you ever wondered what Al Jaffee is like in person? Here’s your chance to find out:

“But you haven’t even mentioned MAD fold-ins!”, you might exclaim in dismay. Hey, I’m not gonna repeat myself… visit A MAD Dash… Inside for that and more Jaffee silliness.

Oh, fine, you guys. Just one, though, ’cause otherwise we’ll be here for another couple of hours, and frankly I’ve got hungry cats to feed.

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What new way are people falling head over heels these days?, published in Mad no. 216 (July 1980).

You say you’re having trouble folding your screen? Geez, do we have to do *all* the work around here?

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Many happy returns, Mr. Jaffee! <3<3<3

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Mr. Jaffee and his wife Joyce in 2016, when he was but 95 years old. When he once quipped «Serious people my age are dead», he meant it as gospel. 😉

~ ds

 

A MAD dash… inside

Okay, now that you’ve seen some Mad covers (see a MAD dash… outside)  let’s have a peek at some inside art by the habitués.

One of my favourite MAD artists is Antonio Prohías (1921-1998). Hailing from Cuba (but being forced to emigrate thanks to an repressive government that wasn’t too fond of the concept of “free press”), he moved to New York in 1960. Apparently Prohias was in no hurry to learn English (and, in fact, his cartoons are silent). Here’s a cute anecdote involving Sergio Aragonés, courtesy of Wikipedia:

« Two years after Prohias’ debut in the magazine, cartoonist Sergio Aragonés made the trek from Mexico to New York in search of work. Because Aragonés’ command of English was then shaky, he asked that Prohias be present to serve as an interpreter. According to Aragonés, this proved to be a mistake, since Prohías knew even less English than he did. When Prohías introduced the young artist to the Mad editors as “Sergio, my brother from Mexico,” the Mad editors thought they were meeting “Sergio Prohías. Twelve years later, Mad writer Frank Jacobs reported that Prohias’ conversational English was limited to “Hello” and “How are you, brother?” Said Aragonés, who speaks six languages, “Even I could not understand him that well. »

Clearly, art was Prohias’ language, and we’re not at all complaining.

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It pays to play the *long* game! “Vengeance” was published in Mad no. 66 (October 1961). Art by Antonio Prohías.

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This it the original art for a gag called “The Old Ball Game”, created for Mad’s Fortune Kookie Dept. It was published in Mad no. 161, September 1973. Art by Antonio Prohías.

In case you’re wracking your brain, trying to remember where you’ve seen his style before, Prohías is mostly known for Spy vs Spy, a series inspired by his clash with Fidel Castro. The series debuted in Mad #60 (January 1961).

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Original art for a strip published in Mad no. 253, March 1985. Ironically, I don’t particularly like Prohías’ Spy vs Spy, despite the lovely art and violent dismemberment scenes, much preferring Peter Kuper’s (much later, starting in 1997 up until today) version of this strip.

Next on our list is Al Jaffee, the “world’s oldest cartoonist” (Guinness World Records certified and everything!), Mad’s longest-running contributor, creator of the Mad Fold-In, mastermind of Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.

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This fold-in comes from Mad no. 297, September 1990. Drawn by Al Jaffee, it answers (maybe) the paramount question of “What is the most sickening trend in movies today?”( Since I can’t very well ask you to fold your computer screen, the answer is “Commercials in theaters.”)

Incidentally, Mad introduced fold-ins in 1964 – they were a most prominent feature of MAD Magazine, conceived, drawn and written by the aforementioned Jaffee. I’ll quote the man himself:

Playboy had a foldout of a beautiful woman in each issue, and Life Magazine had these large, striking foldouts in which they’d show how the earth began or the solar system or something on that order — some massive panorama. Many magazines were hopping on the bandwagon, offering similar full-color spreads to their readers. I noticed this and thought, what’s a good satirical comment on the trend? Then I figured, why not reverse it? If other magazines are doing these big, full-color foldouts, well, cheap old Mad should go completely the opposite way and do an ultra-modest black-and-white Fold-In!”
I guess they folded (ahem) on the “black-and-white” part later on. Here’s another nice Al Jaffee production:

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This cartoon dwelled on the back cover of Mad no. 214 (April 1980), and was written by Dave Manak & drawn by Al Jaffee.

In a 2010 interview, Jaffee said, “Serious people my age are dead.” That may just be the recipe for eternal life.

Moving on to another mainstay of MAD: Sergio Aragonés, an artist about whom Mad director Al Feldstein said “he could have drawn the whole magazine if we’d let him.” Prolific, delightfully funny, and (by all accounts) a really friendly guy, Aragonés (born in 1937) is still with us today.

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A little gruesome hippy humour from Sergio Aragonés, published in Mad no. 139, December 1970.

My favourite recurring feature by Aragonés is “Who knows what evils lurk in the hearts of men? The shadow knows. Many years ago, I picked up a copy of “Mad’s Sergio Aragonés on Parade” at a second hand store. I didn’t know who he was, then, but I loved the sometimes tiny, always funny squiggly drawings immediately. (I also didn’t know who the Shadow was, so that reference was sailing right over my head.) Even though I have since then upgraded to the considerably heftier “Sergio Aragones: Five Decades of His Finest Works“, there’s no way I’m getting rid of my dog-eared, stained and shopworn copy – that’s the one I reach for when I need a chuckle.

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Published in From Mad no. 131, December 1969, scanned from “Mad’s Sergio Aragonés on Parade“, and artistically coloured by co-admin RG.

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Published in From Mad no. 129, September 1969, scanned from “Mad’s Sergio Aragonés on Parade“, and artistically coloured by co-admin RG.

Hurray for Aragonés, the weird hours he keeps (by his own admission), and the thousands of ideas bubbling in his head at any given time. “Sergio has, quite literally, drawn more cartoons on napkins in restaurants than most cartoonists draw in their entire careers“, said Al Jaffee, and glancing at the tiny drawings decorating the margins and in-between-panels of Mad magazine, one can easily believe it.

The other guy who just has to be mentioned is Don Martin (1931-2000), promoted as Mad’s Maddest Artist. Where else would we get our fix for goofy characters with comically large, hinged feet? I can just imagine the squeaking noises they make.

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Well, *have* you?
This Don Martin cartoon was used as one of the eight “Vital Message” mini posters offered with Mad Super Special no. 17 (1970). It makes me think of my mom’s parting admonition every time I would leave the house – “and don’t hit old ladies with an umbrella”. I am proud to say that I’ve followed her advice… so far.

Here’s a fun description of standard Don Martin characters (source):

« His people are big-nosed schmoes with sleepy eyes, puffs of wiry hair, and what appear to be life preservers under the waistline of their clothes. Their hands make delicate little mincing gestures and their strangely thin, elongated feet take a 90-degree turn at the toes as they step forward. Whether they’re average Joes or headhunters, Martin’s people share the same physique: a tottering tower of obloids. Martin puts the bodies of these characters through every kind of permutation, treating them as much like gadgets as the squirting flowers and joy buzzers that populate his gags: glass eyes pop out from a pat on the back; heads are steamrollered into manhole-cover shapes. All of this accompanied by a Dadaist panoply of sound effects found nowhere else: shtoink! shklorp! fwoba-dap! It’s unlikely Samuel Beckett was aware of Don Martin, but had he been he might have recognized a kindred spirit. »

 

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From Mad no. 78, April 1963. Art by Don Martin.

~ ds